Saturday, June 30, 2012

Note to People Who Hate Gay and Lesbians – You Are Losing the Battle When Oreo Cookies goes to the Other Side

The Great Thing About America,  Hate Almost Always Loses in the Long Run

For reason totally inexplicable to the rest of us, there is a group of American that hate, positively despise people who are gay or lesbians.  Many have made it their mission in life to actively torment and persecute gay and lesbian couples.  Some want to jail people for homosexual activity, and they have at least a couple of Supreme Court Justices who think this is okay, Justices who voted to uphold a Texas law making homosexual conduct a crime.

But the haters are losing.  We know this because corporate America is now moving to the side of equality.  The latest is the Oreo cookie, whose symbolic re-depiction of an Oreo (no you cannot buy one that looks like this) shows a support for Gay Pride.  Oreo is just one of a number of high profile companies joining the list of those consumer product seller who want their customers to know that unlike some people, they are not bigots.

The LGBT community may be small, but it and its backers are vocal, often rallying support for companies deemed to be on their side and organizing boycotts against others (cough, cough, Target ).

Companies are even competing to have the most creative gay-friendly internal policies, according toa February report  from the Economist. American Express has a “pride network” with more than 1,000 members; Cisco offers LGBT workers a bonus to make up for an irregularity in the U.S. tax code.

Overt (but not covert) racism has been largely removed from America life and condemned by almost everyone.  But there are still small pockets of racists left.  That is the future of attitudes towards gay and lesbian couples. There will never be 100% acceptance, but the haters will at some time in the near future be just a small group of disreputable people, and will be largely ignored.  And everyone will wonder what the big fuss was all about. 

A Handshake is Sometimes More Than a Handshake – A Glimmer of Hope in a Difficult World

Can a Thousand Years Plus of Conflict Be Ending in Anglo-Irish Relations

As has been frequently noted in this Forum, many of the world’s problems lie in some of the smallest areas.  In the Middle East, it is the small nation of Israel and the Palestinian people that are the source of a conflict that could threaten the world’s energy supplies and even lead to a nuclear war.  Taiwan is a very small nation island, yet its relationship with China can be a potential regional conflict.  The nation of Cuba has caused problems in its relationship with the United States far in excess of its importance in world affairs.

This same thing can be said of the issue of Northern Ireland and Britain.  The world has been shocked for decades by the level of violence and hatred in the relationship, and in particular in the loss of life, many of them innocent by-standers.  The hatred between the two parties is deep and historical, covering millennia.  So it is amazing that an event happened recently that was unthinkable by almost everyone.

The Queen publicly shook hands with the former IRA commander and current Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness today, in a move that has seen British-Irish relations take a momentous step forward.

The historic encounter would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago, but the ongoing success of the peace process and the Queen’s conciliatory words and gestures during a visit to the Republic of Ireland last year paved the way for the meeting.

There have been many so-called ‘breakthroughs’ in the attempt to gain peace in Northern Ireland, but it now appears that the recent ones are real.  If so, it is an example of how even the most vicious conflicts can give way to a satisfactory peace when the welfare of people and not politicians and government officials comes first.

David Brooks – Writes a Column for the New York Times and Doesn’t Even Understand Basic Tax Concepts

It’s Okay Though – He is a Conservative, Not Much is Expected

The New York Times has an admirable goal.  It wants to balance its editorial pages with commentary from intelligent and thoughtful Conservatives.  The problem, finding intelligent and thoughtful Conservatives.

The most recent effort of the Times has been a gentleman named David Brooks.  Here is Mr. Brooks writing on health insurance policy.

Mr. Brooks - Funny, He
Looks Smart
Liberals tend to argue that major structural changes can be made within the framework of Obamacare. Republicans tend to believe that the perverse incentives can only be corrected if we repeal Obamacare and move to a defined-benefit plan — if we get rid of the employer tax credit and give people subsidies to select their own plans within regulated markets.

Personally, I think the Republicans’ defined-contribution approach is compelling. It’s a potentially effective way to expand coverage while aligning incentives so that people make cost-conscious, responsible decisions. But the truth is neither I nor anybody else really knows what works. We’re going to have to go through a process of discovery. We’re going to have to ride the period of rapid innovation that is now under way.

Let’s leave aside the contradiction that in the first paragraph Mr. Brooks calls the Republican plan a “defined benefit plan” and in the second paragraph it is a “defined contribution plan”, and attribute that to just sloppiness (a crime this Forum is also frequently guilty of).  Let’s also leave aside the fact that defined contribution and defined benefit plans are really terms for retirement plans and not health insurance plans.  We will even let slide the idea that Republicans want “regulated” markets when in fact it is unregulated markets that Republicans are pursuing.  Regulation is an anathema to them.

But notice how Mr. Brooks talks about getting rid of the “employer tax credit”.  While there are tax credits in the ACA for small businesses, what we really have today is an employer tax deduction for the employer’s portion of the cost of providing health insurance.  Even H & R Block rookies know the difference between tax credits and tax deductions.  Apparently Mr. Brooks does not.

The Conservative mantra in this case and most others, “it doesn’t matter; facts don’t matter; only our ideology matters and it is right no matter what the facts”.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Stories We Don’t Understand

From the Los Angeles Time Web Site

Call for criminal probe of ex-Vernon official

By Sam Allen | 4:51 p.m.
Auditors have been unable to locate former administrator Eric T. Fresch about the city's financial woes. He made as much as $1.6 million in 2008 and continues to consult.

Uh, if he continues to consult why exactly have the auditors been unable to locate him?

Barclays Top Executive Bob Diamond to Give Up Bonuses After Bank Faces Massive Fine for Illegal Manipulation of Interest Rates

Why Is This News – It Shouldn’t Be “New”

The state of excessive executive compensation, particularly when the executive that is the subject of discussion has performed poorly is such that it is now considered news when said executive’s excessive compensation is reduced.  Such is the case when the executives at Barclays Bank will have to go without their bonuses this year.  Here is the why.

