Friday, September 28, 2012

Silly Season !!!!! Obamaphone!!!

Obama Phone "official website"

After watching this video which one of the following best describes your reaction:

a) OUTRAGE!!! More taxpayer-funded FREEBIES for lazy MOOCHERS!!!!

b) *Eyeroll* With Breitbart dead this can only be the work of Drudge or Limbaugh

If you picked (a) then you have failed modern American civics. You are not nearly cynical enough to be an informed member of the voting bloc. If you picked (b) then congratulations! You can vote with the satisfaction that you can deduce humor and/or subterfuge without it affecting your franchise.

The video was put up on Drudge's site and Rush Limbaugh weighed in today:

So these are the people that don’t like Romney because of what he said about 47%? No, these are the 47%!… She knows. She knows how to get this free Obama phone. She knows everything about it. She may not know who George Washington is or Abraham Lincoln, but she knows how to get an Obama phone.

Of course, it's all bullshit. TPM reports:

Since 2009, there has been an urban myth that Obama created a program to provide free phones to low-income Americans at taxpayer expense. There is, in fact, a government program that will provide low-income people with a free or low cost cell phone. It was started in 2008 under George W. Bush.
The idea of providing low-income individuals with subsidized phone service was originated in the Reagan administration following the break-up of AT&T in 1984. (It was expanded and formalized by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.) The program is paid for by telecommunications companies through an independent non-profit, not through tax revenue. explains:
The president has no direct impact on the program, and one could hardly call these devices "Obama Phones"... This specific program, SafeLink, started under President George [H.W.] Bush, with grants from an independent company created under President Bill Clinton, which was a legacy of an act passed under President Franklin Roosevelt, which was influenced by an agreement reached between telecommunications companies and the administration of President Woodrow Wilson.

I'm just counting the days until this election is over. The latest idiocy is that President Obama is handing out free cell phones?!! It's an awesome idea to get the juices flowing, containing just enough truthiness about the alleged welfare takers and the injustice of free luxury appliances being handed out.

The lady in the video is animated, the perfect protagonist for the meme. We know that she is one of the following: a) crazy, b) a paid participant, or c) messin' with whitey. 

Personally I vote for (c), and kudos to her if she is.

Short story:

About 3 days after the election in November 2008 I was riding in a hospital elevator with an older colleague who was a former hospital chief-of-staff, a well-respected, compassionate and skilled surgeon...and also a vociferous opponent of Barack Obama. We were on our way back from lunch discussing either the recent Bears game or perhaps a patient's care, and in steps a young, thin, 30-ish black male, slightly unkempt, t-shirt untucked, rheumy eyes carrying a cafeteria tray containing two sandwiches, two sodas and a salad.

He was animated and joking. ""G'afternoon. How you 'bofe' this lovely afternoon?"

"Good, yourself?" I said.  

My colleague, I'll call him Ken, grunted and looked at the panel of buttons. "Which floor?" he asked the younger man.

"Number 2, thank you," the black man said. Then he looks down at his tray and looks up at the two of us and adds, "You know, after January 20th I'll get this food for free." 

"Huh?" I took the bait.

"Sure. Barack Obama is going to be Prez-dent of the United States!" he shouted and grinned broadly,  demonstrating an incomplete set of tobacco stained teeth. "Yup. Prez-dent."

I smiled; Ken grunted, a little louder than before. The elevator door opened and the three of us departed. The young man headed over to the inpatient surgery waiting area, and Ken and I continued down the long hallway.  

"See, this is what we've done to our country, Tony," Ken said. He knew that I had voted for Obama and his tone was just a touch scolding.

"Ken, don't you get it? He's messin' with us. It's funny."

"That's funny?"

"...and he's proud, maybe. Who knows? I'm sure this is an emotional time for him."

Ken continued down the long hallway and I turned around because I remembered that I had to go to a different department on the other side of the hospital. I passed by the surgical waiting room and looked in. The young black man was now standing with an older black lady, probably his mother or aunt, both had tears. They were talking with one of the urological surgeons who was clearly relating serious news, probably about a father, a husband, or an uncle. 

The tray of soon-to-be-free food was sitting on a chair, untouched.

I kept walking. 

