Saturday, December 31, 2011

A time for reflection ....

I was struck that this week's Jack Kelly column doesn't really have any distortions of general history or reality. He talks about the Republican candidates and the race in Iowa. He confesses at one point to not being for any of them (but ...). On the other hand, I was also struck by how much Kelly seems to be toeing the Tea Party line. Kelly expresses no interest in ideas or policy; his primary criteria for evaluating the candidates is how conservative they are. He goes through each of them, eventually declaring Santorum the least objectionable.

Kelly evidently doesn't think much of the libertarian Ron Paul; describing him in this way in this paragraph: "Rep. Paul has zero chance to win the nomination. His libertarian positions on economic issues are popular, but his anti-military, anti-Israel foreign policy views appeal mostly to crackpots."

Kelly goes on to dismiss Paul as not able to even be nominated, let alone elected. I am not sure whether Kelly's evaluation of Paul's positions amount to distortions of reality (partly because I have trouble understanding what constitutes Paul's view of libertarianism), but apparently they don't work for the Tea Party.

Glenn Greenwald takes an interesting view of the comparison of Ron Paul's and Barack Obama's respective foreign and domestic security policies. He stridently claims that he is not endorsing or even supporting any particular candidate in that column. Which makes me feel a bit better, because Greenwald totally slams Obama, especially in comparison with Ron Paul.

Greenwald's column at some point almost sounds like the Declaration of Independence in listing Obama's ... well, essentially crimes against humanity and liberty. "He has slaughtered civilians", "He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield", "He has waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers" and "His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable" This goes on for a couple more paragraphs, complete with links to more in depth pieces on each issue. The point Greenwald goes on to make is that (ironically?) Ron Paul essentially opposes each of the things Obama has done, yet progressives support Obama (essentially without qualification) and oppose Rom Paul (essentially without qualification).

Now, I have to say we do not live in a fantasy world; I do not believe there will ever be a candidate or elected President who absolutely embraces all the values of progressives (or conservatives or whomever). Actually, there are (as there surely must be) a couple of purist candidates - Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul come to mind. Both have devoted and dedicated followers, but I have to say that it seems unlikely either would ever get a majority of American voters behind them. You know, there is always the idea people have that if all of the American voters were exposed to Kucinich's views or Ron Paul's views ... yada yada. I think that even a majority of American voters don't care that much about politics, which by the way is why it usually works better to scare people than to give them issues in depth. Not that voters are stupid, they just aren't that interested in economic schools of thought, for example.

I have to say that at one point Greenwald does make the lesser of two evils argument, sort of acknowledging that it is somewhat legitimate. What apparently bothers Greenwald the most is that national Democrats and the press won't even mention the actual evils that Obama has embraced.

Our country is in trouble economically, there are problems abroad economically and yes, there are still foreign policy challenges. But the economic debates do not involve what might be actual solutions (according to Paul Krugman) and the real foreign policy and domestic rights issues are not even being raised, according to Glenn Greenwald. So what happens if you are interested in real solutions for our real problems?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Trib complains about Obama, makes same mistake ...

So the Trib today (Monday) takes a shot at Barack Obama's comments about the rich in his speech in Osawatomie. Now, Obama did make a mistake in saying that some some billionaires pay only 1% in federal income taxes (the one percent only paying one percent, somewhat lyrical). Apparently there is no specific data to back up that claim, but Politifact still rated the Obama claim was only "mostly false". As I said , there is no specific data, but Politifact noted that according to the IRS 30 of the 400 billionaires paid (at some point, I don't know what year) an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Further, Politifact noted that Bloomberg reporter Gigi Stone made the specific statement about the billionaires only paying the one percent on a TV interview. That doesn't mean the white House should have put it in a speech given by the President (or not at least without attributing it specifically to Ms Stone), but at least it can't be said the President just made it up.

On the other hand, the Trib asserts the nebulous statement that income inequity "n 2007 had fallen to its lowest level in six years" per the Census Bureau. I could not verify that statement searching on "income inequality in 2007 Census". Of course, not being specific as to whether they are talking about the top 20% versus the bottom 20%, or the top .01% versus the bottom 50%, the Trib makes it impossible to evaluate their statement.

And in any event, a particular fluctuation in one of many ways to look at income inequity that dips to the slightly lower number than a number five years earlier says nothing about sixty some years of increasing income of inequity. But the Trib doesn't say anything about that. Because even though the Trib expects the President to be absolutely accurate, it does not feel it has to do anything like the same.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jingle whether you want to or not


Happy holidays to you and yours, Merry Christmas if that is what you celebrate. Jack Kelly wishes you only Merry Christmas (if you don’t like it, convert and become a Republican as well, or you will go to haich eee double hockey sticks).

Jack Kelly has a sort of Christmas theme column today, which would be nice if he weren’t kind of mean about it.

He starts by talking about how many Christians there are, in the US and around the world. Nothing he says is particularly surprising. He talks about how Africans are adding converts rapidly, which I have heard from several sources.

But then he starts looking at the US and that’s when he gets mean, or at least predictably partisan. We are told that Christianity in the US has faltered because “It began with banning the singing of carols in Christmas pageants at elementary schools, then banning the pageants themselves. Creches on public property were next.”. I was not aware that religion had to be present in the schools to prosper.

Of course, the removal of Christmas from the schools and the proliferation of “Happy Holidays” is the fault of the liberals, according to Jack. Mr. Kelly tells us that liberals say that what the First Amendment says about religion means that we can’t allow Christmas in the schools. Kelly says that is a misreading of the First Amendment, and what the founders intended.

But even though Kelly talks about different religions early in his column, it misses a crucial point. If we push Christmas on all school children, then Jewish and Muslim and what have you children feel like there is something wrong with them. If you got Jack Kelly drunk and therefore loose of tongue, he would say that is exactly what has in mind. If Kelly were being totally honest, I think he believes Jews and Muslims need to convert (and become Republicans, if they aren’t already). It is really hard to read Kelly’s column and not reach that conclusion.

Which is totally at odds with how and why this country was founded, starting with the Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution (although they promptly started the campaign of genocide against the Native Americans). The founding fathers took pains to say that we could not pull a Henry the Eighth and create Anglicans 2, or tell the Anglicans they have to become Catholics (‘cause really it would be simpler). Now, maybe we didn’t start out as a multicultural society, but our democracy and values were so attractive that people came from all over the world. Jack Kelly seems to want to tell all those immigrants that they need drop their own heritage and culture and become more like us. Kelly does not say, but I think the liberal message is that they are welcome just as they are. Which one sounds more like what we think of as America?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pay attention, or we'll be fooled again ...

Who was it Who said "we won't get fooled again"?


Sorry, indulging myself in the tiniest bit of Abbott and Costello like shtick, but I think we do need to pay attention to the stories coming from the right and the left (or in this case from the left about the right). Joe Nocera at the NYTimes has (I believe it's)yet another good explanation of both what conservatives are saying about and the reality of Freddie and Fannie's role in the financial meltdown. Nocera concentrates on the particular people who generated what he calls "The Big Lie", detailing how they spun it and how conservatives and Republican politicians including presidential candidates have rushed to repeat it. Nocera does pause to mention that Freddie and Fannie did get involved with sub-prime mortgages, but on the back side of the bell curve of the market. Which is to say Nocera does not let Freddie and Fannie off the hook, but he points out they were not driving the market for bad loans. By contrast, the big lie lets Wall Street off the hook, the crisis was the fault of the government.

Along the way Nocera has some killer links, like this one (admittedly from a Media Matters related website, but go ahead and produce data that proves their statements wrong). I might quietly point out that putting those kind of links in a column (like Frank Rich used to do) allows those of us who are curious to evaluate what the columnist considers to be back up sources, which is exactly what Jack Kelly of the PG doesn't do (yes, I will almost undoubtedly comment on tomorrow's column).

I also want to note the latest (surprise) Paul Krugman column where he points out that, in his particular example, Mitt Romney is being allowed to lie outrageously about Barack Obama. Now, thinking back to Bill Clinton, conservatives certainly lied outrageously about him. I think of the very tragic Vince Foster thing being spun into a claim that Democratic operatives actually killed him. Mind you, Clinton managed to provide enough actual dirt with his personal behavior to enable the Republicans to impeach him (but not convict him in the impeachment process, the language of which process is always confusing and hurts my head). But I do wonder if some (or maybe all) Republican politicians think they can be extra nasty to Obama because Obama is black. In particular I think of the phrase Rush Limbaugh uses to as a get out of jail free card for his responsibility in repeating whatever lie: "Just sayin'". Just sayin' that Obama wants to redistribute money so that everyone has the same amount, says Mitt Romney. Just sayin' that Obama is going to put free enterprise on trial, Romney opines in an interview.

Obama as President has been moderate to the point of alienating many of his supporters. Which is fine, he did not make campaign promises written in stone and/or blood, and besides, at least one of his promises was to reach out to the the other side. But what Krugman (and I) objects to is not that Obama broke his promises to be more aggressively liberal or even that the Republicans are lying about what kind of President Obama is, he (and I) objects to the media not screaming about how huge these Republican lies are. Of course, Obama himself has only recently began to push back ever so slightly (despite what my conservative friends might say). If Obama were a bit more like Clinton (by which I guess I might mean simultaneously thin skinned and tough) and responded as quickly as possible to any Republican attack, the media might be more inclined to fact check everybody, and grudgingly admit the truth gap between the two sides.

