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Headline just in, "Obama to Target Congress in 2012 Re-election Campaign." You think? It'll be like shooting ducks in a barrel. For example, in today's newspaper, we read that yet another ceremonial debt-ceiling vote (following yet another ceremonial standoff, I'm sure) has been put off until Congress returns.
"Under the request the administration had planned to submit Friday, Congress would have had 15 days to say no or the nation's debt ceiling would automatically have been raised from $15.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion.
"But the House is out of session until Jan. 17 and the Senate is gone until Jan. 23. Leaders of both chambers asked the White House to delay its request a few days to allow Congress to take up the measure after returning from winter break."
Nice break if you can get it, but this "out of session" term is something new, to cover for the fact that neither body is actually in recess, but instead holding pro forma sessions to keep the president from making any recess appointments.
They keep records, such as for yesterday when the House "met" for 2 minutes, and the Senate for 32 seconds, after which they both "adjourned" until "Tuesday."
Seems like 15 days is ample time to give a ceremonial Congressional "aye" or "nay" so that the president can give a ceremonial raspberry.
Does it take longer to run if you're refusing to pay a bill owed to your employer? I mean, they won't let you graduate from college if you don't pay your library fines, don't you suppose your paycheck would be docked? But maybe if the employer is a city, and the "employee" is the mayor, no one in the payroll department will be willing to step up and do the right thing?
That's the latest whacky news from Idaho's civil disservice, a story about nearby Kuna's incoming mayor sounding like a bit of a deadbeat. He campaigned on his desire to get rid of the the city Planning Director, who was trying to hold his feet to the fire, if you like that.
Nelson said the city is wrong. "It will be a cold day in hell before I pay the city $36,000," he told the Statesman Thursday.
That'd be what he owes for the sewer hookup of his restaurant and bar, has no record of paying, but wants the city to "prove" he still owes. Which they might not be able to do because everybody seems to have died, been fired, or otherwise replaced over the last 5 or 6 years.
My forecast is that Kuna's going to be spending more on legal fees than what they've been losing from a misconnected sewer line to the Peregrine Steaks and Spirits Restaurant and the Creekside Lounge.
Since it looks like the Idaho Statesman is taking a pass on the most recent letter I sent them (I know, I'm shocked too), and the statute of limitations on its topicality is fast running out, might as well run it here. (They did run Robert Allred's Ay yi yi response yesterday, that was good.)
The only things lacking from Raul Labrador's latest Reader's View were the audio track from the Carpenters for his closing ("We've only just begun") and him taking credit for the sun coming up today. Oh, and perhaps someone editing for length: his laundry list of self-congratulation bloviated 25% past your 600 word "limit."
His report on the State of the House assures us that Symbolism is still Strong. A vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment was held! [And um, Allred noted that Labrador voted AGAINST it, go figure.] Meetings were had! We tried to repeal landmark legislation to reform health care insurance without the vaguest clue of a better solution!
Glorioski, he has single-handedly "changed the way Washington works." Or, doesn't work, if you've actually been paying attention, which he must be hoping you haven't.
No Child Left Behind has nothing on our Representatives. They're all above average, at least in their imagination.
Happy story about wealth creation (not so much about job creation), and what a surprise, those that have shall have more. The IRS, not so much. The company has to print a few pages of legal boilerplate, do some accounting, and voilà! Millions and billions for executives who watched the tide rise again, and the corporations enjoy a handsomely inflated write-off. As David Kocieniewski drily reports,
"For some companies, awarding stock options can seem like a tempting bargain, since there is no cash outlay and the tax benefits can exceed the original cost."
Of course, to be fair and balanced, tax lawyers and accountants can imagine a justification, "because the options represent a real cost to the company." (Remember all that printing and bookkeeping.) And since the executives who cash in the options have to pay taxes on the income, the IRS gets its share, right?
It's like money from nothing. The stockholders who have their investments diluted hardly notice ('cause hey, their shares went up in price too), and taxpayers are too busy worrying about their own taxes. Goldman Sachs granted 10 times as many options in December 2008 as they did the year before. General Electric went from 18 and 25 million in 2007 & 2008, to 159 million options granted in 2009, the year their stock opened at $17-something, closed at $16-something and visited $7.06 at its darkest hour. (It's now back to $18... which it passed on the way up to its 2000 bubble peak of $60 in 1997.)
The accompanying graphic has a cute gold palette, although numbers of options and weekly closing stock prices on a variable scale leaves some mental integration to do. Sirius XM, for example, dominates the chart with their bazillion options in '09, but their stock was scraping $0. Whereas Goldman Sachs' tax savings (never mind the largesse to the execs) is in the $billions, $1.8B saved from 2005 to 2008.
