Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Man Arrested in Florida for Feeding Alligator

From Our 'Adding Insult to Injury' Department

From the wire services we have this story about an arrest in Florida.

Fla. man who lost hand charged with feeding gator

Published: July 29, 2012 at 9:35 a.m. PDT
 A Florida airboat captain whose hand was bitten off by a 9-foot alligator faces charges of feeding of the animal.

Collier County Jail records show 63-year-old Wallace Weatherholt was charged Friday with unlawful feeding of an alligator and later posted $1,000 bond. His next court date is Aug. 22.
The arrest was first reported by the Fort Myers News-Press
Kinda overdoing the law enforcement thing don't you think?

The Insults and Condescension and Insensitive Comments of Mitt Romney Not Reported Anywhere Else

News that Didn’t Happen but Could Have

After traveling to Britain and insulting the British and forgetting the name of Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, Mitt Romney continued his foreign tour of destruction by going to Israel and exacerbating tensions by insulting the Palestinian people and demonstrating that no, he doesn't know numbers.

Speaking to roughly four dozen donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Mr. Romney suggested that cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians were the reason the Israelis were so much more economically successful than the Palestinians. He also vastly understated the income disparities between the two groups.

Yep, just what the Jewish people need, someone to speak garbage to make life even more difficult for us.

But in the spirit of Mr. Romney’s “Get Acquainted with American Arrogance” tour The Dismal Political Economist has unearthed these comments which were unreported in the media, since they didn’t want to print what Mr. Romney was actually saying and be accused of bias.

Mr. Romney on his affinity with Jews:

Look, I love making money and who knows more about making money than Jews.  I mean are they great at it or  what!  I just wish we had been able to hire Jews at Bain Capital when I was there.

Mr. Romney on his visit to Poland:

Stop me if you heard this, Did you hear the one about the two Polish guys trying to screw in a light bulb – no really, please stop me, I can’t help myself.

Mr. Romney on using illegal Mexican immigrants for his yard work:

I figured if they can swim the Rio Grande they certainly know how to clean the pool; so what if they get wet, they are called wetbacks aren’t they?

Mr. Romney on problems with the Italian economy:

I would just tell them, hey, Mario, quit sitting around, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but then you guys should know that right. Ha Ha, that's a joke, right.

Mr. Romney on Asian immigration to the U. S.:

Of course we need more Asian immigrants, last week I saw three Chinese restaurants with help wanted signs, and just yesterday Ann and I had to wait 30 minutes for our takeout because they place wasn’t staffed enough.

Mr. Romney on American Exceptionalism:

Despite efforts to oppress them America is still the land of opportunity for white males, and if those minorities and women would just try to be white males they too would be successful.

As we said, reporting you won’t get anywhere else.

Desperate Wall Street Journal Editors Call Upon a Press Aide to Make the Economic Case That the Rich Pay Too Much in Taxes

Maybe Not Even Non-Self Respecting Analysts Will Not Make the Case Any More

Ari Fleischer gained fame as President George W. Bush’s Press Secretary.  A Press Secretary is not a policy making position, it is a communications position.  The job is to put the best face forward on news about the President.  It is a job to spin, a job to  propagandize, and job to convince the public that 2 plus 2 is 5. 

So after he left his job as Press Secretary Mr. Fleisher started his own consulting company, in the area of communications. So having no knowledge of economics, tax policy, financial analysis or any of the like this makes Mr. Fleisher an ideal candidate to spout off about tax policy for the Wall Street Journal.  Because their presentations are propaganda, not analysis.

Mr. Fleishcher’s conclusions, the rich not only pay their fair share of taxes, they pay more than their fair share and they pay too much.


Yet President Obama says that "for some time now, when compared to the middle class," the wealthy "haven't been asked to do their fair share."

He's right that the system isn't fair, but not because the top 1% pay too little. It is because they pay too much.

The basis for this startling conclusion is this.

You wouldn't know this from President Obama's rhetoric, but our tax system, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), is incredibly progressive. Consider: The top 1% of income earners pay an average federal tax rate of 28.9%. (See the nearby table.) The average federal tax rate on the top 20% is 23.2%. The 20% of taxpayers earning between $50,100 and $73,999 pay an average 15.1%, and so on down the line. The CBO report includes payroll as well as income taxes paid.

There's also another way of looking at fairness, and that's the tax burden. Here, consider the top 20% of income earners (over $74,000). They make 50% of the nation's income but pay nearly 70% of all federal taxes.

So one would have to assume that any increases in taxes must come from middle and low income families, because the poor rich folks are already saddled with huge tax bills.

One reason our country is so divided is because the president keeps dividing us. If taxes need to be raised to fight a war or fund a cause, the president should ask everyone to pitch in. If the need is national, the solution should be national—and that includes all of us.

Of course the fallacy in all this is with respect to the effective tax rate, the taxes as a percent of income.  Over the last 30 years this rate has dropped dramatically for the high income groups, much more so than for any other group.  But Mr. Fleischer conveniently omits that statistic, it would not fit his case for increasing taxes on the middle class.

Here is what we would suggest to Mr. Fleischer.  He should ask all those top 20% ers to change places with the bottom 20% ers, you know, the ones that don't have to pay any income taxes because they are too poor.  See how many take him up on this.  We' re betting that number is between  0 and 1.