But it is a shame that mostly the mainstream media only repeats Republican attacks without any examination. Of course there are liberal blogs (such as the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, 2 Political Junkies and my own blog), but you the reader have to be a bit careful since we bloggers don't necessarily feel the need to try to be "fair and balanced", or even acknowledge there might be another point of view besides our own.

Speaking of not necessarily balanced, Gail Collins has another funny (not to say snarky) column today in the NYTimes, largely a summation of a moderately exciting political week. Yes, she slips another reference to Mitts' dog on the roof of the car (and I still laugh every single time). This time, she managed to find a recent Romney response to the story "“Uh — love my dog. That’s all I got for you,” Romney responded.".

Gail Collins knows what's important.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The flaw in the logic ...

This Sally Kalson column appeared Sunday, when it was well worth commenting on. But today's decision by both UPMC and Highmark focuses more attention on the conflict. Yes there was a Ruth Ann Dailey bit of lunacy about preferring a Romney-Rubio ticket over Gingrich, as if there is any difference, and there was today's House Republican turnabout on the payroll tax and unemployment compensation. But the Kalson column has unexpected depth. The column is certainly worth reading, first for her emotionally raw description of her struggle with cancer. She also perfectly characterized the roles of both UPMC and Highmark in this situation, how Highmark is no company of angels, sitting on billions in what I believe they characterize as "excess revenues" while UPMC is exploiting its unique position as both insurer and near monopolistic healthcare provider to black mail Highmark.

Now, as I remember it, Republicans who continue to oppose the Affordable Care Act say that an unregulated free health care/insurance market would work better than increased regulation. Of course, we've just seen how reduced regulation worked for financial markets. I think that the situation in Pittsburgh exemplifies how the unregulated free market might work. I mean, right now health in is somewhat regulated. Rates are regulated at the state level, and people can complain about decisions made by insurers that they think are unfair. My own experience is that our state's regulators are fairly weak and ineffective in curbing cost-cutting excesses. Also mostly insurers can only operate in one state, although I know that both Aetna and Cigna have small operations in Pittsburgh. I will say that the "Blue's", Blue Cross and Blue Shield, although present in most, if not all, states, are in fact all independent operations who only coordinate in the slightest manner.

The current battle between UPMC and Highmark is evidently something that escapes regulation, yet it seems possible that UPMC could emerge as the hands down dominant player in our region. They would be limited in rate and price increases only by their ability to justify to them our weak regulators. This strikes me as an unsurprising consequence of allowing a healthcare provider to set up an insurance arm. If we couldn't see it before it was done, we should at least acknowledge it now.

At the national level Republicans are still claiming that free markets would make healthcare better and cheaper. Pittsburgh's experience with the current low level of regulation should be held up as a counter argument.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Freddie and Fannie discussed

Of course according to any right thinking person, the New York Times not only has a liberal slant, but lies to make that slant seem reasonable. So we can't believe any of Joe Nocera's column he titled "An Inconvenient Truth" (the title itself a slap in the face of right thinking people). Sure Nocera acknowledges how Freddie and Fannie not only wrote their own legislation and ignored attempts to regulate them, but had the well known accounting scandals in middle of the last decade. He even admits they made a "belated, disastrous foray into subprime mortgages" which ended up costing us all about $150 billion. But Nocera claims that Fannie and Freddie were not at the center of the financial meltdown. How can he make such a preposterous claim?

All parody aside, I found Nocera's column to not only a clear (and very fair) examination of both the virtues and recent faults of Fannie and Freddie, but also a good explanation of their place in the alternative (fantasy) history that Republicans have constructed. One local conservative commenter recently claimed that the Community Reinvestment Act was at the heart of the 2008 financial meltdown, that making sure that poor people of color could get affordable mortgages had somehow turned into liberals forcing banks to sell McMansions to blacks who could make the mortgages and bankrupted the banks. When I copied and pasted a passage from the Wikipedia page on the CRA about how (according to Paul Krugman among others) the CRA had had little effect on the meltdown (compared to mortgages given to more affluent people and for commercial property), this local conservative commenter stated that Obama and Krugman (!) had "cooked" the books at the Fed, just like the Soviets used to do.

My point being, not just the Republican Presidential candidates or the Republicans in Congress with their identical Climate Change denying or new found adherence to the Austrian school of macroeconomics (with its simplistic monetary theories that they cling to even though the real world behaves just the opposite of what they say it is doing - have you noticed our current hyper-inflation?), but even local conservative columnists and commenters on blogs all say the same things in the same way. Some times it seems like Democrats almost admire the way the Republicans march in lockstep. I think they are no more than a third of the country (Democrats and independents are each also about a third), but their very unity gives them an inordinate amount of power. But I wouldn't want the Democrats to be that united, since it might mean all Democrats would have to believe something like creationism, or all have to be pro-choice, instead of thinking for themselves. I think Democrats should have principles, but should always be open to discussing ideas. At least that's the way I want to be.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kelly's title says it all...

Today Jack Kelly wants us to understand that the drunk on power but failed politicians the Democrats are will do anything to keep power, including stealing elections. This is especially true for Obama (who already stole the 2008 election), who "trails in all swing states" according to Mr Kelly.

Trails who? That's a good trick, to trail a nonexistent nominee. Especially considering the current crop of Republican hopefuls, each of who has his or her own particular baggage. It took Newt some four years to be chased out (by his fellow Republicans) of the Speaker's job, but chased out he was and someone is likely to remind voters why.

I have to pause and say that you just have to read the title and sub heading: "Voter fraud is real And voter ID laws are really needed; they are not racist" and it's like the desperation is almost palpable. Having to prove all three remarks essentially makes a strong prima facie case for the current racist and anti-democratic views of the Republican/Tea party.

Today's column is vintage Kelly, he raises an issue that is not entirely without merit but not really a crisis, and then discusses it entirely in terms of how the Democrats are both committing fraud and trying to block reforming legislation. And Kelly gets to mention ACORN once again.

Truth to tell, there is probably something in Kelly's quoting as accusation that LBJ stole his first Senate election (though I know no details). I've certainly heard the rumor/accusation that Illinois was stolen for JFK. Democrats, having the support of labor, have historically often been in a good position to control urban poling places.

But in terms of recent electoral theft, where the popular vote went one way and the election went another, I have two words for Jack Kelly: Al Gore. No one disputes that the popular vote went for Gore. Yet Kelly fails to mention Gore once in his column.

Kelly does make several assertions, and I internet-researched some of them. I found them to be classic cases of where Kelly either doesn't tell us all the facts or ties things together that are not related. Kelly's lead off statement, for example, mentions the impending resignation of the Indiana State Democratic Chair and a probe of signatures for to get candidates on the primary ballot in the 2008 election. The way the paragraph is written, one would naturally assume the two statements were linked, and Dan Parker's resignation would be a tacit admission of guilt.

Or the Indiana Democrat Party's decision to keep Parker as chair could have nothing to do with this probe, which may not deserve to be called vote fraud anyway. The fact that Republicans are in the Governor's and Secretary of State's offices makes this probe that much more suspicious.

Kelly also mentions this: "Former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, who is black, said vote fraud is rampant in African-American districts like his in Alabama."

Newspapers in Alabama naturally wanted to hear names, yet Mr Davis refused to give even one. Davis may be telling the truth, but the way he has told it so far only serves a Republican agenda (having only vague and impossible to substantiate allegations).

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law has issued a report of a case by case analysis of vote fraud, finding them to be at best much ado about nothing. It looks like the report was dated 2007, but I find little reason to think its conclusions have since been invalidated.

As I said, Kelly again mentions ACORN: "Of 1.3 million new registrations ACORN turned in in 2008, election officials rejected 400,000." Once again, I will point out that ACORN itself had a quality control process, where it would examine each registration for completeness and call the phone number on each registration to make sure they were valid. If the form was incomplete or the registrant could not be reached by phone, ACORN would still turn in the form, but with a big red flag on it. Did ACORN red flag 400,000 new registrations? Thanks to the Republicans hounding ACORN out of existence, we may never know. Maybe it is not funny how Jack never mentions ACORN's quality control process, since (according to Jack) ACORN (I suppose by virtue of its mission to help the poor) must have been trying to steal elections for its Democratic co-conspirators.

I haven't said anything about whether voter ID laws might be racist or not. I believe it is accepted that historically after the Civil War that in the South poll taxes and ID requirements for former slaves who might not have such documents were considered racist. I ask you, is it possible that an African American living today might have been born not in a rural hospital but at home with his/her mother assisted by an illiterate midwife, who was unable to fill out a birth certificate? If it is possible, does this person deserve to be denied the right to vote?

I urge you to read this book (of which I myself only read a portion, I found it tough going). It does not have to do with voter registration per se, but it certainly bears on the relationship between African Americans and federal, state and local governments.

