Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Off Shore Drilling and Other Accounting Gimmicks

Most of the people who check in on this blog are probably aware of two facts: Increasing US oil production will not even register a blip on the world price of oil. I've heard but can't remember the source that our total production makes up about 3% of the global total (can one of the other citizens find a source? I looked and can't find one). If we were to start drilling all around the coast, everywhere we think there is any oil at all, it would only increase our total production by a small percentage (say 5% to 10%). Assuming for the moment these numbers are roughly accurate, that doing all the off shore drilling we could would only increase world production by about 0.15% to 0.3%. If you think that will drop the price of gasoline, you need to stop drinking it and start putting in your car where it belongs.

Also, the big oil companies already have about 70 million acres of leased coastline already open to drilling that they aren't drilling in now, even with prices at record levels. So if opening up more land won't dramatically increase world production and the oil companies don't want to drill in the land they already have available, why did they pay John McCain $1 Million to push it in his campaign?

I think the answer lies with how oil companies do their books. They frequently use something called "fair value accounting" a new and controversial way of assessing the value of your assets. In this method, they don't need to drill on these coastlines to get the benefit to their bottom lines. What's more they can report the value of these drilling rights based on their own best estimates of their values. The rules guiding these estimates are pretty fuzzy (thus the controversy among accountants). They can inflate their companies' net worth by citing their drilling rights on new stretches of coastline even if they have no intention of actually drilling there in the foreseeable future.

John McCain's offshore drilling plan will do absolutely nothing except artificially increase the stock prices of companies like Exxon.

The depth of this fraud is mind blowing. And most people buy it. All of us who are smart enough to see through this scheme need to explain this to the people who are really suffering from these high gas prices.


Summer of Love, Part V

The California wedding industry is expected to reap hundreds of millions of dollars from the gay marriage boom this summer. Hoping to cash in on the action, Massachusetts today changed its laws to permit non-resident gay and lesbian couples to marry in Massachusetts, effective immediately.

Opponents of the change warned that Massachusetts would become the "Las Vegas" of gay weddings. Proponents of the change promised pretty much the same thing :-)


Why I'm Supporting John Garamendi for Governor of California

I have in my head a detailed article that I will write someday about everything that is wrong with California's government and how to fix it. Ever since I met him in San Diego at a BBQ in 1993, I have been a fan of John Garamendi. At that time, he was pitching high-speed rail as a way to revitalize the then-ailing state economy. It was clear that he wasn't interested in incremantal changes or toeing the party line - he had "the Vision Thing" (as G. Bush sr. famously called it). As Insurance commissioner, Garamendi forced implementation of Prop 103 to reduce auto insurance rates and was a vicious fighter for consumer rights.

Garamendi a true progressive. He has been a stalwart opponent of fee hikes at the public universities, calling the most recent round a "very stupid tax." Garamendi got into the Lt.Gov's office largely because he had a big enough name as (twice elected) Insurance Commissionner that somebody had to open a slot for him. He favors gay marriage. He's an environmentalist who served as Deputy Sec. of Interior under Clinton. Yet he currently runs his family's cattle ranch. He's got an MBA from Harvard, but he and his wife served in the peace corps in Ethiopia. Internationally, he returned to Ethiopia with the Peace Corps to lead a peace mission in 1998-2000, and is currently working Congo in the same capacity. His official biography reminds everyone that he was a wrestler and football player for Cal. No whiff of personal or financial scandal hangs over him yet.

Garamendi is also a party outsider in CA. He's not really "in" with the Latino caucus, the teachers' unions, the prison guards, the indian tribes, or any of those groups whose money and influence drain Sacramento. It will not be easy to fight against all the money and support that will go to Villaraigosa or Newsom, should they choose to run.

In other words, Garamendi is the progressive/independent governor that a lot of people thought they were getting when they voted for Schwarzenegger.

I'm not blind to the man's ambition or his close relations with the Clintons that continued through this recent set of presidential primaries (endorsed HRC on 1/11/08, after the NH primary) but I think this is what California needs. Someday I'll write that article.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Public Relations Barometer

If you were wondering how the market is betting on Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that would eliminate the right to same-sex marriage in California, we may have an answer. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced today they have donated $250,000 to Equality California to oppose Proposition 8. Moreover, PG&E has become a founding member of the "Equality Business Advisory Council," a group established to challenge other businesses to support full gay rights.

After the power crises in California several years ago, PG&E is still trying hard to rehabilitate its image. Apparently, PG&E reckons a huge contribution in support of gay marriage is now a good PR move in California! When taken together with similar surprising shows of support from LAPD Chief Bratton, San Diego Mayor Sanders, and Governor Schwarzenegger, it becomes increasingly clear that smart California businessmen and politicians believe Californians soundly reject Proposition 8. This is the best news I've heard all week.


More GOP Corruption

The LA Times just published this list of all Congressmen indicted for criminal behavior since 2001. It's revealing in terms of party affiliation.

• July 29, 2008: Sen. Ted Stevens (R- Alaska), indicted on seven counts of falsely reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of services he received from an oil services company that helped renovate his home.

• Feb. 22, 2008: Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), indicted on charges of extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes in an Arizona land swap that authorities say helped him collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs.

• June 11, 2007: Sen. Larry E. Craig (R- Idaho), arrested in a bathroom sex sting at the Minneapolis airport. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He is now asking a state appeals court to let him withdraw his guilty plea.

• June 4, 2007: Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), indicted on federal charges of racketeering, soliciting bribes and money laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.

• Jan. 19, 2007: Former Rep. Bob Ney (R- Ohio), sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for trading political favors for gifts and campaign donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

• March 3, 2006: Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), sentenced to eight years and four months in prison. He collected $2.4 million in homes, yachts, antique furnishings and other bribes in a corruption scheme.

• Oct. 3, 2005: Former Rep. Tom DeLay (R- Texas), charged with felony money laundering and conspiracy in connection with Republican fundraising efforts in 2002. One charge has been dropped and two others are being argued before a state appeals court.

• Aug. 29, 2003: Rep. William Janklow (R-S.D.), charged with felony second-degree manslaughter and three misdemeanors after his car struck and killed a motorcyclist. He was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 100 days in prison.

• May 4, 2001: Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of tax evasion, bribery, racketeering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted of racketeering and accepting bribes.


