Sunday, March 29, 2009

Political update for April, 2009

Oh, God, no (says the reader), not another philippic about how our glorious leaders are screwing up our economy for the foreseeable future. Well, if they would just stop I’d shut up. I refuse to believe that we are so unsophisticated as a nation that we cannot have a critical analysis of what we are doing, as if the entire populous will panic if the government says – we really aren’t sure if we are doing this right and maybe we should slow down. In fact, Joe Biden said 30% possibility of failure in a speech, attributing it to Obama (who gritted his teeth later and pretty much said, heh, heh, that's just Joe)and I don’t recall panic.

To be honest, there exists no political will to do anything much different. Though I believe a history exists which justifies my believing a McCain administration would have been considerably less egregious in spending, he would have probably taken the same general approach – the same one the Republicans took when Bush was in Power and they controlled congress – spend, spend, spend. It appears that the country, if you can believe the polls and not your own ears, is much in favor of these spending policies.

As always, the trouble is that the two ideologies, conservatism and liberalism, and their political fronts, the Democrats and the Republicans, have a lock on American politics to the degree that our citizenry now act as if these two paranoid (because the other side is usually motivated by evil) schizophrenic (because they both switch positions whenever it suits their purposes) actually own as property holders, all political positions and deserve all the power. When one party controls the administration and congress they become drunk with power and lose control of any sense of conscientiousness they might have had when they took power.

The other day a perfect example of the problem of the two party system came out. The Democrats let it be known that they were considering using a perfectly proper congressional tactic so that they could avoid the filibuster problem, the one way a minority in the senate can put the brakes on, by requiring only a majoriy as in the house of representatives to move legislation forward. The Republicans are apoplectic about it and the Democrats gleeful. The problem with this - unadulterated pure hypocrisy! When the Republican controlled both houses and the presidency they used precisely this tactic and the Democrats railed against it.

Yet, we are so used to this nauseating hypocrisy, we, as a people, are used to it, and don't require a change.

We get what we deserve. Less powerful politicians line up behind their cowardly hypocritical leaders on both sides and act with group think and with blind devotion. The few who try and break away from their team are attacked and ridiculed like Joe Lieberman, John McCain, Arlen Spector, etc., not only by those in power but by their followers in the real world, who actually identify with the extremists.

Take this part of a message I received about Joe Lieberman via email after last years' election from a self described “progressive," even though he and Lieberman probably agree on over 90 percent of political issues. “Joe Lieberman does nothing out of conscience. He is a sneaky, unprincipled, self serving, ugly old man. He should be ridiculed. And I’m pissed off at him.”

I wonder if his anger had anything to do with Lieberman's decision to back his good friend, John McCain, or his beating the Democrats by running as an independent when they refused him their nomination. Y' think?

In congress, even if you are an independent, you must caucus with one side or the other. The chairmen and women use their power to all but silence, in terms of substance, the other side. Instead of the guaranteed Republic of States we deserve, we are subservient to a congress of parties.

The most powerful tool to maintain party power is the use House of Representatives “Rules” committee which makes the “rules” for each piece of legislation. By this avenue, laws may be proposed open or closed – that is, open or closed to amendments. They can be partially open too, which doesn't do much more. Open on any controversial issue is rare. Usually, they are partially open or completely closed – freezing out the other side. Constitutionally, congress can make its own rules. But there are limits. It can't violate other sections of the constitution with impunity.

It seems like everyday there is another step towards what can only be described as a command economy. A few days ago it became public knowledge that Obama “fired” the CEO of GM. I’m sure “fired” is just a metaphor for it being let known to the CEO that he should leave asap. We’ll find out, of course, what kind of package he got for leaving. I guess it’s a secret that everyone can act shocked about when it becomes public knowledge. Then, today, we learn that congress is fixing to try to let Mr. Geithner determine any compensation he wants for companies that take TARP money (even if they were solvent and compelled to do so).

You don’t think that smacks of a command economy?

Timothy Geithner’s new plan, government control of corporations, is just grist for the mill in our leap forward to a command economy. Because people are so sensitized to pejorative terms like communist, we don’t use it so much– I don’t use it when I am arguing with someone. Even “socialism” causes hackles to rise. But that is precisely what is being put into effect now. By any label - it is government control of the means of production (and that is the definition of socialism – shhh).

But many act as if these new power grabs – government seizure and control of the policy decisions of private companies, are just fine or necessary. That we need regulation and we have to do this because we can’t trust the people in the businesses. Of course, we can’t trust them – that’s why we have anti-fraud laws, however poorly they can be enforced. And we do need regulation – but only the kind that doesn’t stomp on fair competition. That should not be an ideological statement, but it has been made so.