Before closing, I just want to note one more set of statements Kelly made about how voter ID requirements don't affect turnout: "In Georgia, black voter turnout for the midterm election in 2006 was 42.9 percent. After Georgia passed photo ID, black turnout in the 2010 midterm rose to 50.4 percent. Black turnout also rose in Indiana and Mississippi after photo IDs were required." In that statement, Kelly compares 2006 to 2010. In between was the 2008 election between Obama and McCain, which saw large voter registration efforts. For all three of Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi, that registration effort may have out weighed the disenfranchisement effect of those laws. Also for Mississippi and Indiana, these could be comparisons between a midterm and a Presidential election, which always sees a higher turnout.

But that's Jack Kelly; only some of the facts, some of the time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Climate change's turn

This week Jack Kelly returns to his attacks on climate science. Before I address his column directly, I wanted to make a couple of related points.

First, how come when Julian Assange gets hold of State Department cables and emails, he is is traitor who deserves to be executed, but some unnamed thug can steal University of East Anglia emails, and that is described as a leak. Kelly wants to pretend this is some whistle blower who is disturbed by what (s)he sees. I think it is some paid hacker financed by the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch (go ahead, prove me wrong). It's funny to me that conservatives lose all there libertarian principles when it is liberal's privacy rights being discussed.

And also, there is more involved with energy extraction and consumption than just climate change. Oil,natural gas and even coal are essentially scarce resources. We use oil not just to power our cars, but for fertilizer, plastic and I believe several other things. We still import middle eastern oil, even though doing so is involving us in a seemingly intractable set of conflicts. So switching over as much as is feasible to alternative energy systems is highly desirable. It might well be that our grandchildren would thank us, certainly our great great grandchildren would.

So, as I say Jack Kelly today gives us a gleefully gloating column announcing the "impending collapse of one of the most brazen scams in the history of the world" (climate change,in case you hadn't guessed). Kelly asserts that the participants at the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa are showing signs of sadness that their scam will be exposed. Although apparently it is possible Kelly wrote his column too soon, if we can believe an article from the Guardian shortly before midnight on Saturday.

Kelly trots out a lot of the same old evidence and a few new items. He starts with a report from Canadian Donna LaFramboise, which found that of the 18,531 references in the 2007 IPCC report, some 5,587 were from non-peer reviewed sources, such as "newspaper and magazine articles written by non-experts, unpublished theses and pamphlets produced by environmental groups".

By the way, let me pause here to say that since Jack Kelly gives us the benefit of all this great research he does, the online edition of the Post-Gazette should make these sources available as hyperlinks.

That is a really interesting claim, these 5,587 non peer reviewed theses and pamphlets. How many of each. Well, I found a website which described this effort, and as you click links, you can find the lists of references and what LaFramboise thought were peer reviewed or not. I looked at three of some 133 different reviews of references for the chapters of the IPCC report. I didn't see much in the way of pamphlets or newspaper or magazine articles written by non-experts (not that I could known whether a person is an expert or not). I saw several books on climate science and other topics in the references that were marked as not peer reviewed; I guess no one reviews books at all. I did see some tourism reports in one chapters references; evidently the chapter was discussing the impact of climate change on tourism and Stewardess Review (not an actual journal name I saw) is not peer reviewed.

So LaFramboise went through hundreds or maybe even a few thousand references on our behalf herself, right? Actually, she solicited volunteers through her climate skeptic website. So of course she assembled a team of academics well versed in the peer review process. Judge for yourself. Me, of her more than forty volunteers I count at least six "names" that are essentially anonymous (including two anonymous-s), although I will say there was at least one person who could be said to be expert in science (although probably not in the top tier of climate scientists). I might also mention that concerning people solicited through a climate skeptic blog, let's just saw I am skeptical of their impartiality.

In the references I saw, I did not see any examples of obviously bad sources. Reports from congressional hearings, working papers from conferences, the occasional unpublished paper; these did not send up any red flags. So how should we look at this? Well, LaFramboise complains that Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman has repeatedly said that the IPCC only takes information from peer-reviewed sources. Here's a list of quotes from various persons that LaFramboise provides us, judge for yourself.

Kelly also gives us various "facts" that he says few journalists have reported: "Temperatures in the lower atmosphere this October were just one- tenth of one degree Celsius warmer than in 1979, according to data from weather satellites. Temperatures haven't risen in 13 years, according to measurements from ground stations. Data from tree rings and ice cores show no warming since 1940." I tried to google the first two claims (using Kelly's words), found nothing for the first and a connection to Richard Mueller's BEST study recently completed. Notice the qualifications, satellites, a specific date and lower atmosphere in one case and ground stations in another. Judith Curry dwells on the 13 year numbers, although again I wonder about the qualifications.

Kelly mentions Curry in another context, commenting on LaFromboise's book. Scientific American did an in depth article on Judith Curry, where they assert that Curry is a skeptic in that she questions the care with which the IPCC selects, handles and presents data, but she herself believes the world is warming. This is what the selective quoting does for Jack Kelly, creating climate deniers out of people who actually believe in climate change. Instead of the positive contribution Curry could make in trying to make the IPCC better, she becomes a stooge for the Koch brothers agenda.

Kelly has this near the end of his column "There never was a consensus among scientists in support of anthropogenic global warming." Well, I haven't and do not have the ability to interview all "scientists" to find out if what Kelly says is true, but I don't think it matters. First of all, does Kelly mean among climate scientists or among all scientists? I suspect engineers, chemists and quantum physicists may not have a professional opinion about an issue outside their specific field. But I suspect all scientists have at least some professional respect for national academies of science and other professional scientific organizations. They have, as I understand it, all signed on to climate change which is caused by man. But Kelly never mentions that.

By the way, Dayvoe of 2 PJ's has a good take on this column as well, including some things I missed.
Ask him why.

A quick thought

Apparently recently, thanks to Bloomberg news, we found out that instead of just getting 800 billion in TARP funds, the banks and (possibly) other financial institutions had access to seven trillion dollars in bailout money.

Now, in the last year to eighteen months, when Republicans/conservatives have said the word "stimulus", they have prefaced it with the word "failed" (like in the nineties Mohamed Farah Aidid's name was prefaced with "rebel warlord"). Some Democrats/liberals argued the stimulus had kept the economy from tanking completely, but was too small to turn things around. Now we find out that banks had access to ten times the bailout money we thought they had received. We were that close to another depression, but Republicans/conservatives not only do not want the government to help the economy, but scream bloody murder when it is suggested the rich could do their (patriotic) part for the economy. Didn't our parents or grandparent sacrifice in World War II (after having had to sacrifice in the Great Depression)?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

No real disagreement ....

Since I comment on Jack Kelly every week, I feel compelled to say something about this week's column. But this week Kelly is talking about the Penn State mess, and the failure of leaders there to act. It seems he is basing his column on a sermon given by (what I assume is) his pastor. And frankly, I don't have any major disagreement with what Kelly says in his column.

To me, the only discussion that makes sense is whether McQureary should have physically defended the boy that particular night and then called the cops, or only called cops, University or town. Of course, as we know he did neither, and nobody thinks what he did was adequate. Frankly Joe Paterno should have never been involved, but since he was, he is fair game for what he failed to do as well, as is the athletic director and the University President. As Kelly says, the powerful protected each other and I will add another entity they tried to protect, the all powerful football program. Of course, because of McQreary's, Paterno's and Curley's failusre to act they end up dragging the football program into the scandal.

Kelly takes pains to say that Sandusky and this fellow Bernie Fine are not victims but victimizers. I might be inclined to say the two are somewhat victims, but agree that mostly they are victimizers and that what they did to those boys was far worse than any pain they themselves have experienced. They are the textbook definition of one type of criminal, someone who knows right from wrong but gives into what they know is an illegal sexual impulse.

I remember an interesting discussion/argument between two co-workers (which I involved myself in on the periphery). One is a male Muslim and the other a woman (Christian, I am not sure whether Catholic or Protestant). The woman was complaining about Muslin treatment of women, and the Muslim brought up how the ancient Greek adult males interacted with young boys. The Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss surveyed as many cultures as he could find and found that the one (and only) taboo he could find across all cultures is incest. Despite that fact, no one in the history of America would make an argument that adult males interacting sexually with male children is in any way acceptable. I have no doubt that Sandusky and Fine knew that, and should have sought therapy or some type of counseling instead of acting on their impulses.

I think we call all agree on (at least) that.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One quick other take

Paul Krugman talks about the importance of perception in looking at the economy (something this blog appreciates). Krugman talks about this in terms of deregulation, and I can see where he sees the continued support for deregulation as affected by who is doing well, considering the financial meltdown we just experienced (the continued support for deregulation in the alternate selective fact Republican/conservative universe). But I think the specific numbers in the table in his column - from 1947 to 1973 versus from 1979 to 2007 - say a lot more about the top tax bracket than about deregulation per se. Which, to me, explains Republican's desperation to make the Bush tax cuts permanent; their insistence, for example, that the top 1% are "job creators". Of course, those job creators are making more money than they ever have, but unless they see they can continue to make that money (without fear of additional taxation), then they will continue to not hire new workers.

