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Real Life is hectic lately.  I’m doing some real estate type things and there are some other things that have come up.  Will fill you in one of these days.  It’s been interesting in a Chinese proverb kind of way.

In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on current events.

Re: Pope Francis- Meet the new hardass, same as the old hardass.  Really, what else did we expect?  The old pope is still hanging around and probably made a big stink about picking his successor.  Nothing was going to change.  So, he’s from Argentina.  So, he probably knows how to tango.  BFD.  Given that it’s a 2000 year old institution run by a bunch of guys, this choice is no real surprise.

I only wish I could write these people off as irrelevant bunch of medievalists as they are.  Funny how the men of the world don’t have to pay any attention to who the new pope is.  It’s only the women.  Hmmmm…  It looks like Freedom of Religion doesn’t apply to everyone in this country.

Re: Paul Ryan and the Republicans.  They’re all cracked.

Re: More rail service.  I’m for it.  I’ve been a fan of public transit, and trains in particular, since my first trip to Europe in the early 90s and wrote about my experiences with the French train system when I was back on DailyKos.  In fact, my question to Hillary Clinton in 2007 in Chicago at the second YearlyKos was specifically about trains and other infrastructure.  I’m glad to see Atrios, Krugman and Lambert weighing in on trains lately.  Can we get a posse on broadband?  That was one of Hillary’s main focuses when she answered my question- bringing American broadband into the 21st century.  What a wasted opportunity.  {{sigh}}

Re: Kim Kardashian.  I don’t get it.



The Vice Presidential Debate: Loose Lips vs Howard Roark

Let’s just hope that Ryan’s concluding statement doesn’t go on for 20 pages.

I’m looking forward to this debate.  You can  watch it here on C-span if you’ve cut the cord like I have. Joe Biden’s not a bad guy. If he ever had a chance, he might even be able to rise to greatness. You never know. But what’s fascinating about Biden is his inability to keep a secret. That quirk of his personality could make this an interesting debate.

Paul Ryan just reminds me of one of the business majors in college who I never wanted to go out with. I suspect I would be too weird for him anyway and he would bore me to tears. To Ryan, it’s all about money: acquiring it, controlling it and keeping everyone’s hands off of his stack. Conservatives like Ryan use moral arguments in order to defend some very immoral behavior of the money guys. For the record, it is immoral to lie to 20 somethings in the 80s about prepaying their social security benefits and then reneg on any social contracts in 2012 because it means that some rich people have to give up the tax cuts they’ve benefitted from while the government borrowed against our trust fund. That’s called fraud and theft and it’s immoral. It doesn’t matter how the recipients intend to use their money. They worked for it, they paid for it, they deserve it. It’s not an “entitlement”. It’s a social insurance policy. Don’t let Ryan tell you anything differently.

So, without further moralizing, here is the first live blog thread. See how many times Ryan says “free market” and “market forces”. See Biden take on foreign policy with mastery and let’s count how many times he says “unemployment”. (my guess is none)

Have at it!

VP debate tonight and stray thought from 2008

Tonight is the Vice Presidential debate between Joe “the cop between my brain and my mouth is at the donut shop” Biden and Paul “Ayn Rand is my goddess” Ryan.  We should do another live blog but since the body language thing has become chic this year, maybe we should watch and listen this time.  OR, we could turn off the visuals and just listen.

Anyway, it just occurred to me that maybe one of the reasons Barack Obama did so poorly in his first debate appearance this year is because in 2008, he was actually running against Sarah Palin.  Oh sure he was.  That’s all the general campaign was about, how much smarter and more qualified Barack Obama was compared to Sarah Palin.  John McCain hardly entered the picture at all.  I think I noticed it back then too but it didn’t occur to me that this might be why his debate performances in 2008 were not a fiasco.  He was all confident and cocky about beating Sarah, that was the real race that his campaign had set up in everyone’s mind.

Plus, he was running a game of “whack a racist”.  ANY criticism of Obama was twisted to be a racial slur.  It was quite effective.  Combined with his race against Sarah, how was a liberal supposed to effectively evaluate Obama?  Any legitimate criticism of him was muted and he was running against a woman who the left had dehumanized and characterized as the stupidest person on the planet.

This year, it’s different.  Visually, Mitt is very presidential.  He’s a big, tall man with presidential hair and an engaging vital manner.  He’s also a Republican, which in my humble opinion, is unforgivable.  But that’s not the point.  As Obama supposedly believes, debates are sideshows.  From a policy perspective, they’re meaningless.  But I think they serve a purpose that can’t be underrated.  In the modern debate, we get as close as we can to hand to hand combat between chieftains of competing clans.  It *is* physical.  That’s why it was important that Michael Dukakis looked short, that Richard Nixon sweat and that Barack Obama looked like he didn’t want to be there.

It might have also done in Hillary because at 5’7″, she had to look feisty to compete with his taller frame and longer limbs. He took up more space and with a female opponent, he strut his macho stuff and acted dismissively when she talked. It might not have been enough that she was the smartest person in the room who had done her homework and could whip up a policy in 30 seconds flat.  To the liberals and progressives who were afraid of losing again, she had to look more like Boudicca than Hermione Granger.