Bob Diamond
Bob Diamond has pledged to make Barclays a
 better corporate citizen.  - Right!
Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

 has been slapped with total fines of £290m for its "serious, widespread" role in manipulating the price of crucial interest rates in a move that has forced chief executive Bob Diamond and other top executives to forgo any bonuses for 2012.

The £59.5m fine from the Financial Services Authority is the largest penalty ever levied by the City regulator, which found that Barclays contravened its rules for a number of years and involved "a significant number of employees".

The other penalties paid by Barclays are to settle with the US authorities, the department of justice ($200m) and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission ($160m), as part of an industry wide probe into the way that interest rates traded between banks were set.

Of course these fines all sounds like a lot of money, and it is for normal people but it is really chump change for a large financial institution.  In fact, most of the companies look upon fines like this as just another cost of doing business.  Cheat a little, make a lot of money and if you get caught and have to pay a fine, well, that just cuts into the profits by a small amount.

The really big news is that the management team at Barclays is actually going to have to give up some compensation.  Of course the CEO also made the obligatory “we are gong to be a better corporate citizen” statement too.

Diamond, who has been pledging to make Barclays a better corporate citizen, is giving up his bonus for 2012 as a result.

"The events which gave rise to today's resolutions relate to past actions which fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires in the conduct of its business. When we identified those issues, we took prompt action to fix them and co-operated extensively and proactively with the authorities," Diamond said.

"Nothing is more important to me than having a strong culture at Barclays; I am sorry that some people acted in a manner not consistent with our culture and values."

Now in normal places people who do bad things in a company lose their jobs.  But at banks the rules are different.  The crime is not breaking the rules, it is getting caught.  And the punishment is not getting fired, it is making a few million less for a year.

The boss of Barclays Capital (the investment banking arm) Rich Ricci; the chief operating offer Jerry del Missier and finance director Chris Lucas are giving up their bonuses too.

And of course we do have the statement of a contrite CEO.  That should count for something.  And if this happens again maybe the executives will have to stay in their rooms after work and not go out to play for a week.

Why the United States Does Not Have to Worry About China’s Military Ambitions Against America

They Have Concluded It’s Much Easier and Cheaper to Simply Buy Rather Than Take

A major fear of Conservatives, one no doubted pushed by those who would benefit from even more U. S. spending on defense is that this country must build a strong military to protect us against China.  After all, China could put a couple of million soldiers on ships and take a two week cruise across the Pacific and invade Pismo Beach.  Yes it could happen.

Of course the reason it won’t happen (aside from being a complete fantasy) is that China can do very much better by just using its vast dollar currency reserves (that they earned by selling us the junk one finds in dollar stores) to buy what it wants in the United States.  Case in point, Chinese investment in major housing projects.

Lennar Corp.,  one of the U.S.'s largest home builders, is in talks with the China Development Bank for approximately $1.7 billion in capital to jump-start two long-delayed San Francisco projects that would transform two former naval bases into large-scale housing developments, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The negotiations aren't final and the financing arrangement could still fall through. But if completed, the deal would reflect a changing dynamic between the U.S. and Chinese economies, as an American company turns to China for help funding a long-delayed and partially publicly funded project that otherwise wouldn't get done.

Of course, until now the Chinese have concentrated primarily on the developing part of the planet.

In recent years, Chinese state money—in large part provided by CDB and its counterpart the Export-Import Bank of China—has been pivotal in funding major infrastructure and resource projects around the world, but the bulk of that activity has been in developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia.

But maybe this means that the United States is looking more like a developing rather than a developed nation. 

With Chinese firms increasingly eyeing opportunities in the U.S. and other developed markets, CDB will likely find itself being approached to fund more deals in the U.S. People familiar with the negotiations said CDB was using the Treasure Island and Hunters Point projects—which both include "green" building and affordable housing components that are of interest to Chinese builders—as a test case to become familiar with what's required for doing such deals in the U.S.

But that’s ok.  If Republicans succeed in adopting the austerity programs they so want to do, with massive cuts in government spending and the fiction of stimulating the economy by massive cuts in taxes for the wealthy the U. S. will look more and more like a developing nation.  And China may then feel they have a moral imperative to send aid to the U. S.

Sarah Palin Rejects Claim that She is a Liar with Respect to Her Comments on ‘Death Panels’

And No She is Not a Liar, She is a ___________________ (fill in the blank yourself)

Unable to fight the compulsion to be in the public light, Sarah Palin has emerged from wherever she is living these days to once again charge that the health care act of the Obama Administration provided for ‘Death Panel’, a board of people who would make decisions about whether or not people will live or die.

Sarah Palin is pictured. | AP Photo
'I was called a liar for calling it like it is,' Palin writes. | AP Photo
Three years after Sarah Palin boiled up the rage in the health care debate with “death panel” remarks, the former GOP vice presidential candidate is proudly sticking by her claim in a Facebook post Monday afternoon.

Palin charged in a August 2009 Facebook post that the Democrats’ health care bill would empower a “death panel” of government bureaucrats who can decide who lives or dies. The 2009 claim earned Palin Politifact’s “Lie of the Year,” but she said today that the president’s health care law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board makes life-or-death decisions.

 “It was a pretty long post, but a lot of people seem to have only read two words of it: ‘death panel,’” Palin wrote today. “Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is, many of these accusers finally saw that Obamacare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about health care funding.”

While this Forum is loathe to defend Ms. Palin, it finds it must do so.  Although we know of no major main stream political person who has called Ms. Palin a liar for her claim of ‘Death Panels” (Ms. Palin must always, always play the victim card, she must have a full deck of them) it is clear that she is not a liar on this subject. 

