Friday, January 29, 2010

More on Tim Tebow

Ok, so I’m not thrilled about Tim’s upcoming Super Bowl ad and I find the bible references on his eye blacks (something the NCAA might have done something about and I’m hoping the NFL will do something about) annoying.

You will notice that I’m assuming he will play in the NFL. I assume that because although he’s a fundy airhead, he’s a pretty good football player.

I’m sort of wondering how he would fit in with the Giants. The Giants don’t really have someone that could be effective out of the Wildcat formation. Tim might just fit that role quite nicely as well as be a sometimes tight end or slot receiver.

With both Manning and Tebow in the formation, the defense would never know whether a shift into the Wildcat was coming or whether they were going to have to worry about Tim going out on a pass pattern. That could really be fun to watch.

Besides, can you imagine Tebow in the Big Apple? That could really be fun to watch too.

I suspect that Coughlin has too many other problems he needs to address and is too conservative a coach to go for something like this, but then again, hey, ya never know.

More on the Tim Tebow Ad

Apparently the overwhelming majority of folks don’t see a problem with the Tim Tebow anti-abortion ad to be aired during the Super Bowl.

They are entitled to their opinion but I respectfully disagree for two reasons.

The first is that you are not entitled to exercise your right of free speech on anything at anytime or anywhere. I can think of any number of situations where it would be inappropriate, disrespectful or downright rude.

I consider this case downright rude. I’d like to enjoy the game. I don’t mind advertisements which claim they can improve my enjoyment of life such as beer and car commercials (probably because I’m used to them). I do object to political propaganda. I would object just as strongly to an ad by Choice supporters or Gay Marriage advocates.

My second objection is the sponsoring organization. Regardless of whether the ad is tastefully done as CBS whines, one has to consider the source and what the source stands for. Would CBS air a tastefully done ad submitted by the American Nazi Party or the KKK? Somehow I doubt it.

What Focus on the Family advocates is as objectionable to many Americans as what the American Nazis or the KKK advocate. They would deny other women the right to make the choice that Pam Tebow had full freedom to make; they would relegate gays to second class citizenship and they would happily dismantle the separation of church and state and establish a Christian pre-eminence.

You will excuse me, but Focus on the Family can go to hell. I’d rather not be subjected to their mutterings while I’m trying to enjoy myself. In the same vein, Pam and Tim might want to reconsider the company they're keeping.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Best Medical Care System in the World?

On September 11, 2009, I made the following statement in a post related to Obama’s promises about Health Care Reform:

“The next time some right wing yahoo claims that our health care system is the envy of the world and Obama is trying to destroy it, tell him to STFU and check the facts.”

Well, Governor Bob McDonnell came pretty close last night in his response to Obama’s State of the Union address when he said:

“Most Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government."

I’m sure the French would agree since, the last time I looked, the World Health Organization (WHO) rated their medical care system the best in the world. Where are we ranked you ask? We’re ranked 37th, just behind Costa Rica.

McDonnell is entitled to his opinion about the US “medical care system” but the facts appear to tell a different story.

As stated above, the US is ranked 37th in health care by the WHO. We’re just behind Costa Rica and just ahead of Slovenia. France is 1st; we’re 37th. Japan is 10th; we’re 37th. Saudi Arabia is 26th; we’re 37th. Chile is 33rd; we’re 37th. Dominica, a freaking 291 square mile island nation in the Caribbean, is 35th; we’re 37th.

WTF Bob? Does this look like we have to worry about being knocked out of the #1 position? Or do you figure the WHO is part of a Left Wing conspiracy hell bent upon destroying our health care dominance?

One caveat here. These ranking are a bit old. The last time the WHO did this was in 2000 but there's no reason to expect that the US has improved. As a matter of fact in factors being measure, such as preventable deaths, the US appears to be falling further behind.

One of the major factors taken into account in considering the adequacy of health care is the rate of preventable deaths per 100,000 people. In a 2002-2003 study of 19 industrialized nations supported by the Commonwealth Fund the United States placed dead last. Allow me to repeat that, dead goddamned last. Worse, as alluded to above, the US declined from its 1997-1998 ranking by having the smallest improvement. In those five years nations such as Finland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal passed the US by.

Now let’s talk about infant mortality rate. You know, that thing that’s such a big problem in third world countries? Well the U.S. is ranked 46th according to the CIA World Factbook. Would you like a list of some of the 45 countries that do better? How about Cuba at 44th, Portugal at 30th, Slovenia at 19th, the Czech Republic at 14th, Hong Kong at 5th and Singapore at #1.

Or do you figure the CIA is a part of the same Left Wing conspiracy as the WHO?

Please explain to me how these statistics translate into “the best medical care system in the world?”

But you know, by now I expect Republicans to lie. But it would have been nice if the media, that so diligently reported McDonnell’s statement, also provided the facts.

There’s actually a second lie in that one sentence. The second lie is that the federal government wants to take over health care. No Bob, the federal government wants to REGULATE health care and establish standards for health insurance in the same way that it regulates air travel and establishes standards for aircraft safety. The FAA doesn’t own the airlines nor build the aircraft but it sure as hell dictates the rules and regulations under which they operate.

Why shouldn’t health care be regulated by the federal government as well? A bad health insurance policy can kill you just as dead as an unsafe aircraft. Or do you think we should de-regulate the air travel industry?

We can argue about the positives and negatives of government regulation all you want, but let’s at least be accurate about the objective here. Obama isn’t trying to “turn over” the health care system to the federal government, he’s trying to establish regulations and standards in order to (1) reduce health care costs because one thing we are undoubtedly #1 in is the cost of health care, (2) improve the access to, and the efficiency of, health care so we can move up from that 37 spot and (3) extend health insurance to the almost 50 million Americans who don’t have any. By the way Bob, when one of those 50 million gets sick, guess who ends up paying for their care? We do Bob, you and me and everyone else.

Tell you what Bob, before you come up with answers or say that the president’s answers are the wrong ones, how about you figure out what the questions are.

Ok, I’ve finished ranting and raving. I realize McDonnell had to toe the party line but that’s part of the problem. The party line has become more important than the welfare of the country because the party line has become more important than the truth.

The funny thing is I tend to agree with McDonnell’s general theme that the government is trying to do too much. Let’s leave Iraq; that should free up some time and money.

I also violently disagree with McDonnell and the Republicans about the Bush tax cuts. They were an absolute disaster and part of the reason we’re in the budget hole we’re in. They have got to go.

I don’t expect anything to change in Washington as a result of Obama’s speech. It’s going to take more than rhetoric to change things.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Drifting toward an American Fascist State

The US is drifting toward fascism. A small minority is advocating it; a larger portion is being suckered in by the lies and misinformation and an even larger portion just simply can’t be bothered to worry about it because American Idol is on.

When I say fascism I’m referring to a highly Authoritarian Right Wing philosophy that is quite willing to tell you how to live, how to behave and what to think. Non-conformists will not be welcome. Gays, artists, atheists and progressives will have no place in the public discourse and science will be displaced by dogma.

The problem as I see it is the limited patience of the American public.

We have been indoctrinated by television that everything gets solved within a half hour. At worst, if there are bad guys or suspicious diseases involved, it takes an hour. We growl and get belligerent whenever we don’t get instant gratification of our every whim.

In other words we’re spoiled rotten.

