Sunday, May 31, 2009
But that runs into a number of points which bothered me as I read through the blogs today. The first, and perhaps more important, is theological (non-Christians are free to skip this part, it won't be on the final), the others are social and political.
The theological point is that there are a number of self-proclaimed Christians who express blind hatred for the man himself. Christians simply cannot harbor that kind of hatred in ourselves and expect to be unchanged by it.
There is a temptation to revel in hatred, especially when it sits so close to justice, and especially when we have our peers on our side. It is easy to hate Hitler, and no one will criticize us for it because of his evil. But does our hatred become good because it is directed at a person who crossed some undemarcated threshold of evil? What about our hatred of someone who did a little less evil? At what point does our hatred of others reveal itself not as justice, but as a self-righteousness-fueled flaw in our own character? Only when it gets past Bush or Obama or FDR or our boss and gets down to Mother Theresa?
If we examine ourselves, not only will we find we inhabit a spot somewhere between Mother Theresa and Lincoln, between Saint John Chrysostom and Nero, but we will find a person who does evil and yet whom we do not hate. In fact, we love ourselves. And we are called on to love our neighbor, and that includes George Tiller, as we love ourselves.
And that must change our perspective a bit, not on hating sin, but perhaps upon wishing to visit nasty things on Tiller's corpse:
"Christianity does not want us to reduce by one iota the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is in any way possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again."
-- CS Lewis
Forgiveness, they say, is the most hateful and contemptible of all virtues, because it so often seems to fly in the face of justice. We Christians are called on to forgive others as we would be forgiven, even when those others are contemptible and despicable. It's not that it's too high a virtue, but too low of one***. Now, either Tiller has done nothing to us that needs to be forgiven (in which case we have no just cause for animosity) or we, as individual Christians wronged by him, need to forgive him. We cannot hate him nor revel in hatred. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us." There are no other terms under which we can expect forgiveness for our own sins. It does not mean that we cannot punish evil or that we must say Tiller was a fine chap, it simply means we need to let go of that part of us that demands to get even.
God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, and neither should we.
The second, which seems a fellow-traveler with the first, is reveling in vigilantism. Vox and some others today expressed the sentiment that the government failing to do justice leads to vigilantism, and that in many ways our current government is indistinguishable from it. Those both may be true****, but if they are, those are facts to be abhorred rather than celebrated. One simply cannot have a society that allows individuals to mete out fatal punishment based on their own conclusions, knowledge, desires, feelings and morality.
It's not just that it's a bad idea, but such a society cannot long exist in peace. The examples are myriad, but the one closest to me presently***** is Bleeding Kansas and the Western front of the Civil War. When Kansas came in as a territory, "border ruffians" from Missouri tried to make it a slave state by force, which led to all manner of vigilantism, not to keep the peace, but to extract justice (though, as some noted, it was "with interest"). When the Free Staters finally got the upper hand here, Lane and Jennison went vigilante. Then innocents on the Missouri side became men like Quantrill and Todd and Anderson. Then Hoyt and the Red Legs arose in response. Each side felt its actions fully justified by past wrongs suffered.
By the time Price and Shelby fled down the state line from KC to Arkansas, they were passing through counties where literally almost no one lived. Farms and whole cities had been burned to the ground. Anyone seen outside or caught inside was shot on sight by one side or the other. There was literally no civil society in a 5-county area, not because of troops, but because of groups (vigilantes always end up in groups) seeking their own brand of justice. With interest. Vigilantism, even and maybe especially when the government fails, means the death of society.
Finally, I suppose one thing needs to be added. George Tiller committed a lot of evil acts. But he committed them on behalf of others. A lot of others. Members of our familes, and our churches. People we know and love. And forgive. America is not so much better off with George Tiller dead as it will be on the day all of our nation's George Tillers are seeking unemployment benefits because no one wants their services. The real problem does not lie in our courts or even in our abortion clinics: it lies in our hearts.
* For those who think that he needed killing, why didn't you do it yourselves?
** The "whatever he has done" is a funny thing, because the left, to pump up the moral outrage, is forced to say that plunging a pair of scissors into the head of a newborn is a morally neutral (at worst) or morally praiseworthy (at best) act. One cannot say, "I personally disagree with abortion..." (with all the pablum that follows) and yet conclude that one who performs them, especially as Tiller did, is virtuous.
*** Try telling someone you have forgiven Hitler and see what I mean.
**** I don't think they are, but I'm willing to grant the point for the sake of argument.
***** Not personally, but because I spent the last three hours comparing a couple accounts of the Second Battle of Newtonia.
Motorists beware: In some communities, police are issuing tickets during these hard times at a rate higher than ever in what critics say is an attempt to raise revenue in order to offset budget shortfalls...The argument could be made (and has been) that such efforts are not only insane, but they border on highway robbery. And to be honest, I'm quite sympathetic to the argument. The police really do have better things to do with their time than to make sure people are properly buckled up. Law enforcement should not be a revenue stream upon which cities and counties rely: that state of affairs creates a vested interest in the perpetuation of lawbreaking*. On the other hand, what do we have law enforcement for if not to enforce the law?