To be a liar Ms. Palin must know that what she is saying is not true, and it should be clear to everyone that Ms. Palin actually believes what she is saying, and thus is not a liar and should not be labeled as such.  However since what she is saying is not true, never was true and cannot be true, then what she should be called is ‘delusional’ or ‘confused’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘uninformed’ or . . .  well you get the idea.  Just pick your favorite term.

Ms. Palin must be living in fear of a Romney victory.  If that happens she will find that she has absolutely no press coverage, that no one will be paying any attention to anything she says and that Mr. Romney will be running as far away from Ms. Palin as he can.  Really, a Romney win is Ms. Palin's worst nightmare.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Forum Will (1) Not Comment on the Health Care Decision and (2) Publish on the 4th of July

Commentary on the 4th - The American Ideal

After the Supreme Court has rendered its august (?) opinion on the legal status of the health care reform act, this Forum will do the obvious and issue no comments.  Why?  Because every other Forum, every commentator and every news outlet will issue their comments.  In short, there is nothing The Dismal Political Economist can say that will not have already been said.

But the good news is that this Forum will publish on July 4th.  Since the really good commentators are expected to take the day off, this Forum will fill the need for snarky, sarcastic comments on the current state of politics and economics on a day when others will not meet that need.  It's the least we can do, and the authors on this Forum believe in doing the least they can do.

Revenue Bonds Issued by State and Local Governments Are Not Backed by Taxpayer Guarantees – Unless They Are

But If They Are – No Taxpayers Get Told

A Short But Painful Lesson in Municipal Finance

Generally speaking bonds issued by state and local governments come in two flavors.  General Obligation or GO bonds are back by the full faith and credit of the governmental unit, and are the obligations of the taxpayers.  Revenue Bonds are issued to support specific projects, and are backed by the revenues (and assets) from those projects, hence the name.  The attractive part of Revenue Bonds is that the taxpayers are not on the hook for the obligations.

But it turns out many local governments and state governments have put taxpayers on the hook for Revenue Bonds, and, oh yes, forgotten to mention it to the voters.

Surprised local taxpayers from Stockton, Calif., to Scranton, Pa., are finding themselves obligated for parking garages, hockey arenas and other enterprises that can no longer pay their debts.

Officials have signed them up unknowingly to backstop the bonds of independent authorities, the special bodies of government that run projects like toll roads and power plants.

In all but a few situations this does not really matter, because the project can support the debt.  But when the project cannot support the debt, uh oh.

With many cities now preoccupied with other crushing costs — pension obligations, retiree health care, accumulated unpaid bills — a sudden call to honor a long-forgotten bond guarantee can be a bolt from the blue, precipitating a crisis. The obligations mostly lurk in the dark. State laws requiring voter pre-approval of bonds don’t generally apply to guarantees. Local governments typically don’t include them in their own financial statements or set aside reserves to honor them.

Case in point is Scranton, Pa. where the city at first refused to honor its guarantees.

Scranton’s version of a debt crisis began when a local parking authority said it couldn’t make a bond payment coming due in June, calling on the city’s guarantee. The authority had issued bonds in 2004, 2006 and 2007 to finance parking garages that the city had used in a campaign to woo Hilton Hotels and Resorts to operate a conference center downtown.

Each time the authority issued more bonds, the city backed them with a powerful “full faith and credit” guarantee. But by 2008 the authority had $54 million in bonds outstanding, and was spending about 60 percent of its budget on debt service — so much that it could not cut parking rates to compete with private companies that set up cheaper parking lots nearby.

A majority on the City Council refused to honor the guarantee, saying the authority’s finances were in disarray and they wanted to strike a blow for fiscal rectitude.

That did not turn out well.

Suddenly, Scranton, which has been in dire fiscal straits for years, was a pariah. Only one bank had been willing to help it raise money, and it backed out of a $16 million deal to provide short-term financing. Without that cash, the mayor said Scranton couldn’t make its next payroll. The city’s fuel supplier threatened to halt deliveries of gasoline, which would idle the police cars and garbage trucks. More than a dozen other vendors cut off the city’s credit.

A bond insurer, Radian Asset Assurance, started a 30-day countdown to foreclosure on the authority’s parking garages. The trustee for the bondholders, Bank of New York Mellon, warned that it would get a court-ordered tax increase.

Taken aback, the mayor and City Council changed course, saying Scranton would pay the parking authority’s debts after all. But the damage was done. The initial decision to not make the $1 million bond payment had tainted Scranton’s credit on all of its debts for the foreseeable future.

A large part of this is taxpayer’s fault.  No it is not their fault that they were not told or warned of the off the books guarantees, it is their fault because they voted for craven politicians who promised near unlimited government services and projects with no tax increases. 

And no, most voters have still not learned that lesson.

University of Virginia Re-instates its President, Board of Visitors Head is Gracious in Defeat, President Gracious in Victory

And Gov. Robert McDonnell is Still a Wimp – But May Have Cravenly Saved His VP Chances

Earlier this Forum has commented on the huge controversy at the University of Virginia.  Acting almost unilaterally, the Rector (Head) of the Board of Visitors (Trustees) Helen Dragas moved to force the resignation of UVa President Teresa Sullivan. The resulting uproar has now resulting in the Board unanimously rescinding the resignation, and Ms. Sullivan and Ms. Dragas marched arm in arm into the meeting of the Board where Ms. Sullivan was retained as President.

All in all it seems the episode has had a fitting conclusion, or at least about the best that one could hope for.

Sullivan, the woman at the center of the conflict, was not scheduled to attend Tuesday’s meeting, and her chair had been removed from the board table. Then, at the last minute, it was added back, and Dragas walked into the meeting with Sullivan.

t was a moment rich in symbolism: the conflict of the past two weeks pitted Dragas, the university’s first female rector, against Sullivan, its first female president. Dragas led the campaign to remove Sullivan and has spent the past days justifying the action by critiquing the Sullivan presidency.