Boudicca, ass-kicking queen of the Britons
(bears striking resemblance to Julia Gillard)

Nevertheless, she took him on and won her debates with him to such an extent that he refused to debate her again during the primaries after she beat him in Pennsylvania. He sought out a friendlier crowd in NC the next day to lick his wounds, flip her the bird and brush the dirt off his shoulders.  It has often been said that he doesn’t like confrontation and that NC appearance showed that he was much better at acting like the mean BMOC when he was with his adoring fans than taking her on and losing to her again.

It’s been awhile since I read MoDo but I dropped into her column yesterday and she seems to have matured ever so slightly.  She’s not so flip these days, probably because her mancrush in 2008 turned out to be far worse for women that the woman she mocked for two decades.  Maybe she’s learned her lesson.  She also seems more than a little alarmed.  Oh sure, Obama will do better next time.  Someone will have figured out how he’s supposed to debate a real general campaign opponent.  But MoDo suggests it’s more serious than that:

Just as Poppy Bush didn’t try as hard as he should have because he assumed voters would reject Slick Willie, Obama lapsed into not trying because he assumed voters would reject Cayman Mitt.

The president averted his eyes as glittering opportunities passed, even when Romney sent a lob his way with a reference to his accountant.

Obama has been coddled by Valerie Jarrett, the adviser who sat next to Michelle at the debate, instead of the more politically strategic choice of local pols and their spouses. Jarrett believes that everyone must woo the prodigy who deigns to guide us, not the other way around.

At a fund-raising concert in San Francisco Monday night, the president mocked Romney’s star turn, saying “what was being presented wasn’t leadership; that’s salesmanship.”

It is that distaste for salesmanship that caused Obama not to sell or even explain health care and economic policies; and it is that distaste that caused him not to sell himself and his policies at the debate. His latest fund-raising plea is marked “URGENT.” But in refusing to muster his will and energy, and urgently sell his vision, he underscores his own lapses in leadership and undermines arguments for four more years.

The debate was an uncomfortable window into Obama’s style in all things presidential.  What is urgent to you is not an emergency to him.  He’s smaller than we thought, less secure, confident and sure of his experience.  He doesn’t look like the alpha male commanding his clan.  He’s the guy who seeks assistance from the moderator with ingratiating comments.  That Obama doesn’t stand a chance against a real presidential candidate and not the carefully crafted illusions his campaign spun for him to do battle with four years ago.  And that is the weak prince we have had in office for four years while the barbarians knocked down the gates.

In a way, a strong showing by Joe Biden this evening might just do Obama in.

And here’s another quote from that MoDo column that I find deeply disturbing:

Once during the 2008 campaign, reading about all the cataclysms jolting the economy and the world, Obama joked to an adviser: “Maybe I should throw the game.”

Can someone confirm whether he really said that?

Not much to say

Mentally sunning myself by my infinity edge pool on the terrace on Santorini. Wake me when it’s over.

According to Katiebird, there’s a bit of a circular firing squad going on in Twitter.  Democrats are realizing they’ve gotten themselves into another fine mess with Obama.  And you can always measure the discontent by the appearance of anti-Hillary posts popping up here and there.  Apparently, she is now a neo-con, carrying out their secret agenda as crafted back in the Bush years.  Bwahahahahahaaaaah!

Of course, that’s not what the people promoting the neocon agenda conspiracy theory are saying. Because that would be wrong without explicit proof. It’s the classic, “I didn’t say it was your fault, I said we’re going to blame you” strategy.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria.  Without the US and the most prominent Secretary of State leading them, the people of North Africa and the middle east would live contentedly, like dumb animals, having absolutely no idea that they are being politically and economically oppressed, satisfied with their lot in life.  They would never have a “Hey, we’re eating grass!” moment on their own.

I’m always amused by the Democrats who are dissatisfied with any kind of policy in the middle east.  No matter what it is, it’s *always* they wrong one.  Aggressive intervention against Iran is justifiably horrifying.  But so are sanctions to them.  What are we left with?  Sternly worded letters?  Maybe we should just ignore Iran and hope it goes away.  That’s fine with me except when kids are too quiet, I start to wonder what they’re up to.  Keeping an eye on them might be a good idea.  Is that OK with the Democrats?  Can we peer over our shoulders once in awhile and tell them to stop that and stay on their side of the car? Or is this too, none of our business?

But why not blame Hillary for all foreign policy problems that she most likely had an enigmatic part in?  Bay of Pigs?  Hillary.  Vietnam?  Hillary.  Bikini Atoll nuclear tests?  Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.  In fact, anyone who has gotten a radiation induced cancer since the Manhattan Project, that was probably Hillary’s doing.  Just call her Hiroshima Hillary.  She’s always secretly been a neocon.

And she’s married to the Big Dawg, who never gets tired of wheeling and dealing.  He’s interested in reforming Medicare because it’s going to start eating up our money at an accelerated pace soon.  Better get a grip on it before some Randy young Republican decides it would be easier on the wealthy to just abolish it altogether.  You know, rein in medical costs, maybe open it up to everyone and expand the pool with healthier individuals?  Stuff like that, stuff we haven’t tried yet.  I could see Bill Clinton doing a Mary Poppins, cheerfully conscripting some nitwit into doing something he wouldn’t do otherwise.  Or he could be entirely evil.