One more thing that Mr. Fleischer does is to unintentionally state another part of the vast right wing class warfare case.

But that's not how Mr. Obama governs. We learned during the 2008 campaign that he believes in spreading the wealth around. And recently we learned he doesn't believe that successful people made it on their own. Without the government, the president tells us, job creators and entrepreneurs would not be able to make it in America.

Does this simpleton really think that anyone’s success in America happens without a massive support from government.  Does he think that public safety and national defense does not play a role in protecting the wealth of the wealthy?  Does he not know that education and transportation systems are absolutely necessary to private sector businesses?  Is he unaware of how much government subsidizes the private sector?Does he not know that without government the entire population would be destitute, including the smart, brilliant, entrepreneurs?

Here is Richard Cohen in the Washington Post describing a typical Conservative with respect to the subject of how government has been vital to a person's life.

                     My boyhood friend Jack became a doctor — and a conservative. He had gone   to public schools, attended college with the help of a government scholarship, went to medical school on the Army’s dime, and learned his specialty in military hospitals. He insisted that the government had done nothing for him. In that way, he is both the soul and the wit of the Republican Party.

Finally, does Mr. Fleischer not know that without his own service in government, getting a government paycheck, getting government provided health insurance and getting the experience in communication from working as a government communications employee he would not have his own six figure income and would instead be a hack somewhere making just over minimum wage.   Yeah, he probably does know this, and that is part of the reason he has to so vehemently defend the indefensible.

Monday, July 30, 2012

President Romney Denied Re-Nomination, Will Run As Democrat

News From 2016 – Reported Now!

[Editor’s Note:  This is part of a series of news reports from the year 2016 based on Mitt Romney winning the Presidency and Republicans taking control of the Senate and retaining control of the House.  These stories are not  predictions of what will happen, but they are indications of what could happen.  That in itself should be scary enough.]

Republicans Deny Mitt Romney Re-Nomination; President to Run on the Democratic Ticket

WASHINGTON May 32, 2016 (A.P.) - In a startling development in the 2016 Presidential election incumbent Republican Mitt Romney, apparently denied a chance at re-nomination by Republicans, has reached agreement with Democratic Party leaders to be nominated at the Democratic convention in Minot, N. D. and run as the Presidential nominee of that party.  The news comes just weeks after the insurgent campaign of Sarah Palin achieved enough delegates to deny Mr. Romney the Republican nomination.

Mr. Romney’s chances at running again as a Republican were dealt a severe blow when he allowed a debt ceiling increase to take place early in his administration, and when he failed to balance the federal budget in his first year.  The President also incurred the wrath of his party by refusing to eliminate all taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year and by allowing the Defense budget to only double in size instead of the increases proposed by House Republicans.  This caused Ms. Palin to enter primaries against Mr. Romney and to quickly amass enough delegates to win the nomination.

Democratic leaders met with Mr. Romney and offered him the nomination because, as one of them put it “Who else do we have?  Yeah, there is a city councilman in Omaha and a county commissioner in New Jersey, but other than that we got squat.”  Mr. Romney is expected to name current and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist as his running mate, because Mr. Crist was also previously a Republican and because no Democrat was willing to be considered for the VP nomination.

The final obstacle to Mr. Romney running as a Democrat was removed when he proclaimed himself to be “Pro-Choice” and in favor of abortion rights.  “I have always been Pro-Choice” the President said, “except for those times when I wasn’t.”    

Far from being disturbed at being attacked for switching parties, Mr. Romney told supporters “Look, whatever you do, you should always strive to be the best.  I am not just a flip flopper, I think I am the best there ever was and my accepting the Democratic nomination just shows how far I have come.”

Global Warming Denying Scientist Richard Muller Engages in Detailed Research Funded by Global Warming Deniers Koch Brothers And Concludes (Wait for It)

Global Warming is Real and is Caused by Human Generated Emissions

There are very few items in the news these days that generates much satisfaction.  Like previous generations before, the current view of our problems is that they are insurmountable, unsolvable and will have catastrophic results.  Of course unlike previous generations this time that may be true. 

So it is with great satisfaction that we learn that the billionaire Koch Brothers funded research into global warming by supporting a known critic of the subject.  The recipient of the funding was Richard Muller, who has some pretty serious credentials and was highly skeptical of global warming and that it was caused by human activity.

Richard A. Muller, professor of physics atUC Berkeley, MacArthur Fellow and co-founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. . . .

Muller is a long-standing, colorful critic of prevailing climate science, and the Berkeley project was heavily funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which, along with its libertarian petrochemical billionaire founder Charles G. Koch, has a considerable history of backing groups that deny climate change. 

Richard Muller

Dr. Muller - Smiling After Learning He will
Get No More Funding from the Koch Brothers 
But apparently Mr. Muller is a serious scientist, one who looks at the data, analyzes the results of various models and draws a conclusion independent of his own personal prejudices or beliefs, in other words, the exact opposite of a Conservative.  So after conducting the research here is what Mr. Muller concluced.

In an opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” Muller writes: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

Of course not everyone is convinced.  For example here is a person who appears to have no credentials in the area whatsoever.

Muller’s conclusions, however, failed to sway the most ardent climate contrarians, like Marc Morano, a former top producer for Rush Limbaugh and communications director for the Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who now runs the website climatedepot.com.  “Muller will be remembered as a befuddled professor who has yet to figure out how to separate climate science from his media antics. His latest claims provide no new insight into the climate science debate,” Morano said in an email.