“We never wished or intended to ignite such a reaction,” Dragas told fellow board members. “I sincerely apologize.”

The Governor of Virginia, Republican Robert McDonnell is the only one left who continues to look weak, foolish and indecisive.  Governor McDonnell, who has near absolute power over the Board of Visitors took the position of taking no position.  He reiterated that position, in a desperate attempt to remain outside the controversy and not damage his political fortunes.

Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell(R) said he had not advised the 15-member panel how to vote at the special meeting and would support the group whatever it decides.

“I’m not instructing them how to vote and what to do. I think it would be absolutely inappropriate,’’ McDonnell said on his monthly call-in show on WTOP radio. “I want this to be done. My goal is to have finality, but I trust these excellent people on the board to make the right decision.’’

Note that this abdication of responsibility and leadership would normally be damaging to one’s political aspirations, but remember Gov. McDonnell is trying to the Vice Presidential nominee on a Mitt Romney ticket.  Given Mr. Romney’s total lack of leadership on things like immigration, where he refuses to answer even basic questions on the recent Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s laws, or on Mr. Obama’s policy of not pursuing young people brought to the country when the were very young Mr. McDonnell may well have demonstrated that he is the perfect fit for Mitt. 

Yep, a non-committing, non-leadership, ineffective Governor of a swing state who will do and say nothing to damage the race by taking a stand on anything, just what the Romney camp ordered.

European Economic Results Show Just How Well the Austerity Program is Working in Europe

It’s Working Well – If the Goal is to Reduce Economic Activity

The response in Europe to the Great Recession was to focus on deficit reduction by implementing a policy of somewhat higher taxes and large cuts in government spending.  The expectation was that by reducing deficits businesses and consumers would have the confidence they needed to increase spending and investment, and lo and behold economic prosperity would return.  How’s that working out, this headline in the WSJ answers that question.

Updated June 21, 2012, 4:14 p.m. ET

Business Activity Contracts Sharply in the Euro Zone

Want details?  Here are some details.

Business activity in the euro zone contracted sharply in June, a closely watched survey showed, underscoring the currency bloc's deepening economic malaise as it confronts an escalating debt crisis along its southern fringe.

Don’t like those details, here are some others.

Things were better than expected in the first quarter…but [orders] seemed to stop in the last two or three months," with weakness extending from Europe's weak periphery to faster-growing emerging markets such as China, said Ralph Wiechers, chief economist at VDMA, Germany's engineering association. "We are very cautious about the next few months."

Still unhappy, how about this?

Germany's PMI, which includes both manufacturing and services, slid 0.8 point to 48.5, suggesting the economy will struggle to grow this quarter. Manufacturing activity slid deeper into contraction, with that index falling below 45. A particular concern: New export business fell at its fastest pace in more than three years. France's PMI also remained below 50, at 46.7.

Germany, and to a certain extent France are Europe’s economic engines.  When the engines slow the trains has a lot of trouble increasing speed.

Thursday's PMI report only included details for France and Germany; other countries will report their June results in early July. But debt-saddled countries such as Portugal and Spain are showing no signs of stabilization after several quarters of contraction.

"April and May were the most difficult months we ever had," said José Gonçalves, owner of specialty elastics maker JPC Elasticos SA in Portugal's textile region. He has received some cancellation orders from clients in Spain, a key export market. Last month, Mr. Goncalves laid off 22 workers, bringing his workforce down to 34 employees.

The European policy of austerity is largely to blame here, as are the European leaders.  Okay, they took the chance on austerity, hoping that it would work.  That produces some criticism, but now that it is clear the policy is not working continuation of a failed policy merits extreme criticism.  That is what European leaders deserve and that is what they are going to get.  History will not be kind. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Interview with Mitt “the Dodger” Romney on His Positions on Immigration, Immigration Reform and the Supreme Court Ruling that Most of Arizona’s Immigration Law That He Praised is Unconstitutional

No, Not a Real Interview, But a Real Interview Would  Have Gone This Way

The campaign of Mitt Romney to be President is becoming somewhat of a joke, although the joke will be on everybody else if Mr. Romney is elected.  The latest farce is Mr. Romney’s refusal to say or comment on anything with respect to immigration.  He refused to comment on President Obama’s policy of not persecuting and prosecuting young people brought to the country illegally, and he refuses to comment on the Supreme Court decision to overturn much of Arizona’s immigration law. Here is an example of the exchange between a reporter and Romney's spokesperson.

QUESTION: Does (Romney) support the law as it was drafted in Arizona?
GORKA: "The governor supports the right of states, that's all we're going to say on this issue."

Since Mr. Romney will not accept or answer questions on this or many other topics, The Dismal Political Economist feels he has an obligation to present what the interview on the subject of immigration might look like were Mr. Romney to submit to questions.

  1. Do you think an 18 year old who was brought to this country at the age of 3 and just now graduated high school should be arrested and sent back to her native country?

Romney:  I think you know my position on that issue.

  1. Uh no, we don’t, that why we are asking the question.

Romney:  I believe I have been perfectly clear as to what I believe.

  1. Well, could you clarify your position for us?

Romney:  If you look to my past statements I think you will find the answer.

  1. That’s the problem, we have looked at your past statements and they seem to be in conflict with your current position.

Romney:  I haven’t changed my feelings on the subject, I have been consistently inconsitent, something no one else in the campaign can claim.  I don’t think it is necessary to rehash what I have already said, besides did I mention Mr. Obama does not know how to create jobs and I do.

  1. If you become President will you overturn Mr. Obama’s directives on immigration?

Romney:  As President I would have the authority to do so.

  1. Yes, we know that, but the question is would you do so?

Romney:  I will review the situation carefully and if I determine that prior policy was not appropriate I may reverse it or I may leave it in place.  That’s what a President who is a leader does.  Just because I determine that actions by Mr. Obama were wrong doesn’t mean I should change them.  Did I mention I know how to create jobs?