Police Chief Michael Reaves of Utica, Michigan, says the role of law enforcement has changed over the years. “When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues,” he says. “That’s just the reality nowadays.”
I don't think the ultimate problem is police enforcement of the myriad of intrusive, vague, and contradictory laws on citizens, but the existence of the laws themselves. It's amazing to me the sheer number of people who will complain about getting a speeding ticket yet insist that we must have the very laws they go out and break. "We have to have speed limits," they will insist, "because if we don't, then everyone will drive too fast." Every like you, you mean? They are sure we also need laws requiring people buckle kids in special seats up to age 12, we need seat belt laws, we need vehicle inspections. They support** homeowners associations that threaten vets for having marine corp stickers on their trucks. In short, people demand the very restrictions on others that they complain about being enforced on them.
The very worst solution for a society that pretends to respect the law is to insist that the cops selectively enforce them. All that accomplishes is empowering prosecutors to "get" whoever they want whenever they wish. It also creates a disdain for the law and tempts people into the thrill of trying to get away with things.
Rather, I think the laws ought to be enforced universally and without exception. Then if people get tired of being harassed, they might have some incentive to see that the intrusive and ridiculous laws are repealed. If we don't think people ought to be prosecuted for adultery, or for growing pot for personal use, or for having chickens inside city limits, then we need to repeal the laws that make such things illegal. If police have better things to do than harassing motorists, then the simple solution is to repeal the laws that put motorists under their thumb.
* Or as the head of the Michigan police union put it, “A lot of police chiefs will tell you the goal is to have nobody speeding through their community, but heaven forbid if it should actually happen—they’d be out of money.”
** Sure, they may disagree with this enforcement of the rules or that one, but they sign the charters and pay the dues.
Friday, May 29, 2009
President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy has yet another tie to Connecticut*. She sided against a student in the infamous “douche bag” case, and that has upset some free-speech advocates.I can't wait for Patrick Leahy to bring this one up in hearings. Seriously.
* The first one being that she, too, is slightly smaller than Massachusetts.
For a while it was scary, then it was sad, now it's just preposterous:
Taxpayers are on the hook for an extra $55,000 a household to cover rising federal commitments made just in the past year for retirement benefits, the national debt and other government promises, a USA TODAY analysis shows.It's the laughableness, the insanity, the unreality of the whole situation that has me thinking: would it be more moral to simply default on all government debt than to carry on as we are?
The 12% rise in red ink in 2008 stems from an explosion of federal borrowing during the recession, plus an aging population driving up the costs of Medicare and Social Security.
That's the biggest leap in the long-term burden on taxpayers since a Medicare prescription drug benefit was added in 2003*...
The debt is increasing at such a rate now, and its trajectory on such a course, that anyone who seriously believes that it will be paid off in anything remotely resembling real dollars probably needs to be scribbling Kill Clouseau on a padded wall with a crayon held between the toes. It is not even hope, but delusion.
So if we accept that we are not going to pay the debt off, then we have only the choice of the type of default, either by destroying the current financial system, or by destroying the dollar AND the current financial system. Either way, this beast is going down, the question seems to be how much of our modern world it takes along with it.
In one sense, such a proposal ought to please the Democrats very much. Since a large percentage of the wealth of the rich is in Treasuries and the like - wealth which represents nothing but the payments of the future middle class to the rich of today - wiping out that wealth would be far more immediate and efficient than taxing it away. There are many ways to 'tax' the rich when the objective is simply to impoverish them.
In the same sense, it will be the Baby Boomers who take the biggest hit, which is fitting, since they are the ones who have done 80% of the damage**. The hammer will fall where it ought.
On the other hand, without solving the dollar problem - that problem being that the current dollar is nothing - default itself becomes no less a deferral of the problem than all the stuff Bennie and the Jest are trying at present. The dollar heading to no value is a foregone conclusion, because it already has no value. Its reputation simply has yet to catch up with its character.
* Obama is going to have to try harder if he wants to beat Bush's record. But I'm sure once he gets the hang of it, it should not be any problem.
** Not by being so many, but by demanding so much and replacing themselves so little. The fact that they are so many just made their compound foolishness fatal.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
(AP) NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A person who legally possesses a gun would not have it seized during periods of martial rule under a proposal that has been signed into law by the governor...Just in case, indeed. I hate to be a buzzkill, but martial law pretty much means that normal laws - especially troublesome state laws that get in the way of efficient governance - are out the window. When the ATF goes door-to-door in Tennessee, are citizens supposed to call the cops on them?
Sponsors say... the law is necessary after law enforcement in New Orleans went door to door seizing weapons in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Brentwood, one of the sponsors, has said he doesn't expect such behavior in Tennessee, but believes legislation should be in place just in case.
Maybe state laws like this one will have a chilling effect on overzealous federales*; that's probably the best one can hope for. But like the yapping poodle state sovereignty laws being passed by a couple of states, they are not important because of what they do**, but because they represent the first audible rumblings of a very deep discontent that will only be exacerbated by Uncle Sam's mostly-self-imposed troubles going forward.
* Yeah, right.