Question for our Political / Legal Experts

Could Bill Clinton become Vice President? I had assumed the answer had to be "no" because the 12th Amendment says one must be eligible to be President in order to be Vice President, and the 22nd Amendment says Presidents cannot serve more than two terms. Except it has been pointed out that the 22nd Amendment does not quite say that. On the face of it, the 22nd Amendment appears to say that one may only be elected President twice. The operative sentence is,

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

So what gives? The intent of the amendment was clearly to bar three terms, but the text is far from watertight. Any thoughts?


Monday, July 28, 2008

The "Kitschification" of Obama

What inspired this post was a thread we had last week about Obama's trip to Europe. I expressed a concern about the JFK analogy. And I didn't get back to reading the comments, and I noticed today that Pombat and others mentioned that this was the analogy being advertised around the world. So I replied to those comments and then realized that by now they were buried so deep, no one would probably see them and I figured that the discussion merited a post on its own. So I am repeating some of my comments here.

I am concerned about the commercialization of Obama's name and image. This divorces the real person from his own name and identity and makes him more of a cult figure than a real person or politician. I raised this concern about Obama's supporters (followers?) during the primary. For many, their faith was in his personality rather than his politics. I don't think that Obama or his campaign is encouraging this, it's just an organic thing, a shallow cultural trend where everything and everyone is a cartoon character or celebrity. But I am concerned about it for Obama's sake. Once he has to be a real leader, and start compromising his more popular beliefs or policies, where will these "cultists" be and what will they do? (enter the ominous music)

Here is a sample. I was in Target the other day and I saw a birthday card that was zoomed in on a woman's ample chest. She was wearing a white tee shirt with cleavage. On the Tee-Shirt was "OBAMA" in red-white-blue. On the inside was the note, "Now that I have your attention . . ."

I've seen stickers like this one below on cars:

Photo sources: Sticker Giant and Obey Giant Store

They are really cool stickers. But they elevate Obama to some mythic, revolutionary status. They were designed by a group called "OBEY Giant" whose slogan is "Manufacturing Quality Dissent". They have some really great stuff. But these stickers say nothing about Obama as a candidate, a policymaker or a politician. It appropriates his image and turns him into some kitschy, Worhalesque subject. It's hallow, meaningless, another way to say more about the wearer of the image than about the person whose image has been used- like save tibet stickers or Yellow Ribbon magnets and American flags on cars. And it will gain a life of its own apart from Obama.

This is also why I object to the Kennedy analogy, especially when Obama is running around Berlin. 1) Terrorism is not communism. Global warming is not communism. The threats facing the world now are nothing like the past. 2) It indicates a desire on the part of Americans to look backward and to yearn for the Camelot era of 1960s. That doesn't help us solve the problems today. We need to stay focused on today's issues and strategic planning for tomorrow. 3) I especially don't like the analogy because I remind people that Kennedy was, um, assassinated!

By focusing on Kennedy, a president who died before could really do much one way or the other (ask most Americans about Kennedy's contribution and you don't get much but what a great feeling he gave everyone and a few famous quotes), I think people are hiding from the real issues. Respect for the US has fallen dramatically and people around the world want the US to get better. They want us to pick a real leader. America still represents hope to a lot of people around the world and thus we have an obligation to be better and act better in the world. And our government has an obligation to treat us, its citizens, better. That should be the real story, not this "gee, isn't Obama just like Kennedy!" For starters, dudes, he's umm . . black and very much alive!


Marriage Between Inmates

On the way home for lunch, I heard an interesting story that I'd be interested in exploring with The Citizens.

The California prison system is trying to work out a new marriage policy between inmates. This has taken place because now that same-sex marriage is protected as a civil right, prisoners have a right to take advantage of it.

In California proxy marriage is not allowed. The potential spouse must be physically present for a marriage to take place. Also in California, there are no co-ed facilities. So there has never been a need for a marriage policy between inmates because men and women were always separated. The system never developed any policy on marriage between inmates since this wasn't possible. It does have polices that allow a prisoner to marry a non-prisoner. This is allowed and there are conjugal visits, etc.

But in a classics example of the chain reaction that gets set into motion when something new happens, now that same sex marriage is allowed, the system needs a policy. And they will need new policies for conjugal visits. Do you allow same sex inmates conjugal visits in a single cell? Do you have separate cells? Will there be security threats, considering how many inmates view homosexuality and considering the types of abuses that take place between prisoners? Do you have to separate homosexual inmates from the general prison population for their own protection? And can you give this population the right to marry without making concessions to straight prisoners who want to marry other prisoners?

And here's a whole new question that the news story didn't raise, but that comes to my mind: If you allow homosexuals to mix in straight populations in prison, why not in the military?

What do the Citizen's think?

I had never considered this before.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Science and Pop Culture

This past weekend at Comic-Con 2008 in San Diego I saw the presentations for three popular sci-fi shows I enjoy very much--Heroes, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica--and they got me thinking about how science is portrayed in popular culture. The three shows are very different in their approaches.

In Heroes, scientists pontificate about Science with a capital S, but actually there is no science in the show at all. The men in white lab coats are just wizards: the good wizards invent miraculous potions or devices, while the bad ones abduct and torture for their so-called "experiments." In Heroes, science is about defying nature and doing amazing things: it is magic dressed up in modern clothing.

In Lost, by contrast, scientists are simply mysterious. Nobody understands why the "scientists" do anything they do. Indeed, trying to figure out what they might be up to is all part of the fun of the show. The men in white lab coats speak cryptically, spinning riddles instead of providing answers. In Lost, science is not about defying nature or doing amazing things, but rather it is a frightening reminder of just how little we truly understand about the universe.

Lastly there is Battlestar Galactica, which curiously has the most traditional science-fiction setting but the least mention of science. The lone scientist is Dr. Baltar, a man overcome by vivid hallucinations who soon abandons science altogether. Even the robots on this show are not logical. Far more fantastic premises are routinely asserted in the other two shows, yet only in Battlestar Galactica do certain events occur which may well be meant to defy scientific explanation altogether, i.e. miracles.

Perhaps because of this, I feel Battlestar Galactica offers the most subtle commentary on science in popular culture. Science is not something astounding and apart from everyday life, but so much a part of it that we barely see it. Science is not to be feared nor worshiped: it simply is. And the great questions remain so far beyond our understanding that they fall into a different category altogether.