After all that soaring, don't you know, here it is down to zero at one of the most prestigious brands in the world: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sure, an actual credential will cost you something (if you're a "freak" about that kind of thing) but if you "just want to improve your chops in a marketable subject area," knock yourself out.
This newer effort is planned to be "more interactive" than MIT's "OpenCourseWare," which has been available for a decade and reached many millions of students with more than 2,000 classes worth of course material.
If you don't like MIT, try Carnegie Mellon or Yale or Stanford Engineering Everywhere, or what the heck, the whole planet's worth at Academic Earth.
The Newtballon seems to be drifting back to earth. Are the Republicans ready to accept the inevitable, or do we have to have a Santorum surge, too? At any rate, Matt Bai's NYT Magazine for New Year's Day seems as fitting an obituary for Gingrich's second act as any.
So many questions... who looks good in a generic hotel meeting room setting? Who could sound smart while eating? ("Soon he was scooping yogurt and blueberries into his mouth...") Does he really believe people want him to lose so they won't look silly? How close to the Greek financial crisis were Newt and Callista able to get during their June cruise?
I have no idea what it would be like to support a fringe candidate like Michelle Bachmann, so I'm equally clueless as to why someone would jump ship to a different fringe. She says it was about "a large sum of money" but the new ship's spokesman says he won't be getting a salary. (And oh, her own Iowa political director refuted what she said, too.) It's a tenuous business. The most explanatory of the facts in evidence may be this, about why the guy didn't have much to say at a Bachmann campaign event on Tuesday (before dropping the bomb yesterday):
"Sorenson had just returned from the dentist, and Sorenson himself said he was saying little because he was still numb and afraid he would drool on himself."
Could do, if the Titan Mare Explorer wins the contest and gets to fly to Saturn. (Its competition for NASA's low-cost Discovery program is a comet-hopping satellite and a Martian seismometer.
Thanks to Wired online for a collection of images and interesting captions from the work of Cassini, Caltech, JPL, NASA, as Titan: A Wet World Not Far from Earth.
He says it wasn't so... or, even better, a spokesman says it wasn't so. Marc Johnson's had some experience writing for others, making his take on politicians running from their words interesting.
"In every political office and campaign I've ever worked in, been close to or observed from afar, the candidate—or on a rare occasion an extremely trusted staffer—signs off on everything that is written down and committed to a speech draft. There is no margin of error on such statements, particularly since they now find an instant home on the Internet and can easily come back to haunt. That's how it works."
Of course, Gingrich has already told us "on the record, any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood," so send that down your little rabbit hole of crazy. They were a falsehood because those words—which he said—were "inaccurate and unfortunate."
I forget which unfortunate words those were, but back in 2006, Gingrich's praise for Mitt Romney's health care plan was lucid, and made perfect sense:
"[O]ur goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans. Individuals without coverage often do not receive quality medical attention on par with those who do have insurance. We also believe strongly that personal responsibility is vital to creating a 21st Century Intelligent Health System. Individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance and simply choose not to place an unnecessary burden on a system that is on the verge of collapse; these free-riders undermine the entire health system by placing the onus of responsibility on taxpayers."
Specifically, to the outside corners of the box: one of the NYT Magazine's celebrated Lives, that of Keith W Tantlinger, who invented an apparatus for handling freight in transit (and a shipboard freight container transferring apparatus, and 75 more), in "freight boxes or containers" with "means for securing the trailer body in position on the [truck trailer] chassis is readily releasable whereby the body is free to be hoisted and stowed aboard ship."
The assignee of U.S. Patent #3,027,025 was the aptly named Sea-Land Service, Inc., a name familiar to me from my earliest days of model railroading which pretty much coincided with said patent's issuance, in March, 1962. Sea-Land's history starts about the same time mine does, transforming both the waterfronts and the highways of my memory with globalized trade. In sturdy boxes.
And when it's time to settle down... you can turn those containers into homes and offices.
Interesting read from yesterday's NYT, Whose Tea Party is it? Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson have a new book (and a website for the book of course), based on 16 months of attending meetings, interviewing members and reading their websites and message boards. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions from their generous summary, but it sounds to me like the unifying factors are their support for Social Security and Medicare (because most of getting it now or will be soon), Obama Derangement Syndrome (Mitch McConnell would be their guy), and "Tea "[receiving] their information primarily, or in some cases exclusively, from Fox News and talk radio."
Their research will be easily attacked by the thousand-pound≠gorilla media juggernaut featured, because it's that crazy liberal, fact-based, empirical stuff, about social movement orchestration.
Our planet has a great big moon, you've probably noticed. At 2,159 miles across, its diameter is well more than a quarter of earth's. Saturn has a great big moon too, Titan, that's half again the diameter of ours. (Saturn has a huge collection of moons, of course, 62 for sure, of which only 53 have been named). Titan has an atmosphere, unlike every other moon we know, and it's 50% denser than our planet's.
The Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations—a.k.a. CICLOPS—has some holiday eye candy treats from around Saturn: natural color images of Titan, Dione, Tehtys, and of course Grampa Saturn, who just about always sneaks into the picture.
They are awesome, as usual.
The one shown here was taken from 1.4 million miles away, six times farther than we are from our own moon. Which got me to wondering what Cassini's orbital distance is, which led to this page showing its present position, with four disparate points of view: views of Saturn, and of Enceladus from Cassini; view of Saturn, its moons' orbits and Cassini from "above"; and the view of Earth from Cassini. Turns out a lot of those moons have some crazy elliptical orbits around the gas giant (although Titan's is pretty round).
Found this, too: a Hubble image of a Saturn's moons in a quadruple transit.
You all know about opening multiple pages in browser tabs by now? An interesting feed, or run through Facebook, or newspaper site and I can end up with six or 10 pages queued up, and then... never quite get to reading them all. The laptop which just goes to sleep when I'm done with it can sit there and wait (and dissuade me from loading still more), but for the machine that gets shut down every day, a decision has to be made. Ah, "bookmark all tabs," and maybe I'll get back to them some day.
I've got 50 items in WIP-NoDate-General, 14 in WIP-NoDate-Work, 22 folders in WIP-Dated, 17 bookmarks in WIPx, 14 in WIP-Nov2011, 37 in WIP-Dec2011. All told, about north of 400 pages that piqued my attention for a moment, to read, to forward to someone, to comment on, something. Sort of like that Inbox with 1,516 items in it, 1,111 unread (except that a lot of those are coming in without any continuing expression of interest on my part).
For example: Charles Blow's short blog post in 2008, Why is America So Religious? to spark a discussion about a chart from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, showing that
"the wealthier a country is, the less important religion is to that country. The one exception: The United States."
Three years later, comments are no longer being accepted, but 460 are archived. (I didn't read through them.)
Oh, this is interesting, posted last month: The American-Western European Values Gap, "American Exceptionalism Subsides." A little. A week's worth of blog fodder, at least.
"...Americans are far more inclined than Western Europeans to say it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values; 53% say this is the case in the U.S., compared with just one-third in Germany, 20% in Britain, 19% in Spain and 15% in France. ..."
One chart worth 1,000 words is toward the end of that long page, "Views of Religion in the U.S.," sliced by sex, age, education, and ideology. "It is necessary to believe in God to be moral" was agreed to by 66% of conservatives, 52% of moderates and 26% of the liberals they polled. Those Godless liberals you hear so much about, I guess.
Ok, so that's one item I can delete now.
Same word, different meanings: deFAULT is a bad thing, when the company you gave some money to in exchange for a bond and some interest payments tells you they can't pay any more. Or maybe it's the whole county going belly up, and prepared to redefine "full faith and credit" to mean "actually, we don't feel like paying you."
DEEfault, as is in, "the choice somebody else made for you" is good for somebody, such as Google, making $300,000,000 a year to be the search engine you get in Mozilla Firefox without bothering to do anything.
How many Republican voters' signatures do you need to get in Virginia to obtain a good one? Well more than one, maybe less than two, on average, as Newt Gingrich and his campaign learned to their dismay "in the wee hours of Saturday" when "the Virginia Republican Party announced via Twitter" (for real?). The March primary in that state ill apparently not be including the Newtster. Or Rick Perry. And no trying to write anybody in, either! You just can't be too careful.
Jennifer Steinhauer saved me the trouble of digging around C-Span, describing the atmospherics of today's Senate and House deal-sealing of the two-month payroll tax cut extension.
How many Senators does it take to rub the noses of "those members who are newer to this body"? Just two. Steinhauer didn't give a count of the House (beyond "a Republican or two dotted the chamber"), but as I supposed, Boehner was swinging the gavel, and none of the obstreperous Tea Partiers stuck around to cause trouble.
Such as... Mr. Speaker, point of order: do we have a quorum? Or, how about a roll call vote on this bill?
But unanimous consent is nothing if not unanimous, so there we have it: passed the House 435-0, not a single objection. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
I had a vague sense of these "pro forma" sessions being used to prevent recess appointments, but I was confused by the facts that (a) the House doesn't approve presidential appointments, and (b) the Senate has a majority of Democrats, so shouldn't they be happy to let the president appoint away? The same NYT reporter explained it this summer: Sometimes a Day in Congress Takes Seconds, Gavel to Gavel. "According to the Constitution, neither chamber of Congress may adjourn for more than three days without permission of the other."
"The use of pro forma sessions to block recess appointments is a very recent development," said Katherine Scott, an assistant historian for the United States Senate Historical Office. "Republicans threatened it with President Clinton in the 1990s, but didnít use it. Senator Reid was the first to declare, in 2007, that the Senate would hold pro forma sessions to block recess appointments."