Hillary probably put him up to it.


People are going to believe what they want to believe.  Some Democrats have said that the result of the last four years wouldn’t have been different with Hillary in charge.  I beg to differ.  It’s surprising that the Obama fans can’t see the truth about Hillary.  It is this: The Bankers Didn’t Support Hillary.  No.  They supported Obama.  And Obama has been nothing if not attentive to their needs.

So, you know, you can blame the Clintons because they are convenient targets.  I have no doubt that the people who have taken over the Democratic party have analyzed what makes Democrats tick and can manipulate the message to make sure the Clintons look really, really bad.  And they’re not perfect, not by a long shot.  What humans are?   So, this is made somewhat easier.

But it still doesn’t solve the problem of Obama.  He’s the one who’s been at the helm for 4 years.  Somehow, I can’t even in my wildest imagination come up with a scenario where Hillary is as indulgent towards the wealthy and well connected as Obama has been.  I’ve tried making her out to be out of touch, neglectful of the unemployed, callous towards the hapless homeowner, solicitous towards the health insurance industry, indifferent to the rights of women and permissive towards the banking industry. I’ve tried but I just can’t.

I’ve lost interest in this campaign.  Maybe that’s by design.  Maybe both parties would prefer that the some of us sit it out this year.  You know and I know and Paul Krugman knows that regardless of who gets the office in November, we’re screwed.

Of course, there is a better candidate available.  But the Democratic loyalists keep getting played into scurrying away from her like she’s Kryptonite.  There’s still time, you know.  If you want to change the dynamic, you have to go bold.

In the meantime, I’ve got better things to do than watch the Democratic loyalists get played like a bunch of low information Fox News viewers, continually going against their own best interests.


Occupy wants to OccupytheDNC in Charlotte, NC.  Hmmm, if it’s anythng like Denver in 2008, expect for the city to be on lockdown with thousands and thousands of riot geared cops and the national guard ready to throw your ass into jail the minute you step off the curb.

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea.  In fact, if I were the DNC, I’d go easy on Occupy for PR purposes.  At this point, it needs all the good PR it can get.  But what I anticipate is a lot of bloody heads, brutality and marginalization of people who are determined to give the 99% a voice.

The bloody heads and brutality I’ve come to expect.  It’s the marginalization by the Obama administration that I find indefensible.

Democrats in La-La Land

Update: For all you balletomanes, Anaheim Ballet is currently hosting the Anaheim International Dance Festival.  AIDF attracts some of ballet’s leading dancers, including dancers from ABT and San Francsisco Ballet.  In about an hour, Anaheim Ballet will start livestreaming some of their workshops.  You can catch the workshops here.


The opening paragraphs of this NYTimes piece on the Democrats possible response to Romney’s choice of Ryan as his running mate are priceless:

The selection of Representative Paul D. Ryan as the Republican vice-presidential candidate provides President Obama with something he has been eagerly looking for — a bigger target.

A race that has revolved, at least in part, around each month’s mediocre jobs report and Mr. Obama’s persistent failure to move unemployment below 8 percent will now allow Democrats new lines of attack — starting with the assertion that Republicans are intent on dismantling Medicare — while setting off a larger debate about the role of government in the economy and society.

For Mr. Obama, that seems more promising territory, a chance to press the offensive against his challengers rather than just defend his record. Instead of a referendum on his own performance, the president has an opening to turn the election into a referendum on the vision that Mr. Ryan has advanced and Mitt Romney has adopted.

The sentence in bold is the funniest thing I’ve read all year. Obama wouldn’t be in this predicament if he’d actually made life better for the people who were screwed by the bankers’ gambling addiction.  Successful presidents defend successful records successfully.  Or, put it another way, “Luck favors the prepared mind”.  Or “If you study consistently, you won’t have to cram”.  Or “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”.

Second term elections are always a referendum on the president’s record.  It’s like a performance evaluation.  This year, Obama’s record will get even more scrutiny. So, what the media is suggesting is that by defining himself as the champion of the social safety net, Obama can cover up his dismal performance in creating the necessary policies to help put people back to work. That’s like assuming that you can use your verbal gifts on your section of the evaluation form and fool your boss into ignoring the fact that your major project is 48 months behind schedule and needs a complete overhaul.  If it were *slightly* behind and you hadn’t lost your major project contributors through poor planning, maybe you could squeak by in the middle of the pack.  But when your project is the one that was expected to keep the company going for a couple of decades, and everyone can read the progress reports, “baffling with bullshit” looks like a losing proposition.

In any case, if changing the subject is what the Times is recommending, that’s a little like falling right into the trap that the Republicans have set for Obama. By defending the extra spending that has pushed up the deficit, Obama will be calling attention to the fact that so many people are out of work.  Rather than obfuscating his shitty performance, he’s going to be shining a big spotlight on it.