We are well past the point where government investment in business is a de minimis encroachment. Barney Frank should never have had the opportunity to say that we own 80% of AIG and they have to do what we say? That approach is a far greater problem than AIG's decision to honor its committments for bonuses to its employees. There are better approaches. Like letting AIG fail. Like letting other companies buy up the solvent parts of the company and letting the other parts fail. The recent outrage over a solvent bank which was forced to take TARP money by the government because they were doing business as usual and throwing a big party for clients, is another.

But you think you can trust people in government to be honest more than businessmen? Trust them not to be corrupt? Trust them not to make sweetheart deals with businessmen? Trust them not to do the revolving door thing as lobbyists? Trust them to what – predict the future and know better than people in an industry what choices that business should make?

One of my favorite lines from a movie (and I can’t find the exact quote online) was in Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson’s Shanghai Knights when Jackie locks his hands together for Owen to use as a springboard to make a tremendous leap upwards. Owen looks at Jackie and says something like “What in our experience together makes you think I can do something like that?”

I have the same question for the public. What in our experience with government makes you think that it (they) will be honest, fair and competent? If they couldn’t predict what the TARP beneficiaries would do with their money, or whether they wouldn’t tell us what they did with it, or that they would give big bonuses as planned, etc., what makes you think they can predict anything else.

So, it will be okay for Geithner or his replacement (my guess is he will not survive the 4 year term) to tell the corporate boards how much their CEO’s and other officers should be paid, but not okay to tell Lebron James how much he should make?

What’s next – telling companies how much to charge for their products or services. Don’t think so? Then you need to read up on the “New Deal,” the administration's blue print for what they were doing, where we actually did that, causing havoc?

The sad example of Jack Magid, a tailor during the 1930s has recently been resurrected of late with glee by opponents of government intervention. Magid was convicted under the National Recovery Act for selling his service for 35 cents a pair of pants instead of the 40 cents mandated by the “Tailors Code”. Magid, who barely spoke English was befuddled that the government could tell him how much to charge in America. He charged 35 cents because he did not have a great location and his competitive angle was to charge less. Of course, as consumers, you’d think this was a good thing. But his wife and children had to fend for themselves without him while he served time because the government thought it should tell him how to run his business.

Constitutional? Of course not and it was eventually ruled so, but not before people were fined, even jailed, because they were trying to run their business in the real world, not the world of averages and political expediency in which government operates.

No, I don’t want people like Bernie Madoff ripping people off – but let’s not pretend that it was not due to government incompetency instead of too little regulation. Government had all the power it needed and all the warning it needed to stop him years ago. His mistake. He didn't steal enough. Were he as big as AIG, the government might have given him money to make him solvent as he would be too big to fail. You think I'm joking, don't you?

I’m not sure where this is all headed. I’d like to think that we are not going to become completely socialistic, but no doubt we are heading in that direction right now. It is ironic that although many of us were alive during the Cold War, many people still believe that government control of industry will not result in more, not less, corruption and fraud.

The same self described progressive I mentioned earlier frequently tells me that he is happy in Obama that we have a president who can conceive a plan and carry it out. And I keep telling him that this is what frightens me. The idea that “smart” people can predict the future and make sure economic problems never happe again is utopianism and magical thinking. Does anyone notice that whether it’s Bush’s people or Obama’s or Congress – they can’t get it right? That’s because they can’t predict the future and should stop trying.

My own plan, you ask? Can we just try to increase tax benefits for things like capital improvements and business investment, and give tax breaks across the board, before spending trillions of dollars? Instead of reducing tax benefits for charitable giving (are they serious?), try increasing it? Why not?

I like this guy

You-tube made a world champion out of a British backbencher when he stripped the hide off of Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he made this speech at the European Union parliament in front of the prime minister. It was nothing new for Hannan, who is a relatively unknown but outspoken British politician and writer, but it was for the world. Hannan gets it and calling out the PM – unvarnished by political niceties – in front of his his peers with perfect British snarkiness is why he is an internet phenomena right now. Watch it on you-tube if you want to be entertained but here’s the text I pulled off of

Prime Minister, I see you’ve already mastered the essential craft of this Parliament – that being to say one thing in this chamber, and a very different thing to your home electorate. You’ve spoken here about free trade, and amen to that; who would have guessed, listening to you just now, that you were the author of the phrase ‘British Jobs for British Workers’, and that you have subsidised - where you have not nationalised outright - swathes of our economy, including the car industry and many of the banks.