Turns out it's a lot easier to throw a wrench in the works than it is to get the machinery rolling again.
Update: Gail Collins' version describes the "old-fashioned Congressional compromise that resembled the offspring of a wart hog and vampire bat."
In the power struggle between the Senate Minority leader and the anonymous GOP rabble of the House, it appears Mitch McConnell succeeded in throwing the rabble off the bus so that the Senate could have its way, the fairly inexplicable super-short-term extension of the tax cut everyone gets (as opposed to to the nicely tailored tax cuts, signed, sealed and delivered in last year's game of holiday chicken). There's still the possibility of some drama and Christmas Eve unmiracle, however:
"Mr. Boehner said in a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday that if the compromise was not approved in the House by unanimous consent on Friday, as planned, he would 'absolutely' call the House back into session for a vote next week. The House is in pro forma session and can make such a move if no one objects. The Senate is expected to do the same."
We imagine that most House members have cleared out of town, haven't they? Wednesday's "pro forma session" went slightly off script when, after the appointment of fill-in Speaker was read, a prayer given, the journal of the last day's proceedings approved, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and the fill-in Speaker swung the gavel to declare the House adjourned, an "unidentified speaker" (as C-Span reported) piped up, asking for unanimous consent to actually do some business. The fill-in Speaker had been well-coached, ignored the commotion and walked out the door as a.k.a. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called for unanimous consent to bring up the bill to extend the tax cut for 160,000 Americans.
On Friday, round two, with John Boehner swinging the gavel, I'd think, but this time asking for unanimous consent to pretty much what Hoyer was after on Wednesday. If there is just one House member with the (a) stamina to be there at the right moment, (b) temerity to stand and say "I object!" (and (c), Mr. Speaker actually recognizes him or her), the House could be in town between Christmas and New Year's Eve. You think? I bet there's still a copy of Dale Carnegie's book in the Library of Congress....
Max Abelson's opinion roundup on Bloomberg.com might have felt more neutral if it hadn't been under the headline Bankers Join Billionaires to Debunk 'Imbecile' Attack on Top 1%. But then that snipe was part of the "defense." You guys can afford a marketing department, can't you? Find somebody to write you a speech with something more clever than attacking your critics as "imbeciles." Or whining about them not paying income taxes when they pay 15% of their income in payroll taxes (and you don't pay anywhere near that much, now do you?).
The "chorus" of unapologetic wealthy people is growing, how charming. Thus providing someone to share your disdain with over lunch, say for
"...Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires public companies to disclose the ratio between the compensation of their CEOs and employee medians, according to Allison. The rule, still being fine-tuned by the Securities and Exchange Commission, is 'incredibly wasteful' because it takes up time and resources, he said. Stemberg called the rule 'insane' in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. "
Annoying, I can see that, but "insane"? And incredibly wasteful to, um, divide one number by another? You've got an accounting department too, don't you? It brings to mind Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault and bristling at the idea that he should have to take inventory. At least hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman is getting some love for standing up for his kind:
"Cooperman said in an interview that he can't walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said."
You know the old saw about the difference between a recession and a depression, don't you? (Something about losing your job.) The Wall Street Journal's got it going on in their "Review & Outlook" about the GOP's Payrol Tax Fiasco:
"Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013."
Said "largest tax increase ever" would be the end of the ill-advised and economy-busting Bush-era tax cuts initiated in 2001, passed with a 10-year ("we'll have packed the suitcases with money and moved offshore by then") sunset, then extended for a post-Bush two-year bonus.
Opinions differ about past, present and future economic costs and benefits, but you can't deny that Republicans successfully turned a temporary tax cut into permanent thinking, so that Rupert Murdoch outlets can unabashedly label any notion of accepting the deal legislated from the beginning as a "tax increase."
But the most precious part is less than two paragraphs down:
"Their first mistake was adopting the President's language that he is proposing a tax cut rather than calling it a temporary tax holiday. People will understand the difference—and discount the benefit."
That's "people" as in our people, I guess. You cut my taxes, good, settled, done, forever. You cut the taxes of 160 million or so of the semi-washed workers in the country, even temporarily, that's some kind of crazy "holiday," and don't get any ideas about it continuing, and of course it's only temporary.
The WSJ conclusion is that "Messrs. Boehner and McConnell were gulled into going behind closed doors with the President, who dragged out negotiations and later emerged to sandbag them." That's the same President who's at turns incompetent and lacking leadership, when the Messrs. tell the story, but what do you know, he picked their pockets while they did a Keystone Kops head-butt routine! Oh, he's conniving, isn't he?