We’ve been living beyond our means for far too long. We’re too lazy to check facts and have allowed ourselves to be led around by those who have the audacity to tell the lies that we want to hear.

If you say it loud enough and often enough you will get people to believe it. If enough people believe it, then it’s as good as being true. We’ve allowed demagogues who couldn’t care less about the truth, as long as they have good ratings, to control our public discourse while the “mainstream media” grovels at the false god of “even handed reporting” because it has begun to believe the constant barrage of charges that it’s “liberal biased.” Since when has “truth” been a liberal monopoly? Oh yeah, that’s right, ever since the Right became the Religious Right.

A lie is still a lie. A distortion is still a distortion and spin doctoring is still spin doctoring. Those pitching the lies and distortions always have the advantage. It’s always easier to develop bald faced assertions than it is to demonstrate WHY such statements are total crap.

Lies are also more effective because they’re simpler, prettier or scarier. A lie can be made simple, attractive or frightening, or even some combination of the three, depending upon the objective of the lie. The truth is constrained by reality and is often far more complicated.

Most Americans find it easier to listen to the pretty lies than to put in the effort to understand the truth even if they get the opportunity to hear the truth which is becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Bad news sells better than good news and the loud bald faced assertions that you want to hear are more entertaining than the sometimes tedious factual analysis that you may not want to hear. If you want good ratings and good advertising revenues, then accentuate the negative and the easy to understand attractive lies because it sells better. Now that virtually all “news outlets” have become “entertainment outlets,” we’re treated to a constant stream of bad news, scary crap and flattering lies designed to keep us in a constant state of fear, trepidation and indignation.

This is precisely the state in which weak men begin looking for a strong leader; they need a father figure to make it all ok again. American fascists have gone one better, they’re not offering a mere man as the father figure, but a god.

Jesus is going to make it all better. Just put your faith in Jesus and do what we tell you, because we know what he wants you to do, and everything will be just fine.

Christianity has been preying on the young, the ignorant and the frightened since its beginning. The meme is even designed to create the frightened with its threat of eternal damnation and torture. Of course that’s too obscure, and a bit of overkill, for most Americans. All you have to do to frighten them is imply that they might not be able to buy that spiffy new I-Pod; all you need to do to get them indignant is imply that someone is trying to pick their pocket or is threatening their freedom.

Throwing around the word Socialism is always effective especially since so many Americans don’t have the faintest idea what Socialism is or how much they depend upon the socialist aspects of our mixed system.

The pathetic part is that the people most successful at picking their pockets, and would like nothing better than to eliminate those freedoms altogether, are the ones being listened to. The American Public is great at missing the forest for the trees. We seem to be incapable of seeing the big picture. That’s what a limited attention span does to you. If it can’t be explained in a 10 second sound bite, then no one is willing to expend the time or effort necessary to let it sink in through the bone.

We seem unable to differentiate the trivial from the substantive. We seem more than willing to happily accept superficial short term satisfaction without considering that it might lead to ultimate long term destruction.

There is a whole lot of F-A-I-L out there at the moment and I don’t see any way to make it better anytime soon. Sharpen those combat knives, oil up the old AKM and check your stock of 7.62 mm ammo because the scene might be coming sooner than you think.

Anti-abortion Super Bowl Ad

Focus on the family has put together sufficient dollars to buy time for a Super Bowl ad featuring Tim Tebow and his mother.

The gist of the ad was that Tim’s mother Pam ignored doctor’s advice to abort her fifth pregnancy due to an illness and gave birth to Tim.

I think it’s a great story, I respect Pam’s decision and I’m glad Tim is around. But, and this is the big but, it was Pam’s decision. Nobody dictated to her what she had to do. She listened to the doctor’s advice and then made her decision.

There was no one trying to pass legislation to limit her right to make that decision. No one was pushing “protect the mothers” laws that would force her to abort her pregnancy due to a danger to herself.

Pam, Tim and the folks at Focus on the Family are entitled to their opinion that abortion is bad. I tend to agree with them. However I know that lurking behind the fa├žade of opinion is the specter of coercion, and that ultimately the objective is to establish legislation that would limit the freedom of other women to make their decision.

CBS should not air the ad. Personally I’d prefer not to be bombarded with political propaganda while watching the Super Bowl.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV

So the teams are set. It’s New Orleans vs. Indianapolis. I ended up 5-5 in my picks during the playoffs. It was just about what one could expect picking the games randomly.

So the pressure is on. I need to get the Super Bowl prediction right.

I think New Orleans used up most of its good luck tokens against the Vikings and Manning was absolutely spectacular against the Jets. I can’t bet against Peyton. I’m going with the Colts.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Great Quote

This from a fundamentalist Christian.

"...no amount of 'evidence' can convince me anything the Bible says is incorrect. It is written, we walk by faith, and not by sight."

Now explain to me how we can have meaningful dialogues with morons like this one? And we let them vote! Heaven help us.

Idiot America Part 2

I continue to work my way through “Idiot America” by Charles Pierce. Nothing Pierce has talked about has been something I wasn’t aware of, although his descriptions of the Terri Shiavo affair contained details that I didn’t know, but seeing them addressed one after the other is downright depressing.

Now we can add Health Care Reform to the back of the list.

Although Pierce hasn’t articulated it this way, what he has been describing can best be understood as an “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit” strategy. Or, perhaps a better description would be, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

The big problem of course is that the strategy has been used, and continues to be used, to divert the American public from the truth while the media nods its head and smiles idiotically like one of those bobbing head dolls in the back of a car with lousy shocks going over a dirt road.

It’s a battle of facts vs. fiction, science vs. marketing. The problem is that facts and science are constrained by reality while fiction and marketing know no bounds. I can make fiction anything I want. I can make it attractive; I can make it frightening; I can even make it a combination of the two if that’s what suits my purpose.

The fundamental problem in American politics today is that the Democrats still believe its all about facts and issues while the Republicans have figured out its all about marketing and public relations.

This is not to say that the Democrats are always right and the Republicans always wrong. There are in fact real questions and issues that need to be addressed and a lot to talk about particularly when it comes to things like the federal budget and the national debt.

The problem is that it’s so much easier to “baffle them with bullshit” and so hard to convince them with facts, especially when the facts are often against you. Success is addictive and breeds more of the same tactic.

Until of course you get caught in a lie and nailed. But even that’s ok. Because the American public has a short memory, an even shorter attention span, and will happily allow the same folks they caught lying yesterday to fool them again today if what they're pitching is well packaged, more attractive, and easier to understand than that messy unpleasant stuff called truth and reality.

The average American is an idiot; the average American wants to be fooled because being fooled allows existence in a pleasant fantasy. “We have the best health care system in the world,” “global warming isn’t a problem,” “socialism is going to take money from me, the working man, and give it to the welfare cheats” and “Jesus is going to come back and take me to heaven” are all examples of being fooled.

The realities are that our health care system is the most expensive and one of the most inefficient in the industrial world. Its rising costs are also what is driving the budget deficit.

Global warming is a big problem and its going to get bigger so we damned well better start worrying what, if anything, we can do about it.

Socialism tends to take money away from the so-called rich and redistribute it to the working man. It this particular case the “rich” would be those folks, like corporate CEOs, who have unfairly managed to divert much of the production profit to themselves rather than sharing it with the people actually producing the product. Think Wall Street bonuses if you need an example. The people who are fighting things like health care reform the loudest would probably benefit the most.