Friday, July 25, 2008

The Freedom to Eat

California banned restaurants from using oils that contain trans-fats today. That means certain kinds of shortening (FYI reformulated Crisco has zero-trans-fats) and margarine are banned. Now, conservatives usually rail against the "Nanny State" when they want to avoid sensible restrictions on the right of big business to pollute or the right to treat workers badly. Libertarians have also raised such concerns with seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, even though (1) the clear purpose of these rules is to save the public from having to pay to keep them alive as vegetavles, and (2) the connection between seatbelts and car accident fatalities is ironclad. Let's leave these faux criticisms behind.

The connection between trans-fats and medical bills is based on broad correlative studies at best. It is some sort of minor risk factor. Apparently, trans-fats are correlated with an increase in LDL cholesterol in some patients. That cholestorol number is also correlated with heart disease among Americans (but not, famously, among the French. Note that this is not about eating French food: the data actually show that French with the same level of cholesterol have lower heart disease risks than Americans).

When did the government take it upon itself to regulate our diets based on such flimsy evidence? 10 years ago, margarine was praised and butter reviled. Butter is the new health food? Can any scientist really say, with a straight face, that the social cost of lard is exceeded by that of margarine? Does the flavor play any role in this calculation, or are we meant to exclude pleasure (or a decent pie crust) from cost-benefit analysis?

And why doesn't the government do something, instead, about salmonella in our vegetables and all the other food issues we've discussed on this blog. Banning transfats will not make us healthier, I assure you. It is just a sop to the dairy industry. God bless them.


Hasbro Aims for its Own Foot

Hasbro--the American toys and games corporation which purchased Wizards of the Coast and then closed all their hobby stores, the company which purchased Avalon Hill and then produced a less legible version of Diplomacy in crappy cardboard, the company which had to spin off its Interactive division because they could not make money in online gaming--has now set its ruinous sights on Scrabulous, Facebook's free Scrabble game with a half-million daily users (by far the most of any application on Facebook).

Hasbro's own venture into the Facebook Scrabble market (still in beta release) has only a few thousand users. Electronic Arts has produced an expensive and useless dinosaur of a product. Having tested them both, there is no doubt Scrabulous is simpler, faster, easier to use, provides more options, and even matches the visual appearance of the Scrabble board game more closely. That being said, it seems obvious that Scrabulous is a violation of the Scrabble copyright owned by Hasbro, and their lawsuit will probably succeed.

And that is sad, because Hasbro's ongoing appetite for destruction is another blunder of SUV proportions. Instead of working with the creators of Scrabulous, or just demanding a cut of the advertising royalties--or even simply purchasing Scrabulous outright, as Hasbro has bought practically every other game company out there, from Parker Brothers to Cranium--Hasbro has instead taken a page from Microsoft's browser battle playbook and aims to kill the golden goose, replacing it with something big, bulky, and blah.

A quick glance at Hasbro's wretchedly ugly website tells you everything you need to know about why they cannot make money with the internet. Spread the word that Hasbro should get smart and invest in Scrabulous instead of killing it. The title of one Facebook user group says it all: “Please God, I Have So Little: Don’t Take Scrabulous Too.”


Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Un-Veepstakes Continues

Newly elected GOP Governor Bobby Jindal said today that he would not be McCain's Vice President. And so, as the summer lengthens without a VP announcement from either presumptive nominee, Jindal joins the growing list of up-and-coming politicians on both sides of the aisle who have counted themselves out of the running. It's getting harder to think of anyone who can fill that role who would also want it. Random thought: Perhaps Ted Kennedy could be induced to offer one more act of service to his country?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Guess Who?

From an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: that sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable. In any case, I think my post and Hillary's race are important steps in the right direction.

I will reveal the source later today, if no one knows.


He's Getting Desperate

McCain is now crediting George W. Bush for the modest drop in oil prices this week. (Oil is now selling for the outrageous price of $125 per barrel instead of the outrageous price of $140. Gas prices have barely moved a penny.) How can McCain possibly give the credit to Bush? Incredibly, McCain credits the White House's purely symbolic "lifting" of a moratorium on offshore drilling!

Of course, industry analysts say the market shifted due to slackening demand and worries about the overall health of the U.S. economy. McCain's absurd rhetoric just shows he knows nothing about the economy and he will say anything to get elected.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Case You Missed It

In an interview from Kabul this week, Senator Obama officially named Afghanistan, "the central front in the battle against terrorism."

Can I hear an Amen?


An Officer and a Gentleman (or at least a smart Politician)

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton publicly announced his support for gay marriage and wrote a check to Equality California to help fight Proposition 8, the ballot measure that would ban gay marriage in California. The Chief of Po-lice now supports gay marriage... Just remember Darryl Gates and think about that.

This follows similarly astonishing announcements of support for gay marriage by the Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course the original decision by the Republican-majority California Supreme Court. Moreover, two consecutive Field Polls have now found California voters rejecting Proposition 8 by a sizable margin, 51% - 42%. Even four years ago, this would have been unthinkable.


Sorry John, Not a Passing Grade

So I open Le Monde this morning to find that its front page contains the latest flap between John McCain and the New York Times. The paper has refused to publish his op-ed on Iraq, claiming that his piece was not up to snuff. Due to a series of leaks by the McCain campaign, we know that David Shipley, the op-ed editor sent an e-mail to McCain saying that the article "would have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory — with troop levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the Senator's Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan." Shipley explained, "It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece . I'm not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written." Of course, the Drudge Report points out that Shipley was part of the Clinton Administration. Of course, thanks to this report, you can read the editorial as it was originally submitted.

I find this funny, implications and all.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Republicans Really Value Human Life

So, you hear Bush and other sanctimonious Republicans talking about "honoring life" and "respecting life" and "valuing life." These holier-than-thou pronouncements have nothing to do with war, the death penalty, AIDS, illegal immigrants dying of thirst in the desert, or famine in the third world, as one might think if one were not schooled in code words. They mean they disapprove of abortion and the right to die with dignity.

But you might think that somewhere conservatives at least value American lives highly. You would be wrong. Today, it was leaked that the Republican-led EPA (Utah's former governor is its head) has reduced the actual value of a human life by about 10%. This makes it easier to justify pollution and harder to justify clean-air and clean-water regulations. Why? Because the EPA, like all federal agencies, has to do a cost-benefit analysis on regulations (this is a Reagan gimmick). And the cost of a human life is part of the analysis. So the Republicans are literally devaluing human life in order to justify corporate pollution. Inflation alone would dictate an ever-increasing value for human life in such equations. But also the Republican insistence that the middle class have no safety net in terms of education, health care, pensions, etc. means that the earning power of an individual is actually even more important than it was eight years ago, not less. The only justification for devaluing human life is that there are more of us. As a (Chinese) friend of mine used to say, if you're one in a million, there's a thousand people just like you in China. I am reminded of a quote attributed to Napoleon. At a meeting with Metternich, he supposedly said, "You cannot stop me; I spend thirty thousand men a month."