Brief takes

Just a couple of random but connected thoughts, Glenn Greenwald frequently points out the evil that Obama is doing (drone attacks, civil liberties). Ironically, no conservative seems to quote Greenwald, since Bush did as much evil, and any of the current crop of Republican candidates (with the possible bizarre exception of Ron Paul) would also cheerfully do the evil Obama is doing and more. What Republicans do accuse Obama of (spending wildly) is in turn neatly disproven by Paul Krugman. I suppose we can’t have that actually respect the constitution and try to help the poor. Even Jimmy Carter, the nearest we have come perhaps to that ideal, ever, wasn’t really Jimmy Carter

Sunday, November 27, 2011

OWS's turn

I don't like to say that any particular current trend in politics is something we have never seen before in history. The current animosity and therefore paralysis in Congress, for example, is at least matched if not exceeded by the tensions before the Civil War. The power of the wealthy is something we saw before in the late eighteen hundreds, a running battle all the way up to 1929. On the other hand, I would agree that TV, the internet and even smartphones have had new impacts on politics, at least in my opinion.

The Occupy Wall Street folks want to claim they are something new under the sun. Of course, there was the Bonus Army and Hoovervilles between the Wars. But OWS's interesting approach to political demands is somewhat different.

One way I wouldn't characterize it is with the class card as Jack Kelly does: "Who'da thunk a protest movement composed largely of ignorant and arrogant rich kids with no coherent agenda who deliberately disrupt the lives of working people, urinate and defecate in public, steal from street vendors and assault old ladies and little children would become unpopular?"

Kelly has been alternating between defenses of Republican candidates, attacks on government support of higher education and this week's topic, attacks on OWS and the Occupy movement. Kelly's contempt is well symbolized by this paragraph, the central theme of this week's column: "So when Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said OWS protesters should "go get a job right after you take a bath," he was offering sound advice. But cable news anchors took umbrage."

When I repeated Newt's quote to a friend, she commented that the point was that the protesters can't get a job, and many can't even take a bath. In my opinion, the view of the Occupy movements Kelly wants to portray is of recent college graduates who have moved their kegger downtown, and are simply going wild, stealing food and pretending to be 60's type hippies.

That's easy for a comfortable newspaper columnist who apparently answers not to an editor but rather to the Tea Party to say. But I think that we need to take a closer, more logical look if we want to understand what is really happening.

I mean, we all know that in the last forty years there have been huge increases in productivity due in part to huge increases in technology. We should all also know that middle class (and below)'s wages have not increased by very much over that same time period, sometimes barely keeping up with inflation. These are numbers easily verifiable on the internet. We are the only industrial nation that did not have universal health care/insurance, and even the recent measure passed is in danger of being repealed before it can be implemented. And it was largely the financial sector of our nation that simultaneously caused hundred of millions of Americans to suddenly lose half or more of the value of their homes and/or have their mortgages double or so in cost and for hundreds of thousands of Americans to be foreclosed on, and to set of a worldwide recession where the GNP's of almost all countries went negative for a few quarters, and we still haven't recovered from. Now we have nine percent unemployment (much higher for people with less education) and a President who first tried to find bipartisan solutions with opponents who still call him a socialist and say no to everything.

The first recent US populist protest movement that responded to at least some of these issues, the Tea Party, almost immediately became a tool of conservatives and the super rich. So (for example) despite the fact Tea Partiers themselves often do not have health care or jobs, they rail against the Affordable Care Act and stimulus spending, and concentrate their focus on reducing spending to reduce debt (a strategy that consistently backfires around the world). Some American's have embraced the Tea Party as representing their concerns, but for many the fact the Tea Party obviously wants to control the Republican Party makes clear how little the Tea Party cares for poor people.

Given that is where we found ourselves, it is not surprising (at least to me) that some few ordinary people might take to the streets and literally camp out on the doorstep of corporate America. I think the political naivety claimed by the Occupy movement may be somewhat overstated for some if not many of its members, but I think I get that its concerns have been expressed in terms that ordinary people would understand.

Addressing Kelly's seemingly main charge, that the Occupy movement in general is a magnet for crime, is somewhat complicated. Kelly starts his column with allegations about human waste at Occupy Santa Cruz and OWS; the Santa Cruz allegations are at least credibly disputed. And Kelly's allegations about arrest numbers bear thinking about. These are protests, after all, and protesters do things to attract the attention of the media, which often attracts the attention of the police By the Googling "Occupy Wall Street murders" brought up one account in Oakland of a murder "near" the occupy camp. By that logic, a murder in downtown Pittsburgh could be pinned on Luke Ravenstahl as much as anyone.

Personally, I think that Jack Kelly's contemptuous dismissal of the Occupy Movement does nothing to help PG readers understand things, although it does advance the Republican/Tea Party/conservative's agenda. You may disagree, but how long can we claim the debt is more important than both the recession and the huge income inequity?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Outrage feigned ....

Paul Krugman was on ABC's "This Week" (with Christiane Aman-purr - a Colbert joke), so I watched that "This Week". The round table conversation started with a discussion of what Rahm Emmanuel said about the Republican candidates in a previous interview. Peggy Noonen, before Krugman even got a comment in, started with a statement that this showed us what the Democratic strategy is, this is going to be a demolition derby on the part of the Democrats, in which they simply try to tear the other guy down (I paraphrase).

Excuse me, what have the Republicans been doing since mid summer of 2008, and every day since?

Personally, I think Noonen's comment is fairly typical, especially when some pundit or reporter shows a hint of fairness and talks about Republican intransigence on economics or science.

Kelly says "Don't go to college" ...

Today Jack Kelly doubles down on what apparently is his new anti-college stance. He complains that students don’t take the right classes, and apparently that they dare to go to college at all. He suggests that a third of students shouldn’t even be in college.

Kelly starts by repeating a story from “The very left-wing Nation magazine” about some guy who gets a masters in puppetry (apparently leaving his job to do so), then can’t return to his job as teacher because of budget cutbacks. Would he have lost his job in those same budget cutbacks if he hadn’t got the masters? Maybe, maybe not, and certainly Kelly doesn’t and maybe can’t tell us. Does he even care about the whole truth?

And stepping back, even as Kelly gives us lots of numbers, maybe we can give him a few as well. When I googled around the internet, I found plenty of confirmation for Kelly’s statement that about 45 percent of students who start college drop out. But in the PG I found a 2008 article that stated “60 percent of respondents reporting a "B" average or higher when they left school”. I have to wonder if that 60 percent number might be higher now as the great recession drags on.

By the way, something else Kelly doesn’t tell us is that the average unemployment rate for people with BA’s is 4.5 percent. The rate for people with some college is higher, I am not sure quite what, but the rate for people who (might take Kelly's advice and) never go to college is somewhere around 9 to 10 percent. For people of color with only a high school degree or who dropped out of high school, we start to see the unemployment rates of 12, 15, maybe 20 percent. And I suspect those rates are not going to come down much when the recession ends. In other words, how many students had to leave school because family money ran out because of parental unemployment.

I find it interesting that Kelly identifies “business” as the most popular major, and promptly slams as not very bright the students who choose it. He only mentions engineering once as a superior choice to business or education. He does spend two paragraphs heaping scorn on education majors, essentially calling them the stupidest of college students.

I have to say that there probably is something to Kelly's complaint about the lack of engineers in schools, and (though he doesn't bother to mention) the lack of chemists, physicists, biologists, mathematicians and so on. I sympathize with those who are intimidated by science and particularly math. I was certainly intimidated by math in high school, but even more important to me was my passion for political theory, which in turn led me to economics (and a couple of calculus classes). I wish that there might be more outreach, especially to groups that are stereotypically considered not to have technical skills such as African Americans and women. Kelly doesn't address this, although he does identify gender and ethnic studies specifically as college majors to eliminate, and thus areas of study at all. Kelly strongly implies that women and African Americans are the people who should not be in college as all.

Yet, I have to question whether Kelly is even serious about the lukewarm endorsement he makes of sciences as better majors for students. After all, both Republicans and especially the Tea Party have strong anti-science credentials. Does Kelly want more Americans who look at evolution versus creationism through the prism of science? Does he want more Americans who consider Climate Change in terms of what science academies say? And what jobs will there be for civil engineers or University researchers in the sciences if the Republicans take power?

No, all the advice Kelly gives is oriented toward students not going to college. Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" is campaigning for "skilled labor" jobs which do not necessarily require college degrees. They may only require trade school educations, or even some sort of apprenticeship. I think this is a great thing, although I think students need to look carefully even at trade schools, which can cost fifteen thousand or forty thousand dollars for degrees to be a cook or auto mechanic.

The cost of higher education is a big issue that costs across party lines. But Jack Kelly does the readers of the PG a disservice by presenting the issue in ideological terms. Apparently the Tea Party wants less educated Americans, easier to lead astray.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street is evicted ...

Several times I wondered (on at least other blogs, if not this one) what the endgame for Occupy Wall Street might be. Perhaps today we found out, when Mayor Bloomberg had them evicted (at 1:00 am, to avoid a public disturbance). Apparently there were (entirely predictable) incidents of excessive force, including forcibly keeping the press away from Zucotti Park (some were arrested).

But many others have commented on that, so I won't address that. What I did want to say was to wonder if maybe this was the/a plan. Of course, having a plan implies there were people coordinating OWS. Human microphones, funny hand gestures and consensus needed for decisions? Kind of makes some sort of puppet masters seem less likely.