Last, but not least, Jesus isn’t coming back, ever. Religion, and especially Christianity, is the single biggest con job of them all. It basically convinces you to trade benefits in the here and now for promised rewards after you die. Of course, as a further incentive, Christianity throws in a good old dose of fear.

Like I said, I can make fiction both attractive and frightening at the same time if that’s what suits my purpose.

The Rifle Scopes Part 3

General Petraeus has called the Biblical references on the rifle sights provided by Trijicom “disturbing” and has issued his assurance “that there is much greater sensitivity among our troopers about this kind of thing than, apparently, there is in whatever contractor produced those sights."

Petraeus might want to take a closer look at his chaplain corps since from what I’ve heard it’s not clear that some of them have “much greater sensitivity,” or any sensitivity for that matter, about this kind of thing at all.

In the meantime Tijicom has promised to terminate the practice and to supply 100 modification kits to allow the Pentagon to remove the plates on weapons already deployed. They have also offered to supply the same kits to foreign forces, such as New Zealand and Australia, who also use the rifle sights.

Sounds like the right resolution to an unfortunate situation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three Things

The first is that New Zealand, which also uses the rifle sights from Trijicon with the Bible references, has stated it was unaware of the codes, has instructed the company not to include them on future orders and has decided to remove the codes from the sights it has. Australia is assessing the situation as is the Pentagon.

The second is the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, eliminating the restrictions on companies financing their own commercials for political candidates claiming that it was an infringement of free speech. Did you ever notice how, according to the Robert’s court, the wealthy have more rights than anyone else?

And the third is Cindy McCain posing for a pro-gay marriage No on Prop 8 commercial. Hubby John says that while he respects his wife’s opinion, he still opposes gay marriage. I say, you go girl!

Is Health Care Reform Dead?

With Scott Brown’s victory Tuesday Republicans in general, and Brown in particular, appear to be composing Health Care Reform’s obituary.

My first question is why are they so happy about this? Do they have a better idea? If they do, they’ve haven’t articulated it. They’ve managed to fool a part of the electorate that somehow Health Care Reform is a nefarious plot to pick their pockets.

Unfortunately they’ve done so through unsupported assertions, loud shouting and fear mongering so it’s unclear to me exactly what their issues are.

My Representative, Scott Garrett, keeps sending me e-mails claiming that it’s time for “real reform,” but he never explains what that is.

In an MSNBC impromptu poll, 72% of the respondents said that the public has clearly lost faith in Health Care Reform and the Democrats should abandon it.

Yet Health Care Reform is at the core of getting the Federal Budget Deficit under control; getting the budget deficit under control is at the core of reducing the National Debt and reducing the National Debt is at the core of creating a long term stable and strong economy.

Ordinary men do what is popular. Leaders do what they believe is right regardless of what is popular. Based upon the e-mail I got last night, Obama appears determined to press forward with Health Care Reform because he believes it is right.

I believe it’s the right thing to do as well. In fact it’s more than the right thing; it’s the necessary thing.

That Obama and the Democrats have screwed this pooch royally is undeniable. The question is whether or not the damage is fatal. Congress doesn’t have all that many leaders but it does have an abundance of cowards, and cowards head for shelter at the first signs of a storm.

The clock can’t be turned back so wishing things had been handled better is a waste of effort. I suspect that any meaningful Health Care Reform is pretty much finished. We might get a token bill, but that’s about it.

In the long term I think we’re pretty much screwed. I expect the Republicans to make huge gains in the 2010 elections and most likely manage to win the 2012 Presidential Election.

I don’t think the country can survive another Republican administration. You think this past recession was bad? You haven’t seen anything yet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Skeleton in the Closet

You know the old joke about how in every family there is something that nobody wants to talk about? Something that everyone simply ignores and hopes that it will go away?

Well, we Americans have one of those. It’s the problem that nobody wants to talk about. It’s a problem that politicians in particular don’t want to talk about because it means weighing equally unpopular options.

This is not a Democratic issue; it is not a Republican issue; it is not a Right Wing issue or a Left Wing issue. It is however an issue that every parent or grandparent should be concerned about. It is an issue that everyone who hopes to have a pleasant retirement should be concerned about.

It should be an issue that we, as a supposedly intelligent electorate, should be demanding be addressed.

The current National Debt is approximately $12 trillion. Yes that is trillion with a “T” and not a mere billion with a “B.” There are currently around 300 million people in the United States. Do the math. The debt represents a liability of $40,000 for every man woman and child in the country.

And it’s not about to get much better any time soon.

Before one can determine the solution to a problem, one must understand the nature of the problem and the factors driving that problem.

The National Academies Press has recently published the results of a joint study between the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) entitled “Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future” which address the nature of the National Debt problem and explores potential paths to avert catastrophe.

Allow me to quote from the summary.

“Over the long term, three major programs-Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security-account for the projected faster growth in federal spending relative to revenues.”

In other words what’s driving the federal budget deficit is the rising cost of health care and Social Security.

“The rapid growth of federal spending for health care is the largest contributor to the nation’s long-term fiscal challenge.”

So while Social Security is a problem, it’s not nearly as big a problem as the rising cost of health care.

“No reasonable foreseeable rate of economic growth would overcome this structural deficit.”

Trying to grow the economy, either with a Keynesian stimulus package or, the Supply Side approach, with massive tax cuts for the rich and famous is not going to solve the problem.

“Thus any efforts to rein in future deficits must entail either large increases in taxes to support these programs or major constraints on their growth-or some combination of the two.”

Most likely the least painful approach would be to first get health care under control and then raise taxes. The only questions are “how” and “by how much.”

Please note that this is precisely what Obama is trying to do and what the Republicans are fighting tooth and nail against. Both the House and Senate bills address limiting the rate of Medicare cost increases.

And they do so without “Death Panels.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that either the House or Senate bill would lead to over $130 billion in budget reductions over the next 10 years and then continued reductions for the next decade although the CBO appears to believe that the Senate version would have greater budget reductions in the next decade than the House bill.

Please also note why the so-called Tea Party types don’t understand the problem. They are saying “cut taxes” and “don’t you dare touch my Medicare” at the same time. This is 180 degrees out of phase with what the National Academies is saying needs to be done.

I guess you could cut taxes and gut Medicare but I doubt anyone would be in favor of that.

Allow me to explain this very carefully. These people are adamantly opposed to legislation which would address what they claim is their primary concern, limiting the growth in government spending. Why? Because they’ve bought into the Fox News bullshit.

Allow me to explain this very carefully also. Fox News is not interested in the welfare of the country or the welfare of the middle class and working class people they try to inflame. They are a front for the fat cat Pro-business branch of the Republican Party.

If you simply assume that everything Fox News tells you about politics and economics is designed to pick your pocket and make some rich guy richer, you’ll be on pretty safe ground.

Please also note that the situation we’re in is also not being adequately explained to the American Public.

I thought the CNN reporter that tried to explain to the Tea Party protester that he was protesting against his own best interest, and got crucified for “not being impartial,” was right to do what she did. Who ever said that “balanced reporting” meant not telling the American Public the truth?

This is where the media has abdicated its responsibility. We all have day jobs and families to take care of so a little help here would be appreciated guys. If you folks could just raise a flag when there's something we need to know and then give us the straight scoop, it would help a lot.

I believe there are enough Americans with enough intelligence and education to understand the situation if someone would explain it properly. After all, this is a lot simpler than evolution and, according to Pew Research, 61% of the population accepts that.