The alternate explanation—that McConnell's prime directive (make Obama a one-term president, whatever it costs the country) is not only morally bankrupt, it's politically stupid, and that John Boehner has lost control of the Tea Party lunatics running the Asylum House—is apparently too embarrassing to acknowledge. Better to "somehow manage the remarkable feat of being blamed" when their hearts are so pure, and that darned President gulled them.
As a regular user of Wikipedia, I've seen plenty of those year-end appeal ads, and successfully ignored them for a long time, clicking or scrolling head to the useful information I'm after. But thanks to social media, and a friend who said "I donated," it actually occurred to me to participate.
It's a fabulous resource, one of the truly wonderful things on the web, and an extension of human knowledge. What's not to like? So today, I made my first-ever donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, to help us all "imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge."
And encourage you, gentle reader, to go and do likewise.
I've never felt the need of a philosopher or religious official to explain to me that atheism and morality are not in any kind of opposition. But who knows, maybe the remnant of my theistic upbringing is still keeping me in line.
Louise Antony's argument in Good Minus God, moves us beyond the simple observation that it's POSSIBLE to live a moral life without belief in God (as many have, and do), to an argument that a God provides us no help whatsoever in establishing morality.
If God has intermediaries who can tell us what She wants of us, that could be just fine, but does it constitute moral behavior? Obedience is a virtue from the point of view of the person giving orders. But following arbitrary orders has no moral content, and following immoral orders can never be virtuous.
"[T]here are things one loses in giving up God, and they are not insignificant. Most importantly, you lose the guarantee of redemption. Suppose that you do something morally terrible, something for which you cannot make amends, something, perhaps, for which no human being could ever be expected to forgive you. I imagine that the promise made by many religions, that God will forgive you if you are truly sorry, is a thought would that bring enormous comfort and relief. You cannot have that if you are an atheist. In consequence, you must live your life, and make your choices with the knowledge that every choice you make contributes, in one way or another, to the only value your life can have."
Too much news, too many superlatives, you might fail to notice after a while. Carbon emissions up 5.9% in 2010: "Almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003."
That's extracted from the detail and uncertainty ranges of the Global Carbon Project's report. But this is direct enough: "The present concentration is the highest during at least the last 800,000 years."
33 billion tons of CO2 are the highest emissions in human history, half again as much as were emitted in 1990, the reference year for the Kyoto protocol. Not only are we not reining in emissions, the pace is increasing: up 1% per year in the '90s, up 3% per year in the most recent ten years. The global recession put the brakes on in 2009, but we're back on the gas.
More charts and detail in the full report. One picture worth 1,000 words is slide #23, "Human perturbation of the global carbon budget," to show the scale of what's happening.
Not so much "we are broke," that political b.s. talking point, but we are going to hell in a handbasket, given that the legislative branch of the most powerful country in the world has been incapacitated by a collection of narrow-minded idiots incapable of looking out for anything but their personal parochial interests. The only thing about approval ratings into a single digit we don't understand is—seriously, someone still approves of the job Congress is doing?
I guess at least 10% of any group can be counted on to not be paying attention. There are so many distractions these days.
A friend just forwarded a link to a two-year old item in Science Daily, still timely: Is Global Warming Unstoppable? A University of Utah scientist figures that stabilizing CO2 emissions would require "building the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day" (for, um, how many days?). We haven't built any in this country in the last two years, have we? And that study was out long before reports of the melting of arctic permafrost, tundra fire and methane—a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide—bubbling into the atmosphere hit the MSM.
Down in the lower 48, we have a different sort of flaming gasbag, Rush Limbaugh warning his listeners that the gummint is coming after their cherished incandescent bulbs, "gunning for you." Pity the poor conservative, forced to use "inferior light," "small and tiny." (You know, like those pathetic Christmas decorations you see this time of year. I'm sure the Feds will come gunning for those, soon.)
No joke, one of the most "important" things on this week's Congressional agenda was a 10 month delay in funding to enforce the law passed by the House, 264-163 and the Senate, 65-27, and signed by George W. Bush four years ago this month. Why do Republicans now hate energy independence and security?
The question of whether the planet is warming, and heading for increasingly severe climate-driven disruptions for the people living on it has been answered in myriad ways, even if nay-sayers will dispute the role of human-generated emissions right up to the apocalypse. It's conceivable we could change the course of events by changing our behavior. Do we have the political will? Haven't seen much of that. Even if it were mustered, do we have sufficient political competence to carry it out? No evidence whatsoever.
We're on our way to a world of hurt, it would appear, "bipartisan" acts with as much long-term vision as Thelma and Louise's finale.
Update: Hours later, I see that my friend did not "just" send me the link to Science Daily, but rather sent it back in Nov. 2009 when it was fresh and new. Secrets of my Inbox are thus revealed. The entertaining video is of the same vintage as the SD piece. But the MSM picking up the artic methane story now, two years later, that part is real, and thanks to Dr. Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences. And Congress broken, that's for real, too.