Regardless, perhaps the OWS protestors sort of lucked out, in the sense of having been handed (forcibly) an out. Mind you, as of this moment as I understand it, the OWS protestors do not have access to their own possessions (including soggy clothes, tents and expensive computers and generators). Also, many of them are unemployed and perhaps homeless because of it. But to some extent the movement may now be able to claim to have been victimized by the one percent (to which group Michael Bloomberg surely belongs) and the OWS protestors and now to some extent martyrs.

I have to say I hope that this incident does not come to dominate the discussion. The current huge income inequity in the US is a topic worth discussing. Reasonable discussion may yield answers acceptable to all (yeah, hoping for reasonable discussion between Republicans and Democrats may be a bit much) instead of more painful, poorly executed policies.

We'll see.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tax anyone but the rich ...

I found this column really interesting. I don't know what Adam Davidson's politics are, and maybe they shouldn't matter for an economic analysis (although they often do seem to matter.) But Davidson repeats the annoying Republican/conservative straw man argument that taxing the rich at one hundred percent would not raise enough money to close the deficit (over what period of time? One year? Ten years? They never say.) Davidson also argues, somewhat more convincingly, that corporate taxes are too high, although he goes on to say that indeed many big corporations pay zero taxes with loopholes, and essentially says that there is no way to remove those loopholes. Davidson finishes by asserting that taxes on the middle class most be dramatically raised to close the deficit.

Look, my personal opinion is that taxing anyone's income over 50% is too onerous, and currently I want to see the top tax bracket at 40%, no more but no less. Do I think that will close the deficit? No, almost certainly not. But I think that it would a good symbol, the rich setting aside greed for patriotism. Meanwhile, I think for at least a year no other personal income taxes should be raised. After all, part of the problem with the economy is a lack of demand for goods and services.

I am not sure about corporate taxes, lowering them and removing various loopholes seems like a good idea. But a lot of tax loopholes have some logic behind them. The problem is I have little faith Congress is currently capable of make smart, good choices about removing some, but not all, corporate tax loopholes. As galling as it is, it strikes me that big corporations will still pay zero corporate taxes for some time to come.

As I understand it, our economic situation has not really changed since January 2009. Apparently US treasury bonds are selling briskly, even though the effective interest rate is negative (we are sort of making money of selling bonds.) Because of that, there could be another, larger stimulus to jump start the economy. After the economy recovers, we can have a national debate about the debt. Now, it is reasonable to say the the debt and deficit are larger physically than they ever have been before, so they should be addressed sometime (and by the way, big parts of the deficit right now is unemployment benefits and reduced tax revenues cause by the high unemployment rate.) But again raising taxes on the middle class and/or the poor will hurt that demand thing, and possibly push us into a double dip recession. And the deficit/debt are not an excuse to act as though teachers, police or whole government departments are somehow leaches on society. If you want to say the poor need some "skin" in the game (because social security, Medicare, state and local taxes don't count,) then I want to talk about whether the rich are patriotic or just greedy.

In any event, I think that this Sunday NY Times article is nothing more than a restatement of Republican talking points disguised as "thoughtful" commentary, and a major disservice to the Times' readers.

A dog of a column ...

In Jack Kelly's column today, he raises (once again) the notion of (liberal) media hypocrisy, then proceeds to attack the women who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment/assault with his own fairly slimy innuendo.

Let me say upfront, I don't know if Herman Cain sexually harassed or even sexually assaulted any women. We probably won't know for months. And the fact that the National Restaurant Association settled out of court with two women for "five figures" makes me think they wanted to avoid a trial, but also that the women themselves did not think they would win a trial (and the NRA also thought that) and both sides just wanted this to be done easily. Doesn't mean it didn't happen, but it does mean that either there were no witnesses or witnesses that were that impressed.

That said, it is disturbing that apparently four women have accused Cain of harassment or assault. One or two accusers could be "gold diggers" (as Kelly quotes an "anonymous" New York Post source), but four, who likely didn't know about each other (one or two might have).

Bill Clinton gave us plenty of clear signs that he was a womanizer (although not to my knowledge a harasser). Voters, after twelve years of Republican Presidents, decided to elect Clinton anyway (kind of puts Reagan in perspective, doesn't it). I have to say that unless for all four accusers it can be proven beyond a doubt that Cain is entirely innocent, that I suspect a majority of voters would reject him. Although it is possible that if a majority of Republican voters can get past their racism concerning Cain (putting their nih ... black man against the Democrat's nih ... black man), then they might be able to forgive him some minor sexual issues. Hell, it might make them more comfortable, since it would like confirm their stereotypes about black men. A Cain/Gingrich campaign could work like the Bush/Cheney campaign worked (Republicans might also embrace a Cain/Perry candidacy, but not, I suspect, a majority of American voters).

Of course even Kelly says (at the end of his column) "There are many reasons for not supporting Herman Cain for president.", and I agree. Cain's s embracing of his status as a Washington outsider comes pretty close to contempt for various reasonably popular ideas such as lower taxes for the poor ("God must love the poor, he made so many of them"). Since I am not a Republican and unlikely to become one soon, I don't really care about the Pennsylvania Republican primary whenever next year. So I am content to wait and see if anything more develops with the accusations. I suspect something will come of them, although probably nothing legal. But we will see if they are the cannon ball that sinks Cain's candidacy, or if it is something else.

Meanwhile, Kelly's defending Cain in light of what happened at Penn State strikes me as rather inappropriate.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Kelly gives school hard knocks ....

I have to tell you, I agree with some of what Jack Kelly says today. He is complaining about the cost of higher education today and student loan debt (how very 99% of him). But predictably he misplaces at least some of the blame, and finds wrong villains.

In fact Kelly's first sentence displays his odd perception of things: "The biggest consumer ripoff in America today -- and the next economic bubble to burst -- is higher education." I don't know that higher ed is actually the biggest consumer ripoff, but I think by any reasonable measure it has gotten too expensive in the last twenty years (even as it as been opened to many new groups of students). And the next bubble to burst? Well, if Republicans somehow eliminated the student loan program, that would drive many colleges and Universities into bankruptcy, but that would not be so much the bubble bursting as the floor being knocked out beneath the schools. But I am getting ahead of myself.

So as I said, I am in agreement that higher ed schools have gotten too expensive. I have to agree that one of the culprits has to be student loans, what grants there were and are, along with the tuition and fees tax deduction and/or the various education tax credits available. Clearly schools used the availability of these things to jack up their prices. Most all the Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors would not want to leave, even for a ten percent tuition increase, and incoming students would likely face the same tuition increases at all the schools they were looking at.

And I, like Kelly, would blame the government's assistance to students for the price increases. This is the same sort of example of the law of unintended consequences as what happened to American health care since World War II. In the case of health care, health insurance companies would pay what doctors and hospitals charged (because the patient must need it, right?). So doctors and hospitals started jacking up the prices and numbers of procedures need for adequate and thorough care (almost all of them simultaneously). When health insurance companies started only paying 805 of charges, that was an incentive to raise the price higher still. And of course health insurance companies had their own non profit "excess revenue" motive. And here we are.

Back to higher ed, student loans were at first a god send, in allowing students to bet against their future earnings as a college/university graduate. And mostly that has worked out well, at least until now. I keep repeating that college graduates are faring much better in this recession than high school graduates or high school dropouts (4.55 unemployment versus 10% or more).

Of course, that number says nothing about how college graduates are employed, or about whether recent graduates (the last few years) are finding jobs. Kelly says something about how 60% of the increase in the number of college graduates since 1992 work in low skill jobs; a figure I doubt anyone could actually derive with any confidence. Kelly also gives us numbers of food servers with college degrees, without saying how many total food servers there are. But I certainly think that this recession has forced college graduates to work in lower skill jobs, so I don't really care about Kelly's numbers.

Except to say that it strikes me Kelly is suggesting there should be fewer college graduates. Obviously some sort of restriction in aid to students would hit the poorest students first and hardest. Which is apparently Kelly's intention.

Kelly also complains that students don't learn enough, that some drop out and then he goes on to blame professors for both the tuition hikes and the failure of students. I will say that I agree somewhat that higher ed standards for what students have to take might well could be tightened. I think we can all agree that K-12 education could stand some reform as well, although I would probably approach it differently than Kelly (I would think identifying successful teachers and trying to disseminate their styles would help, Kelly would close the public education system, fire all the teachers and make K-12 something you would have to pay for). I will say I have little sympathy for those who drop out of college, especially now. But I would say Kelly is almost entirely wrong about the role of professors in this situation.

College professors do not detirmine their own salaries in all but the rarest situations. And they certainly do not detirmine the cost of tuition (yes, their salary affects the cost of tuition, see previous sentence). For that Kelly (and us) should look at college/university presidents or chancellors and their provosts. They are the people who make tuition recommendations to the boards of trustees. I think Kelly is right, schools did use the additional federal aid to raise (some) professors and particularly top administrators salaries and to increase bureaucracies (although not so much in the last ten years). But again blaming professors for that is ignoring who actually made the decisions.

Which brings us to Kelly's concluding points. He suggests that Obama will make things worse: "College tuition can't keep rising twice as fast as family income, but President Barack Obama wants to keep the scam going a little longer. He's proposed a student loan forgiveness program, with taxpayers eating the difference. It would save students about $8 a month, but the kids are too innumerate to figure that out."