Hm, let’s see.  A respected physics professor who has won the coveted MacArthur ‘genius’ fellowship vs a political hack who has a B. A. degree in political science from George Mason.  Yes, it is a close call but we have to go with the genius on this one.

As for the Koch Brothers, who are spending tens, maybe hundreds of millions to buy their way into the national debate and impose their own peculiar philosophy on the public, it looks like they just ran into someone who cannot be bought.  Wow, that will set them back in their thinking.  And next time they will probably make the findings of any research determined before the research is done.  Yes, they can do that, they are billionaires.

Funny How Quickly Conservatives Lose Their Values – Now Claim Government Has the Right to Condemn Private Property for Private Company Use

Are There Any Principles Conservatives Won’t Abandon?

Seven years ago the Supreme Court outraged Conservatives (and a lot of the rest of us) by ruling that government had the right to condemn private property and take it over and give it to private developers for private gain.  Government has long had a right to take property for fair market value and use it for public projects.  The Supreme Court somehow extended this right to the take over of private property for private projects.

People across the United States have been forced to make way for power lines, sidewalks, telephone poles, pipelines and other projects. In a 2005 case, the Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 ruling said that local governments could even force property owners to sell out to make way for private economic developments if officials felt that it would benefit the public.

The case, Kelo v. City of New London, became a rallying point for
conservatives and others who said the ruling violated the Fifth Amendment prohibition against the taking of property except for “public use.” 

But suddenly a big oil pipeline company is involved in the taking of private property in order to build a pipeline, and guess what, Conservatives all across the land are rallying to the side of the oil company and against private property right.s

Ironically, many conservative critics of that case, including Deb Fischer, Nebraska’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, support the Keystone XL pipeline. They say that it will serve the public good by increasing U.S. oil supplies and easing national security concerns. In its court filings, TransCanada says that the pipeline is a common carrier whose permanent easements are “in the public interest.”

Most landowners, under the threat of having their property taken have agreed to terms.  But there are some who have not.  Here is one property rights defender.

Recently, TransCanada has sweetened offers to landowners, especially those along the new Nebraska route, to try to ease access problems. But Harter says the mere threat of eminent domain has persuaded many landowners to come to terms with the company without going to court — or running up legal fees.

“Negotiating with TransCanada having right of eminent domain is like having somebody trying to rob you at gunpoint and arguing for your billfold when there’s nothing in it,” Harter said. When a company representative threatened to use eminent domain, he recalled, “I said, ‘I will not be bullied into signing.’ ”

And yes, we have yet to see any prominent Conservative defender of private property rights against government take up his case.  And we don’t expect to either, after all whose side do we really think Conservatives are on anyway? 

Justice Scalia Rejects Televising Supreme Court Proceedings Because It Would “Mis-educate” Americans

What He Really Fears – They Would be Educated on Antonin Scalia

One of the stalwart principles of the American judicial system is that trial process is open and not in any way secret.  The Founding Fathers knew that justice is best served in an open forum, in full sunlight with the public being able to view the proceedings.  Of course the Supreme Court doesn’t really buy into that concept.  They refuse to allow TV cameras in the proceedings.

The one Justice who thinks he is law unto himself, Antonin Scalia has recently commented on the issue, once again revealing his arrogance, and accidentally revealing a truth. 

In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, calls came from many quarters of the Capitol to open the proceedings to television cameras, including from Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley, the chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.  In a new interview, though, Scalia says he believes televising court proceedings would do more harm than good.

“I am against it because I do not believe, as the proponents of television in the court assert, that the purpose of televising our hearings would be to educate the American people,” Scalia said inan excerpt provided by C-SPAN. Scalia sat down with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb for the show “Q&A” as the court’s longest serving justice makes the rounds on a book tour.

So it is pretty clear that what Justice Scalia fears is that the American people will see Justice Scalia as he really is. He calls this ‘mis-education’.  The rest of us call it reality.  And no, it is not pretty.

Romney Advisor Glenn Hubbard’s Hilarious Defense of the Lack of Specificity in Mitt Romney’s Economic Plans

Glenn Proves the Case for All You Doubters Out There

An election should be decided on issues and ideas, and the problem with Mitt Romney is either (A) he has been on all sides of an issue or (B) he has refused to state what his position is on an issue.  This latter problem has been particularly severe with respect to Mr. Romney’s economic policy.  He just refuses to give any specifics.

So Businessweek has a short excerpt from an interview with Gelnn Hubbard, former Bush economic advisor (okay, not the best of credentials), current Dean of Columbia Business School (okay, better credentials) and economic adviser to the Romney campaign (no problem on credentials, doesn’t need them for that job).  Mr. Hubbard strongly responds to the lack of specifics in the Romney agenda.

Can you be more specific about the Romney plan?

It means tax reform that could raise long-term growth over the next decade by about half a percentage point every year. It means entitlement reform that removes the chance of large tax increases. It means getting federal spending down to its traditional share of GDP. It means getting regulation that actually passes cost-benefit analysis, something this administration has not done. And free trade.

Wow there it is, tax reform, that will mean a one half of one percentage point increase in the growth rate, entitlement reform and cost-benefit regulations.  Those are specifics you just cannot get from anyone else. 