Robert Reich: "Newt's tax plan, and why his polls rise the more outrageous he becomes." Jacking up the deficit by $850 billion in a single year, seriously? It's not just big ideas, the Newtster is spinning off big, crazy ideas.
"History is full of strong men with dangerous ideas who gain power when large masses of people are so desperate and disillusioned they'll follow anyone who offers big, seemingly easy solutions."
It remains to be seen if Mr. Big Idea is going to regain power and be a strong man, but he's already lasted longer than any of the previous parade of front-runners.
Tipping points as we close in on the solstice, halfway through the month, barely 10 shopping days left before the shopopause and all the while... V-ger is hurtling to the edge of the unknown 636 miles a minute, 11 billion miles out, no way home, no prospect of every being "very close to any other object in our solar system, or even in our galaxy."
Not much to see close-up to the void, but there are billions of stars and galaxies in every direction. And one day soon, a hint about one of our beliefs, that
"we are in a cloud of material that was ejected by the explosion of a series of supernova, about 5 to 10, 15 million years ago, very near the sun. And that we will be embedded in the material from those giant explosions, and the magnetic field which was swept up by the shells of material ejected by those exploding stars."
Just because we're a curious lot. And friendly, judging by the free gold record we sent with our ambassador to the galaxy at large.
Take these in either order, but I suppose better to go with Hendrik Hertzberg's fantasy-meets-reality alt-hist horror show, Alt-Newt before reading John Cassidy's debate cheat sheet rundown of Saturday night's go. On the down side:
"Imagine a man who, in a country just staggering out of the worst recession of the past fifty years and facing the threat of worldwide economic collapse, proposes to hire small children to work as janitors, mopping floors and cleaning toilets in their schools (or their orphanages, perhaps)."
And the upside, finding out it is still possible to make the latest front runner blush:
"Most of the other candidates had their moments, particularly Ron Paul, who poked Gingrich in his most tender spot: the hidden pouch where he stashed the $1.6 million he received from Freddie Mac."
James Surowiecki's piece in The New Yorker is nominally about bankruptcy and default but in describing the "obvious and offensive" double standard in the response to entities not paying their debts, he reveals an important difference. The corporate shield provides immunization from shame, guilt and fear as well as the protection against personal liability that is the raison d'être of nonpersonal business organizations.
The Mortgage Bankers Association can dish a little guilt on prospective defaulters by trying to get them to think of what "their family and their kids and their friends" will think, and for its own account, persuade its creditors to accept a short sale of its HQ, "dumping it for thirty-four million dollars less than the value of the building's mortgage." Necessity remains the mother of invention, and societal norms are not carved in stone. That's why we have "Strategic Default" in the dictionary now.
"Strategic defaults would help distribute the pain more evenly and, if they became more common, would force lenders to be more responsible in the future. It's also possible that a wave of strategic defaults—a De-Occupy Your House movement—would get banks to take mortgage modification more seriously, which would be all for the better. The truth is that banks have been relying on homeowners to do the right thing. It might be time for homeowners to do the smart thing instead."
There would be the problem of where to go after the deoccupation, assuming camping down by the statehouse isn't fully attractive. The attempt by Occupy Boise to ask the Sheriff nicely to stop foreclosing on people is slightly charming, but he gave no sign of being charmed. Nor does it seem likely he'd sit on his hands if OB followed through on the idea to eventually occupy foreclosed homes.
Adverse possession (a.k.a. "squatter's rights"), on the other hand, does provide legal means to lay claim to ownership of someone else's property. Not-so-recent (but recently picked up by MSM outlets) news from Texas describes someone squatting up a $300k house for $16 ("He says an online form he printed out and filed at the Denton County courthouse for $16 gave him rights to the house.") Occupy real estate with no money down! But yes, it's just another opportunistic scam.
When you start talking to the folks with non-made-up letters behind their names, you find out that actual laws make the process slightly more difficult than a camp in the living room. In Texas, if you're not prepared to come up with some sort of legitimate paperwork to meet the 3 or 5-year statutes, your term of actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, continuous, and uninterrupted occupation will have to run 10 years before you win your dream house. Each one of those highlighted terms has a very specific legal meaning, so good luck with that. Somehow, your occupation needs to be both "hostile" and "peaceable" for example. And don't forget to pay all the taxes! The county Sheriff will be enforcing that requirement, and taking a dim view of things like breaking and entering, filing false affidavits, slander of title, and fraud. Maybe even if you declare yourself a corporation.
Update: Two more potentially useful finance items, from Jane Bryant Quinn (with a h/t to the same fellow who sent me the interesting link to The New Yorker): What happens when you walk away from a mortgage loan? and Thinking about a mortgage default? Beware the taxes due.