Not only that but he’s perfectly OK with slashing that social safety net.  Slashing is easy; presidentin’ is hard. If he plunges into haggling over what to slash and we’re subjected to two months of mindnumbing details about COLA calculations, he could keep the spotlight off of his record.  It could be like two long months of debates over kerning and san serif fonts.  But in the end, it will still be Ugly and Son of Ugly slashing the deficit, imposing austerity on innocent bystanders and in way that will result in a more depressed economy, which will throw more people out of work, and so on and so on.  So, you know, there’s that.

But wait! There’s more:

That strategy may put Mr. Obama, a self-declared agent of hope and change four years ago, in the awkward position of seeming to be the defender of a status quo that is not working, or at least not working well enough. He risks having Republicans seize the mantle of reform that he used so skillfully in 2008 by contrasting his stay-the-course incumbent’s message with the youthful Mr. Ryan’s energetic willingness to tear up the old order and reinvent it for troubled times.

What??  I think the talking points from the political operatives have mutated themselves into insensibility.  I have no idea what that paragraph is supposed to mean.  It’s like that famous sentence by Noam Chomsky, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”.  Grammatically, it’s correct and even descriptive but it’s still a collection of words in a sentence with no meaning.  Is he trying to say that Mr. Cool’s “hope and Change!™” defense of the status quo is going to have to go head to head with “ADHD” Ryan’s youthful offensive for pro-old rich white guys’ wet dreams?  You’d almost think that there are no actual people or voters with any vested interest in the outcome.

Hokay, it must be tough to be a reporter these days.

Anyway, I’ve got better things to do with my time today.  It’s going to be a nice day.  Why bother trying to sort through all of the silly political kabuki this year?  It’s hard to hide a f^*( up of these proportions.  Everyone at this point knows what’s going on and who’s zoomin’ who.  I’d rather be gardening.

Here’s a video I found accidentally last night that makes me wish I had taken up nature photography as a profession.  It’s from the BBC program Planet Earth.  I’ll bet it will look really good in Google Glasses:

Spelling it out for the prematurely victorious

Update: It looks like Dave Dayen is on the same wavelength, although I don’t know where he thinks this outside movement is going to come from unless Democrats such as himself throw in the towel with their party to start one.  If you don’t put your foot down or walk away *before* the convention, they’re going to think you’re onboard with whatever it is they have in mind.  S^*( or get off the pot.


I’m surprised that it’s necessary for me to be so explicit but those of you liberal/progressives who are running scared to Obama should slow down and think this through.

Because Obama is about to sacrifice you.

If my suspicions are correct, the GOP has elevated Paul Ryan because they want to push for a deficit reduction deal *before* the election.  Expect it to get fast and furious now.  Who knows, maybe they’ll come back to the House early to discuss what an emergency it is to cut the deficit.  Cut it now, I say!

But they’re not going to hurt seniors or probably anyone 55 and older.  That would be cruel, and besides, that’s the Republicans’ base.  No, it will probably involve generational warfare, means testing, making the retirement age 85.  Something like that.  And Medicare for seniors?  Also, probably safe.  The rest of us will have to pay through the nose.

And then there is discretionary spending.  You know, no one in this country is entitled to a higher education.  Your parents don’t have to help you pay for it.  My parents used to tell me this all the time.  And food stamps. Why are so many people getting food stamps?  Or unemployment insurance?  Or SCHIP, for god’s sakes??  What are we running here, a government or a clinic?

Whatever the deal is, Obama’s going to cut it.  The Republicans are going to want this to happen *before* the election.  Maybe the bill will be passed during the lame duck session but the election narrative is going to focus around the deficit.  The Deficit, and NOTHING BUT THE DEFICIT.

When the time comes, Obama will bow to the media narrative, hoping it will spare him, and he and the rest of the Confederacy of Dunces in the Democratic party will sell every one of you out.

Well, we’re only progressives and liberals after all.  Who cares about us?

You heard it here first.

As for me, you couldn’t pay me enough money to vote for either party this year.  There really *isn’t* a difference anymore and it’s time we stopped pretending there is. There hasn’t been a difference since 2008 when the bankers bought the Democrats.

Cynically Sussing the Paul Ryan Choice for Romney


On the surface, Romney’s choice of zombie eyed granny starver Paul Ryan as his VP running mate shouldn’t make any sense.  This is the guy who is determined that everyone who isn’t wealthy or well-connected take a severe haircut in services, that we pay for, by the way, so that the wealthy and well-connected never have to pay us back for all the money we let them have in the past 30 years.  If Romney was up against the *old* Democratic party, it would be a piece of cake to shoot this down.

But the fact that Romney even made this choice in the first place indicates something entirely different.  For one thing, the Republicans have been saving their ammunition, and they must have a ton of it, while Obama has been burning through campaign money like a wildfire trying to cripple Romney and he hasn’t gotten much traction.  Obama even threw the tax return issue out there, probably because he felt he had to.  Romney can stonewall that from now until doomsday but the best time to have brought it up would have been just before the election.  What do the Democrats have left?

