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Mike [userpic]

Noted from the News

December 4th, 2008 (11:04 pm)
amused

current mood: amused

From the "I Can Haz Cheeseburger?" Department: A 22-year old Vero Beach, Florida man is facing a domestic violence charge after getting in an argument with his girlfriend and allegedly assaulting her with a McDonald's cheeseburger.

From the "Things to disappoint gillen" Department: A British medical journal is publishing a paper that concludes that happiness really is contagious and that people often pass on their good cheer even to total strangers. No word on whether the scientists who conducted the study were on some really good drugs at the time.

From the "Bond. James Bond" Department: President-Elect Obama's decision to retain Robert Gates as defense secretary apparently had its roots in a secret meeting in a fire station at Washington's National Airport. Secretary Gates was once the director of the CIA and has extensive familiarity with the tactics of clandestine operatives.

From the "Big Government" Department: An opposition MP in Great Britain used the recent announcement of the government's legislative agenda to point out a number of ridiculous laws passed by the Labour Party since it took office in 1997. The MP noted that the Labour government has created some 3,600 "completely bizarre" new criminal offenses, including disturbing a pack of eggs, "willfully pretending to be a barrister", selling game killed on Sundays, and causing a nuclear explosion. Perhaps this was the sort of thing Mark Twain was referring to when he said that no one's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.

Mike [userpic]

No Justice at Guantanamo

December 3rd, 2008 (10:39 pm)
okay

current mood: okay

Many stories have been written about defense lawyers assigned to the detainees at Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay where military trials of so-called "enemy combatants" are under way. Far from being government stooges, these lawyers have been diligent in going all-out to represent their clients. But what has received less attention is the story of a government prosecutor who recently quit and resigned his military commission after finding out the truth about Guantanamo. Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld has given an exclusive interview to the BBC.

Lt. Colonel Vandeveld had to look no further than the first suspect he was assigned to prosecute to discover the problems with Gitmo. The defendant had been captured when he was only a teenager and Lt. Colonel Vandeveld discovered an old and rusty storage locker in which evidence was found that could prove the youth's innocence. That information had not been shared with defense attorneys and the locker also included documentation of the defendant's mistreatment almost the entire time he was at Gitmo. Also included was documentation of the young man's having attempted suicide by banging his head against the walls of his cell.

Mr. President-Elect: We need to close this place down. Immediately.

Mike [userpic]

What the Dow giveth, the Dow taketh away

December 2nd, 2008 (09:49 am)
amused

current mood: amused

Five straight days of gains in stocks before the Thanksgiving holiday, but the market was not to let us down after all. Yesterday, the National Bureau of Economic Research (which tracks these things) announced that the US economy was officially in a recession that started in December 2007--which of course is not news for most of us, but is apparently of interest to some academic economists. Then another report came out saying that manufacturing activity had dropped to a level not seen in over 30 years and, to top it all off, it turned out that all those holiday crowds on Black Friday disappeared in a hurry by Saturday when all the sales were gone.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average responded by quickly dropping about 680 points, mostly erasing all of the gains of the five-day rally. And Nasdaq and S&P 500 (both broader measures than the DJIA) were down about 9% each as well. So it looks as if Wall Street has reverted to form: a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum while running around in full panic mode.

James and Gillen, too bad you two aren't local or I'd invite you over for a toast.

Oh, and speaking of those crowds of holiday shoppers...

Mike [userpic]

Star Trek Mistakes

December 1st, 2008 (11:11 am)
amused

current mood: amused

I guess this just goes to show that sometimes writers aren't very good in the consistency department. In spite of the sketchy-looking cover image, the video is safe for work.



(Stolen from rpeate)

Mike [userpic]

"Advertising Peace"

November 30th, 2008 (02:48 pm)
thoughtful

current mood: thoughtful

A carefully constructed narrative is often accepted without much in the way of question in this country. The narrative is that Israel is a peaceful democratic country that has tried its best to live in peace with its neighbors only to be thwarted by angry irrational Islamic terrorists. The "peaceful" part is somewhat amusing when one considers that Israel is one of the only nations that has its own brand of gun, but nevermind. The problem with this narrative is that although (like all good fiction), it may contain a large grain of truth, the full story is a lot more complicated than that.