FYI, the US government has lowered your value from $8 million to about $7.2 million. You may be surprised that you are worth so much. Just try to insure yourself for your full value. The value of a human slave in today's market is way, way less. I have seen estimates of about $15,000 for a Brazilian woman in the sex slave trade, $4,000 for a Thai girl or boy, and as little as $500 in Sub-saharan Africa. The possibility for arbitrage is immense.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Republicans are out to Ban Birth Control

Today, Bush's Department of Health and Human Services released a new proposed set of regulations defining "abortion" broadly enough to encompass many methods of contraception, including birth control pills and the IUD. The idea is that it would then use rules prohibiting federal funding of abortion to force hospitals not to offer birth control.

This is why we absolutely cannot re-elect another Republican president. These are really not good people. They are after theocracy, any way they can get it. John McCain is one of these nasties. Too many people at election time make excuses when they vote Republican, saying it's about taxes or whatever. If you vote Republican, you are voting for ultra-right-wing "Christian" religious nuts. Any single man ought to be scared shitless. There's no middle ground, and there are no "moderates" in that party anymore.

What will these wingnuts think of next?


Thursday, July 17, 2008


An annotated version of an eerily prescient Onion article from seven years ago.

It's been said several times but bears repeating: there is simply no parodying the right wing anymore. Any outlandish, crazy thing you might attempt to do as parody has been literally done by crazies on the right.


Maybe She Should have Mimed

How French do you have to be to be French? Apparently, wearing something like a burqa or chador (called a niqab - endless names out there) is insufficient. Since I hate it when people post links in comments or on the blog (or in personal emails to me) without some hint of what's at the end of the link, let me tell you. A woman was denied French citizenship - and this was just upheld by a high court today - a Muslim woman who sheaths herself in a head-to-toe veil was denied French citizenship because she had not assimilated enough into French society. Apparently, the woman called "Faiza X," in the papers was denied citizenship because she had "adopted a radical practice of her religion incompatible with the essential values of the French community, notably with the principle of equality of the sexes, and therefore she does not fulfill the conditions of assimilation" listed in the Civil Code.

I would like an American court to say that the principle of equality of the sexes is an essential value of the American community.

As an American, I find the French decision a little shocking. Freedom of religion is also an essential part of our values. And it - not equality of the sexes, thanks to longstanding Republican opposition - is enshrined in the constitution. Do people need reminding that the GOP is the reason we don't have an Equal Rights Amendment?

I find the French solution more palatable than the British, however, who would admit the radical Islamic woman and subject her to some form of Sharia law in family affairs.

What do you all think of this decision?


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shh... It's a Revolution. Pass it on.

As has been reported here previously, the folks at National Popular Vote have been working on a way to sidestep the Electoral College. The idea is straightforward: participating states simply agree to award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, whoever may be. Naturally, the law does not kick in until states controlling 270 Electoral Votes (a majority) agree to do it.

Unlike a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College, which would require approvals from thirty-eight state legislatures, the eleven largest states control enough Electoral Votes to make it a done deal. (I believe there may be some concern regarding enforceability, but that issue is beyond my limited legal knowledge.) To my surprise and delight, the process appears to be slowly moving forward. Here is an update on the progress of what may well be a slow and quiet revolution.

* Four states--Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey--have passed the law, potentially committing a total of 50 Electoral Votes.

* California's full legislature has approved the bill, and we are waiting on the governor. Vermont and Rhode Island's full legislatures have also passed the bill, but their governors vetoed it.

* Six states--Washington, Colorado, Arkansas, North Carolina, Maine, and this week Massachusetts--have approved the bill in one legislative House, and we are waiting on the other.

* Eight states have approved the bill in at least one committee, and we await action by the full legislature.

In my very first post as an author on this blog, in January 2005, I urged the abolition of the Electoral College. Perhaps this is how it will actually happen--not with a bang, but with a whimper. There is no chance this will pass in time to affect the 2008 election, of course, but there is a chance for 2012. One can always hope.


The Battle for Colorado

The more I play with electoral vote maps, the more I come to the conclusion that Denver is exactly where Obama should be for the biggest speech of his life.

Here's my thinking.
1. Obama is solid in the upper Midwest, where Kerry was shaky (Iowa, Minn, Wisc). If he loses any of those states, it points to a McCain landslide. The GOP convention in Minnesota was meant to capitalize on Kerry's shakiness there, but that region is now done with the GOP for a while.

2. Ohio or Florida all but guarantee victory for Obama in the race, not least because to win either implies an Obama landslide. In this sense, they are not that crucial if the race gets tight - they are lost.

3. Virginia is crucial too, but it is hard to see Dems winning Virginia without being strong enough to win in Ohio and possibly Florida or Missouri or Indiana. So Virginia isn't really quite a backstop. Virginia is turning blue only if the election is going to Obama generally - not if it's as close as in 2000 or 2004.

4. I think that Democrats can reasonably hope to win the Presidency even if they lose both Ohio and Florida - in other words, if this looks like 2000 or 2004 all over again -- only if Obama can win Colorado and New Mexico but NM is bluer and smaller, so Colorado is the prize - win CO, you win NM). I see no other state that Dems can still win it even if they are too weak to win Ohio or Florida. Not Indiana, not Virginia, not Missouri.

Colorado's nine electoral votes are crucial also, not just for victory, but for the Democrats to stake their claim to the Mountain West. Whoever chose Denver for the convention is a genius. That's why Obama is the best candidate for the party. Western Democrats (CO, Idaho, Washington, etc.) flocked to Obama because he represents the new Democrats of the 21st centuyr, not the Clintonites against whom they Westerners turned in 1994, putting the GOP in power in the Congress.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Medical Care and the Free Market

This post started as an appendage to the previous post regarding Medicare, but I decided it would stand better as a separate piece. (I hope this will either be read carefully or not at all.) We discuss the virtues of the free market often on this blog, and The Citizens are varied in their responses to its siren's song. Raised by Republicans is more enamored with the free market than I am, I suspect, but I believe I might be a close second. Which leads me to the question: how can we harness the free market better than we have to provide for America's health care?