What does this tell us, it tells us that like Mr. Romney, Mr. Hubbard is absolutely clueless in what policy would be implemented in a Romney administration.  Remember that word ‘clueless’, it will be around a lot if Mr. Romney wins.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Harvard Study Shows That When More Health Care Was Available, Less People Died

Can’t Put Anything Past Those Harvard Geniuses Can We?

For reasons no known to any of us Harvard conducted a study to determine if health care outcomes changed when more individuals had Medicaid coverage.  Here are the totally unexpected, surprising, wholly unanticipated, results.

Into the maelstrom of debate over whether Medicaid should cover more people comes a new study by Harvard researchers who found that when states expanded their Medicaid programs and gave more poor people health insurance, fewer people died.

What does this mean?  It means this.  When politicians like Florida Gov. Rick Scott and others say they will not implement the Medicaid expansion that is part of the health care reform act they will literally be killing people.  Not figuratively, literally.

Here is some statistical jargon from the research.


Medicaid expansions were associated with a significant reduction in adjusted all-cause mortality (by 19.6 deaths per 100,000 adults, for a relative reduction of 6.1%; P=0.001). Mortality reductions were greatest among older adults, nonwhites, and residents of poorer counties. Expansions increased Medicaid coverage (by 2.2 percentage points, for a relative increase of 24.7%; P=0.01), decreased rates of uninsurance (by 3.2 percentage points, for a relative reduction of 14.7%; P<0.001), decreased rates of delayed care because of costs (by 2.9 percentage points, for a relative reduction of 21.3%; P=0.002), and increased rates of self-reported health status of “excellent” or “very good” (by 2.2 percentage points, for a relative increase of 3.4%; P=0.04).

So now we have to adjust a familiar saying

“Guns don’t kill people.  People don’t kill people.  Politicians kill people.”

Too harsh, read the study.

Our estimate of a 6.1% reduction in the relative risk of death among adults is similar to the 8.5% and 5.1% population-level reductions in infant and child mortality, respectively, as estimated in analyses of Medicaid expansions in the 1980s.3,4 Our results correspond to 2840 deaths prevented per year in states with Medicaid expansions, in which 500,000 adults acquired coverage.15 This finding suggests that 176 additional adults would need to be covered by Medicaid in order to prevent 1 death per year.

Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong Point Out How Conservative Chicago Finance Professor John Cochrane Was Wrong, Wrong Wrong on Fiscal Policy

Not That That Will Stop Him From Speaking, Writing and Being Wrong Again

[Editor's note:  After this post was drafted Mr. Cochrane did  appear in the pages of the WSJ, this time writing on going back to the gold standard.  Read it here, and see if you can comprehend any logic or sense in the writing.  We can't.  And given Mr. Cochrane's track record recently as documented below, why would you expect to?

As for a critique of Mr. Cochrane's ruminations on a return to the gold standard, something last done in 1933,  this Forum will leave that to others and take on a more challenging task. For example, The Dismal Political Economist has a new pistol and some fish swimming around in a barrel to shoot at.]

No one has really ever heard of University of Chicago Professor John Cochrane, but he has impressive academic credential, holding a Chair in the Department of Finance at Chicago.  He is also featured whenever conservative editorialists need a highly credentialed economic analyst to criticize current Democratic economic policy.

So Paul Krugman  somewhat gleefully (as he is entitled to) points out how absolutely wrong Mr. Cochrane was when he was commenting on the stimulus.  Basically what Mr. Cochrane was saying in 2009 was that the government deficit would lead to huge increases in interest rates and huge amounts of inflation.

We're not going to have deflation.  That's a fundamentally different situation for everything else we're doing.  In fact, as many people have mentioned, the danger now is inflation.  And I would say it's a greater danger than most of the other people have said.  Our danger now is a run on Treasury debt.  It's not just can the Fed soak this stuff back up again, but can it soak this enormous amount of debt back up again when people don't want either money or Treasury bills or anything labeled "U.S. Government."  The danger is not 1932; the danger is Argentina, a massive run from Treasury debt.  And then monetary policy will not be able to do anything.  You can fool around with interest rates all you want.  When people don't want Treasury bills or money you're stuck.

Gosh, pretty powerful stuff, pretty fearful stuff and at the time stuff that was quoted by all those Conservatives eager to strike down any economic stimulus program.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight (if you don’t like people looking back at  your predictions and seeing if they actually occurred, don’t make predictions) we now know that Mr. Cochrane was not just wrong, he was absolutely wrong.  Inflation has been a non-event, and interest rates have been plummeting.  The yield on U. S. government 10 year notes is like the lowest every.

With a normal person, such a mistake would likely send them away from the public spotlight to contemplate why what they thought was right was actually wrong.  But for Conservative economists, this doesn’t happen.  In their minds they are always right, and if the markets and events in the future prove them wrong, then those markets and those events are the ones that are wrong.

So look for Mr. Cochrane to continue to pontificate in Conservative circles, and look for him to never admit he was wrong.  And if some time in the future, say around 2020 interests and inflation do increase look for him to proclaim vindication.  After all he never says when the disaster will occur, so he has an open ended window.