** Which is nothing.
Monday, May 25, 2009
I've nothing against freeze-dried food, except that I don't want to eat it:
I learned as a boy scout the joys of freeze-dried food. Yes, it's great if you have to carry it somewhere. But all of it other than stuff that is regularly freeze-dried, like soup mix or fruit chips, is barely edible. I would suggest that anyone who is counting on eating freeze-dried foods for a 3-month crisis to spend the next month eating it. I assure you, plans will change.
"I don't want to be a slave to anybody," [Macera] said. "The more systems you're dependent on, the more likely things are going to go bad for you."
That's a philosophy shared by Vincent Springer, a newcomer to emergency preparedness from the Chicago area.
Springer, a high school social studies teacher, says he's most worried about energy shortages and an economic breakdown that could paralyze the just-in-time supply chain that grocery stores rely on.
In the past few months, Springer has stockpiled enough freeze-dried food for three months and bought 72-hour emergency supply kits for himself, his wife and two young children. The 39-year-old is also teaching himself to can food.
"I'm not looking for a retreat in northern Idaho or any of that stuff, but I think there's more people like me out there and I think those numbers are growing," he said.
It's an admirably American response, however. The latest technology. Clean and efficient. Neatly-stacked boxes representing a belief in the possibility of the unexpected. It's easy. It also tastes like crap.
Learning to can is a much better plan, and rather than dropping 20 grand to get ready, one might actually save money*. Gardening is an excellent plan as well. But rather than taking the expected American route - planting a bunch of potatoes and corn because that's what we eat - I would recommend taking the route of the ancient Greeks: plant crops that have a high unit value and plan to trade. Peppers. Cucumbers. Perennials like horseradish and rhubarb and asparagus. Grape vines. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. None of them take much room, all of them make your yard look better***. It makes little sense to use 200 square feet to grow $30 worth of potatoes when one spends 5 times that buying the fruit that could grow there. And the fruit will grown back year after year.
I admire the new survivalists, as they have wholly the right attitude. The government is not going to save you; in fact, it is likely going to be the root cause of most of our economic problems over the next decade. But the correct response is not to embrace short-term, scientific solutions like buying enough flash-dried stroganoff to ride out the crisis. Rather it's to realize that we do not face a crisis that will pass, a temporarily dark and cramped tunnel that leads back to 2005. We are going back to the future, where food is something we have to think about further in advance than the time it takes Dominoes to deliver.
* I hit green beans at Wal-Mart last summer on sale at .25 per pound, about 10% of their "normal" price. Rather than just taking advantage for a few meals, I bought 16 pounds for $4, froze half of it and canned the other half. Not only did I have plenty of fresher-tasting beans than "regular" canned beans**, I saved a whole garden plot I could use for other stuff this year.
** And good grief, have you ever tasted freeze-dried green beans? They are to die from.
*** After all, we are still Americans, which means we rely on our lawns to tell our neighbors who we are.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The Treasury Department is poised to inject more than $7 billion into GMAC LLC, the first installment of a new government aid package that could reach $14 billion, according to people familiar with the matter...That would be the end of the year that's 6 months away. But what about next year?
The GMAC funding is an illustration of how rapidly the government effort to rescue the U.S. auto industry is escalating in cost and scope. What began as an emergency batch of loans to GM, Chrysler and GMAC in December -- totaling just over $20 billion -- now looks likely to balloon well beyond $50 billion and could approach $100 billion by the end of the year...
The ongoing assumption behind all of these alleged one-off efforts to inject money, whether it be into banks or insurance companies or automakers or GSEs, seems to be that if government can just get these companies 'over the hump' so to speak, that will be all they need and they can get back to earning enough money to contribute to reelection campaigns like good companies ought.
It's not going to work out that way. Not at all.
The first reason was briefly discussed in the comments of another post, let's call it The Obama Method (TOM) of bankruptcy. TOM bankruptcy basically involves turning the operations and ownership of a company over to stakeholders - mostly unions - at a ratio decided by Obama.
While TOM bankruptcy has horrible side effects, it also has horrible regular effects: turning an auto company over to its unions assures that it will never be profitable again. The goals that support profitability (low wages, long hours) are in direct conflict with the goals that support successful unionism (high wages, short hours). As a result, we have a situation where the union-appointed management of the company can only make the owners happy by taking actions that will result in the destruction of the company and perhaps even the Union itself*. Unions need capitalists like ticks need dogs, and for the same reason. And TOM bankruptcy is very short on running dogs.
But secondly, artificially propping up an industry requires that every industry that relies on it also be propped up. It's a never-ending task. If you want to prop up auto, including the technological improvements you are demanding of it, then you have to prop up the partsmakers who supply auto. Then you need to prop up those who lend money to those who buy the autos (in this case, GMAC). Then because it's making no money, you have to prop up its retirement accounts. The potential proppees stream out from Automakers like web around a spider, ready to catch and devour unwary dollars by the trillions.
* See, it's not all bad news.
The U.S. dollar's day of reckoning may be inching closer as its status as a safe-haven currency fades with every uptick in stocks and commodities and its potential risks - debt and inflation - are brought under a harsher spotlight.Whether it is or isn't, the sunny morning before a 4-day holiday weekend seems to be a fine time to just make a little noise about a few things that probably would not qualify for posts on their own.