The insurance model treats the most worrisome of health care expenses--medical emergencies--like wildfires, but there is a critical difference: the potential liability of the insurer's obligation is unknown. Unlike a building, which can be restored for a predetermined price, medical costs associated with injury or illness are open-ended. To manage this sort of risk, the insurer uses medical examinations and actuarial tables: ultimately the insurer would like to segregate the insurance market into individual "pools" of one, where each person's premiums would equal the expected cost of their medical care (plus some profit margin). Thus the free market approach naturally drives the health care system toward an equilibrium wherein those who most require medical insurance will least be able to afford it. (Not to mention all the associated problems of moral hazard, adverse selection, racial discrimination, and simple abuse.)

We accept this sort of outcome when it comes to homeowner's insurance because (a) those who own the most expensive buildings are also the wealthiest, and perhaps we imagine they could make do with less, and (b) because building in a fire zone or floodplain is often a choice for which extra insurance is best considered just another part of the construction cost. (For poor folk whose home was not much of a choice, note that the State often provides emergency relief funds.) In the case of health care, however, the correlation between income and medical needs is often negative, and there is precious little one can do to avoid random injury or diseases with unknown causes (all health and medical fads to the contrary). In other words, market forces drive the insurance market toward an equilibrium that is acceptable in many cases but offends our sense of social justice when it comes to health care.

The HMO model treats the other main variety of health care expenses--preventive and routine health care--rather like buying a car. You choose your options, choose your level of service, and (hopefully) agree to regular maintenance which will keep your costs lower in the long run. The trouble is, the body is not a car. You cannot start over with a new one: The expenses just keep coming. As soon as it becomes clear that the monthly repair bills will always exceed the premiums received, market forces push the HMO to give up and take the car off the road. In other words, the service plan approach naturally drives the health care system to an equilibrium where those who are healthy are encouraged to stay healthy and those that are sick are encouraged to die. We accept this when it comes to auto insurance but it offends our sense of social justice when the health system writes someone off as "totaled."

The answers as I see them involve using the free market better than we have. To manage catastrophic health risks, society should take the opposite tack and expand to the largest pool possible: a national health insurance pool where no one can be denied coverage everyone is treated and charged equally regardless of age or medical history. The free market may be used within this defined arena to ensure responsiveness and efficiency that a monopoly would not provide. To handle preventive and routine health care, we should liberate patients from individual doctors and hospitals and make all plans fully fungible, which can be (and must be) accepted anywhere. Patients will then finally be free to use the free market to their advantage to obtain the best quality care. If done correctly, a combination of moderated insurance payment constraints plus patient empowerment should reward doctors and hospitals with a balanced scorecard valuing both patient well-being and low costs.

Such a system is no doubt tricky and expensive, but so is the current one. It is a question of social justice whether we are willing to change it. I know I am.


Medicare Gets another Reprieve

The House and Senate rebuked President Bush today and overrode his veto of a bill to spare doctors from a mandated 10.6% cut in Medicare payments, which would have been the most drastic ever. This historic veto override is the denouement of what the American Medical Association (AMA) called an unfortunate new annual rite whereby Congress must act to prevent cuts called for by the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula used by Medicare to pay health care providers.

The SGR formula was created in 1997 by the Republican Congress as an attempt to control growing Medicare spending (part of the omnibus Balanced Budget Act). Instead of indexing physician fees to real costs, to inflation, or to any other sensible measure, the SGR formula linked payments to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These were justified using projections based on the 1990s dot-com bubble, when GDP was soaring--but it just was another disaster waiting to happen. For more details, read this alarming AMA editorial from 2005, or this more technical article on their website.

Since 2002, Congress has stepped in each year to replace the SGR-mandated cuts with very modest increases--although since these increases fell well short of the rising costs, they still represented real losses to physicians. Last year, instead of applying yet another patch, the new Democratic majorities in the House in Senate attempted to solve the problem once and for all: they acted to wipe out two years' worth of cuts at once and alter the SGR formula itself for all future years--but this effort was part of the ill-fated SCHIP bill. The Democrats in the Senate had to drop those provisions from the final version to win Republican support, and then Bush vetoed the legislation anyway.

After a long fight, Medicare finally got its annual stay of execution today, but it remains on death row. Next year, the mandated SGR cut is expected to top 15%, a reduction so severe it might well kill the Medicare program altogether. We need a new national approach to health care to move us past this SGR madness toward a real solution. Simply paying doctors less money for the same services is not the answer. The current environment in which Medicare must live, privatized insurance, is becoming toxic.


America Needs Another Bubble

The Onion has a painfully funny article today: Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In. It hurts because it's true. Excerpts from the article:

"Perhaps the new bubble could have something to do with watching movies on cell phones," said investment banker Greg Carlisle of the New York firm Carlisle, Shaloe & Graves. "Or, say, medicine, or shipping. Or clouds. The manner of bubble isn't important—just as long as it creates a hugely overvalued market based on nothing more than whimsical fantasy..."

"The U.S. economy cannot survive on sound investments alone," Carlisle added.

[...]"America needs another bubble," said Chicago investor Bob Taiken. "At this point, bubbles are the only thing keeping us afloat."


Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker's Poor Taste

The New Yorker thinks this cover depicting Obama as bin Laden, is funny. I think it is in very poor taste and that it can be very misleading unless you read the article, which I haven't at this point. What do the Citizens think? The good news, most voters don't read the New Yorker. But if the cover becomes the story, it will get wide attention that could plant powerfully misleading visuals in people's minds. Shame on the New Yorker.

July 15, 2008: Update

Here is a transcript of an interview done with the editor of the New Yorker David Remnick, where he explains his decision to publish the cover.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Onward Christian Soldiers?

I recently saw a story on about a specialist (what used to be called "privates") who has been shunned and harassed by his fellow soldiers in Iraq and passed over for promotion because he is an atheist. The reason for his lack of promotion is particularly disturbing. His CO told him that he could not be a good leader because he would not pray with his subordinate soldiers (one wonders if that guy who was using the Koran for target practice got promoted). This being the American army, the soldier is suing.

This story is reminiscent of the flap at the US Air Force academy about aggressive proselytizing by conservative Evangelical officers and chaplains at the academy. That case also resulted in a law suit but it was thrown out of court. The plaintiffs in these two cases have now joined their efforts.