Mitt Romney Says a President Should Have Six to Twelve Months To Get Policies in Place – And By That Standard

So Then Mr. Obama Looks Good, Looks Really Good

One of the factual questions in politics is when does the clock start ticking on a new President.  For example, President Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009.  At that point in time the government’s fiscal year was nearly one/third over, having begun on September 1, 2008.  So is FY 2009 Mr. Obama’s responsibility or Mr. Bush’s?  Reasonable people seem to think it is Mr. Bush’s since it takes time for a new President to get his policies in place.

So who are these ‘reasonable people’ Well one of them is Mitt Romney, who said in an interview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow that a new President should have time to put a program in place before he is measured on that program.

And we ought to give, whichever president is going to be elected, at least six months or a year to get those policies in place.

Of course, this statement conflicts with earlier statements of Mr. Romney (Ok, who exactly is surprised by that) and more importantly it gives a great deal of credit to Mr. Obama.  From the Maddow blog.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Romney has said the clock should start in February 2009, Obama's first month in office. If that's fair -- if the president deserves the blame for every job lost on his 11th day in office -- it's true that under Obama, the economy is still in a deep hole and hasn't fully recovered from the losses of early 2009.

But look what happens when we start the clock, as Romney suggests, six months to a year after President Obama was sworn in. In fact, if we don't hold Obama's first year against him, the economy has added over 3.7 million jobs overall during his presidency, and over 4.2 million in the private sector.

That's not the count by my standard; that's the count by Romney's standard.

And here is the graphical proof from the same source.

Note: This is why Mitt’s advisers don’t ever want him to do an interview, just keep him talking on his prepared, pre-approved speech.  

Editor's note:  Thanks to Taegan Goddard and his great political blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Feel Good Story from Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos and His Wife MacKenzie

Compare This Story to the Rhetoric of Anti-Gay Opponents of Equality

Washington state through its legislature has passed a law that recognizes marriage as a union of two individuals.  This has obviously offended people who would use government to discriminate against those who lead their lives in a way that those people hate, and so they have organized a campaign to overturn the law in a referendum in the fall.

 The Web site of the group Preserve Marriage Washington says that “the definition of marriage in Washington is under attack” and argues that “if this law goes unchallenged, voters would have no say and marriage would be changed for every person in our state from being the union of one man and one woman to being a genderless institution.”

Same-sex marriage was legalized by Washington’s Legislature in February after a concerted push by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat. But opponents collected enough signatures to put the legislation to the voters.
Those opposed to Referendum 74 have said they intend to raise as much as $4 million to defeat it and overturn the legislation. 

Opponents of equality have prevailed in every election on the issue of discrimination free marriage.  And they obviously have the money to mount a strong campaign in Washington.  So a former Amazon employee did this.  She sent an e-mail to Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, arriving at Allen & Company's conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010.
Matthew Staver/Bloomberg NewsJeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, arriving at Allen & Company’s conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010.
Mr. Bezos was approached via e-mail on Sunday by Jennifer Cast, one of Amazon’s earliest employees and a lesbian mother of four children who is now a fund-raising chairwoman of the pro-referendum effort.

In her e-mail, sent Sunday evening, Ms. Cast, 50, implored Mr. Bezos to understand the importance of the issue to her and her longtime partner.

“I want to have the right to marry the love of my life and to let my children and grandchildren know their family is honored like a ‘real’ family,” Ms. Cast wrote. “We need help from straight people. To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win.”

In an interview on Thursday night, Ms. Cast said she had no idea how Mr. Bezos would respond. 

And said this about the pain she had endured in her life, pain brought about by people who would not just leave her alone to enjoy her own private life.

In the e-mail, Ms. Cast described in detail the pain she endured as a young adult and the difficulties she faced publicly acknowledging her sexuality. At the end, she pointedly asked him to donate between $100,000 and $200,000 to the referendum cause.

“Jeff, I suspect you support marriage equality,” she wrote. “I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so.”

She hit “send” and waited.

Mr. and Mrs. Bezos made a very short reply.

“Jen,” the e-mail said, “this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie.”

So yes, compare this story to the comments of the opponents of marriage equality, men and women who want to force their views on others when all those people want to do is lead the same lives with the same rights as the rest of us.   Here is another business executive on the subject.

In an interview on The Ken Coleman Show last month, Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy said, "I think we're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, you know, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage."'

And no, just because they do not support marriage equality as an individual right does not mean that every business leader is trying to impose his or her own views on AmericaHere is the laudatory position of the head of the Marriot Corporation.  Bill Marriot is a devout Mormon, and his church actively opposes marriage equality.

“This church helped me raise a family and has brought great joy and happiness to my life,” he told me. But that didn’t mean gay employees had any less status at Marriott.

“We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else,” he said. “We are an American Church. We have all the American values: the values of hard work, the values of integrity, the values of fairness and respect.” Marriott has both a deep faith and a deep understanding of his responsibility as a leader. Many of his shareholders, customers, and employees don’t belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their values matter, too. . . .

As a result, when his church actively campaigned against same-sex marriage in California, neither Marriott nor the hotel chain donated any money to the cause. Instead, he stepped into the drama by publicly reinforcing his company’s commitment to gay rights through domestic partners benefits and services aimed at gay couples.

Mitt Romney, whose first name is Willard is named after the founder of the Marriott company.  One wonders if maybe he could learn something from the current head of the company.  Think about it Mitt, you could do the country and your candidacy world of good if you could make a simple statement like Mr. Marriott.