In 2002, the Arab world launched their own peace initiative and that offer is likely still on the table were Israel to accept and sit down at the negotiating table. The peace initiative offers recognition and full normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and over fifty Arab and Islamic countries. In return, the initiative asks for a return to the 1967 borders of Israel, a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just settlement of the refugee issue in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.

And now the Palestinian Authority is running a full-scale advertising campaign in Israel to make people aware of this initiative. The advertisements are in Hebrew and, by making a concerted effort to speak to the Israeli people in their own language, the PA is already offering a tacit acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist in the region--a breakthrough which it seems should be getting more coverage than it is.

Personally I would make some modifications to this proposal, but none that would really change the substance of it. First of all, a return to 1967 borders presents some very serious practical issues relating to Israeli security, particularly in the Golan Heights. I have always said--and continue to say--that any fair Mideast peace settlement must take into account Israel's legitimate security concerns.

Handing the Golan Heights over to Syria outright seems particularly problematic and not something that I would imagine any nation in its right mind would do if they were in Israel's position, considering the huge advantage in intelligence-gathering and military positioning it would offer to a nation that has, after all, been hell-bent on the annihilation of Israel for quite some time. A peace agreement has to take into account that building up trust amid such long-standing animosities is something that will take time.

One possibility I can see is establishing some sort of neutral zone in the Golan Heights that would be strictly enforced by either an armed UN force or a heavily armed contingent of American, Canadian (assuming of course that sun_tzu does not accidentally lock the keys in the jeep again), or NATO troops. The United States could provide a lot in the way of intelligence or surveillance capability in support of such a mission, regardless of whose troops you used. And you'd want the area to be open to both Israeli and Arab monitors, although no Israeli or Arab military presence would be allowed.

In fact, I would make it part of the mandate of the international force that they would be explicitly authorized to use lethal force to repel any Arab or Israeli military incursion. You'd have to make sure that commanding officers of this force were competent and trusted by both sides to be impartial, since the use of force authorization would have to be on the authority of the commander on the ground and not some far-off superior.

While many people think that the references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust have been seriously overplayed (and again, there is some grain of truth in this), Israel has some very legitimate concerns. It's perfectly understandable to me that the Jewish people would be particularly sensitive to a very ugly history. The Holocaust in particular is an event, we must remember, that took place while nearly all of the rest of the world stood by and did nothing or very little. It's really not hard to understand why the Israelis have long felt that they can only count on themselves for their security. Certainly the failure of much of Europe, for instance, to acknowledge its present-day issues with anti-Semitism is not exactly a confidence-builder in the eyes of the Israelis.

While I understand the desire for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state, there are better ways to deal with this issue. Jerusalem is unique in the region in being a city that is considered sacred by three very old faiths and any just long-term solution should take that fact into account. For instance, Jerusalem could be turned into a unified international (and inter-faith) city that served as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. An international council could be set up (funded internationally and backed by an international police force, at least for a time) to handle city administration. Conceivably an inter-faith council could be established to oversee the protection of the holy sites.

The last tweak I would make is the addition of a bi-lateral security agreement between the United States and Israel, along the lines of the NATO treaty, that would commit the United States to coming to Israel's aid in the event of any Arab attack. This could go a long way toward easing Israel's security fears, as well as serving as a powerful deterrent to any attack, particularly if it were backed up by an American base or two in Israel that would pack enough of a military punch to wipe out any Arab military force in short order. As part of a comprehensive peace agreement, the American people could then rest assured that our forces were, in fact, protecting a truly just democracy in the Middle East, a true ally of the United States.

It could be done. All it takes is the political will to make it happen.

Mike [userpic]

An Apology for Proposition 8

November 29th, 2008 (08:53 pm)

For those who have have been inclined to paint Christianity with an overly-broad brush in the aftermath of Proposition 8--and don't get me wrong, I've been tempted to do so myself out of sheer anger--I came across this in politicsforum:

The Mission Gathering Church in San Diego has paid for a billboard in San Diego apologizing for people who supported proposition 8 in the name of God.