There must be an advantage to Romney picking Ryan or he wouldn’t have done it. Republicans play to win. I’m going to guess that the deficit hawkery is really important to the GOP to ensure its wealthy base pays nothing in taxes.  But it doesn’t want to necessarily kill the donor as long as there are still organs to harvest.  You don’t want full scale insurrection on your hands. So, choosing Ryan might have been a safer choice. Let’s try to reason this out:

1.) By getting Ryan out of the House, the pressure is off the GOP to actually go through with any severely drastic cut his plan would have provoked the Tea Party lunatics to demand.  The Tea Party won’t be happy until no one gets anything they PREPAID.  It’s a power thing, not a rational objective.  They’ll push the envelope because they can, not because it’s wise or good for the party.  But with Ryan out of their hair, the GOP leadership can claim they now have a power vacuum and who is going to take his place for pushing and whipping like he did?  They will look in vain for a replacement but all of the up-and-comers will fall short of Ryan’s brilliant political skills.  Maybe they won’t be able to get all the way through Atlas Shrugged or they have a nugget of compassion that hasn’t been bred out of them.  Who knows, but for some reason, they’ll be more self-effacing and compliant than Ryan.

2.) By getting Ryan in the VP spot for the election season, the GOP has a twofer: It can run on the deficit issue, which means that it will be all deficits, all the time on TV and in the papers from now until November, AND it can deep six Ryan in the VP position after the election where we will never hear from him again.  The VP spot is where politicians go to die, er, not literally but functionally.  Think about it, how many VPs have gone on to become president after running a successful campaign instead of after some catastrophic event?  I can only think of one in the recent past- George Bush Sr.  So, what Ryan stands for is important to the GOP message machine, but Paul Ryan himself is not so important or they would have left him where he was.

3.) It will force the Democrats to either out deficit hawk the Republicans, driving the election season narrative to the right, or it will give Democrats an opening to defend the American people from additional demands for sacrifice and economy killing cuts in government spending.  Ehhhh, I’m going to guess that the GOP knows Obama really well and anticipates that he will continue to go right.  It’s what he was hired to do.  The bankers want him to get rid of all entitlements so they won’t feel obligated (do they even have feelings of obligation and responsibility?) to discipline themselves and not gorge on more than they can swallow.  If Obama hadn’t come down so hard on the Occupy movement on the bankers’ behalf, he might have something to hide behind- a moral message about how wrong it is to hurt the 99% of us who work hard and play by the rules.  But he did and now he can’t.

All in all, I’d say this was a win for the GOP.  They know their message and propaganda machine is more than adequate to skew the Democrats’ counterpunch in their direction.  Obama has done a lousy job and he can’t run on the things that are really important to the 99%.  If unemployment were not an issue, the deficit problem wouldn’t be a problem, would it?  If more of us were back at work, we wouldn’t be collecting unemployment benefits, we’d be paying our taxes.  But because unemployment was NOT the focus of Obama’s four years in office, he’s not only allowed the little Depression to impoverish people, he’s added to the deficit because revenue has fallen off. Sure, running up a big deficit during a recession/depression is not a bad thing, but you’ve got to have a plan to replace the money you spent someday while jump starting an economic recovery and this is not an argument that Obama has chosen to make.

Krugman, Stiglitz, Romer, and some other economists have tried to convince him to do it in order to put people back to work, but he only wanted to listen to his banker friends and now he’s stuck.  In order to turn this around, he’s got to grow a unibrow and become a FDR style Democrat on steroids.  Cewl, swave and deboner will not cut it, especially when there’s more desperation than commitment behind the nasal stopped Chicago accented delivery.  He had four years, two of them with his party in majority in BOTH houses of Congress, and he wasted them, falling right into the trap the GOP laid and the rest of us anticipated. Republicans wanted to make life so difficult that the only way to make it better would be to apply New Deal strategies, which they would try to oppose.  A skillful politician would have gone bold and big.  Alas, we got Obama.

For a guy who has so many political gifts {{cough, cough}} and plays a mean game of 11-dimensional chess, he should have seen it coming.


One other thing that should be glaringly obvious: the *presumptive* lineup for both parties will contain…

four men

You know, this is the 21st century and it’s almost like the 20th never even happened when it comes to women.  All of the other countries in the world are at least struggling with their females in government problem.  Here, we act like there is no problem.

Even Pakistan has had a female head of state.  Pakistan.  But here?  Not even on the radar.

I’ve always wondered why women stay in abusive religions where they’re not considered the equal of men.  What’s in it for them?  And why don’t women ask that question of their parties?

Just curious.


And here’s a blast from the past.  This goes out to Paul Ryan and his buds:

I wouldn’t celebrate yet

We need the passengers of United 93

Today Paul Krugman wrote in Medicare and Mediscares about the Republicans hoisting themselves on their own petard by embracing Paul Ryan’s plan to gut Medicare.  The triumph of the Democrat in a special election in NY-25 was supposed to be evidence that the Republicans had gone too far.  Now, if Democrats can only capitalize on the mistakes Republicans have made, maybe they can win in 2012!

Not so fast.

Have you seen gas prices lately?  I wanted to buy some cherries yesterday at Wegman’s.  LOVE those things.  But at $3.99/lb the prepacked bag was going to set me back $8.00.  My kid loves fresh fruit but the cherries went back for a more sensible quart of strawberries.  On an unemployment budget, cherries are out of the question.