Finally, there are some local officials in cities like Chicago and Boston who want to deny Chick-fil-A the right to have more outlets in their town.  This is equally wrong.  As long as the business is in compliance with any local regulations it has the right to operate, regardless of the speech of its owners or managers.  That right is basic to our society and even those who strongly disagree with the views of Chick-fil-A should defend their right to speak without restrictions on their opening stores.

But as far as actually going to an outlet, well, that's something entirely different.

Mitt Romney in Britain – Not Just Not Ready for Prime Time – Not Ready for Any Time

Insults Britain on Olympics and Forgets Name of Opposition Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband

One of the characteristics of the Mitt Romney campaign is the very tight control the campaign has on the candidate.  For years Mr. Romney did no television interviews, and when he finally consented to go on the air without a script it was with Fox News.  Lately, because he has had to refute various attacks he has increased his exposure, and one can imagine the handlers cringing at the very thought of Mitt without a script.

Mr. Romney has provided a great example of the problem with the start of his foreign trip.  First stop is Britain, with the start of the Olympics.  Since Olympics figure prominently in Mr. Romney’s claim for Presidential qualifications he obviously wanted to make a strong impression.  He didn’t.

First up was his comments on Britain’s preparations for the games.  It is true that they have made somewhat of a mess of it, but like every other country they don’t want criticism from others.

LONDON — Mitt Romney’s carefully choreographed trip to London caused a diplomatic stir when he called the British Olympic preparations “disconcerting” and questioned whether Londoners would turn out to support the Games.

“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” Mr. Romney said in an interview withNBC on Wednesday.

And Mr. Romney was probably not expecting the retort from Prime Minister David Cameron, who like all British politicians faces a hostile Parliament and knows how to hold his own.

That prompted a tart rejoinder from the British prime minister, David Cameron. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” an allusion to Salt Lake City, which hosted Games that Mr. Romney oversaw.

The later on the trip Mr. Romney did the bi-partisan thing and met with British opposition party leader Ed Miliband who heads the Labour Party.  Things did not go so well here either.

Mr Leader? Did Mitt Romney forget Ed Miliband's name?

Mitt Romney follows gaffe over Britain's readiness to hold Olympic games by appearing to forget name of Labour leader

Yes, Mr. Romney referred to Mr. Miliband as Mr. Leader, the equivalent of Mr. Miliband referring to Mr. Romney as ‘Mr. Candidate’. 

None of this is important in the long run scheme of things, it just illustrates the horror the Romney campaign has of letting Mitt be Mitt.  But since nobody knows what Mitt really is, maybe their fears are misplaced.  Probably not though.

European Economic Policy Gets Record Results – Spanish Unemployment Rate at Record Levels

If Creating Unemployment Were an Olympic Sport Europe Would Dominate with Gold Medals in Every Category

Sometimes economic statistics, even in advanced countries where the process is assumed to have accuracy and integrity, are unbelievable.  Unbelievable in the sense that this cannot be right, that the numbers presented just cannot be correct.  Such is the case in Spain with the announcement of its unemployment rates.

Just over 5.69 million Spaniards ended the second quarter jobless, raising the unemployment rate to a record 24.6 percent, compared with 24.4 percent in the first quarter, according to the latest national employment statistics published Friday.

Youth unemployment rose to 53 percent in the second quarter, up 1.3 percentage points from the previous quarter and 7 percentage points from a year ago.

Any person reading this will have the same reaction as The Dismal Political Economist.  Unemployment in a large, mature European economy cannot be one fourth of the population, young people cannot have an unemployment rate of over 50%.  That just cannot happen and society still function.  But no officials seem willing to state the figures are overstating the problem, so maybe it is true.

As for the reaction of policy makers in Europe and Spain there is this.

The rise in unemployment underlines the challenge faced by the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to turn around an economy that is sinking further into recession and clean up public finances. As part of a new €65 billion austerity package announced earlier this year, the government is also set to lower unemployment benefits.

And one need only note that every single person who is proposing and implementing this policy has a great government job with great benefits.    Not for them the ravages of economic destitution and despair.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Annals of Idiocy – University of Chicago Economist Casey Mulligan Claims Americans are Unemployed Because They Do Not Want to Work

An Idea Debunked Decades Ago Still Has Shelf Life Among the Idiotocracy

France is always a wonderful target for Conservatives because, well because the country is so ‘French’.  And Conservatives frequently point out that because the French family income is less than the U. S. family income on average, there is something inferior about the French.

But An American economist, Casey Mulligan believes that the reason there is unemployment in America is that the unemployed in America are French at heart.

They are unemployed because they just want more leisure time.

There’s a school of thought that says unemployment is largely voluntary, because people could find work if they didn’t ask for so much money. University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan argued in 2009 that unemployment rose in 2008 because the labor supply curve “shifted to the left.” In other words, people became less willing to work. Maybe they deliberately earned less so they could qualify for mortgage modifications, or to get the IRS to ease up on collecting back taxes, Mulligan speculated.

Yes, after one chokes down the vomit that rises in one’s throat from reading such a piece think about what Mr. Mulligan is saying.  Poor unemployed people are that way deliberately, so they can get mortgage modifications and escape back taxes.  Anyone who thinks that going through a foreclosure process, or having the government tax collectors harass them is the pure pleasure that Mr. Mulligan thinks it is should try it.