One of the disturbing side effects of an all volunteer military is it has evolved into a politically, economically and theologically/ideologically distinct part of our society. And what's most disturbing that difference is always in a rightward direction. I'm not going to cry out that there is a danger of a coup, that seems a little far fetched to me. But this is something we should address as a society. For starters, we should use the chain of command to enforce some semblance of tolerance and inclusivity on the military - like we did with race back in the 1950's.

Atheists make up anywhere from 7% to 20% of the population depending on who conducts the poll and whether you include agnostics and self described "secular" people. The complexity of the issue seems well dealt with at and wikipedia - well at least for blogging purposes. There are probably at least as many atheists as there are hard core fundamentalists. Yet the fundamentalists have taken over the military.

The wiki article suggests that religiosity is strongly and negatively correlated with education and income. That's probably why fundamentalist Christianity is so dominant in the all volunteer US military.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Nation of Whiners

Today, former Sen. Phil Gramm, a top economic adviser to presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, referred to the economic slowdown as "a mental recession" and called the United States “a nation of whiners.” McCain is backpedaling furiously. But what can he really do? That's what the Republicans really think. They're doing fine. They don't worry much about $5 gasoline (I saw premium at $5.09 last week). They're not facing foreclosure. They're not being laid off.

It doesn't get much better than this.


McCain's Military Service

Because I work around military types, I get mixed reviews about McCain's record of military service. Some tell me it was less than distinguished and had it not been for his imprisonment and torture, he would be seen a much less than a hero. So I decided to hunt around. What I found was very interesting. Almost hands down, the reports are either neutral (such as Wikipedia) or glowing (Such as Time). More independent sources such as Pro Patria,a blog by a Navy guy paint a different picture. In the interest of fairness, he says in the comments that follow his post, that his sources include Vietnamn Veterans Against John McCain and a book calledNightingale's Song by Robert Timberg who also wrote "John McCain: An American Odyssey."

So take the information as you will. But I think it is a point of view worth noting. That said, Obama cannot attack McCain directly on his military record, but it doesn't hurt for the likes of us to put it out there.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Talk About Your Symbolism...

The Republicans have been blocking a bill to rescind a devastating 11% cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The Democrats in the House managed to bring the issue to a vote, where it passed overwhelmingly, but they were stymied by Republican obstructionism in the Senate. Two weeks ago, the Democrats managed to get 59 votes, just one vote shy of the 60 needed to break the Republican filibuster. Two Senators were absent that day, however: Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Today, amid astonished applause, Sen. Kennedy returned to the Senate for the first time since his brain surgery to cast the deciding vote to break the filibuster. Seeing that it was a done deal, nine Republican Senators broke ranks and voted to pass the bill as well. (By previous agreement, the vote to break the filibuster was simultaneously a vote to pass the actual bill.) Bush has threatened to veto the Medicare bill--the Republicans are still trying to use this crisis to force changes to Medicare favored by the insurance industry--but it is now clear that veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate will act to preserve the Medicare program.

Kennedy hazarded his own fragile health to travel to Washington to vote for this measure, after which he immediately returned to his home in Massachusetts to resume chemotherapy. Sen. Obama interrupted his campaign to fly to Washington and vote for this measure. Meanwhile, McCain was the only Senator who did not even bother to show up. That just says it all, really.


Hokkaido Toyako ≠ Kyoto

At the G8 summit in Hokkaido Toyako yesterday, the "group of five" developing nations invited to discuss global climate change issues--China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa--refused to endorse the G8's flimsy pledge to cut carbon emissions 50% by 2050. Three other nations invited to the talks by the summit's Japanese hosts--Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea--tried to work a compromise, but the best they could produce was a vague statement that global climate change was a problem.

Incredibly, the New York Times today ran the very misleading headline, "Emerging Nations Join G-8 on Climate Goals," along with a picture of smiling leaders standing together. But the truth is this photo-op was all they agreed upon. There was no agreement on targets or timetables, and indeed the real news story reported in the rest of the world was the failure to reach meaningful agreement--considered a major embarrassment. Shame on the Times for parroting the Bush administration's propaganda on this one.

The group of five developing nations insisted on a two-tiered structure for cuts: developed nations would cut emissions between 25 and 40 percent by 2020--that is, real cuts up front--and in return, developing countries would slash their own emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. The shape of this proposal lays bare the truth about the G8's cynical "pledge" to cut emissions: the only pledge that means anything is to make real cuts in the forseable future. Nations could promise one million percent reductions by 2050 and the end result would still be just a lot of hot air.


Bad Russia, No Biscuit

In today's Los Angeles Times, Madeleine Albright and William Perry jointly wrote an op-ed piece that condemns John McCain's latest anti-Russia proposal: to kick them unceremoniously out of the G-8. The argument should be familiar, but with a twist: engagement and diplomacy, not humiliation, is the way to massage Russia back towards democracy. The twist is the "humiliation" aspect. Too often, American politicians misunderstand the American role in the world. When other countries "dis" us, we don't become humiliated - we get angry. That's because we know, at heart, that we're the uberdog. Other countries like China and Russia (even Iran) crave American approval. They want to be play with the big boys. And they take grievous offense when we try to "punish" them like this. McCain, who has already insulted Putin a number of times personally, sees no reason not to go down that road again. As with Iran, McCain's neoconservative view is that you preach and bully, and - if they still don't do your bidding - use military force. In Russia's case, it's all about building a missile shield in former East bloc countries even inducting pieces of the former USSR (the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia) into NATO (so that US troops can occupy former Soviet military bases and - in the Russian view - gloat in Cold War victory).

Only in China does McCain get it. He has said, intelligently enough, that if we talk like China is an enemy, we will make "her" an enemy (like Bush, McCain has this weird archaic and vaguely sexist habit of referring to countries as feminine). Why does McCain (and why do other neocons) understand this vis-a-vis China but nowhere else? My gues is the Nixon syndrome. They all "know" that Nixon was "brave" and "statesmanlike" in opening up China (and that Bush senior did right in ignoring the Tienanmen massacr). That, and the collapse of the Soviet Union (which isn't Reagan's doing, but they claim it anyway, and the so-called liberal media eats it up) are the only two foreign policy victories Republican can count since Teddy Roosevelt opened the Panama canal. So they are institutionally bound to approve of China policies of engagement, and too intellectually limited to follow them anywhere else.

Whatever you think about Russia and Vladimir Putin (and I know we disagree on this blog) I hope you agree that it is to nobody's benefit to treat the bear like a dog.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

President Bernanke

Continuing its unprecedented efforts to stabilize the financial markets, the Federal Reserve will implement next week a series of regulatory changes designed to end the most egregious misbehavior of mortgage lenders. A scholar of the Great Depression, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke knows well the failures of past Federal Reserve activity and he is determined to chart a better course amid the current crisis.