A lot more little luxuries like that will become increasingly out of the question this year.  Most employers in my industry are laying off and the R&D professionals are scrambling for anything they can get, even working for peanuts, in order to make the mortgage and fill the gas tank.  Health insurance?  Such a distant memory.  We have a nation of pre-retired professionals who are having a lot of trouble making ends meet.  It’s been this way for three years and counting and from what I can see, it’s only going to get worse.

And that’s just what the Republicans have planned.  They’re taking a page from the playbooks of big companies like United Airlines and GM, which declared bankruptcy and renegotiated all of their union contracts.  If you want to know how this works, check out the PBS special “Can You Afford to Retire?” that was broadcast in May 2006.  Here’s how the companies wear you down until you finally give in and scream, “take my pension! PLEASE!!”  From the transcript:

ELIZABETH WARREN: The question up front about who will have what priorities if this business collapses is where the whole game is won or lost. Ironically, it is the bankruptcy laws that are responsible for much of what has happened here because bankruptcy laws currently say, “Banks, you can take it all,” because bankruptcy laws don’t leave something on the table for the employees and the retirees.

HEDRICK SMITH: [voice-over] So if bankruptcy doomed United’s pensions from day one, why did United take two-and-a-half years to kill its pensions? I asked Jamie Sprayregen.

JAMES H.M. SPRAYREGEN: It may have been, you know, intellectually obvious, but coming up with a process by which to handle adjusting expectations so people would buy into the need to address the pension issue, without it becoming a situation where we would lose what we call the hearts and minds of the employees, was a real challenge and an art.

GREG DAVIDOWITCH, Pres., Flight Attendants Union, United:Ultimately, what we concluded was that management had a very deliberate course of action set out from the beginning of the bankruptcy, which was to roll out demands for concessions over a period of time in an escalating way, in order to bring the employees along without creating a spark that would have led to real labor unrest.

HEDRICK SMITH: [on camera] A strike.


ELIZABETH WARREN: What it really comes down to is, How much can we take away from the employees before they finally say, “Fine, you take it, but I’m not working here anymore.” And no one else will come to work for them, either. That’s what corporate reorganization in America has become, “How much less can I give you and still keep you here?

The Republicans loathe Elizabeth Warren with a white hot intensity.  She’s got their number.  It’s very important to get her to STFU, to waste her time, to humiliate her and make sure she never gets an appointment to the CFPC.  She’s got powerful mojo.  By the way, I think the R&D industry has crossed the line with their workers.  Experienced researchers are getting out and new ones are getting scarce.  The field is too demanding and difficult to find that you’ve wasted 10 years of your life in school only to land a job making $37,000/year and no health benefits.  And no, I don’t expect India or China to be able to make up the slack for a long time.

So, the company starts putting a lot of pressure on the employee.  Pay is cut, benefits are cut, hours are increased.  Before you know it, you’re doing a lot more work for a lot less pay.  The changes are slow and gradual.  The company doesn’t want the employees striking or jumping ship.  But the give backs start to wear on the employee to the point where there is really not much more that can be cut in the short term without inflicting real pain and inciting sans culouttes type resentment.  To avoid that, the company goes in for the kill and tells the employee that the only thing that will save the company and their jobs is if they give up their pension benefits.  Before they know it, the employee ends up with a pension 1/3 the size of the originally promised benefit.  The CEO rides off into the sunset with a huge bonus having done the job he was hired to do.

(Hmmm, is this the roadmap that Pfizer is following right now?  I wonder…)

This is what the Republicans (and some accommodating Democrats) are trying to do with the country as a whole.  They want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.  But provoking us outright is dangerous.  There may be rioting and strikes.  So, they put pressure on us gradually.  They keep the fiscal stimulus package small,  it runs out years before it can engage the country’s economic gears, they pursue a deficit reduction policy while allowing unemployment to rise, they make it difficult for the unemployed to get benefit extensions, they allow houses to foreclose without an effective program to help strapped, unemployed homeowners and they raise gas and commodity prices to inflate the costs of food.

All this puts a lot of stress on the average American.  Spending starts to grind to a halt, putting even more pressure on small businesses, who in turn lay off more people.  And let’s not forget the Republican governors who want to suspend collective bargaining rights.  It is all designed to make the average American feel so much pressure that they will scream “Uncle!” and be a lot more willing to talk about what Medicare and Social Security means to them.

Republicans may be mindless borgs but they are really good at assimilating the rest of us.  There is still an entire 17 months between us and the 2012 election.  I anticipate a lot more pain as the Republicans crank the rack on which we are stretched.  We will be screaming and begging for relief before they are done.  And that’s when they’ll hand us the papers for us to sign away our deferred wages for Medicare benefits and all of the extra taxes that we late boomers put away for the surplus.  Timing is everything and they’ve got time to get the job done.  There won’t be a significant number of special elections before Nov. 2012 and what do they care if they lose a lot of seats in Congress in 2012?  They will have accomplished what they have been trying so hard to do since the New Deal was enacted 70 years ago- kill it dead.  Once the social safety net is gone, it will be very hard to revive.  To their backers, they will be heros and ride of into the sunset with mighty fists full of dollars.

Democrats aren’t stupid.  They know what’s going on.  We have to assume that some of them are OK with this plan.  Well, until you realize you may need social security, it’s not that big a deal.  Maybe they’re hoping that voters will be so frightened of the prospect of Republican rule in 2012 that they won’t vote the bastards in again.  But as I said before, timing is everything and by this time next year, the damage may already be done.