The sign says: "Mission gathering church is sorry for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of those who took away the rights and equality of so many in the name of God. Our hearts are with you, Christianity for all"

Mission Gathering Church
3828 Herman Ave.
San Diego CA, 92104
Phone: 619.624.9335
Fax: 619.624.9395

http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com


Yeah, we can't forget that there's a lot of Christians out there who are very good people. After all, if we start acting as judgmental and narrow-minded as the other side in the face of every setback on the road to social justice, what do we really have left?

Another very good site: Liberals Like Christ

In the same spirit, I wish to offer a confession of sorts of my own. To all my friends in the queer community...I apologize for my support of the Defense Of Marriage Act and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the 1990's. Obviously, it was an extremely misguided position. I hope for the day when all of these outrageous laws will be repealed.

Mike [userpic]

Saturday Evening Amusement

November 29th, 2008 (08:36 pm)
amused

current mood: amused



(Yanked from politicsforum. Cross-posted to theleftunited)

Mike [userpic]

How much more obnoxious can get you get?

November 28th, 2008 (11:15 am)
pissed off

current mood: pissed off

So I'm at the library at UNC, taking advantage of the peace and quiet and lack of distractions to be productive and catch up on some work. And then I hear a cell phone go off with an obnoxiously loud ringtone. Always annoying, of course, because I can never understand why the hell people can't find the vibrate setting or the off switch when they are in public places where it is rude to disturb others--it's not that difficult. But then the phone keeps ringing. And ringing. And ringing. I start looking around to glare at the idiot in question.

Turns out, the phone is in a backpack that's unattended. Seriously??? Maybe I should go an attend to the damn thing myself--with the help of a hammer.

Really, some people should just not be allowed to have technology. Or reproduce, for that matter. Like this guy, for instance.

Mike [userpic]

Political Amusements

November 26th, 2008 (09:42 pm)
amused

current mood: amused

1. I was watching a show on the History Channel about the White House and they were talking about an inscription on one of the mantles. The inscription was from a letter by John Adams to Abigail Adams and expressed the hope that only wise and honorable men would ever rule from the White House. Hmmm...Well, so much for that plan. And as if to underscore the point, the inscription was read by Laura Bush.

2. An add in my Yahoo! inbox asked how I would rate George W. Bush: good, fair or poor. Wow, talk about a lack of adequate choices. Poor doesn't even begin to express it.

3. People have pointed out in response to my post about the Citigroup bailout that these government bailouts are not just free money and that the government is hoping to recover some of this money when the economy improves. If that is so, then why do I keep having the feeling that I'm being forced to buy a truckload of shit pies and simply accept Hank Paulson's assurances that at some unspecified point in the future, they will all suddenly turn into delicious pastries?

Mike [userpic]

A Bailout That Makes Sense

November 25th, 2008 (10:53 pm)
good

current mood: good

A friend and I got to talking about the Citigroup bailout and came up with an idea that seems to make a lot more sense than just handing the company money. A lot of people have Citibank credit cards and most probably owe money on these cards.

So why doesn't the government just pay the bills? It would give Citi a bunch of needed cash, get a lot of consumers out from under a pile of debt, and take away a lot of the risk that Citi is exposed to because then there wouldn't be the worry that people would default on their payments in the tough economy.

Really, why can't we do this? Oh yeah, I remember now. Because helping out anyone who doesn't fly around on their own private jet would be communism.

Mike [userpic]

No room for the likes of Larry Summers in an Obama White House

November 24th, 2008 (05:55 pm)
annoyed

current mood: annoyed

President-Elect Obama has started naming members of his economic team, including New York Fed President Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury. Among his appointments was Lawrence Summers, a former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary and Harvard University president, as his chair of the White House National Economic Council. The appointment of Summers presents a serious problem: namely that in a speech as Harvard President, he made comments disparaging the ability of women to handle careers in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences. His remarks struck me at the time as being remarkably similar to the pseudo-scientific nonsense spouted in the book The Bell Curve about the "inherent lower intelligence" of racial minorities.