Leaving aside the unnecessary snarks ("scam"? "innumerate" from the man who doesn't understand economics?), the plan is already out there, Obama just wants to accelerate forgiveness part. It apparently saves some students a bit more than $8, and might mean the difference between living their lives or going bankrupt.

A more interesting question is whether anything reasonable can be done about the increase in the cost of tuition. I fear that is something that we will not be able to address until we emerge from this recession. Which, if the Republicans continue to have their way, will not be for a long, long time.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

a Maher report

Besides commenting on Jack Kelly, I often enjoy making observations about what I see on Bill Maher's "Real Time". Maher has for a long time invited a mix of liberals and conservatives on his various talk shows, which I have to respect. Sometimes the discussions are sophisticated, just as or more often they are fairly superficial, but at least the Republican talking points are aired in a forum where they will be challenged. Maher himself started out as a libertarian to at least some degree, I think in part because libertarians come closest to providing a philosophical justification to his idea that marijuana should be legal (an idea I think most economists would support). Maher seems to have moved almost entirely to the left, perhaps because of the way thing have gone in the country in the last eleven years. If Al Gore had been elected, I can see where Maher might well be on the right.

So last night Bill Maher had a typical guest list, including Beau Biden (Joe's son, now the Delaware attorney general who is suing some Delaware based corporations for the Wall Street misdeeds), Darrel Issa (Republican Representative from California) and David Patterson (former New York Governor, Democrat). Those who were seated around the same table all got along and mostly laughed at Maher and each other. Maher also had Bill Engvall, the comedian, on. I like Engvall, think his work is funny. He turned out to be a fair bit more conservative than I might have thought he would be. He even confessed to liking the way Herman Cain talks, and thus having some affection for him as a candidate.

Of course Democrats are accustomed to mocking Herman Cain (as Bill Maher was doing last night). Those strongly interested in politics (like myself) are also horrified by Cain, who seems to take pride in not knowing what he is talking about (uz beki beki stan stan?). I notice that while Rush Limbaughm, Ann Coulter and much of Fox News are fans of Herman, Karl Rove and some of the Fox people who have interviewed him are not. Perhaps that is because Herman Cain is folksy to the level of being incoherent, not the best situation for making decisions and speaking on behalf of the country.

But I understand, most Americans do not pay attention to politics, and also don't vote. If they follows the national news at all, it is all about sports, music, movies ... or the Kardashians. Of people who do vote, most couldn't tell you the name of more than one or two of the people on the ballot, much less what their positions are on most if not all the issues. Most American have formed their political beliefs (to the extent they have any) through watching "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" (older Americans) and/or "Dave" (younger Americans) or perhaps "The Distinguished Gentleman". Admittedly there was a time when West Wing was among the most popular shows on TV, but that was short lived. Most of like and to some extent buy into the notion that if an ordinary, decent person got into politics, they could solve our problems using common sense.

That was what Bill Engvall hinted at on Maher's show. He outright said that he thought a business man would make a good President. Of course, this shows a lack of understanding of a) the role money is playing now in politics and the resulting power the rich have and b) the level of complexity involved in both the theoretical and practical aspects of being President. If you can't understand Keynesian economics you can't argue for it, but also if you don't understand that complicated arguments are hard to sell, you won't be able to tailor pitching the idea to us.

So I can see the appeal of Herman Cain, even or especially to the almost entirely white Tea Party (which often proves pretty racist in their views of issues concerning Obama). Cain plays into the myth of an everyman fighting for decency in Washington, and being attacked by the bad guys with a trumped up charge. Normally a charge of sexual harassment would kill the chances of the supposedly decent man, but the Republican base has moved past the charges straight to the the discovery that the evil opposition is behind them (either the Democrats or Rick Perry or both), and made it all up. That is, of course, pure Hollywood in playing on our shared narrative of how what seems like fiction turns out to be true if you have enough information (everybody loves a good conspiracy).

I think Herman Cain still has a good chance to be the nominee. Look how far Bill Clinton went. As for becoming President, I will paraphrase Miracle Max from the Princess Bride "It'd take a miracle".

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jack Fracking Kelly

Today Jack Kelly departs from the Occupy movements to lecture on energy history and economics, specifically shale gas. Kelly wants to tell us that shale gas is the end to all of Pennsylvania's problems. But I would say that Kelly deliberately glosses over several points that change the economics of his claims.

Before looking at that, I want to look at Solyndra,which Kelly holds up as an example that "renewable energy" firms are not economical, "despite massive subsidies". First of all, Kelly does not mention (as conservatives never mention) the "massive subsidies", on the order of billions a years, that go to oil, coal and other "traditional" energy sectors. But Solyndra was a special case, using a non silicon based solar panel that was supposed to be much more efficient. They then rolled these panels up, which was supposed to held with problems involved with wind blowing through solar installations. However, turning the panels into tubes had a negative effect on that higher efficiency, and apparently the price of silicon dropped. Thus Solyndra became non competitive and eventually went bankrupt. Should the government have lent them money? Well, they might well be called genuinely innovative, but it is not clear their business model was ready for prime time. One thing I can say is that I have not seen one conservative who looked at the complexity of the Solyndra issue.

And I would say for all the words in Kelly's lecture/daitribe, he's not trying to infrom so much as bully/frighten. A brief bit of research did confirm that the EIA thinks solar is currently too expensive (although predictably even simple costs are more complicated than Kelly says), but I will again raise the issue of subsidies (millions for solar versus billions (thousands of millions) for conventional power) plus the fact that conventional energy sources don't pay for the negative health effects that come from burning those fuels. This is not to mention (well, OK, I am mentioning it) climate change. We have come to accept that tobacco eventually had to help the bills for the ill health effects that we knew cigarettes caused. We know that coal, oil and yes, even natural gas cause ill health effects. Have we forgotten the pictures/paintings of Pittsburgh of the past, dark at mid day?

Kelly claims that shale gas also creates jobs. Perhaps, but Pennsylvania is less than a percentage point under the national average in unemployment. In fact, Kelly's own paper raises questions about shale gas employment.

For shale gas, there is also the lingering question of what effect fracking has on groundwater. I realize conservatives/Republicans dismiss the movie "Gasland" as at best mere anecdotes and for them more likely lies and distortions. Well, if it is only 50% true, shale gas would still be a disaster, poisoning untold numbers of Americans. I almost hate to say it, but I think there might be enough preliminary evidence that Democrats should take a page from the Republican playbook and say that more study is needed before fracking is allowed to go any farther. I don't know about you, but I want to be able to drink tap water and take showers without risk of catching on fire (or being poisoned).

One thing neither Kelly nor I (till now) touched on is taxing shale gas extraction. I think that at least taxing shale gas is a no-brainer. The taxes could go into a health trust fund, to be used to compensate poisoned Pennsylvanians or if there are none, then to provide additional funds to Medicaid or Pennsylvania Adult Basic.

Finally, I think that solar technology is advancing to make it more efficient and cheaper, although because of our short sighted energy policy a lot of development is taking place overseas. I think that it matters where you place large solar installations, that they could be very useful in places like Arizona, Texas and also in Hawaii (where they have to import energy). I still think that correctly designed and installed small, personal solar installations at the home level all across the nation could be huge, although to be clear that will need a lot of government support since the breakeven number in decades, not just years. I think that combinations of solar installations with vertical axis wind turbines may well be the way to go for both roof top and large scale installations. I notice Kelly didn't mention wind power. Is that because wind has a much lower breakeven number?

Kelly is once again naked shilling for Republicans (I guess particularly Tom Corbet) and ignoring any issues that might dilute or dispute his arguments. Don't we deserve better, a more realistic analysis that actually seriously acknowledges other points of view and analyzes their ideas using objective tools?

Apparently not.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kelly's take two on OWS

If you were sick yesterday of hearing one more thing about OWS/OP, unfortunately Jack Kelly's choice of for his column today won't make you any happier. But OWS provides Jack Kelly with so many things to show contempt for: the President, Democrats, colleges/universities, the protestors themselves, and besides, I have been writing every week about Jack.

Kelly starts and ends with a poll taken of OWS protestors by "Democrat" Douglas Schoen who works for Fox News and published the results in the Wall Street Journal. He starts by telling us that OWS protestors demand ""free college education" and the forgiving of all student loans (and all other debt)". Kelly goes on to say recent college graduates have a higher rate of unemployment than the national rate of unemployment, and then blames the graduates for studying "gender studies". What is funny is that Gail Collins had a similar but more detailed complaint about higher education. Nobody thinks that the exponential increase in college tuition is a good thing, although Kelly decides to blame both the schools and the students. He points out that Wall Street had nothing to do with the increase in college tuition (duh), but then we all know not everything that is wrong in this country is centered in or because of Wall Street (just a lot of things).

Kelly spends a couple of paragraphs talking about his contempt for the comparison of OWS and the Tea Party. Of course Kelly sees the Tea Party as law abiding and OWS as law breakers rightfully being arrested by the hundreds, and not using toilets or cleaning up after themselves. Of course, I am unaware of any extended stay in tents by the Tea Party (perhaps they aren't that motivated).