Time for a weekend roundup of campaign commentary. Paul Krugman wonders if it's possible to believe "the modern G.O.P. catechism" without being utterly cynical, or clueless.
"[W]hoever finally gets the Republican nomination will be a deeply flawed candidate. And these flaws wonít be an accident, the result of bad luck regarding who chose to make a run this time around; the fact that the party is committed to demonstrably false beliefs means that only fakers or the befuddled can get through the selection process."
Hunting the elusive job creator: even with the help of "numerous Republican congressional offices, including House and Senate leadership," and business groups lobbying against the so-called "millionaires' surtax," none were to be found. The Tax Relief Coalition said they're out there, just real shy.
From the What You Don't See Can Hurt You department, Dave Gilson and Asawin Suebsaeng chart the Exploding Universe of Dark Money, "rapidly expanding super-PACs and nebulous 501(c) groups exerting their gravitational pull on federal elections." Karl Rove's binary giants appear to be the Death Star of the conservative groups, "drawn to scale, though they may be larger than they appear to the naked eye due to limited or incomplete disclosure."
Also in the funny-not-necessarily-funny-ha-ha papers, Brian McFadden's got your new pet Newt ready to order, 'Think Tank' included.
But no. So independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has proposed an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to spell out what the founders certainly intended, that constitutional rights be for natural persons, not for "for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, or other private entities established for business purposes or to promote business interests under the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state."
Not sure if it was an editorial decision or just the basic attempt to cover "both sides" of an issue, but Sunday's Idaho Statesman had an interesting pair of "Reader's View" opinions stacked on page I2. I read John Gardner's piece, Let's carefully use our power supply to invest in new sources first, and thought he did a good job of explaining the slightly esoteric topic of energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and why it's an important consideration. Worth reading (and not long or difficult), and understanding the implications because "The longer we put off investments in renewable energy technologies, the more expensive, energy-wise, it will be to make those investments."
(If you want to go whole hog, there's a 6-part series on The Oil Drum, Why EROI Matters, and lots of intelligent discussion of the issue on that site.)
Gardner's piece was not so much "opinion"; as an engineering professor and director of Boise State University's Energy Efficiency Research Institute (announced a year ago; and still spinning up?), his work is more in the realm of technical education.
Which I dare say the co-author of the "top" opinion, our junior Representative to Congress, Raúl Labrador could use some more of. Labrador's current hobby horse is a bill to end all energy subsidies now because... the market will solve all our problems? Government shouldn't be picking winners and losers? Subsidies are a rat's nest of corruption and influence peddling?
All that and more, the grab-bag of ideology labeled "common sense" (as in, "it's just common sense, so there's no need for me to actually provide a sensible explanation") and a really simple solution to a really complex set of problems that are at the very foundation of our modern economy.
Just cut everybody off, fair is fair, smaller government, hoorah!
Labrador and his partner in advocacy, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas got their unabridged opinion in The Washington Times late last month, and the original is even less worthy than the short form. You don't even need common sense to decry "subsidy folly" and the "infamous Department of Energy." (Infamous, really?) And this, away over the top:
"The good news is that with the support of the American people, politicians now are speaking the truth."
Politicians such as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, for example. And Raúl Labrador and Mike Pompeo. We must be on the threshold of a golden age.
When an emoticon can't say enough: Emoji. I love the note about cross-cultural issues:
"But some things may be lost in translation in emojiís journey. For example, the emoji of a smiling coil of human waste is a popular way to express dissatisfaction in Japan, but doesnít have quite the same resonance in the United States. And while the iPhone has emoji for steaming bowls of ramen, balls of rice and cups of sake, there arenít any for common Western items like pizza."
I'm sure somebody will arrange for pizza delivery, soon.
In the meantime, if you're having trouble understanding emoji, Apple can help you, in at least 17 languages.
Not one of the marketing messages you're seeing among the thousands coming at you every day, but one of those old-timey virtues I was raised to acquire was the one of working toward a goal, saving up earnings to buy something. Credit cards were growing up about the same time as I was, but weren't much seen in our neighborhood. The Savings and Loan was within walking distance though, and I understood 4% per annum interest to be what one would get for patience and a passbook, and I eagerly (and impatiently) watched the pennies add up in mine.
Not everyone in the baby boom sees things the same way, but there are plenty of similarities in the demographic bulge making its way through the snake of time. Workers' compensation used to reflect such family values as I knew, providing for a long-term relationship with an incentive to stick together, work hard, perservere. The pot at the end of the rainbow was of course RETIREMENT, those golden years worth striving for.