Ashraf Laidi, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, said Wednesday a "serious case of dollar damage" was underway...
First up, the Three Metrics*: gold, oil, dollar index. As long-time readers know, I have three personal "danger" metrics that I watch in full expectation that all three of them must be breached before financial Armageddon arrives. They are gold above the 1980 high of $850, oil over $90 a barrel, and the dollar under 80 on the NDX index. The last one is, IMO, the most important for reasons I'll explain. All three have only gone "bad" together once, not coincidentally it preceded last fall's expensively-avoided almost-meltdown by mere weeks.
As of this morning, gold is ~950 and on something of a tear, oil is safely below danger (~$60), and the dollar is getting close to 80 again, at 81 and change. So currently we are officially 2/3 out of danger, about to be 2/3 in danger. Or something.
OK, so with that said, back to the above article. A case of serious dollar damage is underway, but perhaps not for the reasons mentioned in the article. I've mentioned already that the government is going to have to borrow or print a couple of trillion dollars just for this year's operations, a number like 5 times bigger than the highest deficit ever. That alone, even if possible to borrow**, would seriously weaken the dollar.
But perhaps more important is the artificial effect the current bout of deleveraging has had on the dollar, a fact that (to be blunt) I never saw coming. As credit markets imploded last year, people, states, and companies found themselves unable to borrow. So in order to repay their existing debts, to bring down leverage, and in some cases to survive, they needed what? Cash. US dollars, and lots of them. The Fed and Treasury provided plenty of it, trillions of dollars' worth, but the need for cash during the worst of the crunch artificially strengthened the dollar, taking it from the edge of the abyss below 80 back up to ~88. The dollar was strengthened not by a "flight to quality" so much as by the fact that real dollars were needed and were suddenly in short supply. As the crunch part moves behind us, that acute need for cash moves behind us as well, and the artificial strength of the dollar moves behind us. Thus the current move from ~88 back down to the danger levels of last summer.
The credit crunch portion of the current financial crisis is over, or nearly over. We have dedicated by some estimates $10 trillion dollars to fight it. The stock market has been halved. Two of the Big Three automakers are bankrupt. The government owns the largest insurer in the world. The two largest mortgage lenders are insolvent and hemorrhaging money, surviving only via quarterly cash injections measuring in the billions. Housing prices are still falling at record rates in every major market. Unemployment is the highest in a generation and the unemployment rolls now support a record 7 million workers. State and local governments have made the easy*** budget cuts and are preparing for more in the face of a growing tax revolt.
This is not the bottom. We have just completed the first round of a bout scheduled for twelve.
Round 2 begins when the 80 level is taken out again.
* I used to work for an insurance company owned by the Swiss, who would invariably pronounce that word "matrix." It fit them, somehow.
** the jury is still out on that. I am certain we are going to see some serious fireworks this year at Treasury auctions.
*** though they have been real cuts, not like federal "cuts" which invariably end at higher level than where they were cut from.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Los Angeles (AP) - An angry electorate soundly defeated a slate of special election budget measures Tuesday, a decision that left Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers holding virtually nothing but a scalpel to deal with California's $21.3 billion shortfall...Play time is over: not even the feds are going to step into California's budget mess now. It was conceivable when the amount needed to close the gap was $7b, but now that it has tripled in 6 months, with no end in sight and with Californians firmly calling for outright budget cuts, the game is over. The stimulus that the states have received (and spent) is gone, and I am beginning to doubt that there will be more.
No one will be more surprised than politicians when the voters do what they can* to ensure that budgets are cut - no one, that is, but the press. Those same groups will be just as surprised to discover that government and society survive just fine on 20% or 30% less money.
* Other than actually electing people inclined to do so voluntarily.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
[Bart] Ehrman, a best-selling author and a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a biblical sleuth whose investigations make some people very angry. Like the fictional Robert Langdon character played by actor Tom Hanks in the movie "Angels & Demons," he delves into the past to challenge some of Christianity's central claims...You have to wonder how such things become news. Seriously. Let's say a kid who was the secular equivalent of Episcopalian*, discovers at 15 that Darwin was correct**, then he runs off to Ozark Bible College*** to become a paleontologist and changes his mind about Darwin. Would that be news?
He was raised in the Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas, and became a fundamentalist Christian at age 15 when he met a charismatic Christian youth group leader who reached out to him...
Ehrman says he later became an agnostic because he couldn't find the answer to another question: How could there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?
But other than the fact that this story, repeated all over the blogosphere, falls firmly into the category of "not news," there are three things that ought to be said about it.
The first is that the guy is absolutely correct that one does not have to believe in an infallible bible to be a Christian. You don't. That's a modern shibboleth and a red herring.
The second is that I just love how if a former 15-year-old fundamentalist says unfundamentalist things - like "at least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries" - they must be accepted as true. It's almost as if fundamentalists are like Masons or Jesuits or something, in possession of a secret, long-suppressed body of knowledge that this guy is revealing for the first time. Wow, how mysterious.