Kelly skips from there to an attack on Obama, as the person he blames for giving the bankers bailouts. Kelly admits that the bailout was "proposed" by the second Bush, but "most Republicans in the House opposed it while most Democrats supported it". In other words, House Republicans wanted the financial sector to crash, and for there to be another great depression. Jack Kelly is here to tell us who the true patriots are (and I am surprised that Kelly belatedly throws George Bush under the bus).

Then Kelly gets to something that I would have to agree with, that the Obama administration has an unfortunately close relationship to Wall Street banks. This situation was detailed in Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, how first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration staffed the treasury department and Presidential economic advisers with individuals who came from the ranks of executives or sat on boards of the largest financial institutions. Even the best known economists in academia often sit on boards of financial institutions. Kelly also makes the charge that Dodd-Frank actually protects Wall Street banks at the expense of other, smaller banks. I wouldn't say that Dodd-Frank was totally friendly to Wall Street banks, but I do believe there was pressure from banks directly on both Republicans and Democrats and also filtering through the Administration itself during the crafting of and the debate on the bill. Still, it is interesting to me that Kelly slavishly follows the doctrine of his Tea Party masters. He slams the economic knowledge of the OWS protestors (who are composed of long time political agitators and political neophytes in unknown proportions), yet he has no word for what would happen if, as he apparently wishes, Dodd-Frank nationalized the Wall Street banks instead of "protecting" them.

Certainly I (absolutely) think the Obama administration should not be exempt from criticism. In fact, there are plenty of critics of the President, including an entire TV network seemingly devoted to that (Fox News), and the rest of the media generally repeats all the criticisms of the right. Which is unfortunate, because the narrative of the right generally includes this idea of reversing the deficit and lowering the debt. I would agree that in the long run, our country should be borrowing a much smaller amount of money each year, which by the way says nothing about how taxes should be structured. But now concentrating on the deficit/debt is telling the unemployed that we are going to do nothing for them, and in fact may make their lives even worse. Conservatives have shown no sign that they want to do anything but transfer even more money away from the poor towards the rich.

All of which is to say that honest criticism is one thing, but distorting information is quite something else. Remember the Schoen poll I mentioned at the start of this post? A journal Capital New York was given the raw numbers from the Schoen poll, and found that conclusions reached by Schoen (and repeated by Kelly) were simply not borne out by the actual poll numbers. For example, Kelly repeats Schoen's claim that the OWS protestors believe in "radical redistribution of wealth", although in fact only 4% believe that. Yes, 98% do belive in civil disobedience (duh, that's what they are doing now) and 31% could support violence in some undefined future. But, as I understand it, all the Occupy movements around the country have been scrupulous in policing their own protestors to prevent any violence, at least on the part of the protestors. Kelly's demonizing of the protestors is simply not very credible. But the PG doesn't rein him in.

Another Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Pittsburgh post

OK, so you are probably sick of hearing about OWS/OP (Occupy Wall Street slash Occupy Pittsburgh) by now. But I am still thinking about it, and here are some of my thoughts...

First, I still want to say that I think that some, perhaps many of the people who are occupying probably volunteered for Barack Obama in 2008. They might not have participated in politics before, but the two wars and collapsing economy got their attention, and the election left them energized. Now a bit over two and half years later, Obama has turned out to be a major conciliator with the Republicans (he did say he wanted to be bipartisan) and not effective at helping the economy. He did keep us from collapsing completely, but we are not making progress towards improving things. So, disillusioned, some Obama supporters and other rather ordinary people have taken to the streets to protest.

Second, I guess I get the hands fluttering thing, certainly the human microphone thing (silly but I suspect rather effective ... OK, Life of Brian). I am conflicted about the requirement for absolute consensus. On the one hand, what planet are these people living on? On the other hand, people who are not authority figures (authority figures being bankers, politicians, pundits, even some self serving bloggers like myself ...) being ignored, their opinions being discounted is part of what got us here in the first place.

I have heard OWS described as democracy in its purest form., perhaps there is something to that. But more important is that apparently this was the only that poorer people could get their voices heard. Maybe we shouldn't care about their method of voting so much as what they are saying.

Third, I read/heard something interesting in the last day or so, I forget where. It might have been Bill Maher's show this week (which I highly recommend) or an article on the "austerity class", those politicians who want to cut government spending. By the way, they not only want to cut spending to zero out the deficit and start to work on the debt, but they also want to cut taxes for rich, so their wealth can trickle down on us (really, the worst metaphor). Anyway, the interesting thing is that war spending, infrastructure, education, unemployment and pollution generally do not get discussed until the "austerity class" sees a way to attack them as reckless spending. Can we believe that the austerity class wants allow more pollution, because that will create more jobs? Krugman does a good job demolishing that argument.

Fourth, I still have to wonder if their is an end game/exit strategy with OWS/OP. Is there a way they can declare victory and allow the people to go home? To me, there are actually eerie parallels to Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq and Afghanistan had had no recent experience with democracy, but plenty of experience with strong men shoving democratic institutions aside. Plus, the people trying to install democracy, the Bush administration ... not so good at it them selves.

For the OWS people, the problem is that Wall Street is not capable of policing themselves, despite what conservatives would have you believe. It makes me think that we are looking at another endles occupation, like Iraq/Afghanistan. I mean, the inability to police themselves is obvious. Just about exactly ten years after Glass Steagall was repealed, the resulting housing bubble and massive fraud burst, wrecking the economy. We need Glass Steagall back, but I don't know that Congress can, will or even should react to OWS. After all, how many voters from how many districts are camped out in Zuccotti Park?

Fifth, that actually an unfair question brings up a bigger problem. there may be (relatively) few phyical protestors, but a majority of us agree with them. Right now, in my estimate, the problem is the money in politics. Still, in a country where politicians turned a blind eye to the growing bubble because their big donors (business, especially the financial sector) wanted them to, how can we expect these same politicians or any other newly elected politician who has accepted corporate money, to address the too much money in politics. I will say it again, our problem is too much money in politics from corporations, from the 1% or the top 15%. It is the genie let out of the bottle and stuffing the genie back in is probably impossible. But these are the issues that we have to grapple with. Is OWS/OP/Occupy anywhere the tool to do the job? Maybe not, but anyone have a better idea?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And now for something completely different ...

Something occurred to me recently, unrelated to OWS or the Republican Presidential side show (freak show? that would be unkind). You remember the first Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials, where the guy eating the candy bar runs into the gy eating peanut butter?

Well, I have an electric bike, and it occurred to me that electric bikes are a lot like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup collision of an electric golf cart and a regular bike (I believe most golf carts are electric).

If we recast the commercial with a bike and a golf cart, I can just imagine the reactions of the cyclist and cart-ist (?) - "Hey, you got an engine and battery on my bike (wow, what a boost)" "Hey, I'm not as comfortable here, and you want me to pedal? (yeah, it is more efficient and cheaper than my cart)".

Why not a moped colliding with a bike? Well, a moped is actually already a bike/engine hybrid, it's just that most, if not all of them are gasoline powered. Mopeds are hugely efficient vehicles in MPG, but I suspect the electric motor on the bike is almost, if not more, efficient than the moped in terms of energy used.

If Reese's (Hershey?) permitted, I can see a cool riff on the original Reese's ad campaign for any particular electric bike company using a generic bike and a generic golf cart.

Hey, some company is brnging back the Commodore 64, albeit with an Intel dual core Atom or core i7 processor and a Linux OS with a shell that is supposed to (or will in the future) mimic the old Commodore OS. If we can bring back the '64 for aging Boomers, let's revive the old Reese's commercials (complete with bad hair and polyester) for 21st century electric bikes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kelly on OWS

If it is fair for Jack Kelly to assert intentions, actions and feelings that he thinks Democrats have/do, is it fair to ask Kelly to show some proof, show where some Democrat verifies his assertions? Kelly makes these assertions in his PG column today "Occupied by crazies", where even the title of column is insulting and rude.

Kelly says that “Democrats envy and fear the tea party, a grassroots movement that arose spontaneously after CNBC editor Rick Santelli's epic rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Feb. 19, 2009.” and “Envious Democrats tried to Astroturf a liberal alternative, the coffee party, founded by Annabel Park, an organizer of the United for Obama video channel.”. I have often heard that the astroturfing was done by FreedomWorks, an organization created out of organizations the Koch Brothers funded to the tune of 13 million dollars (and Richard Scaife was involved as well), all of which is documented. In contrast, the Coffee Party appears to have no particular funding from any big donors, though by their own admisson, they used some technology from a site Soros helped fund. Probably not 13 million dollars worth.

Maybe Democrats should envy the massive funding furnished by the 1 percent to their Tea Party puppets.

When Kelly mentions reporters at ABC News, NBC News and the Washington Post, he calls them “Mainstream” journalists (his quotes), as if you aren't a real reporter unless you work for the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, The American Thinker or Big Government (and I believe Kelly has quoted Hot Air and Pajamas Media in the past). Kelly asserts (with plenty of qualifiers such as “likely” and “many” - not even most) that the Tea Party is composed of people wealthier people, while Occupy Wall Street is composed of poorer people who do not pay (federal income) taxes (though the poor do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes and state and local and property if their house has not been foreclosed on). So Kelly thinks that the opinions of wealthier people are more valuable than the opinions of poor people, because the poor are just trying to get free things. Because the poor can afford lobbyists to give Congresspersons golfing trips to Scotland, and use that power to force the government to give money to unemployed people (who paid into the Unemployment Compensation fund) when unemployment goes through the roof.