Most of the guns and religion crowd is probably not going to believe those elitist experts from the NAS and NAPA and will listen to the nonsense that Fox News broadcasts anyway. If we get enough people to understand the problem, and the rationale behind the solution, we can safely ignore them while they groan and yell in the outer darkness. We can relegate them to the fringe rather than the mainstream.

What we need around here is a real life “Ignore List.”

Don’t take my word for this. Please go and read the report for yourself at http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12808&page=R1

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Situation in Haiti

The earthquake in Haiti has apparently completely devastated portions of that country. American and UN troops have been dispatched in order to help distribute aid and help try and restore order.

American troops have occupied the presidential palace area and have taken over operation of the airport in Port-au-Prince. The US military has managed to expand airport operations from the pre-quake volume of 3 flights per week to 100 flights a day. They are also in the process of improving two other airports, one in the Haitian town of Jacmal and the other in the Dominican Republic, to accept additional aid flights. American Airlines says it has warehouses full of relief supplies that it is unable to fly into Port-au-Prince.

The UN has approved increasing its forces in Haiti from 7,000 troops and 2,100 police to 9,000 troops and 3,600 police as law and order in the capitol appears to have completely collapsed. There are reports that looting is rampant and that some locals have been forced to form night brigades armed with machetes to fight off bandits.

The US military has deferred peacekeeping and policing activities to the UN forces but says that its troops have been instructed that they may defend themselves or Haitian civilians should the need arise. Offshore there are an additional 2,000 US Marines and the Pentagon has indicated that more troops are on the way to help distribute aid. Italy, Spain and Venezuela have indicated that they are also sending naval ships to the area.

It’s difficult to say for certain but the current estimates are that some 200,000 people have been killed, an additional 250,000 injured and up to 1.5 million made homeless by the quake.

If those numbers are even close to accurate, the rescue task is going to be almost impossible. How do you cope with a disaster of this magnitude? I guess you simply put your head down and go to it. I sent $100 to the Red Cross but that’s utterly insignificant in the face of this calamity. I better send some more.

Bible Codes on Rifle Sights

ABC News has reported that optical rifle sights supplied to the U.S. Military by a Michigan company called Trijicon contain bible codes attached to their serial numbers.

The codes are in the same font as the serial numbers and reference New Testament passages such as John 8:12 which says “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

Now that’s hardly what I would call a non-sectarian message. I would say it’s especially inappropriate because the sights are used on rifles issued to Iraqi and Afghanistan military personnel during training.

The company has responded that it has always included the codes and that it is not doing anything illegal. Army and Marine spokesmen claim that they were unaware of the codes.

This is just another example of Christians who think it is acceptable for them to ignore the principle of the separation of church and state.

I think the government should insist that either Trijicon stop the inscriptions or their contract should be canceled. For those sights already delivered, the company should be forced to exchange them for sights without codes on its own nickel.

I’m betting that the military does absolutely nothing other than maybe insisting that new sights have the codes removed and I’m not even sure they’ll do that.

What’s going wrong?

The Democrats are in big trouble. If you can’t even hold onto Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, something is terribly wrong in Denmark and in the Democratic Party as well.

One problem is that it’s always easier for the opposition to make points than the guy in charge. The guy in charge has to actually accomplish something and the opposition just has to criticize but it goes beyond that.

Basically the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to frame the issues and monopolize the debate. The whole Health Care Reform effort is turning into a catastrophe for the Democrats.

I’m going to say it again; they went about it the wrong way. The first thing they needed to do was sell the necessity to the American people. They failed to do that. They assumed that everyone “knew” that reform was necessary.

The second thing they failed to do was follow Galan’s advice and first insure that they “did no harm” and convince the public of that.

The third thing they did wrong was give the impression that they were rushing into a very complex issue with little or no professional preparation. The fact that the House and Senate ended up so far apart was, I believe, partly do to this. The bottom line is they radiated the impression that ANY Health Care bill was better than none and I don’t think the electorate bought that position. I know I didn’t.

The fourth thing they did wrong was to not seriously address the very realistic concerns about the impact on the budget deficit and the national debt. I don’t know if the strategy here was “maybe if we don’t mention it no one will notice” or what but it sure as hell didn’t work. By not aggressively addressing the issue they gave the impression that they were out of touch with reality and maybe they were.

But, the single biggest thing they did wrong, was they did not clearly articulate to the American what their objectives were. "Health Care Reform" was far too nebulous a concept. They didn't lay out in black and white "WHAT THIS WILL MEAN TO YOU!" and they didn't reinforce the message every three and a half minutes like the Republicans reinforced their negative message.

Basically they screwed the pooch big time and now we’re all about to pay for it. I don’t see things changing drastically in the immediate future. Even if they manage to get a health bill passed we’ll be blessed with a steady barrage from the Right about all the things wrong with it and the catastrophe that’s going to occur when it goes into effect. Some of those charges may even be true.

The bottom line is a disastrous 2010 mid-term elections which may well reverse control of Congress. That’ll mean two years of virtually gridlock and the potential undoing of not only Health Care reform but the reforms in the financial sector as well.

I’m not all that optimistic about 2012 either. I might actually start considering supporting the least objectionable Republican in the field.

The NFL Championship Games

Clearly I can only get games on Saturday right. I’m 4-0 on the Saturday games and 0-4 on the Sunday games. Go figure. The bottom line is I’ve done no better than my pet goat Frankie who picks the games randomly.

Jets at Colts
The biggest surprise last weekend was the Jets. The bottom line appears to be you stop their running attack and force them to pass the ball on your terms rather than theirs or you’re in trouble. On the other side of the ball, you have to figure out a way to beat their defense.

It’s the defense that’s the key. Basically they forced Rivers into two big mistakes and that essentially decided the game. Peyton Manning isn’t Phillip Rivers but even he has been known to force a play or two when things aren’t going right and that could spell disaster.

If there was justice in the world, the Jets would beat the Colts. The Colts, by resting their starters in their game against the Jets in the regular season, may have given the Jets a second life. Now the Colts find them back and they’ll have to play them for real.

All logic says that the Colts win. Screw logic, J-E-T-S Jets, I’m going with Sanchez and Gang Green.

Vikings at Saints
I thought the Cowboys would take the Vikings or at least make it a close game. I was really surprised at how easily the Vikings shoved them aside. This is a really tough one. I’ve always thought that New Orleans was the team to beat in the NFC but now I’m not so sure.

Still, home field advantage and Brees slinging the ball around makes me lean toward the Saints. I’m taking New Orleans.

Eliminationism?

Eliminationism is a new term in my lexicon. I got it from the title of a book by David Neiwert entitled “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right.”

Basically Eliminationism is the view that you can’t negotiate with your opponents and the only solution is their elimination or isolation. Neiwert defines it as “a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.”

Neiwert appears to assert in his book that the American Right Wing more and more falls into this sort of rhetoric with the pundits on talk radio AM and the Fox News talking heads leading the charge. I haven’t read the book so I can’t say for certain but I’m willing to accept what the review and summary says it claims.

To the tu quoque response from conservatives that “liberal do it too,” Neiwert points out “they tend to focus on threatening talk toward an individual (think Cheney or Bush), not an entire category of human beings.”