The Boston Globe article on Summers' remarks noted that Summers was invited to the conference of the National Bureau of Economic Research as a prominent economist and not as the president of Harvard. In that case, it's interesting that one can find a copy of the full speech posted on the web site of the Office of the President at Harvard. I also find it interesting that in his role as a mere "top economist", the problem of discrimination against women in academia and the sciences is considerably outside his area of expertise. According to Wikipedia:

As a researcher, Summers has made important contributions in many areas of economics, primarily public finance, labor economics, financial economics, and macroeconomics. To a lesser extent, Summers has also worked in international economics, economic demography, economic history, and development economics. His work generally emphasizes the analysis of empirical economic data in order to answer well-defined questions (for example: Does saving respond to after-tax interest rates? Are the returns from stocks and stock portfolios predictable?, Are most of those who receive unemployment benefits only transitorily unemployed?, etc.) For his work he received the John Bates Clark Medal in 1993 from the American Economic Association.


But regardless of the context in which Summers made his comments, it seems problematic to appoint someone who has made such remarks to a high level post in the Obama White House. The Obama Administration, in my understanding, is supposed to be one of diversity and inclusion and his election is supposed to represent the ascent of an ideal that America is a country for everyone. The appointment of someone to a high-level post who would air such sexist viewpoints at a high-profile economic conference while the President of a major university (which has had considerable problems as far as equal opportunity for women) seems to undermine that message.

The media seems to pay little attention to Summers' blatantly misogynist views. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had been elected president and appointed someone to a high-level post who had such attitudes about African-Americans, such as one of the authors of The Bell Curve. My guess is that there would be an outrage from African-Americans and other activists who had supported her--and rightly so. There should be no less outrage about this appointment to the Obama Administration.

While I have been an enthusiastic supporter of President-Elect Obama and celebrated his election as much as anyone, I have also offered the word of caution that those of us who supported him must hold him accountable for staying true to the ideals that we elected him for. Now, in my view, is one of those times. The activist community should make it very clear to the President-Elect that there is no room for someone like Larry Summers in the Obama White House.


(cross-posted to ljdemocrats, theleftunited, obama_2008, happy_feminists)

Mike [userpic]

Republican Kooks, Example #2,943

November 21st, 2008 (05:23 pm)
amused

current mood: amused

Would-be appointees quizzed on guns

President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team is asking potential appointees detailed questions about gun ownership, and firearms advocates aren’t happy about it.

The National Rifle Association has denounced the move, which has already led one Republican senator to consider legislation aimed at ensuring a president can’t use an applicant’s gun ownership status to deny employment. [Emphasis mine]

Full Article...


The Republican senator in question is apparently Jim DeMint, a first-term senator from South Carolina. His idea is, of course, absurd. The President-Elect's 63-question application is for political appointees, not civil service jobs. The President can refuse to hire anyone for these jobs, for almost any reason (yes, including gun ownership). He can appoint anyone he wants, as long as the appointees who require it receive Senate confirmation.

Mike [userpic]

More of the Obama Administration

November 21st, 2008 (04:34 pm)
working

current mood: working

Reports are that President-Elect Obama has decided to nominate New York Fed President Timothy Geithner to be his Secretary of the Treasury. There are conflicting reports that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will accept the Secretary of State post. The President-Elect also seems to be considering an assortment of activists for other key posts, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and the Department of Labor. Many of the people reportedly under consideration have been highly critical of Republican policies and strong advocates for increased budgets and more powerful regulatory roles for federal agencies.

Obviously, one of the incoming administration's first priorities has to be getting a handle on the economic crisis. But as the Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib writes, the economic crisis could amount to a huge opportunity for the President-Elect to push major parts of his agenda. For my part, I am hopeful that in addition to universal health care, the President-Elect moves swiftly on card check for union membership and a major overhaul of federal regulatory agencies. I also think the EPA should be scrapped and its functions transferred to a new Cabinet-level Department of the Environment. This would send a strong signal that the U.S. government is serious about being a world leader on addressing climate change.

How the Obama Administration seems to be shaping up so far:

White House Chief of Staff: Rahm Emanuel
White House Senior Adviser: David Axelrod
White House Senior Adviser: Pete Rouse
White House Senior Adviser: Valerie Jarrett
White House Counsel: Greg Craig
White House Political Director: Patrick Gaspard
Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs: Phil Schiliro


Secretary of State: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of Defense: Robert Gates
(The President-Elect is reportedly leaning toward keeping Secretary Gates for the time being before replacing him with someone like Richard Danzig or Chuck Hagel)

Secretary of the Treasury: Timothy Geithner

Attorney-General: Eric Holder

Secretary of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano

(Currently the governor of Arizona, Ms. Napolitano first gained national prominence as a lawyer for Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in the early 1990's. She has also served as a United States Attorney and Attorney-General of the state of Arizona. In addition to her strong law-enforcement background, she is known for supporting harsh penalties against businesses who employ illegal workers while vetoing measures that are tough on immigrants themselves--in my opinion, a pragmatic approach to the immigration issue.)

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle
(Former U.S. Senate majority leader)

Secretary of Commerce: Bill Richardson
(Currently governor of New Mexico. Formerly served as US Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy. A former Democratic candidate for President.)

Federal Aviation Administration: Duane Woerth
(Not confirmed, but he has been in discussions with Congressional leaders. He is former head of the airline pilots' union)

Environmental Protection Agency: Mary Nichols
Again, not confirmed, but there's been a lot of speculation. She is the head of California's Air Resources Board and has been aggressive in pushing state limits on CO2 emissions--for which she has been in constant conflict with the EPA.)


(cross-posted to theleftunited, ljdemocrats, obama_2008)

Mike [userpic]

No plan, no money

November 20th, 2008 (10:36 pm)
pleased

current mood: pleased

Congress decided to pass on bailing out the auto industry--good for them. Thankfully, I think Congress is sick and tired of companies hearing that Washington is giving away free money and running to Capitol Hill hat in hand to ask for huge sums of money with no plan and no accountability. The Big Three automakers have had huge fundamental problems for a long time--products that don't fit with what consumers want, too many brands, too many dealers, bloated compensation for both executives and workers, etc, etc. Speaker Pelosi put it very succinctly: "Until they show us a plan, we can't show them the money".

It's not that I am against bailing out the auto industry. But, just as with banks, there needs to be strict terms and conditions for any government help, just as there would be for a loan from any other lender. The auto companies should present an exact amount of money they need and a detailed plan for how it's going to be used. The taxpayers should get a stake in the companies to secure the loans and there should be a detailed plan for how the government will get its money back, with interest. And the auto companies need to show that they have already started taking concrete steps to fix their problems and position themselves for future success. Come to think of it, replace the current leadership of these companies while we're at it, just as we should with the banks. I'm getting a little sick and tired of corporate executives making millions for running their companies into the ditch and then running to Uncle Sam hat in hand for help.

If you go down to your local bank and ask for a small business loan, the bank wants to see a plan that includes exactly how much money you need and exactly how it will be used and why you need this money in order to be successful. Any business that went to apply to any lender for a loan and had only the vague and half-baked answers of the Big Three CEOs would be laughed out of the building. These clowns couldn't even manage to give some satisfactory answers to a Congress that, by and large, wanted to give them money. The Big Three have shown quite clearly that they just don't get it. Maybe the US government needs to start helping out businesses that actually care about positioning themselves for the future instead of failing industrial behemoths.

And besides, didn't we bail out Chrysler once before?

Mike [userpic]

The New Administration

November 19th, 2008 (10:43 pm)
busy

current mood: busy

This week, we've started to get some idea of what an Obama White House might look like. Here's where to find some more information on the names that have been swirling around. This is not intended to be a complete list, but rather a handy way of looking up some basic information on some of the higher-profile appointments and nominations.

White House Chief of Staff-Rahm Emanuel
NOTES: Finalized. Does not require Senate confirmation.
Wikipedia: Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel's official House of Representatives site
New York Times profile of Rahm Emanuel
Congresspedia: Rahm Emanuel

Secretary of Health and Human Services-Tom Daschle
NOTES: Not announced. Requires confirmation by the Senate
Wikipedia: Tom Daschle
Daschle biography at the Center for American Progress
Daschle page at SourceWatch
New York Times profile of Tom Daschle

Attorney-General: Eric Holder
NOTES: Not announced. Requires confirmation by the Senate.
Wikipedia: Eric Holder

Secretary of the Treasury: Timothy Geithner
NOTES: Nothing has been announced or leaked, so the Sec-Treas nominee might be Geithner or someone else. Whoever does get nominated has to be confirmed by the Senate.
Timothy Geithner bio at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Wikipedia: Timothy Geithner
New York Times profile of Timothy Geithner

Others being considered for Treasury Secretary: George Soros, international financier and Democratic Party activist; Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton and current director at Citibank; Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, former president of Harvard University, current economics professor at Harvard; Paul Volcker, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board in the 1980's and current economic adviser to President-Elect Obama.

Mike [userpic]

Yahoo! -- Under New Management

November 17th, 2008 (08:01 pm)
peaceful

current mood: peaceful

The New York Times
Monday, November 17, 2008 -- 8:35 PM ET
-----

Jerry Yang, Yahoo Chief, to Step Down

Yahoo said Monday evening that Jerry Yang, who helped build the company from an early directory of Web sites into a sprawling Internet giant, would step down from his role as chief executive after the company finds a replacement.


I suppose it's just as well, since Mr. Yang didn't seem able to produce any progress in turning the company around. A failed sale to Microsoft and a deal with Google that had to be scrapped because of concerns about anti-trust law made Yahoo seem more like a soap opera than an Internet property in recent months. Still, it's sad. Jerry Yang and David Filo were the first to deploy any sort of large-scale tool for trying to organize and search through all of the information on the Internet and it's too bad Mr. Yang seems to have lost his touch in this area. Hopefully his talent will quickly lead him into another opportunity.

Mike [userpic]

The Real Change Begins

November 14th, 2008 (10:18 pm)
okay

current mood: okay

I haven't written about the presidential transition so far because of the need to get caught up with the rest of my life after the intensity of the election. So, a few things.

First, L Gordon Crovitz, who writes the "Information Age" column over at The Wall Street Journal, has written an interesting column entitled Can We Trust Anyone Over 30?, in which he discusses how President-Elect Obama used the full power and potential of the Internet age to win the presidency. But most of the essay is not historical review, but rather some bold ideas on how the incoming administration can ensure that it retains the support of the younger generation. The ideas presented aren't entirely new, but this is still a good read since it is a good introduction to how the the Internet and other new technologies, if used to its full potential, can make government far more transparent and democratic than it has been in the past.

Next, as most people are probably aware, there are several thousand political appointees all across the federal government that are chosen by the incoming administration. These positions are listed in a document known as The Plum Book and you can get a free copy over at the website of the Government Printing Office. Another great resources to keep up with what is going on is the official website of the Office of the President-Elect, Change.gov.

If you want to apply for any of these jobs, you often won't find detailed job descriptions or requirements in the Plum Book. But the Plum Book will tell you which agencies the jobs are in, which is more than sufficient since this is, after all, the Internet generation, and all of these agencies have websites. One thing I can say for the U.S. government is that there is tons of information available online. A good place to start is at the official government web portal, USA.gov.

The idea of a job in the Obama Administration may appeal to a lot of people. You get to have a plush office, an important title, access to the President, and a staff at your disposal to help you implement your ideas. One other thing though: If you want to apply for one of these jobs, you'll have to answer a few questions.

Mike [userpic]

How Joe the Plumber Lives

November 13th, 2008 (03:51 pm)
amused

current mood: amused

I yanked this from liberal. Somewhat old but definitely worth a rerun what with all the hilarious over-the-top fear-mongering going around about how "omgz, the democrats have taken over everything and the economy's going to collapse and the brown people are going to kills us all, ahhhh!!!!"

*****

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.
All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks on the government-provided sidewalk to subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe also forgets that his in addition to his federally subsidized student loans, he attended a state funded university.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards to go along with the tax-payer funded roads.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans.

The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Damn those liberals. All of those roads, schools, technology, etc. What is America coming to?

Mike [userpic]

The businessperson's case for regulation

November 12th, 2008 (04:25 pm)
thoughtful

current mood: thoughtful

(prompted by a conversation with moominmuppet)

A lot of small business people I know seem to have a reflexive tendency to align with either Republicans or Libertarians. They believe that because they have a business, they must conform to common orthodoxy about what's best for business: doing away with progressive taxation, de-regulation, etc. Like most Americans, I do not believe most small businessmen have fully thought this out. This is particularly disappointing because the nation's small business owners are a potential powerful voting bloc whose influence is probably going to grow in future elections.

But overlooked is the fact that there is a strong basic economic, pro-free enterprise reason for supporting at least some level of regulation of business--certainly a level that's higher that what we have now. And it is this:

Most people, I believe, want to do the right thing and would try to do the right thing if left to their own devices. As hard as I am on corporate America, I even believe that there are a lot of people in that world who at heart would like to do the right thing. The problem is that with the competitive nature of business (and business will continue to be competitive even if we continue to move toward more cooperative organizations), there can be a lot of pressure to do the wrong thing, even against your natural tendencies, if the business environment is one of "anything goes".

Without regulations, anyone who tries to be ethical and do the right thing can easily be placed at a competitive disadvantage by a small minority of other people or other companies who may not have much in the way of principles. All it takes is one cutthroat unscrupulous bastard (or company) who is willing to treat employees horribly, move jobs overseas, dump toxic wastes into the environment, or cut corners on safety standards to begin an ever-accelerating race to the bottom. A business that tries to adhere to higher ethical standards finds itself at a huge disadvantage and in many cases is not even able to stay in business.

Under this scenario, a situation quickly develops in which businesses are no longer competing based on measures like quality products, innovation, creativity, or excellent customer service. The competition quickly becomes about who can most ruthlessly cut costs. If this means that employees suffer or the environment suffers or that consumers are endangered by unsafe products, so be it.

Another result is that the economy becomes skewed and unbalanced because the values (prices) we place on products and services are no longer a true reflection of what it takes to produce the product or provide the service. For instance, the reason that Wal-Mart is able to sell things so cheap is not because their prices are a true reflection of their costs, but simply because they manage to outsource so many of their costs to society as a whole.

What too many companies are essentially doing is privatizing profits while socializing costs. John McCain and Sarah Palin may have had a problem with spreading the wealth around, but corporate America has never had any such qualms about spreading the risk around. The result is that the top five percent keep all the wealth while the rest of us have to pay when the bills are due. Not a bad deal if you don't mind being a parasite on the rest of society, I suppose. And to think they say that single mothers on welfare are the ones who are "leeching off society".

Contrary to John McCain's assertion that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, it is precisely the fundamentals that are the problem. Perhaps the biggest reason that credit markets are frozen, for instance, is that even large institutions can no longer trust each other's balance sheets. The balance sheets can't be trusted for the simple reason that no one can say for sure what the assets behind the numbers are worth.

That much is not new to anyone who pays attention to current events. But what is not discussed as much is that this is not simply a problem of the financial institutions, but of the economy as a whole. The system has gotten so out-of-whack that the numbers the economists are using to keep track of what's going on and set appropriate policies no longer mean anything because they don't take true costs into account. For that matter, the numbers are not even a true reflection of the modern economy, but that's a topic for a whole other post.

The conservative crowd may have gotten away with destroying a level playing field and turning economics into a completely bastardized version of ecology, but they can't keep up the charade forever. The funny thing about economics (and ecology for that matter) is that the basic laws are pretty fundamental, no matter how you fudge the numbers. Wal-Mart may get away with outsourcing all its costs and cutting corners on everything, but one way or another, everyone ends up paying these costs eventually.

Mike [userpic]

The Eleventh Hour...

November 11th, 2008 (10:48 pm)
sad

current mood: sad

...of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Ninety years to the day when all became quiet on the western front as the guns fell silent and the killing in the trenches finally stopped. The War to End All Wars as it was then known, although it was not to be.

Armistice Day in the rest of the world and Veterans' Day for those of us here in the U.S. For all of us, a somber day to remember and to reflect, to come to terms with the reality that far too often, freedom has a very high price.

To my American readers to whom it applies, a very sincere thank you for your service and an appreciation for the sacrifices of you and and your comrades. For all of us, the hope of a better world, the dream that we might one day put an end to all wars, the vision of a world in which the guns can fall silent not only on the western front, but on all fronts.