America's Leisure Gap
That Person on the Beach is Unemployed, and
has all that leisure time to enjoy life while her counterpart
slaves away at the office.

And despite the fact that Mr. Mulligan is associated with one of the best Universities in the country, it seems he has trouble getting even a coherent sentence out on the subject.  Everybody read this and see if it has any intelligible thoughts.

Asked how much of today’s unemployment he considers voluntary, Mulligan responded by e-mail: “I’m not sure what voluntary means. Is someone voluntarily unemployed if he receives and rejects a job offer that is not suited to [his] skills or interests? Is someone voluntarily unemployed if he fails to apply for positions that are not well-suited to his skills or interests?” He added: “I estimate that half of the drop in the employment-population ratio came from an expansion of the social safety net.”

Even more, it seems that all that leisure time people who are unemployed have is really a great life style.  The fact that they are not working means that time to visit Europe, take a cruise to the Bahamas, sail on the Queen Elizabeth and vacation in Hong Kong.

Mulligan isn’t alone in asserting that the unemployed and underemployed get at least some enjoyment out of their free time. “As long as leisure has some positive value,” then focusing just on the superior material condition of well-educated people who work long hours “will overstate the true inequality in well-being” between them and less-educated people with more leisure time, says a 2012 paper by economists Erik Hurst, Orazio Attanasio, and Luigi Pistaferri.

Yes, an unemployed person struggling to keep the house, to get health care and to just pay the utility bills doesn’t understand how much more enjoyable life is than the person who has a job.

But there’s a simple test, simple enough for even someone like Mr. Mulligan to understand.  Place a half page help wanted ad in the local newspaper or local employment web site.  Advertise for jobs paying, say, $10.00 an hour with no benefits.  Then wait and see how many applications you get.  Just be prepared to count the number in the thousands.  All coming from those lazy Americans who just want to live off life in the safety net. 

Actors on TV Hit ‘Modern Family’ Making $75,000 Per Week Reject Raise to $150,000 per Week and Sue to Make More

Maybe This is Symbolic of the Modern American Family

One of the pleasant surprises of television has been the success of the ABC show Modern Family.  Because the show is really about modern families, it should have been rejected in conservative American homes, but it has not.

"Modern Family," an ensemble comedy about three different branches of one family, is that rare breed of critical and commercial hit. Not only has it won the best comedy Emmy two years in a row, it is one of the biggest hits on television. About 13 million viewers tune in to ABC every Wednesday night to watch the show, and many more record it on their digital video recorder for later consumption.

So what’s the problem?  Well some cast members feels they are underpaid.

Most of the cast members of "Modern Family" were unknowns when it made its debut in 2009 and are paid $60,000 to $70,000 an episode. O'Neill, an established TV star, makes more than $100,000 per episode but he too was also seeking a new agreement.

Yes, you are reading that correctly.  It takes about one week to film an episode and so these fine talented folks (they really are) are getting more in one week of work than the average American family gets in a year.  And their employer apparently has offered more.

An offer that would have put the salaries of Vergara, Ferguson, Stonestreet, Bowen and Burrell in the $150,000 per-episode neighborhood for the upcoming season with sizable annual increases was rejected, a person at the studio who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said.

And of course once the show goes into syndication the stars will get residual payments, or as the rest of the world calls them, money without work.

And so the stars have resorted to that traditional modern American family method of settling disputes, they are suing 20th Century Fox to break their contracts.

Stars Sofia VergaraJesse Tyler FergusonEric Stonestreet,Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell filed suit Tuesday in California Superior Court. The move comes after unsuccessful efforts on their part to renegotiate their deals with the studio. Another star, Ed O'Neill, also is expected to join the suit.

Although the current contracts of the cast run through 2016, the cast has been trying to cut new deals with the studio that would include significant raises. Such negotiations are not unusual in the television industry, particularly on successful shows. In return for bigger paychecks, the cast usually agrees to extend their agreements beyond the usual seven years. 

As far as the merits of either side are concerned, The Dismal Political Economist doesn’t really care.  He is presenting this issue as just another snapshot of life in America in 2012.

Communist China Continues Its March to Capitalism – Reaches Agreement to Purchase Major Canadian Oil Company and Establish North American Operations

Paying the Price for All That Borrowing From China

The strategy of China’s ruling Communist Party has been clear for years.  In order to feed China’s huge and growing demand for raw materials, the country is going around the world and buying up resources and companies that control those raw materials.  China has learned something it took the West centuries to learn.  It is more effective and less expensive to buy rather than conquer.

The latest Chinese acquisition is Canadian oil giant Nexen, which China will purchase, regulatory approval pending, for about $15 billion.

China’s Cnooc has agreed to buy Calgary-based oil group Nexen for $15.1bn plus debt, a bold step that marks the increasing confidence of Chinese energy groups expanding overseas.

The deal, if completed, would be China’s largest overseas acquisition of a listed company, and comes at a time when Chinese companies are increasingly scouring the world for deals during the global downturn.

But this is more than just a purchase of an energy company.  With the purchase China will be establish a huge North American management infrastructure. 

Under the terms of the latest deal, Nexen management will become the new face of Cnooc in North America, with an expanded mandate that will cover Cnooc’s assets in the US, Canada and Caribbean.