  1. The Supreme Court decision still allows Arizona officers to ask for proof of legal residency when they stop someone, do you think this is correct?

Romney:  If I am stopped, and I hope I am, particularly if I have that dog strapped to the top of the car then I will have no trouble with the officers.  Look, my name is Mitt Romney, that’s not an Hispanic name?  So obviously I am in the country legally.  If Hispanic people don’t want to be harassed by the police they should change their names to Mitt Romney.

  1. But doesn’t demanding to see someone’s ‘papers’ smack of the old East German Stasi tactics?

Romney:  Look as long as we are not emulating the French I don’t think it’s important if we are doing what the former East Germany did..  If I am elected every policy I support and implement will be “French tested” and if there is anything “French” about it then it will not be done.  I don’t think its fair to compare the fine people of old East Germany with today’s French.  Obama’s policy is too French with respect to immigration, mine won’t be.

  1. So can we quote you as being in favor of Arizona’s programs?

Romney:  Absolutely, but maybe not.

Thanks Are Owed to John McCain for Picking Sarah Palin in 2008 as VP Nominee, and Roe v. Wade Has Just About Been Overturned

Inspired by the Supreme Court Thinking Outside the Box (and the Universe) in Campaign Finance Laws Decisions

Rational and normal people were all horrified once they learned the true characteristics of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin after she was chosen by Sen. John McCain to be his running mate in the 2008 Presidential election.  Senator McCain continues to be roundly condemned for the choice, and all the more so since he continues to say (too great laughter) that she was the best choice out there and that she was prepared to be President.

As it turns out America owes a measure of thanks to Sen. McCain for this choice.  By exposing Ms. Palin to the scrutiny of the public, he exposed once and for all the total lack of experience and intellect Ms. Palin possessed, and spared the United States from a Palin attempt at higher office later in this decade.  Had Mr. McCain not chosen Ms. Palin, she likely would have finished her term as Governor, to no fanfare but with no major criticism and then entered the national stage untested and unknown.  This might have allowed her far greater success in public life than what she actually accomplished, serving two and a half years of a very lightly populated state.

So thanks Mr. McCain, for saving us from having Ms. Palin regarded as a serious candidate for national office.

The fight over abortion and reproductive rights is largely ending without the Supreme Court doing anything.  States that opposes basic rights of women to control their own bodies have enacted legislation that all but completely removes access to abortion services.  In Mississippi restrictions imposed by the state may mean the end to any abortion clinic in the state.  In Kansas, where a doctor who provided late term abortion to serve the health of the mother was murdered officials have taken away the license of a physician who referred patients to that doctor.

Before the Supreme Court decision in Roe. V. Wade the law of the land was that abortion rights were determined at the state level.  Roe made the right to access to abortion a national right. 

When the Supreme Court ultimately overturns Roe it won’t change things all that much. States that oppose abortion rights will have already enacted provisions that denied those rights anyway.  Other states like California and New York will have strong provisions for reproduction rights.  This will then lead to a battle to have the Supreme Court declare any right to abortion is Unconstitutional. 

Yes, that will be the next big fight.  

One of the Greatest Dangers to European Unity, Prosperity and Economic Growth is a German – Not Angela Merkel the Prime Minister – It’s Wolfgang Schnaeuble the Finance Minister

A Man Who Seems to Hate Greece

It is getting pretty repetitive talking about the problems of Europe, how Germany is imposing austerity on the rest of the continent, how this is self-defeating, how it is even bad for the German economy which is export driven.  A lot of people, Paul Krugman for example, have pointed out that a large part of the policy is not driven by economics, it is driven by a desire to ‘punish’ profligate nations for not being neat and thrifty and, well, for not being Germans.

The leader of this sect is the German Finance minister Wolfgang Schnaeuble.  He seems to be dedicated to single handedly disrupting any form of comity and communications and coordination between the wealthy German state and those who need European aid.

Greece's new government should stop asking for more help and instead move quickly to enact reform measures agreed to in return for previous bailouts from its European partners, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Sunday.
Mr. Schaeuble - Is This the German Finance Minister or
that Mean Banker Guy from It's a Wonderful Life?

Mr Schaeuble told Bild am Sonntag in unusually blunt language that Greece has forfeited much of Europe's trust during the sovereign debt crisis, as reflected in an opinion poll covering the euro zone's four biggest nations and published in the paper.

Now let’s see, the Greek people just voted against those who would abrogate the agreements made with European entities to provide Greece the funds it needs in return for devastating the Greek economy, and the Finance Minister attacks the new government.  How exactly is that supposed to help?

Greece’s new government needs some political support, it needs to amend the bailout package so that the economy has a chance to not fail as fast as it is currently failing.  Politics and economics require amending the punishing terms to give Greece at least a tiny chance of surviving.

Domestic politics is playing a role here, as aiding the rest of Europe is not popular in those nations of Europe that are not suffering as much as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The poll of 4,000 people in Germany, France, Spain and Italy showed 78pc of Germans and 65pc of French people wanted Greece to leave the euro zone, with 51pc in Spain and 49pc in Italy also backing a Greek exit.

But based on past and current statement, it is easy to conclude that politics is only part of the motivation of Mr. Schnaeuble.  A far more motivating factor would seem to be that he is just plain mean.

Yep, that would explain it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thomas Jefferson’s Views on the Purpose of Higher Education –

And No, It Doesn’t Suggest Teaching the Biblical Creation Story in Place of Real Science

Sorry Conservatives

As a result of the recent controversy over the dismissal of the President of the University of Virginia by the Board of Visitors a member of the faculty writing in the Washington Post has directed us to the minutes of what appear to be the first formal meeting of the Board of Visitors of that eminent institution of higher learning.  The minutes were written by Thomas Jefferson.  For those who argue that this nation was set out by the Founding Fathers to be a Christian nation, there is this rebuttal by the Founding Father himself.