Perhaps you would have more moral authority in this house if your actions matched your words. Perhaps you would have more legitimacy in the councils of the world if the United Kingdom were not going into this recession in the worst condition of any G20 country.

The truth, Prime Minister, is that you have run out of our money. The country as a whole is now in negative equity. Every British child is born owing around £20,000. Servicing the interest on that debt is going to cost more than educating the child.

Now once again today you tried to spread the blame around, you spoke about an international recession; an international crisis. Well, it is true that we are all sailing together into the squall – but not every vessel in the convoy is in the same dilapidated condition. Other ships used the good years to caulk their hulls and clear up their rigging – in other words, to pay off debt – but you used the good years to raise borrowing yet further. As a consequence, under your captaincy, our hull is pressed deep into the water line, under the accumulated weight of your debt. We are now running a deficit that touches almost 10% of GDP – an unbelievable figure. More than Pakistan, more than Hungary – countries where the IMF has already been called in.

Now, it’s not that you’re not apologising - like everyone else, I’ve long accepted that you’re pathologically incapable of accepting responsibility for these things - it’s that you’re carrying on, wilfully worsening the situation, wantonly spending what little we have left. Last year, in the last twelve months, 125,000 private sector jobs have been lost – and yet you’ve created 30,000 public sector jobs. Prime Minister you cannot go on forever squeezing the productive bit of the economy in order to fund an unprecedented engorging of the unproductive bit.

You cannot spend your way out of recession or borrow your way out of debt. And when you repeat, in that wooden and perfunctory way, that our situation is better than others, that we’re well place to weather the storm, I have to tell you, you sound like a Brezhnev-era Apparatchik giving the party line. You know, and we know, and you know that we know that it’s nonsense. Everyone knows that Britain is the worst placed to go into these hard times. The IMF has said so. The European Commission has said so. The markets have said so, which is why our currency has devalued by 30% – and soon the voters, too, will get their chance to say so.

They can see what the markets have already seen: that you are a devalued Prime Minister, of a devalued Government.

Why can this independent (although he has also run as a conservative) from Britain get it and our congressmen and women can't? Why do so many people in this country believe that when you are in tremendous debt you should crush yourself under more debt or spending without having a way to pay for it? Here are our choices in the future – continuing borrowing, if possible, merely putting off the problem; create more dollars and thereby rampant inflation, or tax the hell out of people. It looks like they will go under the theory that if you have three bad choices, go with all three. Economic growth would be nice but it’s not going to happen under these conditions.

Of course, maybe we could get lucky and have the equivalent of WWII again. That got the ball rolling the last time.

Holy reprehensible, Batman

Some acts of public corruption are just so vile, such a gross violation of an office, such a perverse example of immoratily that it transcends all politics and just makes you sick.

That's how I feel about these animals in Pennsylvania, Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. Trusted with a position enabling him to subject kids to incarceration, they took money from the juvenile detention halls as sentenced many children to government custody. It numbered in the hundreds. One of the custodial sentences was for stealing a $4 item. Another was for creating a satirical internet page mocking his teacher. The first kid should have got grounded for a week by his parents and working off ten times the money. The second kid should have had to face his teacher and gotten a tongue lashing.

They did it for money. Lots of money. 2.6 million dollars. There must be a lot of money in juvenile detention centers if the owner could afford that as a kick back. I hope that is a warning signal to municipalities around the globe to check and see what is going on in their jurisdictions.

Both Ciavarella and Conahan pled guilty. My understanding is that they face only seven years in prison. At the least, they should add up the time they gave to these kids and serve that without chance of parole. Seven years? Not enough.

I don't even care if most of those kids needed to go to a detention center. The public corruption outweighs whatever they did and if they unjustly benefit, so much the better. Another judge, Arthur Grim, has freed them in mass as they were not given the beneifit of knowing they had a right to a lawyer.

I'm not in favor of locking somebody up in bonds in the middle of the town commons, but if they ever come back with that, these two should head the list of penitents.

No charges have been made against the juvenile center or its owners. One of the owners claims that he was a victim of extortion. I guess they believe him. I hope at least they threatened his or his families life, because I don't know what else would justify his going along with this instead of going to the D.A.

Maddoff will spend his afterlife in Hell one ring higher than you two. May I say in conclusion, yccchh.

A word in defense of and in encouragement of our president

President Obama may indeed turn out to be a far worse president than Bush, but, as I spend so much time bashing him on the economy and for his $900 million gift to Hamas, I'd like a few in praise.