But finally, it's always disappointing when a story lets the intellectual cat out of the bag and you discover that it is simply an emotional feline after all. The article notes that, "he later became an agnostic because he couldn't find the answer to another question: How could there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?" In other words, his rejection of orthodox Christianity is not based on impressive intellectual accomplishments at all. Rather he went head-to-head with the biggest question of all and decided that he would not believe in a God who didn't run the universe correctly. If you understand that premise, then everything else he concludes becomes boringly predictable.
Hey, I don't know for sure why there's suffering in the world, though I have an idea. We live in a universe that is both cursed and broken. Evil men have the same free will as good ones. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. The Book of Job approached the issue and God basically told Job to shut up****. The Book of Revelation promises the mess will be cleaned up. I don't know the answer; hell, I don't even understand most of the components that go into question.
That doesn't matter a whit. As much as we would like to know, it is the height of imaginable human arrogance to insist that God is under some compulsion to tell us, to explain himself to our satisfaction, or to operate the universe - to the extent that he does - more in accordance with our liking.
One does not need an infallible bible to be a Christian, and one needs an understanding of God's purposes even less. Job had the right idea when he said, "though [God] slay me, yet will I trust in him." It's a hard saying, to be sure. Some, especially the above-average in intelligence, might say it's impossible. Yet in the end, this little matter of the will is exactly - and all - that is required of us.
* I think the word is "first baseman."
** He was. I read in the news today that, "Scientists say the cat-sized animal's hind legs offer ... a breakthrough that could finally confirm Charles Darwin's theory of evolution." And the logic is perfect, to boot: if A is similar to B in X, then A descended from B or B descended from A.
*** the guy went to Princeton, for God's sake. They know as much about theology as their favorite son, Bernanke knows about economics: a lot, and all of it wrong.
**** Actually God said something like, "Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? I blowest mine nose at thee, thou no-brained wiper of other people's bottoms."
Saturday, May 16, 2009
May 14 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama, calling current deficit spending “unsustainable,” warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries....and not only because it's not in our best interest to do so. With world trade in the dumper and our associated deficit with China shrinking, where would they get $2 trillion a year to lend us*? It doesn't exist. But the risks have little to do with China specifically - that's just an Obamanite distraction** - or any other country. *Where* the money is borrowed from is not as important as how much needs to be borrowed, and how much needs to be borrowed limits the places it can be borrowed from. We can't sustain the current path under any circumstances.
“We can’t keep on just borrowing from China,” Obama said...
But then there's this:
The Treasury Department will make federal bailout funds available to a number of U.S. life insurers, acting on the embattled sector's long-running effort to get government help.So we can't keep deficit spending, yet we must keep finding new industries and companies to bail out with government money. We'll have $100 million, no $17 billion in budget cuts, while increasing last year's budget by 30%.
The Treasury is prepared to inject up to $22 billion into the insurers under the rescue plan launched last fall as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, said a person familiar with the matter.
It is either a very clever plan to put Americans to sleep by overwhelming their collective subconscious with contradictory data, or else they really don't know what they are doing and this whole engine is going to shake louder and louder until it suddenly blows apart.
The more I see, the more I'm convinced it's the latter. Or maybe I just have a headache.
* Even if they were stupid enough to do it. Besides with our total trade deficit with the whole world topping out at $800b, we would have to borrow 250% of the dollars we supply the world via trade. It's now running at a rate of ~$350b/yr. Whence come the dollars to lend us?
** You are getting veeeery sleepy
Friday, May 15, 2009
First, while comprehensive healthcare reform is needed, it must not further harm our nation’s financial condition. Doing so would send a signal that fiscal prudence is being ignored in the drive to meet societal wants, further mortgaging the country’s future.OK, so those aren't really solutions, and I think the esteemed Mr. Walker is focusing too much on sending signals. Socialists worry about signals, the rest of us need to worry about math. But the last sentence, what he's sending a signal about, is the important line, whether or not "our political system is not up to the task." And the question is not what the signal is, but what the reality is.
Second, failure by the federal government to create a process that would enable tough spending, tax and budget control choices to be made after we turn the corner on the economy would send a signal that our political system is not up to the task of addressing the large, known and growing structural imbalances confronting us.
And I note that Mr. Walker's proposed solution answers that question:
One way out of these problems is for the president and Congress to create a “fiscal future commission” where everything is on the table, including budget controls, entitlement programme reforms and tax increases. ...If it can achieve a predetermined super-majority vote on a package of recommendations, they should be guaranteed a vote in Congress.The creation of a commission to do the job that Congress should do, to make decisions that Congress cannot make, is an admission that the problems we face are of such a nature that the current political system cannot address them. In other words, our political system is not up to the task**.
Over the course of the last century and a half, progressives of various stripes have created a messianic government. That mission is about to fail, is in the very process of failing. The math can be ignored but not denied. The boomers are the last nail in the progressive coffin. I wonder if they can bring themselves to send the only signal that reflects that reality.
* David Walker is the former comptroller general of the US who has been screaming for half a decade that if we don't get our fiscal house in order, we are hosed. Well, we haven't. But he has more faith that he is wrong than I do.