In conformity with the principles of our Constitution, which places all sects of religion on an equal footing, with the jealousies of the different sects in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprise, and with the sentiments of the Legislature in favor of freedom of religion, manifested on former occasions, we have proposed no professor of divinity; and the rather as the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all the relations of morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer, will be within the province of the professor of ethics; to which adding the developments of these moral obligations, of those in which all sects agree, with a knowledge of the languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, a basis will be formed common to all sects. Proceeding thus far without offence to the Constitution, we have thought it proper at this point to leave every sect to provide, as they think fittest, the means of further instruction in their own peculiar tenets.

Does this mean that those who argue that the separation of church and state was never ever envisioned by those who set forth the principles that govern the United States are completely wrong?  Does it mean that those who promote the use of tax dollars to promote religion, religious education and to send children to religious private schools are in violation of the spirit of America.  Yes, it does.

State and Local Pension funds About to Be Mugged by Reality

But Not to Worry – They Won’t Even Acknowledge They Have Been Hit

Along with faux turkey,  the kind where ground up turkey meat and turkey like substances are pushed together to form a ‘roll’ of turkey that is then sliced and sold as turkey, the Defined Benefit Pension Plan will rank as one of the 20th century’s worst ideas.  No maybe its not as bad as what they did to turkey, but it is close.

State and local governments over the past decades have promised a fixed income in retirement to their employees.  These governmental units set aside sums in pension plans to provide the benefits.  Obviously it is impossible to know how much to set aside.  Just as obviously governmental officials wanting to keep taxes low will not set aside enough.

Now the Government Accounting Standards Board, the people that set out the rules for accounting for such things like pension costs are going to implement new rules.  The result, in some aspects pension accounting will move away from the fiction side of the ledger.

The new rules could hit pension plans in states like Illinois and New Jersey particularly hard, and even raise borrowing costs for certain municipalities, analysts say. "This could be the event that incites a bigger policy response than what we've seen so far," says Matt Fabian, managing director at Municipal Market Advisors, a research firm.

[image]The exact impact of the new rules by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board isn't clear. According to researchers at Boston College, pension liabilities at 126 state and municipal pension plans would jump by roughly $600 billion, or about 18%. The estimate is based on 2010 financial data and doesn't reflect the stock market's recent rebound or moves by many U.S. states to rein in pension costs.

Now none of this is new.  Anyone who has been following this topics has know that these pension plans are woefully underfunded, and that they rely on totally unrealistic assumptions, like that their investments will earn 8% per year.  What is new is there is finally going to be some official recognition of the problem.  Not that it will make any difference.

Some pension officials said they don't plan to make drastic changes based on GASB's decision. For example, many pension officials plan on using two sets of numbers when calculating pension obligations: one for official reporting purposes and another to determine taxpayers' pension bills. GASB's new rules would allow that.

"It's an accounting change; that is all it is,'' says Andrew Pratt, a spokesman for New Jersey Treasurer's office. "New Jersey still has complete control over how the assumptions in its pension plans are set."

Yes, you are reading that correctly.  Pension officials will just keep two sets of books, a real set and a fictitious set.  The only amazing thing here is that they are so willing to admit this up front. 

Republicans Oppose Unemployment Benefits – But It’s Not So Bad If Representative’s Spouse is Collecting It

Living off the $174,000 Congressional Salary Must be Just Too Difficult for Nevada Republican Rep. Joe Heck

The Republican party and some, but certainly not all Republicans are severely skeptical of the benefits of unemployment compensation.  They think that paying people to be unemployed encourages unemployment, that people on unemployment insurance just sit around enjoying the benefits and turning down work. 

So it must certainly come as a surprise that the spouse of Nevada Republican Congressman Joe Heck is now collecting unemployment benefits.  Here is some of the background.

(Mrs.) Heck worked for Specialized Medical Operations, where Joe Heck was president, according to financial disclosure forms filed with the House. The company, according to the congressman’s biography, was “dedicated to providing quality medical training, consulting and operational support to law enforcement, [emergency medical services] and military special operations.”

On Dec. 22, 2010, shortly before Heck was sworn into the House, the corporation was dissolved, according to records filed with the Nevada secretary of state’s office.

And in 2011, Heck’s company closed. He began earning $174,000 as a member of Congress. Lisa Heck was out of a job and started receiving unemployment benefits.

Now Congressman Heck is not the hypocrite you might think he is, he generally support unemployment compensation and insurance.

Joe Heck has mostly voted for extending unemployment benefits. He opposed a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday — as did many other Republicans.

But Mr. Heck is receiving a fantastic salary, great benefits and has a job that is far better than the average American.  One would think Ms. Heck could learn to live off of $174,000 a year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Quotes We Wish We Were Smart Enough to Have Made

Newt Gingrich has been described as a dumb person’s idea of a smart person.

Thanks to Paul Campos of Salon

Justice Scalia in Arizona v. United States Finally Exposes His True Belief of the Role of the Supreme Court

He Thinks the Supreme Court in General and Justice Scalia in Particular Should Act as Both the President and the Congress

The Supreme Court has just ruled on whether or not the state of Arizona may essentially withdraw from the United States as far as immigration is concerned and enact its own policy regardless of the fact that Federal law pre-empts state law in this situation.  It has ruled, to a great extent that it may not.  The law that Mitt Romney called ‘model’ for the United States is invalid.

In his dissent Justice Scalia reveals that he thinks he is the arbiter not of the laws but of governmental policy.  He brings a totally irrelevant issue into the debate, and issue that was not then and is not now part of the case.  He can do that because he is answerable to no one, not even the law.  His issue is with the President’s recent policy to acknowledge that law enforcement resources are insufficient to track down and deport every illegal immigrant, and so law enforcement will concentrate on the dangerous and criminal illegals, and leave those who were brought to this country as children and have led exemplary lives, alone.