In the meantime Neiwert asserts that “right-wing rhetoric has been explicitly eliminationist, calling for the infliction of harm on whole blocs of American citizens: liberals, gays and lesbians, Latinos, blacks, Jews, feminists, or whatever target group is the victim du jour of right-wing ire.”

Neiwert takes a swipe at liberals as well and claims they’re making a bad situation worse because they are “maddeningly and disturbingly intolerant of the ‘ignorance’ of their rural counterparts.”

So what do I think about this one?

Well, first of all, I haven’t heard Glenn Beck propose opening any concentration camps recently. I’m wondering if Neiwert is confusing calls for the elimination of the positions and policies espoused by certain groups with the elimination of the groups themselves.

That the right chooses rhetoric and loud shouting over reviewing the facts and then discussing the issues I certainly agree with but that’s probably because more often than not the facts are against them.

I have to plead guilty on being intolerant of ignorance because, given the resources available today, there is little or no excuse for that ignorance. I also plead guilty to being arrogant about my intelligence and education and looking down upon the yokels clinging to their religion and their guns. And I’m sure I’m about to prove it in the following paragraphs.

Before I get up on my soapbox allow me to clarify some definitions. When I talk about Right and Left here I’m really talking about people in the Authoritarian Right and Libertarian Left quadrants of the Political Compass since those are by far the largest groups in the American Political landscape.

The Left tends to be more evidence and logic based. The Right tends to be more dogma and emotion based. The Left is, on average, better educated, more intelligent and more affluent. The Right Wing slogan that sums it all up for me is “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

That slogan spells F-A-I-L in multiple ways but the key failure is mistaking “belief” for “knowledge.”

I’ve found that facts are funny things. It never ceases to amaze me how often the facts contradict what everyone always knew to be true. A pretty good rule is don’t believe what the shouting man says without checking the facts. And the louder he’s shouting, the faster you should be heading to check the facts. The bottom line is the Left understands this rule better than the right.

In September of 2008 I wrote about a story in the Washington Post related to a series of psychological experiments performed at Duke and Georgia State Universities. Rather than rewriting what I said then I’m simply going to quote from the previous post which was entitled “Evidence, Reality and Rationalization.”

“Those experiments appear to demonstrate that presenting evidence to someone refuting a belief can result in a ‘backfire effect’ that actually strengthens the belief! The research further indicated that this affect tends to occur with Conservatives but not Liberals.”

And therein lies part of the problem. Liberals are more fact oriented. Conservatives KNOW the right answer based upon their moral compass and the facts be damned. I saw a picture of a church sign once that said “If you have enough faith, the facts don’t matter.”

Of course the Left Wing slogan “Don’t pray in my school and I won’t think in your church” says it all the other way. Yes we’re arrogant and yes we look down upon much of the Right Wing. I call them the under 80 IQ trailer park set so I’m clearly guilty of condescension in the first degree as I’m willing to admit.

Here’s the deal. I’m smart enough, and knowledgeable enough, to know that there is in fact much to be discussed on the key Left vs. Right issues of the day.

Big government and high taxes do suck and the national debt is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The Left is very consistent about what to do about it. Stop fighting unnecessary wars, cut military spending, increase the marginal tax rates and, most important of all, get the ever rising cost of health care cost under control. To the Right, these might very well be the worst possible things you could do. But at least we’re FOR something. I’m always hearing what the Right is against. What are you FOR?

The problem with the Right to my mind is they are often inconsistent if not down right contradictory. Let’s consider the abortion debate.

I agree that abortion is a bad thing. In fact it’s a very bad thing and the world would be far better off if it never happened. Despite the ridiculous Right Wing rhetoric about having abortions for trivial reason, the bottom line is that it’s unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion.

If you had zero unintended pregnancies you would have almost zero abortions. So, how do you get to zero unintended pregnancies? You provide adequate sex education and effective birth control both of which the Right OPPOSES!

Even when they’re forced to grudgingly give in on sex education, they insist upon “abstinence only” policies which have repeatedly been shown not to be effective. They are “morally” opposed to the so-called “morning after” pill which could be used to not only insure a disaster doesn’t occur from a weakness of the moment but could also go a long ways towards preventing pregnancies from rape or incest.

When an unintended pregnancy does occur, their alternative to abortion is adoption yet they oppose allowing gay couples, often the only couples that will accept some of the babies taken to term rather than aborted, the right to adopt.

What the hell is left? Get with reality people because unfortunately the world isn’t like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” You cannot define all of the variables because some are dependent upon others.

People, and especially teenagers, are going to experiment with sex. You can’t convince them not to (the abstinence only approach) because it doesn’t work. When they do experiment, you need to provide them a means of avoiding unintended pregnancy (in other words effective birth control) and when they let themselves get carried away with the moment, or just get lazy, you need to give them a way to undo the damage (the morning after bill). If everything fails, you have to convince them that the child they carry to term has a fighting chance of being adopted into a loving home.

Don’t think “Juno” here. Many of those with unintended pregnancies aren’t nice middle class white girls. The majority are minority or poor girls sometimes with a history of drug use and psychological problems. In other words they’re not the type of girl that the nice middle class families that are queued up to adopt a baby would have over for Sunday afternoon brunch.

Let’s talk facts shall we.

According to the Guttmacher Institute there were 1.21 million abortions in 2005. This was down from 1.31 million in 2004. The abortion rate in the US is dropping. It has dropped from a high of 29.3 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1981 to 19.1 in 2005.

Almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. The 1.21 million number represents about 40% of all unintended pregnancies and 22% of all pregnancies. So clearly abortions are the direct result of unintended pregnancies. You reduce one and you reduce the other. 40% of the pregnancies among white women are unintended, 69% among black women and 54% among Hispanic women. The unintended pregnancy rate among women below the poverty line is four times the rate for women at twice the poverty line or greater.

As for who’s getting the abortions, there’s no surprise there, 37% of all abortions occur to Black women, 34% to White women, 22% to Hispanic women and 8% to other. The abortion rate for women below the poverty level is four times the rate of women at three times the poverty level or greater.

To make a long story short, unintended pregnancies and abortion happen most to the minority and poor segments of the population.

The abstinence only strategy has failed. A study completed in 2007, mandated by Congress and performed by Mathematica Policy Research, concluded that abstinence only programs were unable to “demonstrate a statistically significant beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior,” and that was after cherry picking the four programs that were expected to have the best results.

As for adoption rather than abortion, there were 1.21 million abortions in 2005. According to the US Census, there were a total of 1.59 million adopted children under the age of 17 in 2000. Who is going to absorb those 1.21 million children especially when almost 60% of them are Black or Hispanic?

The bottom line is that the whole philosophy of the Right toward abortion is one of wishful thinking and inconsistency. They’re confusing beliefs and desires with reality.

I could probably do the same thing with virtually every issue. Granted the Left has to understand what is driving the Right and not simply dismiss its positions as ignorance or stupidity. But the Right has to acknowledge the facts. A “solution” which does not match the facts (think Creationism) is no solution at all and is more likely to make things worse than to make them better.

So the problem becomes one of both sides becoming frustrated that the other side can’t “see” what the “right” answer is. The problem is that the left interprets “right” to mean “TRUE” and the Right interprets “right” to mean “MORAL.”

To the Right morality is absolute while to the Left it is relative and dependent upon the facts of the situation. The Right looks upon things as how they should be and the Left looks upon them as how they are.