If the Democrats have any intention of saving the system, they’d better get a lot more aggressive and innovative about how they do it.  That would mean that Obama would have to make use of the bully pulpit and convince people that Republicans are about to steal their lunch money.  It’s too bad he’s not very good at this.  Or he could use the mechanisms of government to apply pressure on Republicans but that’s not why he was hired, right?  He was hired to make Democrats feel good.  Well, the orgasm is over now.  It’s time for him to pull his weight or sit the next term out.  If he can’t stop the Republicans from continuing the beatings to the point where we agree to the Medicare plan, it will be too late to replace him as a candidate next year.  Democrats better think that over carefully.

Taking a victory lap now is not going to stop Ryan and his cohort.  They’ll just increase the pain in the interim.  Be prepared.  This year is going to get really rough for us.

Tuesday: Paul Ryan and Class Envy

Remote Area Medical (RAM) in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, April 2010

Wha?  Huh?

In a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago Monday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) suggested President Obama and Ryan’s Democratic critics are “sowing social unrest and class envy” by pushing a tax increase on the wealthiest individuals in order to help address the deficit and debt.

“The president says that only the richest people in America would be affected by his plan,” Ryan said, arguing that “class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics.”

Ryan complained that Mr. Obama wants to increase the top tax rate to 44.8 percent. The president has pushed for an increase in the top marginal tax rate for families making over $250,000 per year from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.

“Sowing social unrest and class envy makes America weaker, not stronger,” the Wisconsin Republican argued, suggesting the “true sources of inequity” in America are corporate welfare and empty promises.

He said the “real class warfare” that threatens Americans is “a class of governing elites picking winners and losers, and determining our destinies for us.”

Is that so?  BTW, no one who goes into science does it for the money as far as I can tell.  Even the inventors of blockbuster drugs lead pretty modest lives.  If they haven’t been “Pfizered”.

I like the other Paul’s take on Ryan’s Class Warfare remarks:

Actually, for the most part critics of his plan haven’t focused on the distributional issues so much as on the nonsense he’s talking; they’ve been playing the arithmetic card, not the class warfare card. But yes, the Ryan plan does impose huge sacrifice on the poor and the middle class, while cutting taxes on the rich and corporations.

And this is, of course, the game conservatives have played over and over again since Reagan. Without exception, their policy proposals call for sacrifice on the part of most people, but lavish tax cuts on high incomes — and when you point this out, they yell “class warfare”.


On one side, we have a steady barrage of articles about how it would be cruel to raise taxes on everyone making more than 250K, even though that puts you in the top 2 percent of the income distribution, because 250K isn’t really rich.

And on the other side we have confident assertions that we can curb entitlement spending by means-testing, by not giving full Social Security and Medicare benefits to people who don’t really need them.

And by and large the people saying these two things are the same people.

So apparently the universe of people so affluent that they don’t need Medicare is a large segment of the population, while the universe of people who can afford to pay even slightly higher taxes is a tiny segment.

Oh, Kay.

Pretty much.  Too bad that a target audience soaked in messaging has a dysfunctional logic board.

I’m not sure where Ryan’s going with this “class envy” thing but recently, I have gotten really nostalgic for the 70’s, minus the bad fashion and avocado and gold color schemes.  I grew up in an America where you could own a house and two cars on one measly income.  I can’t recall anyone in my family moping around resentful of the rich.  It would have been nice to have a college fund but it’s not like we were hungry, homeless or over our heads in debt.  Every kid had their own bedroom and we went to DisneyWorld on vacation a couple of times.  The rest of the time we went camping.  Ok, so we had a single color TV and every time the sucker went on the fritz, my dad would swear he wasn’t going to get it fixed so that we could all learn to enjoy each other’s company.

That lasted about 72 hours.

When people are losing their jobs and homes and are angry that the rich aren’t paying their fair share, like at the level they did when I was a kid, I’m pretty certain it’s not “class envy” they’re expressing.  It’s righteous indignation that they’re getting screwed by the bastards who aren’t even pretending anymore that tax cuts create jobs.

So, what do you call it when people have more money than they have had in generations and still want to stiff the little guy out of a decent wage because it just isn’t enough?  How come so many rich people see working people as parasites?  Don’t the rich have any manners? Weren’t they raised right?  Or are they just ‘ignorant’?

I’d call it incredibly selfish if it wasn’t also destructive.  A productive middle class and thriving entrepreneurship depends on some kind of insurance against catastrophic failure.  You can’t take risks or get really imaginative when you’re worried about feeding your kids.  But go ahead, Paul, let the grasshoppers eat everything in sight leaving nothing for the rest of us.  We’ll revisit this American economy in about 10 years and see if businesses are still able to function and grow without some significant compromises based on loyalty, conformity and corruption.