** pick one task at random and nine times in ten it'll be something created in the early 20th Century by progressives and populists, not something the government was created to do anyway.
The Census Bureau is now going door to door with a 140,000 task force to collect the GPS locations of every front door of every house in this country. This has not been reported in the mainstream media. There is absolutely no need for them to have this information. It could be used however, for nefarious purposes...Look, I'm on board with those who cast a jaundiced eye at the government's efforts in this regard, but to say that it wasn't reported in the media or to spin this as some sort of Rahm Emmanuel-inspired idea to allow ACORN to take over the nation is a little much.
If only because state radio told you it was coming:
All Things Considered, July 31, 2006 · Two-and-a-half years from now, in early 2009, the Census Bureau plans to send an army of 100,000 temporary workers down every street and dusty, dirt road in America. They will be armed with handheld GPS devices.Personally, I'm not terribly worried about the government GPSing my front door. ASMs are too expensive to waste on my house. And for the census bureau to do its constitutionally-mandated job, "counting the whole number of persons in each state," well, one could argue that an accurate count demands that they record all the places those people live.
However, what really bothers is the expansion of the census into a convenient tool not for learning where you live, but how you live. If you are lucky enough to be "randomly selected" to fill out the long form, you'll be required on penalty of fine to tell the government things like:
Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting 6 months or more, does this person have any difficulty ... Dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home?or
How many people, including this person, usually rode to work in the car, truck, or van last week?All of which allow them to assemble summaries of Americans' propensities, like this.
Such obnoxiously intrusive questions, unlike recording the physical location of residences, have no constitutional justification whatsoever. So why are they recorded?
Because the census is no longer about the Constitution. It uses the Constitution as an excuse to organize Americans, or as Bastiat noted, "Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations."
Socialists of both parties.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is among those being considered by President Barack Obama to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, according to the Associated Press...If early indications prove true, Obama is not going to get too cute with the nominating process - no Clintons or Gores or Kerrys - and if Napolitano or Granholm is chosen, it just might move the court marginally to the right, both of them being relatively moderate in a Democrat sort of way.
Wouldn't it be ironic if this choice resulted in Obama
UPDATE: Yeah, that "one more Bush mess" thing was a little much, as I fully expect Obama would and could outmess either Bush at nearly everything. But good grief, he's going to have to work very hard to pick a worse judge than Souter.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
WASHINGTON - Medicare will go broke in eight years if nothing is done to fix it because of the tanking economy and rising health care costs, a new report warns...I love the part about "if nothing is done to fix it," because it was just fixed a couple years ago. Not only was it fixed by the Republicans*, but this same Boehner who complains about reckless borrowing and spending voted for it. And it wasn't an accidental vote, Boehner marched around the country talking about how the GOP was going to fix Medicare once and for all, or at least for a long time. That was six short years ago.
The GOP used the dire news to pounce on President Obama for his "reckless borrowing and spending spree" that the White House hopes will bring the country out of recession.
"His policies are putting our kids and grandkids deeper" in the hole, said House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The GOP knew then it was bad math and they knew it would fail catastrophically, but the GOP party structure wanted to give Bush a victory, one that would create a permanent GOP majority and cement Bush's legacy forever. Well, they got their victory.
I hope it was worth it.
* With several notable exceptions. Ron Paul is obviously one. Jim Ryun is another. A few weeks before the vote, Ryun told me privately about the tremendous pressure he was under to vote for this Bush-led initiative. That conversation was probably the biggest factor in my giving up once and for all on the GOP.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
WASHINGTON (Oct 23, 2008) - Federal Reserve board member Elizabeth Duke said today that the Hope for Homeowners (H4H) program, a $300 billion mortgage refinance program launched earlier this month, is nearly ready to become operational.H4H was actually the first of what have become quarterly rescues of the housing market by Congress. Weighing in at a svelte* $300 billion, it was going to help "as many as 400,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure." It was dreamed up last March, signed into law last July**, and became "operational" in November of last year. So now that this year is nearly half over, how's it doing?
Washington (May 7, 2009) - As the Obama administration attempts to turn around the beleaguered Hope for Homeowners program to fight foreclosures, it faces a nettlesome new headache. The primary lender involved is under investigation by the Department of Justice.No, you are reading that wrong. Six months into a $300 billion housing rescue designed to keep 400 thousand houses out of foreclosure, the number of completed loans is...
Senior federal housing officials say that of 51 loans made under the program, 50 were made by Melville, N.Y.-based Lend America, and those 50 loans are being held up pending ongoing federal investigations...
* Yes, it really does cost the government $750,000 to keep a $200,000 home out of foreclosure. Do the math.
** And therefore easy to blame on George Bush. However, as the Act was written by Chris Dodd and implemented jointly by the Fed and the FHA, there's plenty of blame to go around.
Monday, May 11, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With the economy performing worse than hoped, revised White House figures point to deepening budget deficits, with the government borrowing almost 50 cents for every dollar it spends this year.It's the "structural imbalance" part that makes the current situation as hopeless as it is unsustainable. In the middle of a recession, who has $2 trillion lying around that they'll be able to lend Uncle Sam? The Chinese? Hardly. How about the Japanese? Nope, no money. How about OPEC? Russia? Yeah, right.