Today, Bernanke proposed new legislation to formalize some of the ad hoc procedures undertaken by the Fed in February and March. Meanwhile, the Bush administration's
"Paulson Plan" would restructure the eighty-five year old financial system in a way that would end daily supervision of large banks by the Federal Reserve. Bernanke warned Congress that ending such supervision would effectively prevent the Fed from doing its job. For Bush to propose restructuring the financial system without consulting the Federal Reserve Chair is foolish enough, but to hamstring the only Republican in Washington who is actually doing something about the financial crisis is almost criminal.

No matter what you think of the Bear Stearns "bailout" in the larger sense of economic justice, Bernanke certainly did his job. Despite some early hesitancy, Bernanke has learned from his mistakes. Unlike our actual President, who has been worse than useless, Bernanke has acted boldly and creatively, stepping into the void and doing whatever he can to help. Compared to Alan Greenspan's aloof and smug indifference in the face of financial firestorms, Bernanke's humble willingness to man the bucket line is refreshing.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Random Thought

Wouldn't former VT Senator Jim Jeffords be a fun choice for Obama's VP? Of course it will never happen, and Jeffords likely would not want the job anyway. I just thought it might be a nice riposte to Sen. Joe Lieberman's support for McCain.


McCain's Tragic Flaw

If I remember correctly, what I learned about drama in high school English and literature classes (not much by the way), there is a concept known as the "tragic hero." Tragic heroes differ from regular heroes in that the tragic one's contain within their characters' some tragic flaw that ends up bring on their own ruin. In the best classical literature and drama the flaw is directly linked to the thing that makes them heroic in the first place. I'll leave it to you guys to come up with examples from literature. I'm sure LTG and Seventh Sister can think of more and better examples than I can.

But I suggest that McCain is such tragic hero and thus poorly suited to be our President despite his obvious hero status. McCain is hero because of his famous captivity in a North Vietnamese POW camp where he was tortured and abused. He parlayed his heroism here into prominent political career, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate.

But some of his deepest character flaws follow from this heroic event. First, his political campaigns are riddled with hypocrisy. To be be the pure hero, McCain must appear to be humble about it. He must appear to deny his own heroism. However, since he's no great intellect (he graduated 894th out of 899 cadets at the Naval Academy in 1958), his main qualification for political office originates with a heroism he must at least appear to downplay. The result is that McCain and his surrogates frequently say that he doesn't like to talk about his captivity all the while making that captivity the centerpiece of his own biography and many of his public statements.

Second, in an interview on February 18 of this year, while Democrats were too busy going after each other to notice, McCain said this: '"I hate the gooks," McCain said yesterday in response to a question from reporters aboard his campaign bus. "I will hate them as long as I live."'

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying we should think McCain isn't a hero because he's a hypocrite and a racist. Nor am I saying that his racist attitude towards Vietnamese people isn't understandable (if extremely unfortunate) under the circumstances. If McCain were a relative of mine, I'd shake my head in private at these flaws and recognize them as part of his human response to an experience no man should endure.

I am saying that these traits are undesirable in a President. Vietnam is a particularly important country. As China rises in importance, our relationships with countries that border China will become critical. Vietnam is also a rising and rapidly changing economy in it's own right. Saying you hate them all is hardly a reasonable basis for diplomatic dialogue. What's more, such statements would be seen by the World, and our closest allies in particular, as a continuation of the hate based foreign policy of the Bush-Cheney administration.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

How to Defeat John McCain

If the election were held today, Barack Obama would win, but the election will not be held for four more months. So the problem for the Obama campaign is to avoid defeat in the next four months. This election is largely about Obama. As Mark Shields said well on the Newshour last week, the public basically knows who John McCain is and knows that they don't like Bush or his Republicans in power. What they don't know yet is whether Obama is an acceptable alternative. Obama remains definable. So what does Obama have to do?

1. Define himself as a regular politician. Return to Center (address unknown...). Obama is doing a good job of this right now. Obama needs to assure people that he is normal, even at the expense of being a Phenomenon, as he has been to date. To some extent, the view that he is an "ordinary politician" is not so awful. Sure, that dampens enthusiasm for him on the left, but the left is still voting for him, and so are the African-Americans. Assuring Middle America that he is not a revolutionary is important. Hence the Iraq business of late. He is saying that he won't be pigeonholed by McCain as someone who is "too rigid" in his views with a plan to end the war that bears no relation to facts on the ground. He is trying to show that he's realistic. This is a good thing.

2. Refine McCain. McCain is already defined in the public's mind, so much so that attempts to redefine his character are dismissed by pundits offhand. Calling him a right wing nut isn't going to work (even though it's true). But you can refine the public's views.
a) The public views him as angry and too quick to anger, even reckless. Go with that. Exaggerate that and accentuate that.
b) The public views him as being a man who sticks with his convictions, even a big stubborn: go with that, make him seem more stubborn, even obsessive over things like Iraq.
c) Conservatives view him as a bit of a turncoat. Go with that... talk about his changing positions. Point out that he undercut Bush, then embraced some of his views on the way out. The word "betray" can be used to great effect with McCain to dampen enthusiasm by conservatives.
d) McCain says he's better at foreign policy. Go with that. Show that he's too interested in foreign policy to be good at fixing the economy, which is our real problem.
e) McCain is old. He talks about the past all the time, about Vietnam, about his father and grandfather. Go with that. Wonder aloud about a Cold War mentality.

3. Undercut McCain's pedestal. Wes Clark took a great shot at McCain, making it possible to begin discussing in public whether McCain really can't be questioned as to his ability to be C-in-C. Obama can't do that, but he can profit from it. Emphasize McCain's flip-flops. This undercuts the view that he is a man of convictions. As you emphasize that he's more stubborn than principled, point out that he's also not that principled. See the comments above about betrayal.

4. Challenge McCain for specific proposals to improve economic conditions. McCain is a conservative - he doesn't really believe in specific proposals to help the economy. So he can't do a good job. The more he proposes, the less conservative he seems.

5. Make sure everyone in America knows that McCain opposed Bush's tax cuts too in the beginning. Say that he also opposes Bush's tax cuts without adding that he has a different view now. Make him explain that, if he dares.

So yes, it's a very negative campaign.