I don't know a lot, but I know that young man was worried about a lot more than getting free food.  His humor, whether a defense mechanism or a diversion from his concerns, was not malicious or intended to be literal. He was just messin' with us--- pushing a button, and it worked. It was funny.  Thank you, young man, wherever you are.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hawk Harrelson wins an Award !! the most biased announcer in baseball.

Way to go Hawk!

"You just made my day," Harrelson said when told of his place in the biased standings. "That's the biggest compliment you could give me, to call me the biggest homer in baseball."

Comedians in Cars

The best one so far (click below):

Seinfeld may be re-inventing the talk show. Very well done.

(h/t Kris)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"I Inherited Nothing"

My impression of Mitt Romney is that he is a pleasant and well-intended individual who is clearly a good executive, personally generous and respected, and has paid a lot of taxes. My question is whether any of this translates to being an effective president.

Sam Seder calls Romney "psychopathic" for thinking of himself as a self-made man, and I guess I never really thought of it that way. In this audio clip Romney is obviously talking to close associates or donors-- like-minded individuals-- and the context is somewhat muddled. I'm trying to empathize with Romney: would I ever make such comments to any group and what would the context be?

Mitt Romney admits that he has had advantages but stops short of calling them an "inheritance." He says that the mere luck of having been born in America is equivalent to having "a silver spoon." Is it?

Alex Pareene sorts out what life would have been like if Romney had not had advantages beyond just being American:

If a theoretical non-rich Mitt Romney had gone to college (57 percent of male high school graduates enrolled in college in 1965), a prestigious private school like Stanford might’ve been out of reach. When Mitt Romney attended Stanford, tuition was $1,575 a year, which is more than $11,000 in today’s dollars, and this was just at the cusp of the age of financial aid. (If Romney were black, going to college in 1965 would’ve been significantly less likely.) And if theoretical working-class Romney had managed to bootstrap himself into a good school, it would’ve almost certainly been with the assistance of the federal government, in the form of the National Defense Education Act or the Higher Education Act of 1965 (the year Romney enrolled in Stanford).
Romney spent only a year at Stanford, and finished his degree at the less prestigious Brigham Young, at which point he was accepted into Harvard Law and then the very exclusive joint law/business degree program. When that happened, his father, by the way, was a cabinet secretary. I’m just saying.
There are the advantages of America, and then there are the the advantages of Romney's America. In Romney's America young men can march to support a war and then garner 4 deferments to avoid service. In Romney's America young men have no student loan debt and gain acceptance into elite universities having earned mediocre grades. In Romney's America young men travel through France while others die and get disfigured in jungles. In Romney's America men are deluded into thinking that 47% of us do not pay taxes.
Romney's America is far different than regular America, real America.
Of course, none of this automatically disqualifies Romney for the presidency...we've had psychopaths in the White House before.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL Refs: Call it Maybe

It looks like I picked a good year to give up NFL football, resigning from my fantasy league. The game has become too violent, with too many thug athletes, and now inept officiating.

Disclosure: I did watch the last quarter of MNF last night...a thing of beauty, pure poetry: the Packers coach (not) whining and Aaron Rodgers looking like the winsome 40 year-old virgin at his post-game presser after the team from Wisconsin got jobbed by non-union refs. Karma.

Maybe Roger Goodell should add Scott Walker to the labor negotiation team.

APM's Marketplace estimates that last night's blown call  will cost the town of Green Bay millions of dollars when adding the lost revenue of a home play-off game with concessions, parking, hotels, etc. And that's not including the perhaps quarter of billion dollars that were transacted in sports books.

According to Jonathan Mahler at Bloomberg, the referees want an increased salary and to continue their defined benefit plan, which would cost a few million dollars-- a mere "rounding error" to the $9 billion NFL. As Mahler points out, this is not a dying Midwestern city, it's the most popular sport in the wealthiest nation on earth.

The NFL will cave, as they should, after all this is football we're talking about, not just whiney school teachers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Romney Jazz

I'm gonna miss Mitt Romney, but the guy's been running for president for 7 years and he just doesn't do it very well.

Enough of the humor. Stewart rants in righteous fashion:

Willful blindness, indeed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Campaign that Ended with a Smirk

Which one of these men is smirking at the prospect of winning political brownie points from the murder of an American diplomat?

Well it was fun.