Of course looking upon things as how they should be is not necessarily bad. What is bad is thinking that everyone shares your vision of how things should be and, if they don’t, they should, and you’ll pass laws to make damn sure they do.

I’m debating if I should read Neiwert’s book after I finish “Idiot America.” Right now I’m leaning towards not doing so but that could change.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The NFL Divisional Playoffs

I was riding high Saturday after going 2 for 2 only to go 0 for 2 on Sunday. I knew I should have gone with Baltimore.

Ah well, so I ended up doing no better than my pet goat Frankie who picks the winners randomly. He got 2 right as well. So, on to the divisional playoffs we go

Ravens at Colts
This is the tricky one right off the bat. The Colts barely beat them last time 17-15, but that was at Baltimore. This is going to be a close game but I’m going with Peyton and the Colts.

Jets at Chargers
The Jets have been playing great, and I love Mark Sanchez, but Phillip Rivers has been red hot and I think the Chargers are going to outgun the Jets. I’m going with San Diego.

Cardinals at Saints
New Orleans. Not a doubt in my mind about this one. I expect a real shootout here but I believe it will be the New Orleans defense that will ultimately decide the game. It will be high scoring and close to begin with but New Orleans pulls away in the 2nd half.

Cowboys at Vikings
This is another tough one. The Cowboys are on a roll and Favre and the Vikings have been showing some fraying at the edges. I think I’ll take the Cowboys.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I agree with the Unions

That’s an unusual statement but it happens to be true in terms of resolving the tax differences between the House and Senate Health Care bills.

The House version has an excise tax on individuals earning over $500,000 and households earning over $1,000,000 and I’ve made it no secret that I believe the tax rates at this level of income need to be raised.

The Senate version replaces this with a huge 40% tax on employer Health Care plans worth more than $8,500 per individual and $23,500 per family. This tax would hit a fairly large number of middle class families that have forgone wage increases for improved health care benefits. WTF? This is another example of moving the tax burden from the upper income classes to the middle class and is absolute crap which is exactly what the unions are saying.

I much prefer the House approach which places the tax burden on people that can actually afford it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

California’s Gay Marriage Trial

Recent defeats with the electorate in Maine and Senate votes in New York and New Jersey have sent gay advocates back to the courts in California. Apparently the next round in the gay marriage debate is going to be fought in Federal Court.

In an attempt to topple Proposition 8, Lambda Legal has brought suit in Federal Court claiming that the state cannot reserve the language and status of marriage just for heterosexual couples and relegate same-sex couples to a lesser status.

The case is officially designated Perry v. Schwarzenegger but both the governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend Prop 8 against the challenge. Therefore the sponsors of Prop 8 obtained permission to defend the law.

I wonder if there has ever been a situation before where a private organization undertook to defend a state law in court because the governor and attorney general refused to do so?

According to the Associated Press, Prop 8’s backers will “argue that because same-sex marriage still is a social experiment, it is wise for states like California to take a wait-and-see approach” and their witnesses will testify “that governments historically have sanctioned traditional marriage as a way to promote responsible child-rearing and that this remains a valid justification for limiting marriage to a man and a woman.”

As for the for the first argument, they apparently fail to understand that the United States has been, is, and hopefully will continue to be, one long “social experiment” as well as a political experiment.

As for the second argument, how then does one justify calling marriages those unions of individuals too old to produce or raise children, incapable of producing or raising children or have declared no desire to produce or raise children? Gay couples are often willing to adopt and raise children that no one else wants. Isn’t this an example of “responsible child-rearing?” I find it disturbing that the very same people that insist that a woman should choose adoption over abortion also want to lock out gay couples from adopting and raising the children produced by that decision.

The judge in the case is Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker and he is asking for both sides to present the facts which underlay the often heated rhetoric in the gay marriage debate. A U.S. District Judge is unlikely to be persuaded by the fear mongering that gay rights opponents have used so successfully with the electorate.

Also according to the AP, specific questions the judge would like to have addressed are:

Whether sexual orientation can be changed?
Well, at least according to the American Psychological Association, it can’t be. In 2009 the association declared that mental health professionals should not tell gay patients that they can be made heterosexual through therapy.

Of course there is a minority that disagrees and I’m sure Exodus International, whose core message is “Freedom from Homosexuality through the Power of Jesus Christ,” will be on hand to debate the APA conclusion.

Still, I have to believe that gay marriage supporters win on this one easily. The prevailing scientific opinion is that sexual orientation is not changeable. It may be capable of being suppressed, but it can’t be changed.

How legalizing gay marriage affects traditional marriage?
The bottom line here is that it doesn’t. This is sort of like asking how drag queens affect non cross dressing males or how minnows affect the courses of oil tankers. Given the tiny percentage of the population we’re talking about here the affect is going to be zero. Most heterosexual couples will never even encounter a homosexual couple.

I think gay opponents are going to have a very hard time presenting any sort of compelling evidence that extending the right of marriage to gays is going to have a negative impact on heterosexual marriage.

What is the effect on children of being raised by two mothers or two fathers?
The problem with this question is I don’t think anyone really knows. On the other hand, there are lots of studies which document the negative effects of being raised by no mothers and no fathers.

I’m sure the children from gay families similar to the ones we saw on Rosie’s Cruise or their social workers can be paraded through the court to provide at least anecdotal evidence that they turned out just fine. It’s unclear however where this goes without any significant study data to back things up.

Regardless of the outcome in the district court this one is going all the way up to the Supreme Court, I guarantee it.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The NFL Playoffs - Wildcard Weekend

Well it’s that time of year again where I get to make myself look more ridiculous than usual. That clacking sound you hear is my pet goat Frankie selecting the Wild Card Weekend winners randomly. He’s confident that he will get two games right.

Now it’s my turn.

Eagles at Cowboys
Romo wins his first playoff game. I’ll take the Cowboys in this one. Besides, fate can't be cruel enough for the Cowboys to lose their first home game in their new stadium to the Giants and their first playoff game there to the Eagles can it?

Packers at Arizona
I don’t think Kurt can pull it off. I’m going to go with the Packers.

Jets at Bengals
Hmmm. I discount the 37-0 final game but I still have this feeling that the Jets are going to pull it off. I’m taking the Jets.

Ravens at Patriots
I’m tempted to go with the Ravens, but I’m going to stick with Brady and the Patriots.

The Disregard for Truth

Nobody seems to care anymore about the truth. If something is said loud enough and often enough, whether it’s true or not doesn’t seem to matter.

If what is being said conforms to ones current opinions or prejudices, then whether it’s true or not is even more irrelevant. This is why television and, especially, talk radio pundits can safely ignore reality as long as what they say is what their audience wants to hear.

This phenomenon has reached epic proportions with Obama as president. The constant stream of complete nonsense coming out of the Right Wing wacko camp about Obama never seems to abate.

The latest nonsense relates to the recent holiday season. According to the current Right Wing missive being circulated around the internet:

1. Obama is the first president in 110 years to miss an Army-Navy football game.
2. Obama is the first president not to attend any Christmas religious service
3. Obama is the first president to remain on vacation after a terrorist attack

The first assertion is flat out not true. As a matter of fact it's not even close. Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to attend an Army-Navy game 110 years ago but due to security concerns NO president attended a game from 1962, when John Kennedy attended, until 1996 when Clinton attended other than Gerald Ford in 1974. Therefore Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush never attended the game.