You know, ‘Scalia’, that’s a funny sounding name.  Don’t we all wonder if maybe Scalia is the name of an illegal immigrant?  Wouldn’t it be right under Arizona’s now defunct law for Arizona police to stop Justice Scalia, demand to see his ‘papers’ and make him prove he is a U. S. citizen?  If anyone ever wonders what it would take for their to be unequivocal proof that a higher Deity rules the world, certainly the arrest of Justice Scalia for sounding and looking foreign and having a foreign name  would meet that criteria.

Here is what offends Justice Scalia (actually almost everyone and everything offends Justice Scalia).

Must Arizona’s ability to protect its borders yield to the reality that Congress has provided inadequate funding for federal enforcement—or, even worse, to the Executive’s unwise targeting of that funding?

Really, what possible justification does this Justice have for passing judgment on executive law enforcement policy when that policy is totally outside of the issues in the decision? (Courts can only consider what is brought before them, but that is a legal technicality the Justice seems to be unaware of.) But Justice Scalia goes even further, he asserts that he knows better than the elected officials and the appointed law enforcement officials of how to best and most effectively spend public money.

The husbanding of scarce enforcement resources can hardly be the justification for this, since the considerable administrative cost of conducting as many as 1.4 million background checks, and ruling on the biennial requests for dispensation that the nonenforcement program envisions, will necessarily be deducted from immigration enforcement. The President said at a news conference that the new program is “the right thing to do” in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administration’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.

No Justice Scalia, what boggles the mind is the level of arrogance that you have accumulated over the years, arrogance that manifests itself in trying to write your own personal political opinions into law.  It seems almost impossible that any attorney, much less one that has actually been a judge should be so ignorant of the role of courts in the U. S. legal and Constitutional framework.  But it must be possible, for we have Justice Scalia as living proof that such ignorance can exist.

History will not be kind to Justice Scalia, the indictment coming from the Justice and his own writings.  

States' Rights? – Conservatives on the Supreme Court Say ‘You Ain’t Got No Stinking States Rights’ in AMERICAN TRADITION PARTNERSHIP, INC., fka WESTERN TRADITION PARTNERSHIP, INC., et al. v. STEVE BULLOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MONTANA, et al.

For Conservatives the Rights of Corporations Have Priority Over All Others

When the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations had almost unlimited rights to spend for political campaigns, despite a long history of regulation of corporate spending in political campaigns, many people predicted the case would unleash a flood of uncontrolled corporate spending.  The supporters of the law, indeed the Court itself pooh-paahed this thought.  How did things turn out?

Now the Court has just decided whether or not the state of Montana, and by implication, all other states may regulate corporate campaign spending in state and local races.  Montana has had a long history of abuse by corporations involving politics and so the state had justifiable reasons for regulating corporate spending.  But the Supreme Court has said no, corporations have the right of free and unlimited spending.

Of note here is Justice Breyer’s eloquent dissent.  In a very short statement he obliterated the legal arguments of the majority, and while he does not say so, it is clear that the majority has ruled not on the basis of law, but on the basis of their own political beliefs, that corporations are people my friend and have the same rights as people.  Here is some of what Justice Breyer said.

Moreover, even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana. Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the State had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations. 2011 MT 328, ¶¶ 36–37, 363 Mont. 220, 235–236, 271 P. 3d 1, 36–37. Thus, Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.

The decision here was not unexpected.  For the Conservatives on the Court to support Montana’s right to regulate corporations, a right states have had for over a century would have meant the Court would have had to recognize its own folly in the Citizens United case.  No Conservative will ever, ever admit that he or she was wrong.

As for the position that Conservatives have about the supremacy of states' rights, well when that philosophy gets in the way of what they really want, which is for the Federal government to enact rules and regulations and laws which they prefer then states' rights be damned.

New Research from the Department of the Obvious Shows People with Health Insurance Have Better Lives than People Without Health Insurance

Next Week Same People Release Study Showing People with More Money are Richer than People with Less Money

For reasons somewhat too complicated to be explained here, the state of Oregon several years allowed some low income citizens not normally eligible to enroll in Medicaid to do so.  The right to enroll was determined by a lottery so some low income people got Medicaid, and some similar people did not.  As a result the state provides a substantial amount of reliable data on the impact of having health insurance for a relatively homogenous population.

For those who cannot read the entire results of the study, here one startling conclusion.

In a continuing study, an all-star group of researchers following Ms. Parris and tens of thousands of other Oregonians has found that gaining insurance makes people healthier, happier and more financially stable.

Wow, is that amazing.  People who have health insurance are healthier than the same type of people who don’t have health insurance.  Someone alert the Nobel committee.

One bit of real news is that people that have insurance do tend to spend more of their own and the insurance money on health care.

“The study put to rest two incorrect arguments that persisted because of an absence of evidence,” said Katherine Baicker, a Harvard economist who worked on the study and served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

“The first is that Medicaid doesn’t do anything for people, because it’s bad insurance or because the uninsured have other ways of getting care,” Ms. Baicker said. “The second is that Medicaid coverage saves money” by increasing preventive care, for instance.

“It’s up to society to determine whether it’s worth the cost,” she added.

But this should not have been unexpected.  Once a person has access to health care they are going to upgrade the quality of their health, and that means spending more money, both of their own and of the insurance program.

As for the question of whether or not it is worth the cost, does a modern, advanced nation with the largest and most prosperous economy in the world really have to ask the question of whether or not it can afford health care for everyone?  If there is any doubt, here is a story that might settle the issue.

Ms. Kious, 24, who also suffers from depression and Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, makes only $1,000 to $1,200 a month and cannot afford insurance. The clinic performed some tests and prescribed Ms. Kious the pills. But they also told her that she had Stage 2 cervical cancer. As of now, the condition remains untreated. She and her boyfriend even considered getting pregnant so that she would automatically qualify for Medicaid.