Campaign seasons are always silly and this one did not disappoint, but now it's over. Too bad really, because I think there were several issues that could have been debated, several perceived failings of the way President Obama has handled things that could have made interesting dialog. 

I always thought that Mitt Romney was probably a capable administrator, after all he did serve as CEO of a successful enterprise. Granted, I'm not sure those skills necessarily translate to the Presidency, but it was worth a debate. He certainly seemed smarter than the last Republican President, right?

Romney's campaign manager a few months back seemed to telegraph a strategy whereby they would erase their politics--like an Etch-a-Sketch-- and create a more moderate persona for the candidate after the Republican Convention. They didn't. Instead they seemed to have panicked and created an imbecile. I guess it's better that we found out now instead of after the election like in 2000.

Here's the story of how Mr. Romney got the timeline wrong, criticized the President's foreign policy before he got all the facts and US embassies were still under active assault, then doubled down on the ill-advised rhetoric the next morning:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For what it's worth, I doubt it takes a lot to "stun" Chuck Todd, but whatever. Still, Mr Romney's comments seem indecent. Proof of this indecency comes from Rush Limbaugh's support for Romney on this issue. And, inexplicably, Donald Rumsfeld has crawled out from under his rock to add his insanity by stating:

"The attacks on our embassies & diplomats are a result of perceived American weakness. Mitt Romney is right to point that out. "

Dailykos points out that under Bush's presidency our embassies sustained more than an attack per year-- more than during the current administration-- and several diplomats and workers were murdered, so this must say something about "perceived American weakness" under Bush-Rumsfeld leadership. And that doesn't even count the 9-11 attacks.

There was a time when we had two political parties in this nation, when fundamental ideologies could be debated, but not anymore. Even on this issue, maybe we could debate whether Marines should act as security on 9-11 in hotspot areas, but that didn't happen. Now the opposition is not loyal, they just filibuster,  obstruct jobs bills, lob rhetorical grenades... and smirk.

Good-bye, Mr Romney, you gave it a shot.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Macroeconomics and STRUCTURAL risk

Jon Stewart interviews Austan Goolsbee, economics professor from the University of Chicago and former Obama adviser. This clip summarizes the idea of risk mitigation in macroeconomics better than anything I've seen on television. No matter your politics I think this is educational.  Do we lower tax rates on high income earners to incentivise risk taking, or do we provide structural safety nets to incentivise workers to take risks such as going back to school or moving across the country for a better job? This is a fundamental question about the structure of our economy.

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This morning on CNBC Rick Santelli interviews James Bianco about the latest employment numbers that show we are not creating enough jobs to keep up with our growing work force. (The video link is here in case the embed doesn't work.) Note the reference to structural economics problems.

Santelli has been vociferous in his condemnation of current economic policy, note the self-sure smirk as he gladly reports on the lousy employment statistics.  But also note that he and Bianco agree that the macroeconomic problems are "structural" yet offer no other remedy. Granted, this is a short clip and we cannot expect Santelli to offer a lengthy solution (here is a more full-throated diatribe) but his mantra has always been that we should "cut spending" while leaving out specifics, and he has bemoaned for years that federal spending will lead to inflation and high interest the detriment of any investor/ trader who has taken his advice.

MY COMMENT: There are no easy solutions; financial meltdowns take years-- maybe a generation-- to fix. This is not a mere oil shock like the 1970's. The structural problems in our economy need structural solutions. Central banks do have a role to play, issuing monetary easing to keep us treading water while we educate the next generation in useful jobs, while Europe digs out of their fiscal crises and begins to collect taxes for a change, while we re-build our debilitated infrastructure and repair our housing market, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, etc.  Structural.

Santelli is concerned about the value of the dollar, but he needs to get over it. Fiat currencies ALWAYS lose value-- that is what governments are supposed to do to spur investment and inhibit stockpiling currency-- but actually the US dollar has not lost any value in the current crisis, rather, it has gained value versus other currencies. US Treasuries have outperformed and are at multi-generational low rates. This is the clearest evidence that world markets have confidence in US policy. Can this change? Yes, in fact it definitely WILL change eventually. The best thing that could happen is that interest rates climb, which would be a sign that people are taking on risk in the equity markets and leaving the safety of US bonds.  