The deficit for the current budget year will rise by $89 billion to above $1.8 trillion -- about four times the record set just last year. The unprecedented red ink flows from the deep recession, the Wall Street bailout, the cost of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill, as well as a structural imbalance between what the government spends and what it takes in.
It's not just the $2 trillion this year that is literally unborrowable because it doesn't exist. It the $2 trillion next year as well, and the year after that. The only option is to print it out of nothing, either by domestic banks creating the money to buy debt, or by literally printing currency and spending it. I'm going to bet it's the former, not only because Uncle Sam doesn't like people using cash, but because $2 trillion is literally unmanageble*. It's 2 thousand billion, 2 million million, 2 thousand thousand thousand thousand dollar bills sitting around to be stolen**. It's impossible for the human mind to grasp how much money that is. Or how little it's likely to be worth.
Real nations don't do this, because countries that spend twice as much money as they take in are not countries for long. Oh, their borders might remain the same and maybe the country even keeps its name, like Mexico or Italy.
But everything else changes. And not in a good way.
* Plus, then the banks can collect taxpayer-funded interest in perpetuity for having the foresight to create money from nothing and lend it to the government.
** Which is, ironically, probably the most economically useful thing that could happen to them.
Friday, May 08, 2009
All this talk about “green shoots” is out of control. It’s become the go-to oh-aren’t-I-clever analogy for signs of economic recovery.Well, two things I suppose ought to be said about it. The first is that there is no "seems to imply." It's saying it flat out. If you have an economy that runs on confidence instead of money and math, then all reality is transformed by clever phrases, animal spirits, and happy thoughts. The very phrase "green shoots" is designed to paint a specific mental and emotional picture. It's not condescending, it's science. Just ask an economist.
It’s obnoxious. It’s factually inaccurate. And it must be stopped! ...
“I am sick of it!” Peter Cohan, founder of management-consulting and venture-capital firm Peter S. Cohan & Associates, said of the term. “[I]t’s condescending because it oversimplifies what is really happening and it seems to imply that just by using a clever phrase, the reality will somehow be transformed.”
But secondly, the whole "are there green shoots?" debate is silly. Even in the worst of times, there is always good news, something you can find hope in. In the best of times, there is always bad news, necessary because it performs a task as valuable as the Praetorian guard: not to keep us safe but to remind us that we are mortal. There was never a time in which nothing bad could be said, there was never a time in which someone was not making a ton of money or having a good time or raising happy children.
The danger, of course, arises from treating green shoots like green cars, looking for only that data that reinforces your preconceptions and points to wished-for conclusions. Are there green shoots? Yes. Do they mean anything? Maybe. We'll know eventually.
* In true Bernanke fashion, while he popularized the term in its current iteration, he did not originate it. It was actually invented back in the early 90s by a British cabinet member whose name fortunately escapes me at the moment. He was sentenced to the House of Lords in 1998 anyway.
"[GM's labor problem is] an almost impossible dilemma," said former labor secretary Robert B. Reich, now a professor at the University of California-Berkeley. "GM is a global company -- so for that matter is AIG and the biggest Wall Street banks. That means that bailing them out doesn't necessarily redound to the benefit of the U.S. or American workers.I love how all these super duper smart former government people never bother to ask the question until they are former government people. When they are in government, they insist on bringing home every mangy kitten they find because, good golly, if these companies go out of business well that would be bad. And so without considering any possible adverse consequences, they spend all manner of taxpayer money to allow the company to keep doing the kinds of things that got it in trouble in the first place.
"More significantly, it raises fundamental questions about the purpose of bailing out these big companies. If GM is going to do more of its production overseas, then why exactly are we saving GM?"
"While paying a U.S. autoworker with benefits costs about $54 an hour, a South Korean worker earns about $22 an hour, a Mexican worker earns less than $10 an hour and some Chinese workers can earn as little as $3 an hour, industry sources said. "If US autoworkers demand more than $100,000 a year to do the same job a Mexican will do for a fifth of that, then they will lose those jobs, sooner or later, because the consumers have neither the responsibility nor the desire to support that wage differential*. You want to keep jobs here? Immediately halve the salary of US auto workers. They'll still be making more than the average accountant, and for a job that's a lot easier.
But be that as it may, Reich has finally stumbled onto the truth: there is almost no such thing as a national company anymore, at least not a company of any size. That means that any bailout coming from the government is guaranteed to hurt the people under that specific government without any guarantee that they will receive any benefit from it at all.
Then again, I suspect the people who are supposed to benefit are those who run the bailouts and their friends, anyway.
* Which is precisely why, in addition to being economically stupid, it's morally wrong to use tax dollars to "save" them. What the government is saying is that since you won't voluntarily pay that extra money for a car, we are going to take your money and give it to the carmaker anyway. Oh, and not give you a car.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
So anyway, I'm talking to Bethany this morning and she says that she's glad he wasn't born yesterday, because if he was a Cinco de Mayo baby, she thought I might speak to him only in Spanish. Do I seem like the kind of grandfather who would let the calendar get in the way de hablando con me nieto? No soy este typo, por supuesto.