“It’s scary for me, having cancer and knowing I can’t do anything about it,” said Ms. Kious, her hair in an elaborate plait. “It’s an I-don’t-know-when-my-next-meal-will-be sort of thing. It’s really difficult because health problems make you scared and emotional.”

Think about it, that in the United States of America in 2012 there is a question as to whether or not a woman can get treatment for cervical cancer, or be allowed to die.  

Reflecting on Alan Turning on the Celebration of What Would Have Been His 100th Birthday

Would Have Been Had Society Not Driven Him to Suicide

Only a few people know of Alan Turing and even less know of the tragic circumstances of his life.  Here is what he did.

In 1936, when he was a student at Cambridge, he attended a lecture in which M.H.A. “Max” Newman characterized an old and thorny logic problem as a matter of finding a “mechanical process” for testing the validity of a mathematical assertion. Turing took the phrase “mechanical process” at face value and wrote a paper in which he laid out the architecture of a hypothetical machine to do the testing — what became known as the “Turing machine.” The paper, intended for specialists, amounted to a blueprint for the modern computer, a “universal machine” that could do the work of an infinity of single-use machines.

Okay, so he invented the machine that has ultimately lead to the ability to play Angry Birds on a smart phone.  Uh, no, he developed a machine that while it may not have been solely responsible for winning World War II, it was instrumental in saving huge amounts of lives and heavily contributed to the winning of that war.

During World War II, Turing was among a group of thinkers summoned by the British government to Bletchley Park to help crack the seemingly airtight German Enigma code. Because the code was generated by a machine, Turing decided, only a machine could break it. He went on to design and help build that machine — the “Bombe,” without which the Allies might have lost the war — thereby instigating a huge leap forward in the field of cryptanalysis.

And here is how he was treated after that momentous accomplishment.

He made little effort to disguise or efface his desire for other men, and when, in the early 1950s, he embarked on a businesslike affair with a youth in Manchester, his sense of how the world should be clashed with how it was.

Suspecting his boyfriend of robbery, he summoned the police to his house. They ended up arresting Turing under the “blackmailer’s charter,” which criminalized “acts of gross indecency” between adult men in public or in private. It was under this law — not repealed until 1967 — that Oscar Wilde had been sentenced to hard labor in prison.

Yes, he was arrested for being gay.  And no, the result of that arrest is not pleasant reading.

To avoid a similar fate, Turing agreed to submit to a course of estrogen therapy intended to cure him of his homosexuality; as a result, he grew breasts and became impotent. Yet even after the treatment ended, the police, fearing that he might defect to the Soviet Union, stayed on his trail, interrupting every effort he made to live life as he saw fit. In June 1954, Turing committed suicide by biting into an apple laced with cyanide — a nod to his favorite film, Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

The fate of Mr. Turing of course is wonderful news to those who fear and hate and loathe gay and lesbians, and want to punish them, but it is grossly appalling to the rest of us, a reminder that humanity is not yet completely human.

When Winston Churchill spoke of the Battle of Britain and talked about how so many owed so much to so few, he was not thinking of Alan Turing.  But Mr. Turing is surely ensconced in that group of “so few”.

A small gesture to atone to posthumously to Mr. Turning met this fate.

In February, the Liberal Democrat Lord Sharkey introduced the possibility of a pardon in the House of Lords, only to have his proposal rebuffed by Lord McNally, the justice minister. McNally argued that Turing “was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted. It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd — particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution.”

Strange, it seems that in England which is the source of the English language some people high up in government do not understand that the ‘justice minister’ is involved with ‘justice’,  or even understand what the term ‘justice’ means.  We don’t know who Lord McNally is, and hope we never know, never encounter the man and that this miserable excuse for a person soon leaves the public life in Britain.  It is people like Lord McNally whose opportunity to hold high positions of prestige and to be a 'Lord of the Realm' that are the result of efforts like Mr. Turing to defeat the Nazi’s in World War II who be should be asking Mr. Turing to pardon them.
For the rest of us, we can only say this.   Happy Birthday Alan.  And we’re sorry.

Europe’s Leaders Need to Stop Meeting and Start Acting;

 And Other Short Comments on the News Because It’s Too Hot for Long Comments

Following a meeting of the G-20 countries, European leaders are meeting again in Rome to deal, once again, and again and again, with the European economic crisis. 

Germany's Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande of France, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and host Mario Monti of Italy will get together to push for consensus to give momentum to a crucial summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on June 28 and 29.

Monti has warned of severe consequences for the 17 countries that use the euro and the world economy if next week's summit fails. 

No, if that summit fails Europe can always take up the problems at the next summit, probably scheduled for four days later. 

Europe – stop meeting and start doing.

Moody’s has just issued a down grade in the credit ratings for major banks all around the world.  In a related development Moody’s said that it was concerned that a cow could kick over a lantern and start a fire that would severely damage Chicago.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the plan to save Spanish banks by infusing $125 billion of new capital might not be a workable plan.  The IMF severely criticized the plan because it funnels funds through the Spanish government, making it and not the banks liable for the funding.  An IMF official later said that Spain needs help from some international finance agency, but then retracted that statement after the official realized that is what the IMF is.

In Washington the Senate passed a ten year extension of the Farm program.  The cost is about $1 trillion over 10 years, but contains huge cost savings

The package is expected to reduce future government spending by roughly $24 billion over 10 years compared with what would have been spent if current policies were extended.

In Washington this is what passes for fiscal restraint and causes celebration.  Of course the largest component of the program is SNAP, what used to be known as Food Stamps.  The Senate did make a major reform by disqualifying big lottery winners from getting Food Stamps.  In Washington this is what passes for fiscal restraint and causes celebration.

There is a new movie out this past week, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  Really, there is, we are not clever enough to make that kind of stuff up.  A Washington Post review says that it is both “terribly silly and a lot of fun. “  Well, we are going to have to take his word on that.