And what about Ryan’s plan to reintroduce the “truck system” via vouchers for Medicare? Truck systems have been outlawed in developed countries going all the way back to the 15th or 16th century but if Paul Ryan has his way, and Democrats give in, we’re going to see it reintroduced here in modern America.  It’s the most shameful thing I’ve ever seen.  Why isn’t Ryan being honest with taxpayers about the repercussions of dumping millions of seniors on the insurance market where they won’t be able to afford a decent policy?  That will mean more trips to the expensive emergency room and those unpaid bills will be passed on to taxpayers.  In 2008, unpaid hospitalization bills were passed onto New Jerseyans to the tune of $700 million dollars in hidden taxes per year.  And let’s not forget all of the future inheritances wiped out by debt caused by illness.

If anyone is practicing class warfare, it’s Ryan’s friends against US.

Wednesday: An Inauspicious Start

Just thinking about this triggers spasms

Wouldn’t you know, I inflamed a back muscle while rooting through my car for that damn CV folder and have been somewhat incapacitated for the last 48 hours.  This is so weird.  I used to have no respect for people who constantly claim that back problems prevent them from working.  Now, I are one.  {{Sigh}}  A couple more doses of aspirin (the real wonder drug), some soft stretching and more nukeable heat bean bags should do the trick.  If anyone else has suggestions, please send them in.  I have to visit an outplacement service asap and I’d like to be able to aggressively pursue and new job without gritting my teeth.

Onto some newsy items:

Paul Krugman has been on a tear in the past week panning Paul Ryan’s ridiculous and stupid budget plan, not that it will prevent Obama and Co. from embracing parts of it anyway.  Krugman’s good stuff is in Conscience of a Liberal.  I hate to say it but Krugman is starting to hit the high notes in shrillness.  His takedowns of Ryan’s plans are pretty straightforward and clear but they lack that crucial endorsement feature that make them so attractive to “serious” people.  I know the feeling, Paul.  People haven’t been taking us seriously since 2008 even though we had Obama’s number  and knew how his weak presidency was going to work out from the very beginning.

I was just watching a program on the Nuremburg trials (because now that my back is out and I am on a enforced vacation, I can catch up with my All Hitler, All The Time) and there was one comment from an investigator that struck me as signifcant that we continue to ignore at our peril: the henchmen we ordinary guys who had no connection to the reality they had power over and they were very good Yes Men.  You find their types among the GOP, the Obama administration and access bloggers.  They experience a different reality than the rest of us.  I’m just surprised that Krugman is surprised at the rise of Donald Trump’s popularity.  Birtherism is pretty nuts, IMHO, but I understand what’s going on in the minds of the people who are attracted to The Donald.  Those are the very same people who were written off by the Democratic Party in 2008, the year they thought they had a chance of recapturing the White House from the Republicans.  These people are angry at the deal that both parties has handed to them.  The country is ripe for a third party and the person who appeals to the disenfranchised is going to see that huge voting bloc as the political opportunity of a lifetime.  I would have preferred someone other than Trump and a more rational message than birtherism but there ya go, Paul.  Really, you need to get out more.  Hillary Clinton could be a contenda…

Yesterday, Krugman proposed a health care solution for Medicare that I’ve endorsed for a long time that would be good for any American without health insurance.  That is, adopt a military or VA style health care system as an alternative public option.  As a Navy brat, I heartily endorse this idea.  The care my family, especially my asthmatic sister, got through the dispensary and military hospital system when we were kids was pretty good.  It was sort of a one stop shop.  Tests, doctor’s visits, shots, and prescriptions were all done at the dispensary.  We did the generic thing at both the dispensary and the commisary.  Of course, I think I grew up a little bit different than most people in that my parents didn’t usually take me to the doctor unless a.) we were scheduled for immunizations or b.) we were genuinely sick.  We also didn’t care much that the appearance of the place was, well, strictly military.  If you’re used to posh, the minimalism can come as a bit of a shock.  I know a lot of people who think that because they have insurance, they must maximize its use.  It sort of reminds me of people who go on cruises and then pack their plates at the buffet with enough food to gag a small African village for 3 days.  If you’re one of those people, shame on you.  You don’t have to get an antibiotic for every sniffle.  For one thing, antibiotics only work on bacterial infections and for another thing…

Bacterial resistance to current antibiotics is on the rise.  What you may not know about bacteria is they pass genes around between them on little rings of DNA called plasmids in much the same way teenagers pass mono around while swapping spit.  Some of these new gene combinations have resulted in multi-drug resistance to just about every antibiotic the pharma world can throw at them.

“IncP-1 plasmids are very potent ‘vehicles’ for transporting antibiotic resistance genes between bacterial species. Therefore, it does not matter much in what environment, in what part of the world, or in what bacterial species antibiotic resistance arises. Resistance genes could relatively easily be transported from the original environment to bacteria that infect humans, through IncP-1 plasmids, or other plasmids with similar properties, as ‘vehicles’,” says Professor Malte Hermansson of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Gothenburg.

Personally, I’d be more worried about this than the radiation threat from Fukushima to California.  Now, the WHO is getting alarmed that we’ve run out of options and new antibiotics are not coming to market.  Gee, I wonder if that has anything to do with how many pharmaceutical workers who know how to make new drugs are presently laid off with nothing much to do?  Oh, well. Probably nothing to get all worked up about, right?  (We Lefties might want to ease up on the class action lawsuits for a spell until the bugs are under control again.  Just saying.)