* my time, which was still yesterday Hawaii time. Or something.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Mike Lockwood, a solar terrestrial physicist at the University of Southampton in the U.K. ... and other researchers are therefore engaged in what they call "preemptive denial" of a solar minimum leading to global cooling.But that's not really the funny part**. The funny part is the "math" by which Lockwood justifies this pre-emptive denial:
Even if the current solar lull is the beginning of a prolonged quiet, the scientists say, the star's effects on climate will pale in contrast with the influence of human-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).Wow, I'm impressed. A few hundredths of a percent is a really, really small number. Almost meaningless***, to be sure. But CO2 makes up three hundredths of one percent of the atmosphere. So even if it were 50-60% higher than normal, that increase is at most a few hundredths of one percent, which I have on good authority is a very, very small number.
"I think you have to bear in mind that the CO2 is a good 50 to 60 percent higher than normal, whereas the decline in solar output is a few hundredths of one percent down," Lockwood said. "I think that helps keep it in perspective."
Perspective is an amazing thing, is it not?
* Which party was kicked off by weather-induced mass starvation across Europe, as well as the Black Plague and the Hundred Years' War. A good time was had by all.
** Funny, sure. And you have to admire the audacity. I suspect he'll still be clinging to his dogma when the glaciers roll over his house.
*** Except for all those dead people from last time, but whatever.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Monday, May 04, 2009
The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself...Wow, I am so so so surprised.
“The more they look at it,” said one official, “the more commissions don’t look as bad as they did on Jan. 20.”
The reason they don't look "as bad" as they did before inauguration day is because when your opponent is the epitome of evil, everything he does is bad and done for bad reasons. Now that it's your guy who faces the same problem*, I guess he can offer up the same solution, but it will be a good thing done for a good reason.
After all, intention is all that matters, right?
* The inevitable problem that arises from bringing the world's criminals back to your own soil.
WASHINGTON — The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”Sure, because "cap and cash back" is so much less confusing than "cap and trade."
The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.
Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”
Back when I was a big iron coding geek, we had a problem with our users. It wasn't that they were bad people, most of them were really nice, and pretty smart to boot. We* just found ourselves unable to to properly prioritize the work they needed done, we overpromised and underbudgeted, we did a lot of things that caused friction and not a few bad feelings between us and them. And so something had to change.
IT management held a series of retreats to examine the problems, the frustrations, and the possible solutions, and shortly thereafter proposed a brilliant solution: "Users" would henceforth be referred to as "Clients." Sure, there were a lot of reasons for it - "user" had drug connotations, "client" better represented how we wished to treat them - but it all came down to the belief that there was not actually anything wrong with the substance of how management was managing, what was wrong was everyone else's perception of how they were managing.
The granola sloganeers fail to realize that global warming fosters images of "shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes" because that's its substance**. If you change "global warming" to "climate change" or "Global Climate Progress" or even "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism," the movement will still be filled with smelly hippies and bad math. It will only take a few months or years until the new euphemism has just as bad a reputation as the old one.
Which is why once "clients" became as bad a word as "user" had been - that took about 6 months - IT management was forced back to the drawing board, this time to really struggle to grasp and solve the underlying problem. After a few more retreats they unveiled a solution as daring as it was effective: "clients" would henceforth be known as "customers."
* "We" as in the IT Department and specifically IT management. Sure, they were probably at least partly at fault, but we worked for them, so it was our responsibility to fix.
** The same dynamic is in play with the GOP as well.
STAMFORD, Conn. -- World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. today declared the Company’s regular quarterly dividend of $0.36 per share on its Class A shares of common stock. As previously announced, members of the McMahon family have waived $0.12 per share of the dividends. As a result, all Class A and Class B shares owned by the McMahon family will instead receive dividends in the amount of $0.24 per share.If Vince were a real CEO, he'd give himself a fat salary*, no-cash-required options, and a golden parachute. But since he's a capitalist, he's paying his shareholders 50% more in dividends than he's paying his own family. If there was ever a better illustration of the difference between a capitalist and a manager, I haven't seen it.
* $850k is not peanuts, but it is less than what quite a few of his wrestlers and his VP of television production earn.
Friday, May 01, 2009
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - More Mid-South women are arming themselves, fed up with feeling vulnerable to violence...Ms. Zeno has summed up much of the liberal opposition to guns in one phrase, but quite possibly found the solution in the another. Guns are "nerve-racking" to people who haven't used them; they are magical devices that inspire fear and make people do bad things. But they are also empowering*, and what does a liberal like more than being empowered? If you want to help a liberal overcome his irrational fear of guns, don't argue, take him - or more likely her - shooting.
And now women are deciding to take weapons classes and arm themselves, including Daron Zeno.
Zeno decided to take a class at Rangemaster in Hickory Hill to learning to handle a revolver and a 9mm.
"It's definitely a nerve racking situation, holding a gun and shooting it," says Zeno. "But it's definitely empowering too."
* If one is able to overcome the fear, of course. If not, then one will never gain enough experience to master the tool.