Perhaps you've heard of such good old days, as were sloughed off some time around morning in America (S&L deregulation) and the Me Generation. The idea of a "career" being something you have with a particular organization is being retired along with boomers who somehow managed to survive half a dozen rounds of layoffs over the last decade.
What better dateline than Madison, Wisconsin for a story about workers in the public sector retiring sooner rather than later? The race between the stay-the-course, keep your head down, work toward That Day tortoises, and the get out while the getting is good (or before it goes any worse) rabbits is getting hare-ier every day. "Workers fear a permanent shift away from the traditional security of government jobs, and they are making plans to get out now, before salaries and retirement benefits retreat further."
"It's about fear," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "A lot of people are seeing this war on public employees and saying, let's get out."
Yup, he said war on public employees. Which brings to mind another item from my upbringing, back when we had adages: a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Update: Connected by the concept we shared in our post headlines, this, on Good Morning Yesterday from Lam Chun See in Singapore.
Two things: Frank Luntz sounds desperate, crazy, or both. (None of which prevent him from selling what he's selling, necessarily.)
And how 'bout them Republican Governors getting schooled on how to "blame Washington" for any and every failure they may encounter?
Idaho's own Clement L. "Butch" Otter was on hand, skipping out of state business for a Florida vacation and some elder hostile education in big money spin.
5. Don't say 'government spending.' Call it 'waste.'
"It's not about 'government spending.' It's about 'waste.' That's what makes people angry."
Me, I get more worked up about scumbag political operatives playing semantic games and shilling to an audience who seems to have lost track of what public service is all about.
It's much easier to come up with a rationalization that works than an explanation. The former just needs to be vaguely plausible, while the latter actually has to make sense. That fact doesn't constrain the newsfotainment industry much, since most of the time, most of us are content with a self-serving suggestion. If it matches what we know, we check the mental reinforcement box and move on. It's not that an valid explanation can't be self-serving, just that benefit in the eye of the beholder raises the risk of self-delusion.
Which brings us to public policy and taxation once again. We've been running downhill on the theory that "if only" we lower taxes and shrink governments, our economy will boom. Given our most immediate history of trying that very thing and having it fail in bad-to-spectacular fashion (other than for the wealthiest sliver of humanity) the durability of the theory is enough to make one believe in zombies.
If someone tries to tell you that accepting the end of a temporary tax cut for his wealthy friends amounts to a tax increase, but letting a payroll tax cut expire isn't, he fails the laugh test. (What if... you and your wealthy friends have been enjoying the "temporary" cut for a decade, and you've only had your payroll tax cut for a year? Ha ha.)
On the other hand, if your run of the mill bazillionaire explains that large luxury yachts are not actually the cause of rising tides while the rest of the fleet owners celebrate their tidal victory, it might be worth a listen.
Especially if you're Neil Cavuto: you could learn more if you would stop interrupting and listen up. (And what the hell is the problem with the ADHD tech crew at Fox Business with the whooshing and the flashing and the interviewer who won't let his subject have his say?)
"If it was true that less tax and less regulation and less government would create prosperity, then someplace on earth there would be this libertarian utopia where nobody paid any taxes and nobody paid any rules and everybody lived like a king. ... Prosperity is linked to our investment in our society."
One of the standout features of our local newspaper is Ed Lotterman's syndicated column, Real World Economics. Yesterday's edition (the original ran on Nov. 23 in the St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press) was the best ever, in my opinion, with details of his biography to put his thinking and his values in a deeper context.
He's lived in Brazil, and Peru, consulted in Bulgaria, served 29 years in the U.S. Army, and grew up on a farm. Can't get much more fertile ground than that. (His own website's about page shows that the personal information he shared in the column was a modest sample. It's all interesting, and the last item, "At Home," pegs the charming meter, as well.)
Running it a week and a half later, the Idaho Statesman edited out the Thanksgiving message in his opening (and conclusion), but the point he makes doesn't depend on any particular season: "because liberty is vital, it should not be trivialized."
"Individual freedom is important but it is not absolute. In a just society, any single person's freedom to do what he wants is always limited by how his actions affect other people. And that line between individual autonomy and the needs of society as a whole is not always distinct."
After months of having what seemed like far too many candidates for the GOP nomination, and now just weeks away from the Iowa corn poll, we've got a left-for-dead retread with no ground game as the "front runner," matching Herman Cain's folksy crazy twirlin' with teh professorial crazy:
"This is disorienting. This is such a rapid change that weíre having to rethink our own internal operations right now and where we are."
Yes indeed, disorientating.
Meanwhile, over on Fox, the anybody-but candidate long assumed to be the guy GOP voters will eventually hold their noses for, Mitt Romney, gave the pundosphere ample cause to conjugate "petulance" with a demonstration of why his rarely agreeing to extended, on-camera interviews is probably a good idea.
Is it Jon Huntsman's moment to shine? Please?
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org