Structure, baby.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Social Contract is Void

From CWE:

And wages as a percent of the economy have hit an all-time low.

Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. This is both cause and effect. One reason companies are so profitable is that they’re paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP. And that, in turn, is one reason the economy is so weak: Those “wages” are other companies’ revenue.
~Business Insider

The chart below shows corporate profits.  You may notice that regulations and the fear of taxes are not inhibiting business profits.  You may also note that conservatives are pushing for further tax breaks for large corporations and espousing the view point that somehow too much government intervention is making it difficult to be profitable.  Right.

The chart below shows the rate of credit (red) vs. the rate of the economy (blue).  We are a credit driven economy.  Some could call that a House of Cards.
Put differently, the growth of our borrowing (red line) has wildly outpaced the growth of our economy (blue line).
This chart shows American GDP when you subtract out what we borrow to fuel the economy.  WOW.
In fact, here's what the last half-century of GDP looks like when you subtract the amount we've borrowed from the amount we've made. (Yes, that's a very big negative number).

MY COMMENT: We borrow to pay for wars, we borrow to drill for oil, we borrow to pay for unemployment benefits, we borrow to finance tax cuts, we borrow to maintain consumer spending, we borrow for everything.  

What the hell was THAT?

The Republican National Convention is over with overwhelming evidence confirming Barney Franks' aphorism, We're not perfect but they're nuts.  Now we have only to see just how imperfect the Democrats can be.

In listening to the various speeches, I conclude that Presidential candidate Romney is a big picture kind of guy, extolling generalities about motherhood and floral arrangements, while uttering not one word about foreign wars and commandering in chief. It seems Paul Ryan is the detail guy and we were entertained by his fact-free diatribe about deficits and government reform that even Fox News found duplicitous on several counts.

And Clint Eastwood summarized the Republican case against the President in the most emblematic manner: performance art whereby an angry old white guy argues with an imaginary Obama.

You would think the Republicans would be pursuing my vote, but they are not. They spoke of nothing that would benefit me over the status quo, in fact, Paul Ryan wants to keep Medicare on its apparently unsustainable path for another ten years, spending at increasing rates, until 2 years before I enter the rolls, and then it gets lopped off by $700 billion.  He's not looking for my vote.

The Romney/Ryan ticket is a construction of the political process, with monied interests from a few donors able to finance a candidate with a huge warchest.  Nobody else on the Republican side could have possibly competed in this race over the long haul, so we have a ticket that represents a small minority that have wealth and can buy a presidency.

The wealthy have torn up the social contract and the Democrats have been asleep at the wheel when they should have been nurturing our social safety nets. Instead we have endless war, tax cuts, debt, poor wage growth, and GDP fueled only by more borrowing. We don't really do anything anymore.

Revolt of the Rich

Revolt of the Rich, in the American Conservative, by Mike Lofgren.  Excerpt:

"The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves. Those super-rich, in turn, aim to create a “tollbooth” economy, whereby more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us. Was this the vision of the Founders? Was this why they believed governments were instituted among men—that the very sinews of the state should be possessed by the wealthy in the same manner that kingdoms of the Old World were the personal property of the monarch?

"Since the first ziggurats rose in ancient Babylonia, the so-called forces of order, stability, and tradition have feared a revolt from below. Beginning with Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre after the French Revolution, a whole genre of political writings—some classical liberal, some conservative, some reactionary—has propounded this theme. The title of Ortega y Gasset’s most famous work, The Revolt of the Masses, tells us something about the mental atmosphere of this literature.
"But in globalized postmodern America, what if this whole vision about where order, stability, and a tolerable framework for governance come from, and who threatens those values, is inverted? What if Christopher Lasch came closer to the truth in The Revolt of the Elites, wherein he wrote, “In our time, the chief threat seems to come from those at the top of the social hierarchy, not the masses”? Lasch held that the elites—by which he meant not just the super-wealthy but also their managerial coat holders and professional apologists—were undermining the country’s promise as a constitutional republic with their prehensile greed, their asocial cultural values, and their absence of civic responsibility.
"Lasch wrote that in 1995. Now, almost two decades later, the super-rich have achieved escape velocity from the gravitational pull of the very society they rule over. They have seceded from America."
Mike Lofgren served 16 years on the Republican staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees. He has just published The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted