Monday: Planes, Trains and the Obama-McConnell deal

Yesterday, I went to NYC to see the Rockettes at Radio City for the first time.  They’re every bit as good as you would expect.  The show is glitzy and, as Brooke would say, “kinda cheezy”.  But if you are looking for a pick-me-up during the Christmas season, you can’t beat the Rockettes. In fact, the Rockettes put on their first extravaganza in 1932 during the Great Depression.  It must have done the trick because they’ve been doing it ever since, with a brief hiatus during the 70’s.

The part that sucks is of low quality is actually getting into and out of Manhattan from the Joisy side.  I’ve written about this before.  Three years later, the process is even worse than before, if that can be believed.  Last night, when I took the Northeast Corridor train from Penn Station to Newark where my car was parked, the same, stupid, dehumanizing procedure happened again.  We arrived at the pink granited NJ Transit waiting area, a step up from the fluorescently lit but still dark and dingy laboratory mazes of underground Penn Station (NJ residents don’t get beautiful masterpieces like Grand Central.  Nooooo, they tore down the original Penn Station in the 60’s and parked Madison Square Garden on top of it.)  The NE Corr. train comes only once an hour, which is itself insane.  NJ is the densest state in the union and we get on measly train once an hour out of NYC?  Ok, so the waiting area is already almost out of seats at 20 past the hour.  The tickets are about 30% higher than the last time I bought them a couple months ago.  (Thanks, Gov. Christie!).  Over the next 20 minutes, the waiting area is packed full of tired, cranky, sweaty commuters.  Then the departure board assigns a track number and this heaving mass of humanity sprints for two narrow staircases.  There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and glancing at watches to see if you’ll have time to get a decent seat on the train.  Then there’s the Olympic Run-Walk down the platform to the front of the train because half the doors on the back end and closest part of the train to the stairs are closed.  We walk and walk for what seems to be forever while Brooke hobbles on her four inch heels (“I told you not to wear those shoes.”).  The train is the older style with one level.  The seats are about as comfortable as first class economy on Continental.  10 minutes later, it lurches out of Manhattan and lumbers v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y back to Newark.  And why do we park the car at Newark when there is a closer train station to house in the town over?  Because it costs $22 round trip *per person* to get in and out of Manhattan 36 miles away from my house and the nearest train station.  And that’s with a transfer at Newark.  It makes more sense to park the car in Newark and pay for parking there than spend $44 to take the train.  Normally, we take the PATH train into Manhattan from Newark, but in the evening, the PATH reroutes to Hoboken from Manhattan before it doubles back to Newark.

Every time I do this routine, I ask myself, is this any way to run a railroad???  I’m a big believer in mass transit.  My grandfather was a bus driver in Pittsburgh.  I’ve done the Paris metro (which is a dream) and the London Underground, which is also pretty good.  So, I can’t understand why our major cities are so bad at this.  Neither NYC or Chicago has a train system that we could call world class.  Our trains are old and slow, infrequent and expensive.  This is inexcusable, especially when we have abandoned commuter rail tracks all over the state of NJ that no one is using anymore.  I spend hours and hours waiting for trains, changing trains and paying a fortune to get into Manhattan.  Next time, I’m driving.

Ok, I’m done.  Moving on.

Krugman has labelled the new stimulus package, er, tax plan, the “Obama-McConnell” plan.  Seems fitting, seeing how the Republicans pretty much wrote the terms and Obama, crippled by his stupid 11 dimensional chess moves with the first irresponsibly inadequate stimulus package has been forced to make this bad deal.  (Howz that media darling working out for you BTD?)  Paul sums it up in Block those Metaphors:

The point is that while the deal will cost a lot — adding more to federal debt than the original Obama stimulus — it’s likely to get very little bang for the buck. Tax cuts for the wealthy will barely be spent at all; even middle-class tax cuts won’t add much to spending. And the business tax break will, I believe, do hardly anything to spur investment given the excess capacity businesses already have.

The actual stimulus in the plan comes from the other measures, mainly unemployment benefits and the payroll tax break. And these measures (a) won’t make more than a modest dent in unemployment and (b) will fade out quickly, with the good stuff going away at the end of 2011.

The question, then, is whether a year of modestly better performance is worth $850 billion in additional debt, plus a significantly raised probability that those tax cuts for the rich will become permanent. And I say no.

The Obama team obviously disagrees. As I understand it, the administration believes that all it needs is a little more time and money, that any day now the economic engine will catch and we’ll be on the road back to prosperity. I hope it’s right, but I don’t think it is.

What I expect, instead, is that we’ll be having this same conversation all over again in 2012, with unemployment still high and the economy suffering as the good parts of the current deal go away. The White House may think it has struck a good bargain, but I believe it’s in for a rude shock.

Unemployment is personal to me.  I’ve seen what the current job market has done to the morale of people I care about.  But I find it shocking that so many people in conservative red areas of the next state over are so heartless and cruel to their fellow unemployed Americans.  My own relatives huff and puff mightily and fume, “Why don’t they take a job, ANY job?”  The answer is: Because there ARE no jobs.  In my area, Pfizer laid off 19,000 people.  That was just one of many ongoing and terrifying pharmaceutical company layoffs.  Even if you wanted to sell your house and move to another job, there just aren’t any.  So, paying the unemployed to hang on for another year with barely a penny to their names while they struggle to pay their housing costs is not going to cut it.  The money isn’t going to go back into the economy.  It’s going to whoever holds the mortgage.  And that bank will sit on it or lend it out at a higher interest rate.  Seriously, Paul, who benefits from this bill?

What we need are jobs, not more checks.  And we need real wage increases.  And this bill does nothing to help us.  It’s a bill written by Republicans for the benefit of the wealthy.  If I had my way with them, I’d redirect their private jets to the Cayman Islands and not let them off.  That way, they could spend all eternity with their obscene wads of cash and stop bothering the rest of us.  Yep, right smack dab on Hurricane Alley… with no way off the islands…

Anglachel has a new post up about Wikileaks. Check it out.  While I was catching up on podcasts last night, I heard someone say that State Department computers are configured to disallow copying to USB keys and other external drives.  So, whoever it was at the Pentagon who casually stumbled onto 250000 cables did it deliberately.  It might have been Private Manning.  But if the State Department secures its secrets among its own employees, you gotta figure that only some super sysadmin has privileges to access these files on some remote server.  That’s the way most pharmas work.  If you don’t have a need to know, you don’t have access, even if you’re on the same project.  So, who is really behind the leaked cables and what are they up to?  Anglachel provides some possibilities:

Let’s look ahead at the unwinding of events. While the left has been captivated by the human drama of the great man, deprived of flunkies to fuck and threatened by the diabolical Swedish court system, obsessed about how it could be me next!, there’s something rather important coming up in January, namely a change of government in the US. While I know that I lose all my Left Blogistan credibility by saying this, there really is a difference between the behavior of the major political parties when in majority power. The Republicans have no interest in compromising on anything and regard all other sources of political power (however ineptly wielded) as not just the opposition, but as an enemy to be terminated.

They’ve already made clear that the next two years are not going to be used to advance specific pieces of legislation – indeed, why should they since Obama has kindly moved their agenda for them – but to take down the enemy, and I don’t think anyone on the Left really understands just how ruthless they will be. Their control of committee chair positions means that the agenda from January 2011 through December 2012 will be investigate everything that could possibly be turned to their advantage.

It’s key that these documents were released under a Democratic administration. The focus will not be on who released the files, but that there were releases at all, just as the focus on Plame was not that someone outed her, but that she was connected to Joe Wilson. The actual crime, which is the act of taking documents and handing them over, will be elided – unless there is someone at the State Department who has shown a bit too much knowledge of and interest in some specific piece of data and who happens to be of liberal political inclinations, and then we’re talking a show trial along the lines of the House Un-American Activities Committee. That is why the State Department is saying to its current and would-be staff – do not have contact with that now-tainted information, do not discuss it, do not show special knowledge.

(By the way, I don’t think I ever personally said that the Republicans will try to impeach Obama.  They may not have to go that far.  But continually bombard him with hearings and inquisitions, the legal equivalent of harrassment, and waste his time?  Yeah, I think they would do that.  He’s not immune and he looks incredibly vulnerable.  It’s just like the Republicans to go for the old, the sick and the weak first.)

The NYTimes has discovered that the world really is run by a small, evil group to which no one we know belongs.  In A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives, we are told:

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

[...]

In theory, this group exists to safeguard the integrity of the multitrillion-dollar market. In practice, it also defends the dominance of the big banks.

The banks in this group, which is affiliated with a new derivatives clearinghouse, have fought to block other banks from entering the market, and they are also trying to thwart efforts to make full information on prices and fees freely available.

Banks’ influence over this market, and over clearinghouses like the one this select group advises, has costly implications for businesses large and small, like Dan Singer’s home heating-oil company in Westchester County, north of New York City.

This fall, many of Mr. Singer’s customers purchased fixed-rate plans to lock in winter heating oil at around $3 a gallon. While that price was above the prevailing $2.80 a gallon then, the contracts will protect homeowners if bitterly cold weather pushes the price higher.

But Mr. Singer wonders if his company, Robison Oil, should be getting a better deal. He uses derivatives like swaps and options to create his fixed plans. But he has no idea how much lower his prices — and his customers’ prices — could be, he says, because banks don’t disclose fees associated with the derivatives.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if I got a fair price, or what they’re charging me,” Mr. Singer said.

What we got here is a cartel.  Too bad we don’t have any reliable referees, let alone hard and fast rules, to protect Americans from small groups gaming the system.  You can thank Obama and the Republicans for that.

Which brings me to my final point, and I think I do have one.

I’m getting fed up with reading stupid crap from African American journalists threatening to take the African American community with them if Obama doesn’t get a second term.  If I were one of the millions of African Americans out of work and hurting during the Obama years, with no end in sight in his second term but more tearing apart of the social safety net, I’d be really offended by these people speaking for me.  How insulting to think that someone would pass up a better candidate just because they have an insufficient amount of melanin in their skin.  That’s what the likes of Colbert and Read are saying.  That the single most important thing to African Americans when making a political decision is not whether the politician is going to help them get a job or put food on their plates but whether he has right skin color.  It’s also insulting to women, who make up a far greater percentage of the Democratic base than African Americans and whose votes could be much more critical to the Democrats political prosperity in 2012.  Next time there is an election year, Democrats won’t be able to pull that Roe shit because no woman in her right mind will believe them.  And in the end, who cares?  The Rpeublicans don’t want Roe rescinded.  They get their voters to the polls with it.

But it is the cynical “pols will be pols” people I get most irritated with.  In the end, it didn’t really matter whether the politician in the White House was a New Democrat or an Old Democrat.  What mattered was that the Democrat was a leader, which Obama most definitely is not.  In this day and age, in this particular economic crisis, what was and still is required, was a person who would not let propaganda and and the machinations of the ruthless, predatory Movement Conservative Republicans and their noise machine stand in the way of doing what was right.  That person didn’t have to have a secret 11 dimensional chess strategy.  That person had to want to do the right thing for America and the vast number of people that are not rich and well connected.  That person saw what was coming and would have done anything to stop it, including exhausting their own personal wealth to win the nomination.  That person was and is a dedicated public servant who like Lincoln and FDR, would have put aside their own personal aspirations to do the right thing for the country.

That person is NOT Obama.  And now everyone knows it.  Now that we know, only the truly insane and disconnected will want to foist him on us for a second term.

Immigration Reform: An Environmental Perspective

Glbal Biosphere on June 6 2009Immigration, as a policy issue, is politically explosive. It is politically explosive because it necessarily involves making choices between bad options, each of which has supporters and detractors with political power.

In advocating for their option, it is not uncommon for some supporters to engage in inaccurate and unjust accusations against their opponents, such as claiming the other is guilty of racism or traitorhood. The situation is further complicated by the small numbers of supporters on either side who are racist or traitorous.

It is unsurprising that the engagements between opponents are volatile. How could decisions about who belongs, and who does not, be otherwise? What is the best way to disentangle a complex web of family relations, personal convictions, and obligations that must be shared between citizens if they are to be a nation, all in the context of the question of how the franchise is to be extended to non-citizens, if at all? It is no wonder that the issue is avoided like the plague.

Plague-avoidance strategies that do not address the causes of the plague, or bolster the immune system against its effects, are doomed to failure, however, and the cost of failure in avoiding the plague is serious illness and death. In this sense, the lack of a workable resolution of the immigration issue endangers the health of the body politic.

At present, the lack of meaningful policy action is, in effect, backdoor advocacy for the situation as it currently stands, in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” sense. This abrogation of responsibility is dangerous beyond its obvious bad effects. It cultivates a sense of powerlessness among the citizenry, who perceive their elected governments as incapable of effecting meaningful change. History has enough examples of what happens when democratic and republican assemblies appear incapable of providing effective leadership in difficult times. This underscores why difficult challenges must be addressed to maintain the health of the body politic. If our leaders will not lead for us, they must be lead by us, if we are to avoid being lead by powered interests. This short, oversimplified post is intended to be a step in the direction of citizen leadership.

The framework that follows views immigration from an environmental perspective that takes into account citizenship within a nationalist framework. I think it practical because we are citizens in nationalist frameworks and because immigration is a normal environmental phenomenon. My intent is to propose a framework for immigration based upon the environmental concept of sustainability, which is also practical, because it is social suicide to adopt models that are not sustainable.

In this post, I shall not address anti-nationalist perspectives, despite their value, because the scope of the issues is already too daunting for a short post. Furthermore, I shall not address economic or ethical perspectives that disregard the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I consider it to be inarguable that the Earth has a more or less finite amount of non-renewable and renewable resources, in human terms, and that their availability is governed by the Law of Diminishing Returns and the Principle of Net Yield. For example, the only reason immigration is an issue is because there is competition for scarce resources. If there were plenty of everything that everyone needed and wanted, then there would be no grounds for disputes and no reason to have systems of justice, except to deal with the actions of the pathological.

The ideas that follow are predicated on the notion that there are limits to growth. The only dispute is about the extent of these limits. Living beyond these limits is not sustainable.

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Leedurshipp: Ur Doing It Rong

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I tell you, it’s a good thing nothing important is going on in America right now, because otherwise, this news would bother me just a tad.

CHICAGO (Reuters) – President-elect Barack Obama said on Thursday he would resign his U.S. Senate seat effective Sunday, which means he will not participate in next week’s post-election session that could address the ailing economy and struggling auto industry.

(snip)

Obama, who will be sworn in as president on January 20, said he would step down from his Senate seat to focus on the transition to the White House.

This would explain Team Obama’s coyness when reporters repeatedly asked whether more economic legislation would be passed by the Congress before the inauguration. For example, during the press conference which caused me to dub him “President-Elect Treebeard,” this exchange occurred:

Q Sir, there’s been some suggestion from House Democrats that the stimulus package may be in trouble, that it’s going to be a hard time getting it out of a lame-duck session.

Are you still confident that you would be able to get something done before you actually take office?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.

Obviously, the President-Elect never planned on using his power as the new head of the Democratic Party in the Senate during this incredibly crucial time.  Economy, ecshmonomy! Obama’s going to be busy picking his new Cabinet and staffing all the departments that Bush filled with underqualified graduates of Liberty University. While this is, admittedly, a big job, one would think that with 450 people working on it. Obama could afford to spend a few days helping push his economic vision through Congress.

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