But that's okay. It's got to be that way, because McCain's only hope for winning is super-negative, to convince the public that Obama is Too Much of a Risk for them. Fight fire with fire. Make people realize that McCain is the risk; Obama is safe. That is the way to victory in four months' time.


Friday, July 04, 2008

The Smear Campaign Has Begun

Charles Krauthammer might be the worst, in that he has distorted and ignored so much of what was spoken that he is by this point living in his own reality, but many news organizations were at fault as well yesterday. Obama did his best to dispel the rumors as clearly as his could, but the damage has already been done: major news organizations decided Obama had flip-flopped on Iraq, and are now presenting that as fact.

Like many of the "gotcha" quotes from the primary season, nobody can quite seem to remember the offending words--but everybody knows that Obama flip-flopped somehow. That's how the news works these days: ten thousand little voices that parrot each other. Some may try to argue that Obama set himself up for this charge when he made a surprise shift on faith-based initiatives, which left some of us to anticipate further policy shifts. But I doubt that made any difference here. The Republicans and conservative mass-media found their narrative and they are sticking to it.

Now we will see what Obama has learned from the campaign trail. Can he fight off this smear campaign? Obama needs to go after this false rumor with everything in his arsenal. The truth is that the only flip-floppers here are the bought-and-paid-for pundits, who will say anything or do anything to grab media attention.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

This is Not Triangulation

Barack Obama came out swinging against Proposition 8 (the ballot initiative to amend the CA constitution and ban gay marriage). John McCain is supporting the initiative - or at least he publicly praised it last week. Some are accusing Barack Obama of trying to have it both ways, since he still says he believes marriage should be only between a man and a woman. His opposition, however, is because he views the constitutional ban is "divisive and discriminatory." That is certainly a correct observation: whatever you think about gay marriage as a matter of principle, this move to amend the CA constitution smells very unpleasant. Not only will it un-marry people out of spite, but it also is just nasty in its tone. Fair enough.

I suppose we should all be a little tolerant of a politician who has been opposed to gay marriage but is evolving his position on the issue. I changed my view on this four years ago; I should not like to be called hypocritical for the evolution. We are all hoping millions of Californians do have changed their views from 2000 when the last anti-gay-marriage initiative was passed.

Of course, the difference between hypocrisy and pandering on the one hand, and changing your mind on the other, is a matter of honesty. I am not sure Obama has been honest about this. But the honesty gap is not related to Prop 8 - it's that Obama won't say publicly that he is, and has been for quite some time, pro-gay-marriage, because it's a political disaster for him, particularly with hardcore working class white voters (i.e., the much touted HRC "base" in rural Ohio, Penn, Ky, WV, etc.) where he needs the most help. I get it.

I am just sorry that Obama won't have the guts to say, when McCain talks about the need to "defend marriage", something like, "Well, John, I'm still on my first wife. What have you done to honor marriage lately?" McCain was cheating on his first wife (Carol) with his second wife (Cindy) before he dumped Carol and married Cindy six weeks after the divorce was final.

I have no problem with divorce, but I think adultery and a somewhat careless attitude toward marriage held by some people who have been married three times or more (e.g., Giuliani), or by Britney Spears with her hours-long marriages, is much more destructive to the institution of marriage than the desire of other committed monogamous couples to join in.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Bold, Astringent Aroma of Recession

Starbucks announced it is closing 600 stores in the US over the next year, or about 20% of those it opened in the past two years. 12,000 employees will be affected. This is the first major rollback of Starbucks expansion in its history.

To some extent, the problem is saturation of the market and cannibalization of profits from competing stores. But the deeper problem clearly is that people are just not buying as many cappuccinos as was predicted. Even more than gay marriage, the mass closure of Starbucks is a sure sign of the apocalypse. (Or at least, of recession.)


Worth a Read

In the July issue of the New Yorker, Sey Hersh is back on the Administration's Plan for Iran It's worth a read. Want to listen instead? Hersh talks about it in detail with Fresh Air.

Among the more interesting parts:

Congress has a hard time controlling the President's escalation with Iran because he has intertwined CIA ops (which have to be reported to Congress) with military intelligence op, using Joint Special Operations Command -JSOC(Which are not briefed to Congress). Because of this, it makes it impossible for Congress to monitor what is going on or to even get to the bottom of who's doing what. The Administration is playing its old games of expanding presidential power so that it can run military operations anywhere, any time.

Admiral Fallon was let go because he succeeded in preventing war with Iran. He had managed to forge a special relationship with the Special Operations guys, thereby gaining some control over what they were doing in Iran. But Cheney shut him down.

In recent months, there has been a surge of violence in Iran believed to be linked to Special ops and CIA action in the area. Our guys have been passing money around to minority dissident groups in Iran and suddenly bombs go off that kill high ranking Iranian military personnel. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner says that hardly a day goes by now when there isn't a report in the Iranian controlled press about violence or clashes somewhere in Iran and that the press is very openly describing the killings going on.

Back in January, Admiral Cosgriff defused tension after he announced that aggressive moves against 3 Navy warships 5 five Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz were probably Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but that threats against the ships that came over ship-to-ship radio were probably the results of a known prankster in the area. Cheney's office was angry that Cosgriff had been successful at defusing the situation and held meetings in his office on how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington.

We are funding groups and training them that are on the terrorist watch list.

This Administration will do whatever it wants. I promise you that if Obama wins, Bush will do something to spark armed conflict with Iran because he will be convinced that Obama won't do this. And if McCain wins, McCain would do it anyway. We are headed to armed conflict.


Not Happy

Sen. Barack Obama pledged today to expand Pres. Bush's Faith-based Initiatives. Obama would rename the program the "Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships" and would make it a "moral center" for his administration. He would also support some ability of religious institutions to hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxpayer supported areas of their work. (The little caveat about "non-taxpayer supported areas" conveniently ignores the fact that funding is, well, fungible.)

This proposal certainly is a brilliant maneuver on Obama's part to try to woo or split the Evangelical bloc... But it is also the definition of pandering. Doling out federal funds to religious organizations and permitting employers to discriminate in the name of God are bad policies no matter who proposes them. Hiring and firing based on "faith" is really just code for letting certain businesses exclude gays and lesbians.

Given Obama's strong record on gay rights, I trust he will only sell us out so far. I'm not happy, but he still has my vote. Although one wonders whether Obama would have been willing to cut this deal if Mormons still named blacks a, "dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people," whom God had, "cursed," with a, "skin of blackness." You can read Obama's plan here.