Your understanding, probably guided by military and your universally liked secretary of defense, Robert Gates, is superior to Bush's ruinous policies. I agree with your Iraq policy. It is responsible. We should get out and turn it over to the Iraqis with due care. I have no doubt if something occurs to speed up or slow down the process you will act on it. We can't stay there indefinitely because a few idiots occassionally blow themselves and others up. If the government can't maintain the peace, so costly bought, we can only go so far. Remember, our constitution guarantees us a republican form of government, not the Iraqis. However, if Iraq blows up, we should not abandon the Kurds and help arm the side we believe is in our best interest (although, we've screwed that up before).

You also seem to get Afghanistan. We need more there, not less. During Bush's terms the right was correct that we could not just abandon Iraqis now that we had gone that far. However, their ridicule of the left that Iraq was the center of the battle of international terrorism was, clearly, incorrect and political. Al Qaeda was there because we were there, not visa versa. My concern is that you will not send enough troops. Wrong. You want to spend. Spend there. Spend political capital too to get more NATO help there. We should not bear it alone. If they will not help, let's see how tough you are (you told us you were during the election).

We also need to learn to politically and/or militarilly engage with a new group - Pushtans, Pashtos, Pathans, etc., whatever you want to call them. The word comes from a Iranian language group and tribe, many of whom barely recognize, if at all, the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as a barrier. I do not mean to tar with one brush. I have no doubt that they have the same variation of beliefs and philosophies as other groups, but there is also no doubt that this ethnic group comprised of many tribes and clans will be largely responsible for returning Afghanistan to the Taliban (which is primarily a Pashtun group) if we let them, and that they are already succoring our other mortal enemy, Al Qaeda, as well. However much we have succeeded in damaging the Taliban and Al Quaeda, they are still our most desperate enemies and the ones who seem best placed to damage us in the future with a major terrorist act. As of right now, we cannot deal with this group directly, because they are not a government like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet, if we don't recognize that our inability to engage with them is allowing a grave threat to us to continue, we are going to likely suffer the consequences.

I also think that you have at least some handle on Mexico although I'm not sure you recognize how serious it might become. I would rather taking that $900 million for Gaza and give it to the Mexican government under tight controls to eradicate the gains these murderous thugs have made. Mexico is a lot closer to us than Palestine. The danger to Palestinians of angry Israelis and visa versa is not as great as the danger to Mexico and us of these narco-killers. Thousands are dying in the cross-fire of gang warfare, many on the border of our own country.

But, while I'm on Mexico, you should have a word with your secretary of state. I understand your general policy - Bush did show an arrogance towards the world and we do need them, whatever my conservative friends think. That doesn't mean we should have to take the blame for everything bad in the world. It is idiotic to think that because we have a drug and gun market in this country that we are responsible for the actions of murderous Mexican gangs. Try and stem the control of guns south, no doubt, but do not blame us as a whole because of the irresponsibility or afflictions of some of us. Is it U.S. government policy to send guns to Mexican gangs or to allow them to sell drugs here. Obviously not. Do you blame Mexico as a whole because some of them are murderous thugs? No. Why do you then apply that standard to us then?

So ease up just a little on the humility pedal. You know, it's not enough that you try and emulate Lincoln by bringing Biden and Clinton into your inner circle. You need the strength to be the boss too.

Does it bother anyone that -

while AIG was self destructing AIG's executives contributed over $630,000 to political parties and candidates?

That a substantial amount, at least $120,000 was contributed after they received $85 billion in government money?

That Obama recieved $130,000 from AIG in 2008, while McCain nearly $60,000?

Shouldn't politicians at least say how much they have received from companies that are getting millions or billions of dollars?

I'm not saying Obama has done anything wrong, necessarily, or that McCain would have done anything different just because he got less, just that it is very hard to tell the difference when there is a quid pro quo, and that is part of the problem with our political system. I am thankful though, that the internet has made this information available to all of us. Otherwise, we'd have to wait for a tell all book years after it happened.


  1. Intersting post. I actually think the portion regarding the curent economic conditions fits well with the last post regarding a loss of idividual freedom/ excessive regulation post following the Richardson death. It is the arrogance of a govt with coercive authority who believes it "knows better" than individuals do about what's "best" for them and therefore the country. The "greater good" (for want of a better term) is acieved in a supposedly free republic when individuals make the choices and adopt the policies of what is best for them and their families; even if that means charging 35 cents for a pair of pants.