Cnooc will make Calgary its North American headquarters and the Hong-Kong listed company will list shares on the Toronto stock exchange.

So America, just keep buying all that Chinese stuff, and keep shipping all those dollars to China and keep borrowing all those dollars back so we can have budget deficits with low taxes.  And then plan to sell of the nation’s commercial crown jewels to pay for everything. 

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Today’s Challenge – Find an Issue That Mitt Romney Has Not Flip Flopped On – Is It A Ban on Assault Rifles?

No, Try Again (Thanks to Harold Pollock, The Incidental Economist)

The Wall Street Journal, believe it or not, has the story of Mitt Romney’s position on allowing Americans to own assault rifles.  After the horrific Colorado shootings Mr. Romney once again affirmed his belief in keeping current laws in place, including federal laws that allow ownership of the type of semi-automatic assault rifles that were used in the killings.

Mr. Romney looking at his notes to try and
determine where he is on an issue today, as opposed to
yesterday or tomorrow
Today, Mr. Romney’s campaign Web site says no new laws are needed. “Like the majority of Americans, Mitt does not believe that the United States needs additional laws that restrict the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” the site says.

Okay, so it would be wrong to point out that while Governor of Massachusetts Mr. Romney not only supported banning assault rifles, he actually signed a law to that effect.

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney opposes all new gun control laws today, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2004, as governor, he signed a permanent assault weapons ban into law in Massachusetts. The law included other elements welcomed by gun-rights supporters, but Mr. Romney defended the assault weapons provision on its own merits.

“I believe the people should have the right to bear arms, but I don’t believe that we have to have assault weapons as part of our personal arsenal,” he said on Fox News in 2004.

So people keep looking, go ahead find an issue on which Mitt Romney has been consistent.  We dare you.

Aaron Carroll of The Incidental Economist Documents How the U. S. Rations Health Care – Low Income People Get Less than High Income People

Not the Situation in Other Countries

There are two conflicting attitudes about the cost of and access to health care services.  One view, we will call it the humane view, is that basic health care is a basic human right, that everyone has basic health care in advanced countries as a matter of entitlement.  The second view is that health care is just another consumer good.  Those who have high incomes and can afford basic health care do so, those who have lower incomes have to do without.

The Incidental Economist is a great health care Forum, and Aaron Carroll frequently writes on health care economics.  Here he writes on an OECD study that looked at whether or not income inequality produced health care inequality, that is did various countries limit basic health care for people based on their incomes.

The results were not surprising,

The first thing to note is that the average rate of a visit to the doctor varies among all these countries from a high of 91% in France to a low of 68% in the United States. Think about that the next time someone tells you how our problem is that we consume too much health care.
The second thing to note is how much variation there is between those at the upper and lower end of the economic spectrum. In the UK, for instance, there is almost no difference in utilization between the rich and the poor. All see the doctor equally. In most other countries, though, there is some inequality based on income.
None as great as the United States, though. The difference between the probability of seeing the doctor for the poor and wealthy is greater in the US than in any of the other measured countries.
People like to believe that we don’t ration care in the US. We do. More than just about any other country, we ration by cost.

So the people who make the argument that health care is not a right, that if you cannot afford health care too bad, you should just make more money are winning.  And if Republican are able to implement their “market based” health care insurance philosophy, well the anti-health care forces will be routing the pro-health care forces.  But that will be okay to Republicans, the market rules. So if a five year old with pneumonia has to go without a doctor's visit because her parents are too poor to afford it, well that's a market working just fine.  She should have chosen wealthier parents.

Cowardly Politicians Want Editorial Control Over Quotes They Actually Said

Apparently ‘Free Speech’ to Them Means Being Able to Freely Edit Their Speech After They Speak

The New York Times has documented a rather nasty trend in political speech, where politicians demand and many times get final editorial approval on quotes before a story on an interview can be published.  It would be nice to say that this is a practice initiated by and done solely by Conservatives, whose speech really does need editing to take out the kooky stuff, but alas that is not the case.  The practice seems to be widespread and know no political boundaries.

Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.

The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.

From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a “top Democrat” or a “Republican strategist.”

The practice is, of course, disgusting, an affront to any standard of democracy in a free country and primarily attests to the arrogance that politicians everywhere have adopted. Fortunately some news organizations are fighting back.

In a memorandum to the staff, Ron Fournier, National Journal’s editor in chief, said, “If a public official wants to use NJ as a platform for his/her point of view, the price of admission is a quote that is on-record, unedited and unadulterated.”

And others are at least trying. 

The Times has said that it encourages its reporters to push back against sources who demand quote approval and that it is reviewing how its policies might address the issue. The Washington Examiner said last week that it, too, would not accept interviews granted under the condition of quote approval.

Politico’s editor in chief, John Harris, said he advised reporters to resist such conditions for interviews and expressed dismay that political figures were becoming more comfortable avoiding on-the-record interviews.
“Journalists need to work hard to make sure we are doing everything possible to insist on accessibility and accountability,” Mr. Harris said last week.

But the practice will only stop when the entire journalist community rises up and says “NO!”.  See politicians are about the most cowardly group that ever existed, and faced with united opposition to their craven instincts they will cave faster than Superman leaping a tall building.  Who knows, maybe the ghost of the “Good” John McCain will rise from the dead and fix this thing.