In 1963 Kennedy was planning to attend the game but was assassinated 8 days before it was scheduled to be played. The two teams were as devastated as the rest of the country and the game was canceled. Then Jackie Kennedy stated publically that she thought playing the game would be good for the nation and a “fitting tribute” to her late husband.

The game was rescheduled and played on December 7th. Navy was heavily favored and led 21-7 in the 4th quarter when Army scored with 6 minutes left and was successful on a two point conversion to close the gap to 21-15. Army then recovered the onside kick and drove to the Navy 1 yard line. The noise in Philadelphia’s Municipal was ear shattering and the Army quarterback, having troubling communicating his signals, tried to call timeout before the 4th down play from the Navy 1 yard line but the clock ran out.

Prior to Kennedy, Eisenhower, the only president to ever play in an Army-Navy game, attended only once. Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover never attended a game.

The second assertion is also flat out not true. Many presidents have forgone attending Christmas services while in office including Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, Woodrow Wilson in 1914, Herbert Hoover in 1929, Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and Richard Nixon in 1972.

The third is technically true. But it was also the first time a president was on vacation during such an occurrence and I’m not all that sure I’d call one Nigerian nut job trying, and failing, to set off an explosive on an aircraft much of a terrorist attack.

Of course pointing out this stuff is wrong isn’t going to help any. There are now millions of the under 80 IQ Republican base walking around their trailer parks, with open beer can in their hands, that know for absolute certainty that these things are true without ever bothering to check.

And we let them vote.

Wealth and Income Distribution

Now let’s talk about the other shoe. If the Budget Crisis (and it is a crisis) is the first shoe of impending calamity, then the current wealth and income distribution disparity is the second shoe.

At the root of the issue is the idea of “Supply-side” economics. The Supply-side theories say that cutting taxes for the wealthiest portion of the population, those most likely to make money available for capital investment, will stimulate the economy through the growth of production which will in turn spur additional production. This will lead to more jobs and a healthy and growing economy which in turn will eventually lead to an increase in tax revenues.

In other words you get a double bonus. By cutting taxes you stimulate the economy and increase tax revenues. This of course assumes that the economy is either on the down side of the Laffer curve or pretty close.

The Laffer curve plots government revenue against tax rate. Clearly if the tax rate is 0%, government revenues are $0. But just as clearly if the tax rate is 100%, government revenues will also be $0 because no one would bother to work and the entire economy would collapse.

Therefore there must exist some optimal tax rate that will maximize government revenue and if the tax rate ever exceeds that rate, government revenues will actually decline when you raise taxes.

According to the Supply-siders, the US tax rates were beyond the optimal tax rate in the late 1970’s so reducing taxes would both stimulate investment and increase government revenues. It didn’t quite work out that way when Reagan tried it in the 1980’s nor did it work out that way when Bush tried it in the early 2000’s. When Clinton went against the Supply-side theory and raised taxes government revenues increased and none of the dire predictions of economic recession occurred.

All of the empirical evidence indicates that daddy George H.W. Bush was absolutely correct when he called the Supply-side theories “Voodoo Economics.” Yet, incredibly, most Republicans, and virtually all conservatives, continue to pound the Supply-side drum.

Most economists agree that supply theories probably aren’t correct. Personally I believe the problem is with the shape of the Laffer curve. For illustration purposes it’s usually shown as a symmetrical curve with the optimal point near the center. In reality I suspect it’s an extremely non-symmetrical curve with the optimal point way out near the 90% or 95% area especially when one is talking about a progressive tax structure with only the marginal tax rate that high.

One unintended effect, or at least I think it was unintended, of the Supply-side tax cuts appears to have been to cause a sort of reverse wealth redistribution. An anti-socialism if you will which took income from the lower income brackets and gave it to the upper income brackets.

The web site of Professor G. William Domhoff of the University of California at Santa Clara, called “Who Rules America?,” provides some fascinating data from a variety of sources which I quote below.

A New York Times analysis of an Internal Revenue Service report on income in 2004 concluded that overall income had grown by 27% since 1979. Unfortunately only the top 5% made any significant gains with income growing by 53%. The bottom 60% of the population was actually making less! Their income had gone down by 5%.

In 1982 the top 1% received 12.8% of the income; the next 19%, the professional and small business class, received 39.1% of the income and the bottom 80%, the working class, received 48.1% of the income.

By 2006 these numbers had shifted dramatically. Now the top 1% received 21.3% of the income, the next 19% received 40.1% and bottom 80% received only 38.6%.

Let’s take a look at CEO compensation between 1990 and 2005. In real terms, in other words adjusted for inflation, the income of CEOs has increased by 298%. That means it has just about quadrupled.

In the same time frame the income of production workers has risen a modest 4.3%. The Federal Minimum wage actually DECLINED in real terms by 9.3%. In other words it didn’t even keep up with inflation.

If you’re thinking, ok, but think about all the profits and wealth this new brand of exciting CEO has brought to the economy, forget it. Corporate profits only rose 106% and the S&P 500 only 141%.

Now think about this for a second. Corporate profits went up 106%. But the CEO gets a 298% increase and the guys actually producing the product only a 4.3% increase. Whatever is left over goes to capital gains for the folks that got the tax cuts and invested their excess income. People at the lowest rung of the economic ladder, those making minimum wage, actually get a decrease and effectively contribute to the gains for everyone else.

Marx was wrong because he didn’t take into account the emergence of a large and strong middle class. At least that was always the simplified stock answer when I studied economics. However the redistribution of income from the lower and middle income brackets to the upper income brackets is effectively squeezing out the middle class and creating precisely the sort of gap that Marx predicted.

We need to get both this reverse income redistribution and the budget deficit under control. The way you do this is to reverse the policies of the Reagan and Bush eras. Raise taxes significantly on the upper income brackets by introducing new brackets over $372,000 with significantly higher rates than 35%. Income over $1 million should probably be in the 50% range and income over $5 million in the 75% range. It’s probably not a good idea to go higher than 75%.

The danger here of course is stifling small business by drying up the available capital. Small businesses aren’t supplying $1 million plus incomes to anyone. If a business is providing that kind of income, it’s not a small business. Small businesses are lucky if they have that kind of revenue so the taxation itself probably isn’t an issue. Making it harder to get working capital when it’s needed could be though and this has to be taken into consideration when establishing the new brackets and some mitigation strategy, perhaps a small business loan exchange, has to be established.

Certainly we should expect a period of stagnation or at best limited growth. What has to be guarded against is sending the economy into a tailspin and a deep recession. The trick is to manage expectations and get the American public to recognize that we’ve been living beyond our means for too long and we need to get things under control.

Ok, I may not be an expert but it’s clear we need to change the direction we’re going in. To continue to do the same thing while expecting different results is a pretty good definition of insanity. We have to start by stopping the bleeding and balancing the Federal budget. Then we can start chipping away at the debt.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Let’s Talk About the Federal Deficit

This has kind of been simmering in the back of my mind. Has anyone taken a close look at the budget and deficit estimates moving forward through about 2014?

First of all, let’s understand the situation we’re in. The economic stimulus package, plus maintaining forces in Iraq and Afghanistan plus the normal operations of the government is going to call for record expenditures in 2009 of approximately $3.9 trillion.

Yes that is TRILLION with a T and not Billion with a B or Million with an M. This is a full TRILLION dollars more than the government spent in 2008. The number is so large as to be utterly incomprehensible to the average mortal. Let me put it in perspective for you. The population of the US is 308 million. The Federal Budget therefore represents the expenditure of around $13,000 per person. You got that? That’s $13,000 for every man, woman and child in the whole US of A.

Let me put in another way. If you were to pick up $1 per second, it would take you something like 126,000 years to pick up $3.9 trillion.

The average Household Size in the US is 2.6 people. That means the average household would have to be paying about $34,000 in taxes to cover this expenditure. Obviously that’s not the case.

The fact is that the total revenue of the US in 2009 is expected to be $2.1 trillion. Due to the economic recession this is down about $400 billion dollars from 2008. That translates into a budget deficit of $1.8 trillion (yes Virginia, that’s TRILLION with a T again) or $6,000 for every man, woman and child in the US. That’s $15,600 per household.

And it doesn’t get terribly better anytime soon. Over the next five years the deficits are estimated to be $1.2 trillion, $900 billion and then $500 billion for 3 years.

Allow me to put this into perspective. The total budget deficit over the 8 years of the Bush Administration was $2.0 trillion and over the 8 years of the Clinton Administration it was a total of $320 billion. Most of the Clinton era deficit was in the first 3 years. Over the last 3 years there was actually a budget surplus of $430 billion.

WTF happened?

What happened were the disastrous economic and foreign affairs policies of the Bush Administration and the questionable economic stimulus strategy of the Obama administration. Let’s us try not to forget that if it weren’t for the former we wouldn’t have had the latter. A full $800 billion of the budget increase in 2009 is the stimulus package which may, or may not, ultimately pay for itself.

However, that doesn’t excuse the strategy if it fails. It’s always a stupid thing to throw good money after bad. On the other hand, it may have been even stupider to let the entire US economy collapse IF that would have happened. I would dearly love to see the projections that frightened the economic advisors of both the Bush and Obama administrations into thinking that going an additional $800 billion in debt when we were already facing a record deficit was a good idea.

Certainly the Bush tax cuts that conservatives think were so wonderful had a disastrous effect upon revenues which DECLINED from $2.0 trillion in 2000 to a low of $1.8 trillion in 2003. They then recovered to a high of $2.6 trillion in 2007, dropped slightly to $2.5 trillion in 2008 and then dropped precipitously to $2.1 trillion in 2009. You got that? Government revenues in 2009 were about the same as they were in 2000.

In the meantime, government expenditures rose from $1.8 trillion in 2000 to $2.9 trillion in 2008. Mind you, that’s with a so-called small government conservative Republican in the White House and a mostly Republican controlled Congress.

Please, give me Slick Willy back. Under this “spendthrift Liberal” revenues rose from $1.2 trillion to $2.0 trillion while expenditures rose only from $1.4 billion to 1.8 billion. Yes Virginia, in the year 2000 we had a $236 billion budget surplus.

A breakdown of the 2009 deficit goes something like this. About $1.0 billion is inherited. $500 billion was the 2008 deficit, the drop in revenues was $400 billion and $100-$150 billion represents the typical rise in operating expenses that seems to occur regardless of anything else. The remaining $800 billion is the stimulus package.

The $1.2 trillion deficit estimated for 2010 follows a similar road but to my mind is harder to justify. We start with the $1.0 trillion deficit from 2009, add the $100-$150 billion standard increase in operating expenses and subtract the estimated $200 billion revenue increase we should get a deficit of around $900 billion. The extra $300 billion comes from an estimated $400 billion increase in operating expenses rather then the typical $100 - $150 billion. It’s unclear where the extra $300 billion is going at this point.

Guys, if these estimates are right, we’re pretty much screwed. If the budget estimates are right, we would be accumulating a debt of over $5.6 trillion between the years of 2009 and 2014. That’s $18,300 for every man, woman and child in the US. That’s $47,500 per household.

I find this more than a little disturbing. As a matter of fact, this is nuts. As a matter of fact, ARE WE OUT OF OUR COTTON PICKING MINDS???

How the hell do you ever get out from under this kind of debt?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Prom Night in Mississippi Revisited

Back in July I did a post on the HBO special "Prom Night in Mississippi." As a sidebar I complained about the Christian prayer led by a teacher at the beginning of the prom. I got pinged on that complaint. Below is the original comment and my response. The e-mail address has been deleted to protect the individual's privacy.

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A while back you commented on a posting where I was bemoaning the inclusion of a Christian prayer at a public school prom. Specifically you said:

"your only problem with this argument is that the constitution makes no provision for the government to run the schools. check the 10th amendment, buddy. An atheist, Muslim, or Scientoligist, or even Jedi parent could have raised an eyebrow and complained. But they didn't. My guess as to why? About 99% percent of the people in this rural Mississippi are practicing Christians. Not meaning to start an argument, just some musings. feel free to get back to me at xxxxxxxx Thanks!"

You are correct that the Federal Government doesn't run the schools and you are correct that the 10th Amendment delegates that responsibility to the states. However, both points are irrelevent when considering the inclusion of a Christian prayer at a public school function.

The key amendments here are the 1st and the 14th which state "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" and "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

The Supreme Court has been very clear that prayer at official school functions such as graduation ceremonies, athletic events, or assemblies, is absolutely forbidden if sponsored by the school, or led by a representative of the school such as a teacher, because Federal Law, and the rights of citizens of the United States, trumps state law (see Collins v. Chandler Unified School District, 1981, Jager v. Douglass County School District, 1989, Doe v. Aldine, 1982 and Lee v. Weisman, 1992). Prayers sponsored by or led by students are still an unresolved area but, at least for the moment, appear to be allowed.

So, while the states run the schools, the Constitution forbids them from running them in such a way as to "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

Now, that being said, one could argue that the prom was not an "official school function" or at least an optional event rather than a mandatory event and therefore exempt. That would be skating on very thin ice in my opinion because it implies a non-Christian student must surrender a fundamental right in order to attend a school related event and that strikes me as unfair even if the event is unofficial or optional.

The problem becomes that as soon as we accept this kind of differentiation we divide the population into two different groups. A fully enfranchised group and a group that must make some sort of compromise under some circumstances.

I agree with you, and I pointed out in the post, that no one complained because probably everyone was Christian. That doesn't make it right nor does it make it any less dangerous.

Sorry for the delay in answering your comment. It was an excellent comment and I should have responded sooner.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Assertions are just that, Assertions

That may sound obvious but I would say a large part of the American public doesn't understand that an Assertion carries with it NO authority without EVIDENCE to back it up.

Anyone can say anything. I can claim someone is dishonest, corrupt, cheats on their wife and is cruel to squirrels. Your default position should be to believe NONE OF IT unless I provide justification for what I am asserting.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but opinions are NOT the same thing as facts. In my opinion the average American is an idiot and the primary reason I believe that is because the average American is willing to accept assertions as true without any evidence to back them up. Please note that is an OPINION. Feel free to argue with it but I can provide lots of examples that demonstrate I'm right. Death Panels? Who said anything about Death Panels?

And, you will excuse me, but the under 80 IQ trailer park types, sometimes known as the Republican base, are the most willing to accept such assertions which is why people like Limbaugh, Coulter, Dobson and Perkins haven't been laughed out of town yet.

If you do not DEMAND justification or evidence to back up bald faced assertions you are an IDIOT and easy to take advantage of. The Republicans and your Pastors have been doing it to you for years.