Kelly quotes George Will comparing the various Occupy events to the September 12 2009 Tea Party event (sponsored by Fox News, FreedomWorks and other billionaire funded organizations). Will says that the this one Tea Party event dwarfs all the Occupy events. Which numbers is he using, or is he relying on the picture of the 1997 Promise Keepers event on the mall?

Kelly also says the OWS people are messy and get arrested by the hundreds. Well, sure, the Tea Party knows that it doesn't need to camp out to get its message heard, they just need to reach for their (collective) check books and release a statement to Fox News. Although the actual first Tea Party risked arrest and imprisonment, like the OWS protesters do now.

Kelly even says that some OWS protesters advocate violence (any citation … I thought not). Obviously Kelly doesn't remember the furor that erupted when Obama was elected, over the the idea Obama would pursue increased gun control. Richard Poplawski thought Obama was coming for his guns when he opened up on Pittsburgh Police. Of course, I guess I would have to say Poplawski was likely too poor to be in the Tea Party.

Personally, I t can't see where the various Occupy movements in various cities can ever declare victory. Wanting something like a redistribution of income, jobs, and cheaper if not free higher education simply won't happen in the short term, and won't happen without a sustained effort made from both the outside and the inside. Tents in parks do not lend themselves to that sort effort. Still, I think we can all agree that Jack Kelly is not improving the situation which his distortions.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kelly's scandal

So today Jack Kelly again goes after the "Gunwalker" scandal. Kelly calls for Eric Holder to be impeached, and calls the scandal "one of the bloodiest scandals in American history.". OK, so there might be something there. Now, an AP article from the end of July described the effort (which they called "Fast and Furious") as having "loftier" goals, but describes the awful consequences of not arresting people right away when illegal purchases were made. I can understand trying to get the bigger fish, but it sounds like the plan was just to allow guns to be sold and then see if they can tied later to a higher level criminal. Not surprisingly considering guns that were bought to be used in crime, there were (actually predictable) consequences that occurred. It does seem likely that Holder would have been told about the plan early on, although I wouldn't be surprised if his subordinates would have become more reticent as the negative consequences started rolling.

So is this a thing that Eric Holder should be impeached for? Well, maybe, although don't treat us like we are stupid, Mr Kelly. Your motivation for your complaints is purely political. Have you or would you call for charges against President Bush and Vice-President Cheney with regard to the invasion of Iraq, where the various justifications given - Weapons of Mass Destruction, connection to al Qaeda and spreading freedom across the Middle East - all justifications the administration knew ahead of time were false. How many Americans, let alone Iraqi civilians, died in Iraq?

I will say that I think it is fine to call attention to real scandals, whether they are "Gunwalker" or invading Iraq, torturing "detainees" or wiretapping the nation. And by the way, I want to call attention to on lonely paragraph in Kelly's column "ATF whistleblowers have been fired or transferred to dead end jobs. Agent Newell was promoted.". As I have pointed before, Glenn Greenwald has been pursuing the issue the current Justice Department's harsh attitude toward whistle blowers as well as continuing wiretapping programs. But the problem for Kelly is that talking about whistle blowers means blaming the administration when it covers up its own scandals, but agreeing with them (or at least remaining silent) when they mistreat Bradley Manning and go after Wikileaks. And Kelly can't condemn Obama for wiretapping programs if he praised Bush for it (or he can, but he only makes his hypocrisy more apparent).

Jack Kelly takes an important issue and, by being partisan, manages to make it seem trivial.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Only ordinary distortion ...

Jack Kelly today engages in what I would call only an ordinary level of distortion of reality, an ordinary level of misinterpreting statistics to try to mislead his readers. Kelly's basic assertions are that a) the President is in trouble with voters according to polls, b) that Republicans are not as hated as liberals would like to say and c) that Herman Cain is actually a viable candidate. All these statements are, to some extent, true, although in my opinion they are not an accurate portrayal of reality.

How much trouble is the President in? Well, obviously, a fair amount. Any time you have to explain how we misunderstood "Yes we can" to Americans, as Van Jones did on Bill Maher's Real Time, that's a bad sign. Jones explanation, by the way, was the phrase is yes we can, not yes I can, which I find somewhat persuasive. This President has shown an almost pathological need to at least thwart the accusations of conservatives that he is a socialist, if not actually be appreciated by Republicans for moving more than half across the center to show bipartisanship. Maybe Obama feels he needs to be liked by people who dislike him. Maybe that's why he has returned to the campaign rhetoric, to win back now disaffected Democrats.

Maybe, and really I don't care, as long as Obama pushes policies that help the economy. But one thing I have to say is that we can count on Republicans not to propose anything that will help unemployment, which brings us to Kelly's second thought. I am not a registered Republican, I would not be among the 11 percent that are very dissatisfied with the current field (although I would find Michele Bachmann somewhat insulting to me). I searched and found (despite Mr. Kelly's usual lack of citation for his references) polls from Suffolk University. The one I looked at (which might be the one Kelly looked at, or slightly more recent). In that poll, the callers somehow reached a population that was only 9% Democrat and 87% Republican or Independent. Maybe that's reality in New Hampshire, or maybe they had a way of polling people who vote in the Republican primary. Either way, about 30% of those polls were moderately or very dissatisfied with the field of Republican candidates. I just suspect that by late October next year, after the debates and assuming nothing dramatic happens, Barack Obama will have looked more competent in the debates (assuming he finds a way to finesse the questions about his own Presidential performance) than who ever the Republican candidate is.

Which is my sort of long range response to the viability of Herman Cain as a candidate. Kelly's points that Cain's lack of political office experience doesn't have to be a negative is a reasonable one, although Cain will have to be an exceptional debater to persuade a majority of Americans that his understanding of the complexity of our problems is the same as their understanding. Which is to say that if Herman Cain wants to sell our problems as "simple", he will have to convince us to ignore any complexity that others might raise. Maybe he can, but I wouldn't think that was a good bet. Yeah, stranger things have happened, (even to say Reagan and Clinton) but I would take that bet.

Which really applies to all the Republican candidates. Unless the Republican is willing to beak with the party and offer a plausible jobs plan (and I wonder how they would pay for it), then the current party inclination is to ignore the unemployed (as a policy matter) and essentially shift even more wealth to the rich. While Kelly says that Democrats can't win on issues, I don't think the Republicans can win on their own issues. We'll all see.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Whose recession?

Picturing the world if Hilary had been elected President instead of Barack Obama, or if John McCain had been elected running against Hilary, is always a fun and interesting game. But here we are, with the President we have. We've had a stimulus that was too small, a conservative, barely adequate health care/insurance reform package passed, and in the past twelve months a series of confrontations where Republicans got most of what they wanted in exchange for not making millions of Americans suffer more than they are.

You may disagree, but I think that among educated people paying attention, many if not most are turning to Paul Krugman for guidance, unless they are locked into a conservative view that only allows truth to come from the Wall Street Journal. But although there are many conservative pundits, as far as I know there is no particular conservative economic authority, no individual to rival the status of Krugman. It has been pointed out that almost (if not) all the high level economists who work for the President and the government sit on boards of banks and other financial institutions, and so have perhaps not pursued financial reform with the sort of zeal required by the current recession (see the movie "Inside Job").

So this is the stage we find ourselves on, with Krugman on one side advocating a stronger Keynesian approach, and Republican politicians and conservative pundits arguing for lower taxes (on the rich) and less regulation as a panacea on the other side. David Brooks fancies himself a smart pundit, trying to find truth by politely listening to liberals before dismissing their views. His column yesterday, titled "The Lost Decade", by it's very title evoked the notion of the Japanese economic crisis of the 1990's, which Paul Krugman has written about. Was Brooks going to suddenly start advocating further stimulus?

Well, no. Actually, Brooks raises the "false equivalency" specter, that neither conservatives with their cuts or deregulation nor liberals with their stimulus have the complete answer. He seems to argue that both approaches should be attempted, although in complaining about how the current jobs bill is too small, Brooks doesn't actually call for a larger one. Instead he pivots and calls for the full menu of Republican proposals.

All of which is no surprise. I don't believe Brooks has any advanced training in economics, I suspect he would call his approach "common sense" (i.e., unpolluted by academic tools of analysis using history and models). I What did surprise me, after I had read the whole thing, was that I realized David Brooks did not mention the unemployed or unemployment once, and used the phrase "job growth" only once, in his lead paragraph. In the paragraph where he describes the "currents" of this recession. Unemployment is conspicuous by its absence.

I remember that before the midterm elections, Republicans hammered the Democrats over unemployment. Since the midterms, Republicans have forgotten about the unemployed. Except last December, when they wanted to cut off unemployment benefits to millions of Americans with out a job since Bush was President.

Krugman here responds to Brooks (at least partially). Personally, my thoughts turn to Joseph Welch when he famously said to Joe McCarthy "Have you no sense of decency" (which I tend to remember as "have you no shame", but I suppose accuracy is better).