    As to the juvenile incarceration judges, two words: Tar. Feathers.
    You might want to check out Sen. Webb's short piece on the piss poor state of our adult incarceration situation. Excellent piece. (There's some bipartisanship for you)

  2. Clearly you are just getting smarter and smarter.

    Not to be repetitive, but, for me it boils down to too much power in the hands of a political party or ideology. I'm going to put more thought into how to thwart that without violating freedom of association, but since they've had a couple of centuries to make a mess, I need a little while to figure it out.

    For now, I will just say - Shazam!

  3. I hope that's the super hero Shazam and not the Gomer Pyle Shazam of bewilderment.

  4. The super hero was Captain Marvel, who shortly followed Superman on the stage. Shazam was a wizard and an anagram for six mythical figures. In order to invoke the Greek Gods whose powers would transform Billy Batson from a poor newsboy to a super being he'd say the wizard's name. He'd be struck by a lightning bolt and suddenly gain the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, something from (I forget) of Zeus, something from Achilles (maybe invunerability - I don't remember that either) and speed of Mercury. CM was more popular than even Superman for a while but then sort of died out, after which he became the center of a copyright suit by DC comics because he was too close to Superman. I don't know how it came out. You look it up. Gomer Pyle, who had no super powers, of course, but was a hell of a marine, would sometimes say Shazam to indicate astonishment. But, I believe he was borrowing the Billy Batson phrase and there was no independent meaning. I hope that answers your question, Grasshopper.

  5. Snxxxxx, huh? What? Why'd you wake me up? Oh, is David complaining about too much one party power, as if, with all the trouble we have, that makes more difference than one fart in the wind? NO ONE amongst all the complainers and whiners has come up with any better ideas. The tension of "please help us government" versus "stay the hell out of our business government" is always going to be a problem, but doing nothing is not a solution.

  6. I hate to quibble because I do love the way you do that sleeping sound (where did you get that anyway?) but I'm not suggesting doing nothing, which is the excuse the party in power uses to do to much. "We have to do something". I made several suggestions.

    I use this merely as a metaphor. I once was carting a wheeled carrier full of boxes up the escalator at Penn Station during morning rush hour. Why would I do such a stupid thing you ask, instead of finding an elevator? Because I'm a moron, but that's not the point. Right at the top, the boxes all spilled out right behind me and right in front of all the people trying to get off the escalator. The stop button was not reachable and, of course, is dangerous too. I could have dived in and pushed the boxes aside, but it clearly would have caused a chain reaction by blocking all the people pouring off the escalator and causing lots, maybe hundreds of them to fall backwards down the escalator. The best thing to do was to let them trip over and kick the boxes out of the way while cursing me for my stupidity. I believe "idiot" was the most frequently used insult. It all took seconds but it seemed like minutes. My secretary, who was with me was mortified and asked why I just watched. I explained why. She still thought I was an idiot, but I am sure my not doing anything was the right thing to do (I did say "sorry" a few times).

    So, yes, I have some suggestions and I have heard many others that are much better than these, even if possibly no good either (e.g., get rid of mark to marketing accounting, lower the banks capital requirements for a while), etc. I would rather they do nothing than what I believe is foolish. Who borrows more money when they are in all time high debt? How is that better? How can we think its okay for government to run companies when they can't even run the government? You know what? I banish you to Bogey Land for a week.

    But I do love that Snxxxxxx. . . , though.

  7. You're still a homo.

  8. You forgot to say - not that there's anything wrong with that.

  9. Here's a rarity. I agree with Don.

  10. I think the few unfortunate readers of this blog can see my desperate need for OTHERS TO COMMENT.

  11. Anonymous7:27 AM

    Great piece Dave. I don't have much to add. I'm sure you saw the cuts by the Dep't of Defense yesterday. As a plane buff, I'm sad to see that the F-22 was cut. Only about 140 will be made. I just find it funny that we spend all this money on R&D only to cut the program at the finish line. I guess we can always build more if needed.


  12. I think the F22 just came at the wrong time, but I hope and expect the technology developed for it will be transferable. My belief is that we will morph in the next ten years to twenty into a largely digi-mechanized military, using more drones and other long range pilotless vehicles, even pilotless submarines, all armed to the teeth. Some special forces will be needed too. I'm sure there will be a place for pilots in the future, but, less and less, and perhaps just in the civilian force. Someday, perhaps in our lifetime, there will be a technician on a passenger airplane and no real pilot. I'm glad they are making some (F22s)just because they are cool.

    Thanks for the kind words.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .