Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bailout blues

What the auto industry bailout lacks that it rescues not people or jobs, but stupid business plans. With my money. And so far they are a disaster. The auto industry is ready to take big subsidies to keep on building cars whose basic principle of design (and gas mileage) haven't changed substantially since the 50's.

The problem with both bailouts is they short-circuit the "creative destruction" inherent in capitalism. Usually when well-off CEO's invoke creative destruction, they mean people losing their jobs is good. I think people whose business plans got us here should enjoy a little of the old creative destruction, while protecting working people.

So here's an alternate plan:

1. GM has been described as a health care company that happens to make cars, ~$6B/yr for 1.1 million people, less than half of whom are current employees. The big 3 have substantial liabilities in health care and retirement, which the government should assume and guarantee to assure that peoples' *existing* benefits are not compromised by what is to come.

2. A "job bailout" should be instituted that extends substantial relocation and pay extension to jobless workers. 100% benefits for some number of years capped at $100K/yr.

3. The remaining parts of the company should be sold off at a substantial discount to someone who will present a credible plan to make cars. Maybe not as many cars, but probably not the stupid gas guzzlers they've been making since the Glen Miller era.

Would Tesla motors present a plan to build a million electric family sedans per year in three years with part of the infrastructure, labor and capital freed up? Who knows? I'd like to find out. It boils my blood that the auto industry CEO's have their hands out for welfare for *them* to build more crap.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Conciliatory republicans

Over the last week, I've been hearing a lot of strangely conciliatory sounding words from the right, like "Hey it was a hard election, but your guy won, congrats". I have to say these leave me strangely cold. As if the blasts of hell hadn't been coming from that direction since about 1986, and especially the last 8 years, and especially in this election. So what's the reason for all this bonhomie?
  • They're scared we'll do to them what they did to us. Personally, I'm ready for our 30 years of dominating the national discourse to the point that even the other side has to pretend they're us in order to get elected, then we dump on them.
  • They're thinking, this is the only way to have any influence now. Yes it feels a little funny to suddenly be part of the ruling class for a change.
  • They know the fairness doctrine is coming back, and they want to put it off as long as possible. In listening to right wing talk radio, I have heard them talking about the injustice, and inevitability of the return of the fairness doctrine. We can't disappoint them now can we?
  • It's temporary. Oh, yes. The floodgates of hell will re-open soon.
On the other side of the equation, on the left everyone is abuzz with all the things Obama must do in his first 100 days. Look below, I even pre-emptively made my own list. (#1: Election reform!). Immigration reform, ending the war in Iraq, tax reform, saving the economy, the list goes on and on and on. On the one hand he has promised he can do more than one thing at once, and I'll bet he can. On the other hand, some people are gonna be mighty disappointed in him in a year.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Now the #1 reason why I write this blog: So I can get stuff off my chest and go to sleep:
  1. Are the culture wars over for now?
  2. Can Republicans admit the legitimacy of a democratic president?
  3. Can the GOP operate as a respectful minority party?
  4. Will they give Obama the room to govern, now that he has a clear mandate from the people of the United States?
The next set of things to worry about. But you know -- they somehow aren't that troubling. I predict Barack Obama will be a much less irritating president to the Right than Bill Clinton was. The usual suspects will agitate, but not get much traction against him. Even more so than Ronald Reagan, who was a very controversial figure at times. I'll bet we're in for a very good eight years, a politically peaceful time. I hope I haven't jinxed it. Doesn't matter, nobody reads this blog anyway.

Good Night!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What is this election a referendum on anyway?

I've been listening to a lot of right-wing radio recently. Maybe it's just the long boring commutes or the fund-raising drives on my favorite lefty stations. (Question: Why do right wing stations never have to hold bake sales and such? They don't run much advertizing. Hmmmm. Can you say vast right-wing conspiracy? And Rush makes millions!). Anyway, Rushbo, Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage, they're all beating the drum like crazy. It seems like all of America is bathed in these photons of electronic energy that say that a vote for Obama is a vote for socialism. And still Obama's poll numbers improve.

Is this telling us something?

Is Obama's election now a referendum on the idea of social democracy in America? What would that look like, anyway? In European social democracies, health care is cheap and afforadable for all. For the unemployed street person and the millionaire, and *especially* for the middle class breadwinner, it's something you take for granted is always there, like traffic lights, garbage pickup and the elementary school around the corner. Losing your job is not a nightmare of pre-existing conditions, or the loss of group health. The dreaded words co-pay, co-insurance and deductible are unknown. Though here's a neat trick: you save your claims up for a year, and if they're less than X dollars, you hold on to them and get a big refund. Otherwise you submit them and break even or are ahead.

And when I lived in Europe, the total cost of taxes plus health insureance was about the same as it is here. Live with it. It's nice.

Public universities (remember when UCLA in-state was free?). Public transportation -- I have the choice between a 2-hour round trip to my airport or a $140 shuttle. Wouldn't a $5.00 train be better? Like in civilized countries?

If this election is a referendum on social democracy, and Barack Obama wins it, can we actually start thinking about these things?

Just asking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vice presidential duties

Two interesting quotes from Sarah Palin:

From the debate: "Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. "

From a third grader's question: "[T]hey’re in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom."

A lot has been made of these quotes as showing a lack of understanding on her part about what the Vice President does. In fact she (or someone she's working with) may know a lot more than we think. In fact, the Vice President is in charge of the senate, and presides over the Senate, period. If the Vice President is away (which is usually), then a President Pro Tem is elected.

But what if Sarah Palin is telling us she intends to be an activist Vice President?

An activist president of the Senate could do a lot of things that would essentially hold the senate hostage, preventing it from getting anything done until such time she sees fit. As an example, a cloture vote. What if the President of the senate simply refuses to call a cloture vote on a bill she doesn't like? She's a one-woman filibuster, one that can't be voted down.

What if she shuts down the Senate and refuses to open proceedings unless she gets her way on a specific bill? These are actually enormous powers, they have just never been used, and I suspect that Sarah Palin could be preparing to use them.

Why? Well for one, she is the leading Neocon, now that George the W. has started to quack. The people behind Dubya (in particular David Addington, legal enabler for Dick Cheney) have already been at it, inventing all kinds of new powers for the President and Vice President. Remember the idea that the Veep is not a member of the executive branch? Remember the "Nuclear option"? That depended on the role of the Vice President, as President of the Senate, to rule on a point of order requiring only a majority vote for cloture henceforth. So clearly they're thinking about it.

Why hasn't it ever happened? 1) The Senate is a very (small-c) conservative and tradition-bound body. 2) Nobody's ever tried it. Remember that since Addington's been in office, it's never been that useful for the Veep to throw his weight around in the Senate -- the Senate is a largely ineffective body since 2000. Even in Democratic hands, with Joe Lieberman casting the 51st vote, the Senate is no barrier to the powers of the imperial executive. However, with a very Democratic Senate, the Vice President all of a sudden makes it possible to shut down congress completely.

What recourse would congress have? Well, they could consider that an abuse of power and decide to impeach the VP. But her sentencing would go to the Senate, where, guess what, it never comes up for a vote. Constitutional crisis time, and the Supreme Court is asked to decide. Which way will the Roberts court go, strict constructionists that they are?

I wonder...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's your wish list?

What are the most important things Barack Obama, should he win, needs to do right away? Having asked the question, I won't wait around holding my breath until somebody answers -- here's what I think:

1) Clear out all the extra-constitutional crap that has accumulated as "current practice" in our government. By this I mean:
- Signing statements: Get laws passed nullifying the legal effect of all signing statements past present and future. This might be done simply by deliberately making a particularly egregious one that the supreme court would strike down.
- Torture: Make it impossible for future administrations to commit torture and call it legal. How? I don't know.
- Extralegal detentions: Close Guantanamo, CIA black sites, and make it impossible (once again by a well-timed Supreme court challenge perhaps) for such activities to be considered outside US legal jurisdiction.

2) Comprehensive election reform. This means developing federal standards for voting equipment, establishing a federal election review board to oversee state procedures for voter roll verification and prevent caging, purging (and yes, voter fraud).

3) Repeal the AUMF. Once again, the supreme court could be forced to conclude that future declarations of war by congress must contain a specific enemy or enemies and a timeline in order to be legal. continure the war by specific act of congress if need be.

4) Join the ICC.

5) Double the budget for basic science.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The AIG "boondoggle" ... really?

Wait a second, when I do the math for 70 people for a week, I get about $125 per person per day, and that doesn't seem that expensive. Especially for a retreat where they're going to be deciding how to save the company.

Seems to me the outrage on this is a little overheated.

Update: I slipped a decimal point, it's $1270 per day, which is over the top by anybody's definition.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Flat bailout plan: Some numbers

OK, let's say we have 10 million non-millionaire investors in this country who have maxed out the full $100K of losses 10^7 * 10^5 is 10^12, the same order of magnitude as the current bailout. This depends of course on the structure of investing in this country (how many people will lose $100,000+ ?), and requires a method to pass the losses fairly through individual pension plans and mutual funds.

This is just a matter of bean counting though, and a far easier task than pricing derivatives correctly, which the Paulson plan requires. That is a task that appears on its face to be impossible. Possibly by design.

OK, let's make part of the flat bailout in federally backed tuition loan guarantees at the current prime. Another $50K each? Not everyone will or can use these, so it might not be so expensive.

Alternate bailout plan.

The Iraq war took years to gin up, once W got his enabling act. The bailout of wealthy investors by the federal government took a few weeks to organize. Amazing!

I have a better plan. It's called a flat bailout and it works like a flat tax, in reverse. The federal government indemnifies each individual investor with a net worth of less than $1M up to a flat rate of $100,000 total, nah make it $200,000 per person on the fallout from this whole mess. Everybody else can go to hell, like they're supposed to in a market capitalist system.

I bet this will cost a lot less than half a trillion plus.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Emasculating McCain

John McCain has a new problem.

That's aside from the fact that he picked an unqualified nincompoop for a running mate to satisfy the right, rather than the very qualified nincompoop he wanted. The problem is, she's got more star power than he does. It makes him look very bad (not to mention old and decrepit) and there's no way out.

Already, she gives speeches in front of cheering crowds, who then head for the exits when McCain starts to drone. Already she starts referring to him as "my running mate" like *he*'s the VP candidate. Already his solo speeches are extremely poorly attended. This has to hurt. Maybe that's part of the reason why he has seemed so deflated and un-feisty lately. If he can't control the agenda of his own campaign, how is he going to even *seem* like he can run the nation.

What happened to McCain? He used to be a very different guy!

I think the important moment he was broken was not in the 60's, it was in 2000 during the South Carolina primary. And the guy who did it (Rove) is both running the show now from behind the scenes, AND the one responsible for his disastrous VP pick.

McCain used to be an interesting guy, yes a hero and a maverick. But face facts, the guy is old and losing it. Remember when the famous general von Bismarck became president of his country with a charismatic young right-wing prime minister? But von Bismarck was old and could not control the show any more by mere force of his considerable personality. We all know how that turned out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Call Them Lies, Barack! Use the word! Words matter!


Folks, it's pretty simple:

When John McCain says I'm going to increase taxes on folks making $42,000, he's lying to you.

When John McCain says I called his running mate a pig, he's lying to you.

When John McCain says I want to increase the size of government 23%, he's lying to you.

When John McCain says he never asked for an earmark or pork barrel project for his state, He's lying to you too.

Folks, John McCain is a liar. The straight talk express has become the doubletalk express. He lies to you and me now and will lie to us if he ever reaches the White House. And if that's the kind of president you want, you should go ahead and vote for him. That's not the kind of president I'll be.

Personally, I think we're here you and I, on a mission to restore honesty and integrity to the White House, something that's been missing there for nearly 8 years, and John McCain has shown he's just as bad as the current bunch, and maybe worse.

Sarah Palin's tears cure cancer

I was wondering when someone would start a web site for the Alaska governor a la Chuck Norris. Here are my favorites so far:

  • Sarah Palin wears three quarter length sleeves to keep from getting blood on her clothes when she kills liberals.
  • As head of Alaska’s Nat’l Guard, Sarah Palin taught troops in a training exercise to scare a grenade into not exploding.
  • Queen Elizabeth II curtsied when she was introduced to Sarah Palin.
  • Jesus has a bracelet that says, “WWSPD?”
  • Sarah Palin doesn’t need a gun to hunt, because she can throw a bullet through an adult bull elk.
  • Sarah Palin once bagged a caribou by staring it down until it died.
  • Death once had a near-Sarah Palin experience.
  • Sarah Palin cures cancer, because she makes Chuck Norris cry -- and everyone knows that Chuck's tears cure cancer ...

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Obama is a Muslim" = "I am a racist"

Racism is not dead in this country, not by a long shot, but at least certain forms of it are now considered unacceptable, and have to be expressed in other ways. The title of this post is one of them, but there are others. My feeling is that most people who would say the above are part of the 30% who would never vote for a democrat anyway under any circumstances. That is the result of the civil rights movement losing the white racist vote steadily since the 60's via the well-known GOP "Southern Strategy". Now that we have a Black candidate for president, it puts racists in the uncomfortable position of explaining their discomfort about him. And so they come up with these libelous euphemisms ("terrorist", "Marxist") and simply inaccurate ones ("Muslim") because hating those three groups is "OK". At least by some twisted logic.

These people are against everything America stands for. It should be told to their face when they say things like that. Ah but democrats are too polite for that kind of thing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Still mystified

She can read a speech prepared for someone else weeks in advance of her selection off of a teleprompter. I am impressed. I'm sure I wouldn't have done it as well. But that's no qualification for office.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who is John McCain?

How can John McCain rail for months about "experience" and so forth, and then turn around and pick a 42-year old with no relevant experience as his running mate?

How can we believe anything the guy says?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

So what's the use of basic science?

We can divide basic science into two areas: "Pure Science", that's the basic science we do. And "Butterfly Collecting" that's the basic science somebody else does. For some people, all basic science is butterfly collecting. I call this the taxi driver argument: when my taxi driver finds out where I'm goin and why, he inevitably asks "what's it all good for?" and more importantly "who gets rich form that?" by which he meas the same thing. And he has a point, there is no obvious societal imperative at all to fund basic science. But still we do. Why? Why should egghead professors get to live at public expense, while the rest of us have to work for a living?

Society must fund basic science because:

1) Revolutionary new technologies (e.g. penicillin, electricity, transistors) historically have always come from basic science and *then* been turned into products.

2) Basic science helps us understand our place in the universe. Perhaps not our moral place, but at least our location in the universe and the natural laws that govern it.

3) Understanding of the results basic science is necessary in order to educate students in applied disciplines.

4) Active researchers are better teachers.

5) Nobody else will.

Notice that most of my points trace back to point 1. Applied science brings evolution in technology, basic science brings revolution. Presuming of course that that is good for society, society has a clear imperative to fund basic science, because private industry is too short-sighted (and not sufficiently altruistic) to do it.

A good public policy will find efficient ways to provide a good climate for basic scientific research. Note that ordinary sounding metrics of providing basic science, say dollar ROI have no application to basic science. How do we accomplish this feat without simply leaving big bushels of money around where basic scientists are feeding (my preferred solution)? I'll go into that next time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Support our troops!

If we're bailing people out, how about buying the loan of every single GI that's served in Iraq, and offering bank loans to the rest at, say the prime interest rate, 30-year, fixed? If the right is so supportive of our troops and the Christian right is so supportive of the working poor, why aren't those things reality now?

Just asking...

What is science?

The month of April will be science month for me. At least until the Pennsylvania primary, I will blog mostly about science and technology issues in this space. So to get started today, I want to define science. I promise more interesting posts to come.

Science is a surprisingly imprecise term. Everybody wants to be a science, so just being based on the scientific method is not even a necessary criterion for a discipline to be classified as a science ("food science", "political science", even "rocket science" -- none of them based on the scientific method.).

The wikipedia link divides the sciences into formal, natural and social sciences, based on their object of study. For this article I will instead emphasize the differences between basic science, applied science and technology.

Basic science is a search for fundamental roots and causes, usually of natural objects and phenomena. Curiosity about the world around us is its primary motivation. An easy rule of thumb is, if you can make money from it, it's not basic science. That means that my triage of the sciences is an economic one. Applied science is using knowledge to create new products or processes, and technology is the result, gadgets we can use in every day life.

Mostly when politicians talk about Science and Technology or Research and Development, they mean the latter two, as basic science is such a tiny part of the our overall expenditures (and nobody understands it anyway). But basic science is the one that's most important to society for reasons I'll describe in my next post.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This about both candidates:

Jonathan Alter sums it up best here: "Politicians by nature construct personal narratives about themselves that make them seem shinier, if not larger than life."

Fact check them, needle them, then get over it. This gotcha stuff is childish.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Obama wins in Texas (is this news?)

I thought everybody knew this, but I forgot that the instinct of the media are to "never let the facts get in the way of a good story". That, by the way is what journalists say about themselves, but the phrase originated in Texas.

It was known already on March 4th that Senator Obama had won the caucuses by such a substantial margin that an overall lead in delegates from Texas was to be expected. Still, it was reported as a win for Clinton. And an important one, too: Bill Clinton the night I saw him here said that winning Texas and Ohio was key to his wife remaining in the race. So the perception that she won trumped the fact that she lost.

Why? The mainstream media in every recent national race has built up the underdog and torn down the front runner producing as tight a race as possible. I believe it's called selling advertising. Clinton's continuation in the race is necessary for the exciting narrative they've constructed of a 'virtual tie' to continue. 'Statistical dead heats' beat major weather as being an endless source of media distraction, and they will automatically create one any time they can. To the extent (for example) that even a nut like Huckabee is treated as a contender long after his sell-by date has passed.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hey Rush! Ever thought of this?

A lot of the people you are encouraging to cross-register and go to caucuses might just have a different experience there than the one you imagine. They will go to caucus and meet, not rabid feminazis, not screaming angry black men, not unshaven, unwashed organic earth-firsters, but ordinary hardworking Americans who love their country and are just trying to put food on the table. People who think the Gummint should bail out working people first and wealthy (but over-greedy) financial institutions second. People who wish they had never heard the words "pre-existing condition". People whose children are dying in Iraq.

All that screaming you do about how awful liberals are might just seem pretty dumb then. I welcome those people to our process, Rush.

In the electoral college, both Clinton and Obama lose

At the end of the day wht counts is electoral votes, not primary or general election votes. So to see what a Clinton-McCain or Obama-McCain matchup would look like converted to electoral votes, the site has compiled electoral maps based on polling of potential presidential races. While the popular vote polls show a tight race in which Obama is consistently ahead, when converted to an electoral vote map, the situation is very different. In short, Clinton and Obama are both trailing now. This is a followup on my earlier post here.

All the usual caveats apply.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bumpersticker: Republicans for Obama

Seen at the democratic county caucus meeting for delegation chairs. More than one. And I guess that they will actually vote for Obama, unlike the Hillary republicans, who will switch in the general.

It *should* go down to the wire

Everyone seems to be upset about the current stalemate in the democratic party, worrying about the damage being done. The only thing about this that bothers me is the long time gaps between the last few contests, ones that won't change the outcome one bit. That and the democrats' tendency to attack each other rather than their opponent.

But there are several good things about the situation:

1) The republican scream machine doesn't know who to attack. It's hard to sustain a level of hysteria against two opponents at once who are so different. And hysteria is all the republicans have to offer this time around.
2) The drama keeps the base engaged, and gives them time to talk to their undecided friends.
3) The dem nominee will get a big bump when the nomination is resolved.
4) Both candidates are building structures in 50 states that will be hugely useful in the general election.
5) John McCain doesn't know what kind of campaign to prepare for.

If we can just refrain from attacking each other, we'll be fine.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Electoral Math favors Clinton?

Everyone is freaking out about superdelegates, credentials, brokered conventions, Youtube, "hope" and so forth. Once again, people are so fixated on vote totals, about who is two points ahead against McCain this week, they are missing some very fundamental points.

The web site has just gone live with a set of projected electoral maps that is fascinating. While Senator Obama is once again winnning the projected popular vote vs. Senator McCain by a larger margin than Senator Clinton, when you look at the projected electoral college, the situation is very different: Clinton beats McCain by a substantial electoral margin, and Obama loses, by about the same margin.

The interesting thing is that Obama puts a lot more states into play than Clinton, who lives up to her reputation as a polarizing figure. So Obama swings a lot of small states into the weakly democrat category and a lot of solid Republican states become weak Republican states. Good for him. BUT Senator Clinton flips Florida to the blue, and that is what makes the difference. No wonder she's hanging in there. I would too.

As many other people have noticed, Senator Clinton's natural strategy will be a traditional democratic "big state" strategy such as we have seen from John Kerry and Al Gore before him. Senator Obama on the other hand is better suited to a Howard Dean-style 50-state strategy, where a passel of little states could bleed the Republicans to death despite their taking Florida.

All this has serious practical consequences. McCain is financially weaker than either Clinton or Obama is likely to be, and cannot afford to make any wrong bets. Consequently, his campaign must be in a panic trying to decide which of two *very* different opponents to prepare for. If he invests money now to defend (the Midwest against Obama, he may lose Florida to Clinton. If he ignores the Midwest too long, winning Florida may be a poor consolation for a loss to Obama.

Running a campaign means getting expensive people on the ground *now*, which both democratic campaigns have already. You should see what they're doing in Texas! Senator McCain may find himself way behind the 8-ball in states where he would normally enjoy a big advantage. There must be some people tearing their hair about about this protracted democratic navel-gaze. I think it's good for the Democrats!

Now, these projections have to be taken with a grain or two tons of salt, but it's the electoral vote that counts, as we all know, and not what's a "big state", who's got momentum, or what my pastor's hairdresser said on youtube.

April will be Science and Technology month on this blog

I will concentrate on science and technology issues next month, and try to elaborate some things I've learned in the trenches of basic science that might have relevance to the current political debate.

Texas Caucus update

I wrote before about what I saw a potential shenanigans by Clinton supporters at the Caucus. I have to apologize, and I will edit my post to reflect this: The lady in question was a pledged Clinton delegate whose phone number we had gotten by mistake. That means by saying she was undecided she was swinging our way, not the other way! That said, I have no wish to influence her decision. She has a moral obligation to represent the wishes of the people who elected her, and I'd prefer she do that. Otherwise it's us that were up to no good!

In general, there was some disorganized craziness which the heroic efforts of my wife appear to have sorted out. We will see at the Obama delegate party tonight at my house. I think we will have a full Obama delegation ready to go Saturday morning and win a state delegate (worth about 1/100 of a national delegate) for Senator Obama.

Republican PC hypocrisy

There's an excellent article in Salon discussing the problem with hysteric jingoists declaring certain opinions or utterances off-limits regardless of context. I have a bit of a different take on it, then I promise never to mention Rev. Wright again.

I've had it up to here with right wingers who cry about, on the one hand "Happy Holidays" or "Waitperson" as somehow evidence of a communist plot to control their mind. Then they turn around and whine about Rev. Wright saying "God Damn America" as if that were the same as planting a bomb. Last time I looked this was a free country with a vibrant political discourse. It might be in poor taste for me to write God Damn America or even Nigger in my blog, but by God I have a right to do it! As Reverend Wright had a right to say what he said. And just because Senator Obama may have listened to him say it, so what? We'll judge the content of his character by what he says and does. He may have learned an entirely different lesson from that sermon than the one simple-minded people might assume.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"The president carries the biggest burden, obviously," Cheney said.

Excuse me while I vomit.

Local Clinton cheaters? NOT -- see update above.

Some people think the primary election is over in Texas. Some people are wrong. There are still 35 delegates to the national convention up for grabs in the state caucus process that started on primary night, March 4th. That night we elected delegates for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton to the Senate district convention on Saturday, which will elect delegates to the state convention (about 8000 state delegates and alternates).

We called up all the Obama delegates from our precinct to talk strategy, and found out that one of our delegates is now "undecided". We also know that she has been to a state convention before (ie has been active in Democratic politics) and is the sister of a Clinton delegate from our precinct.

It turns out that at the precinct level we are not pledged, but are in fact free to vote our conscience. What that means is that there is nothing wrong with being undecided. What bothers me is the idea that she probably signed up as an Obama delegate with the intention of switching. There's something wrong with that. Our precinct is large enough to elect a state delegate all by itself, and we have a big margin, so her flipping by itself does not endanger our Obama senate-district delegate. But what if there are others?

We've been to several Obama training sessions, rallies, and so forth, and are in several mailing lists, and never has this subject come up. What I'm saying is, there's no way you can say "both sides do this": it's cheating. And it looks like there's nothing we can do about it. The rules seem to be set up to permit this kind of thing.

These shenanigans do seem to fit with the general attitude of the Clinton camp. They believe the nomination is rightfully theirs, justifying all measures fair and foul necessary to obtain it.

The delegates from the Senate district convention are pledged, at least.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Barack Obama writes his own speeches!!

Why doesn't anybody out there in the American media notice that Senator Obama is the first presidential candidate in a generation (more?) who writes his own speeches?

My guess: Embarrassment.

The media these days mostly operates as a blank slate that is written upon by appropriately crafted press releases, mostly composed by political operatives and other partisan individuals. This is responsible for the linked phenomena of he-said she-said journalism, pack journalism, and the decline of the very idea of objective reality. Part of the reason is the successful management and co-opting of the press by the Bush administration. The other part is the purchase of the media largely by right-leaning or outright right-wing corporate interests.

If it wasn't for the internet, we would be in really deep trouble.

But to tie up my original assertion, to admit that a politician who is *actually* running the show, is actually the author of not only his ideas but his words is to admit their own intellectual bankruptcy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The coming Iraq war user fee

UPDATE: A similar piece, with different methods and a slightly different result here.

The right is big into user fees, so let's try this one out: Let's pay for the Iraq war with one. A reasonable estimate of the costs of the war include the direct costs of materiel and salaries of soldiers and contractors, and also the indirect costs of health care, pensions, rebuilding of US military infrastructure and regional foreign aid. Most estimates that take these things into account come out around $3T for the total cost over 10 years. That's up just 5 orders of magnitude from the ~$50 million estimates the Bush Administration advanced pre-war. It doesn't take into account opportunity costs for things we could have done with it that would have saved or made us money like ending poverty in this country, or investing in education, basic research or stuff like that.

Model 1: Pay up front.

If we had to just pay now, like we would have to for a package tour or any other private commitment, the price is $10,000 for each of 300,000,000 American men, women and children. However, only about half of us are gainfully employed, so the number is about $20,000 per taxpayer, in round numbers.

Model 2: Finance it.

Let's say we take that $20K tab and put it on the plastic at 18% per year compounded monthly and pay it over 10 years. That's $360/month. If we assume a cheaper rate, say 5%, then the monthly cost is $212. No problem! That 2.25% Fed rate you heard about? Forget it, that's not for us, it's only for deep-pockets financial institutions.

Model 3: Gasoline surcharge

Current (2007) US gas consumption is about 388 million gallons a day. That's 142 billion gallons a year. If we simply split the cost over the projected consumption, we get about 2 bucks a gallon Iraq war surcharge. Cheap! But of course consumption is not static, it increases every year. If it increases at 3%, the Bush Iraq war surcharge is down to $1.65/gal. But, as we found out in the 80's, peoples consumption does react to price changes (this is called the price elasticity of demand). Or the surcharge might tip the economy into a recession. Or the economy might already be in recession. If consumption drops by 3% a year instead of rising, then we have to take that into account and set the surcharge accordingly, at $2.25/gallon. Not that much more.

Bottom line:

You're in for $20K up front, or $212/month over 10 years, or $2 a gallon. Already. Whether you like it or not.

How do you want to pay for that sir? Cash or credit?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Horror of Bear, Stearns.

Marxists often derisively refer to capital markets as a casino for the very wealthy, rigged to their advantage, and designed to protect them from harm in any downturn. Regarding the events of the past week and the actions by the Fed, it's not hard to see their point of view.

The fed is bailing out the financial industry, with 30 billion dollar gifts to wealthy investment houses. At the same time, many of these bad loans were taken out by ordinary working people who were simply duped by that same financial system. The cheaters as a group are *rewarded* for being cheats. And big investment banks that fail are shown that they will be bailed out when the S. really hits the F.

The system ought to work so that ordinary people get bailed out first. These mortgages aren't that hard to identify: They are taken out by families that hold one mortgage and occupy a dwelling. They should be bought up and re-negotiated. Ben Bernanke has much more sympathy for the bad boys of the financial class than for home owning families, so see who he tends to first.

The other people who are really scrod are Bear Stearns employees who held a substantial fraction of their 401K portfolio Enron-like in their employer's stock. The CEOs of corporations should be required to *personally* guarantee the value of employee-held stock in pension plans.

Noblesse Oblige. And it would be a nice brake on reckless tactics. How much did the CEO of BS take home in bonuses this year already? They should be up for grabs right now to discourage this kind of thing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Setting the bar higher

Let me expand on my remarks yesterday. Besides the content of the speech, which was remarkable, there were two aspects of the "More Perfect Union" speech that really stand out.

1) Barack Obama said, in effect, black people, I speak for you. And then turned around and said white people, I speak for you too. In a credible way that left many people who hadn't thought much about him before audibly moved. This is something that really sets Obama apart from other politicians.

2) Barack Obama set his speech in nuanced and refined language that a cynic would assume would fly over the heads of the American people. On one of my favorite radio shows this morning, "Connect the Dots" the point was made that eloquence is a weapon very rarely deployed in American politics. We regularly assume that our leaders will talk down to us, speak to the lowest common denominator. Certainly Dubya and Bubba did that. I can only applaud this new approach. Lots of people have promised to raise the tone of political discourse in Washington. I think they forget that this requires both a will and a capability to do so that almost nobody has anymore. Barack Obama appears to have both.

Can it be that attacks like we saw on Gore and Kerry simply won't work on a subtle and eloquent speaker like Obama? He certainly seems to fend off every attack with a seemingly effortless grace. I'm sure that somewhere the people behind the "swiftboat veterans" are sharpening their knives, will Obama dissect their mindless arguments with logical clarity? I sure hope so. I sure hope so.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Reporting the reports on BHO's Philly speech

Barack Obama has set the bar pretty high for the American people, and even higher for the press. Essentially, he says, if you report this as "Barack won't disown former pastor" you are playing with the old deck. Affirming an outmoded way of thinking about politics and about race. Will the media hear the message or go for the sound bite? The titles of their stories are most instructive:

Reuters: "Obama denounces preacher, says can't disown him". Missed the point of the speech entirely, interested only in the distraction of Pastor Wright, not in the larger issue. D. Update: Reuters changed the second clause to "urges race healing", give them a C for that.

LA times: "Obama confronts nation's race issues" Fair and neutral title. Not about the horse race at least. B+

Boston Globe: "Obama calls for racial unity" Much closer to the actual content of the speech. B+

AP: "Obama Confronts Racial Division in US" Even better. B+ UPDATE: Really bad article though, uses words like "racially tinged" and "pointed" to suggest that Barack is calling out whitey, by the ubiquitous and loathsome nedra Pickler. F.

Washington Times: "Activists go wild over Obama speech." Ignores the speech entirely and focuses on the "wild activists" reaction to the speech. F.

Baltimore Sun: "Obama speaks of anger, hope and a "racial stalemate"" Excellent concise statement of the content of the speech. A-

Wall Street Journal: "Will Obama’s Speech Work?" The most complex title yet -- "work" from a horse race perspective, to take away HRC's momentum and turn attention to his leadership? Or work in changing the debate in america form racial division to conciliation? Have to read this one, I wonder which way they go with it. A if they mean both, F if only the former.

So, we'll see. I haven't seen the speech yet, I've only read it. That inures me from the seductive effects of BHO's "soaring oratory". What I read this morning is for me personally up there with the great speeches of all time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

It won't be a brokered convention

I'm back from Japan.

Starting on August 25th is the Democratic National Convention in Denver. At some point there will be a vote, and since there are two candidates, that first vote will produce a majority. Maybe some delegates will hold out for Edwards or Kucinich and need to be placated -- they are unlikely to be enough to require even a second ballot.

A brokered convention a la 1968 is impossible. What everyone is worried about is the necessity to broker a deal *before* the convention, in order that the presumptive candidate can take on John McCain. This is a mess the Democratic leadership made for itself. Could nobody imagine this close a race? They should have planned better.

Close races are exciting. The media love them, more than they love either candidate. As much as possible they will tear the front runner down and build the underdog up until they are even. An even race is suspenseful, it's a *story*, it makes money for everybody. The evaporation of Guiuliani, Romney (remember Fred Thompson) et al., means that there's even more media pressure to keep the Democratic race even.

That's why it's going to come down to Denver.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is Obama Safe?

It wasn't just in Dallas that security was relaxed, I was a volunteer ticket taker at Obama's adulation and love-fest in Houston last Tuesday, and the security let up there as well too, abandoning the metal detector sweep about halfway through.

Everybody else who has ever produced this kind of buzz has been murdered. Including Jesus himself. I think we have some grounds for being apprehensive.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Obama in Kenya Photo

Isn't it transparently obvious to everyone that no matter where Drudge got the photo, he has the incentive to say it came from the Clinton campaign, because that way it does double damage. Why is it that this stuff gets taken at face value?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lay off the McCain "sex scandal"

This is the "political silly season" in action. By all means argue with the guy about being too close to lobbyists, but who cares who he's literally in bed with? This is just silly.

What is patriotism?

When I lived in Germany, my downstairs neighbor was a fellow American, en ex-marine with a lovely, if somewhat dysfunctional family. A good guy. A solid Democrat too (surprise, they exist in the Military). He thought, when I first described myself as an Expatriate, that I meant "ex-Patriot", like he was an "ex-Marine". I guess somehow he wasn't familiar with that word. He thought I meant I no longer loved my country. It took months to clear up that misunderstanding, since later he wasn't very interested in talking to me. It's funny how, with such an emotionally charged issue, a simple statement can easily be turned into its opposite.

The right wing (aided by a network purchased for this purpose) is spreading the idea that Barack Obama is "unpatriotic". This transparent idiocy has now been picked up by the "serious" media. So what?

Do outward signs of patriotism make you a patriot? I say no. Wearing a lapel pin, or putting a magnetic sticker on your car is no evidence of patriotism. Instead it shows a sort of false patriotism, that completely ignores the principles on which our country was founded. Reverence for or worship of the flag is not the same as reverence for America. America, first and foremost, is not a flag, nor a particular piece of geography. Both have changed over the course of our history. America is a constitution. The Constitution is not a symbol, nor is it a place, it is what creates America, it defines America. Civics lessons aside, the Constitution is the only thing that distinguishes us from other countries, all of which have flags and Homelands, similar in nature to ours. Elected officials and soldiers do not swear an oath to the Homeland, to the flag, to the President or to the people. Those types of loyalty oaths are not the province of democracies. It's for good reason that an oath of office is to protect and defend the Constitution that has nothing to do with symbolism.

Therefore it is not necessary to wear a lapel pin to be a patriot. Nor is it necessary to have a magnetic ribbon sticker on your car. Nor is it necessary to say the Pledge of Allegiance (a recent invention that would have horrified the founding fathers). It's what lies behind the lapel pin that counts. And those who require the lapel pin, but are bigoted, who require the lapel pin as a sign of blind obediance, who require the lapel pin but accept the weakening of our constitution in the name of "security", these people are not patriots.

An American Expat in Texas

This is my first blog post: Please bear with me.

After getting my Ph.D. out East in 1993, I moved with my family to Europe, where I lived for 13 years, a little too long honestly. I love Europe, but life as an Expat is very tiring, and often bewildering. More about that sometime later. Moving to Texas was a Big Big surprise. For a while, I felt like an Expat all over again, a stranger in my own country. Back East, old friends would take me aside and ask privately so, how are you managing? Like I had cancer or something. Same with my friends in France and Germany. "Comment ca va chez toi en Texas?" "Kommst du drueben gut zurecht?" (I promise to get circumflexes and umlauts figured out soon). Well, point number one about that is: Texas is great. Especially Houston. They're both a continual happy surprise. The downsides I knew about (pollution, crime, reflexive republicans) but you get those in any big city. Houston is great. More about that later.

Like any Easterner, I had a lot of preconceptions about Texas that turned out not to be true.

Myth: Texans are all conservative Christians.
Myth: Texans all love country music.
Myth: The Rodeo is a boring display of testosterone poisoning.
Myth: Anybody who wears cowboy boots to work is a right winger.
Myth: Texans like watery beer.
Myth: There's no culture in Texas.

I'll write essays on these topics presently too. You're also going to read a lot about politics here.

So, let's see how this looks.