Monday, October 22, 2012

McGovern story

I was really too young to know what was going on when George McGovern ran for president in the 1970's, though what I know now would have made me proud to vote for him, if I could have.

What I do remember from that time was the rage of a couple of elementary school mates when they discovered - purely by chance - that a school book I was reading was written by someone named McGovern.  I vividly remember them tearing it up in front of me.  I think the suburban Detroit town in grew up in was so reactionary that the anger of the local dads filtered down to the boys I went to school with.

Rest in peace, Senator McGovern.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 suggested names for new super-PACs

Uniformed Citizens for a Gauzy Future
Losing Our Past
Mustachioed Little Rich Guys from the board game Monopoly for a Dickensian America
Crossroads Ayn Rand
New Centrists for Rolling Over and Taking It
Lemmings USA
Attack Admen for an Attackier America
Futuring Our Future
Troglodytes United
Whitewash NOW

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Unions aren't people, my friend

So, the Supreme Court ruled today that (public sector) unions must first affirmatively get union members' permission to collect and spend money for political purposes. 

Meantime, thanks to the Speech Now D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision and Citizens United SCOTUS decision, corporations are free to take shareholder money and direct unlimited amounts of it towards lobbying without seeking any permission, before, during or after spending their money.

Corporations are people, I guess, with proliferating numbers and kinds of rights.  And unions, while definitely constructed to represent people, are having their rights steadily clipped. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stern warning on warming

The British government produced an authoritative review in 2010 of projected economic effects of varying levels of global warming.  It is referred to as the "Stern Report", after Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government Economic Service at the time.

Below is a figure summarizing the ecologic and economic projected effects.  It's from the executive summary of the report.

We're heading towards the higher end of this plot, as predicted by the rather amazing visualization tool developed by the NCAR based on IPCC-4 data.  The mean prediction for global temperature rise by 2100 is +3C, though more recent modeling has shown even higher deltas.

You can download the complete report from the British National Archives here.  It's meant to be readable by a lay audience.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

the Krugginator

"Consider, if you will, the current state of our nation.  Despite hints of economic progress, we're still in the midst of an immense disaster, in which unemployment and underemployment are devastating millions of America lives.  And none of this need be happening!  There has been no plague of locusts; we have not lost our technological know-how.  Americans should be richer, not poorer, than they were five years ago.  Yet economic policy across the board has become almost passive, has essentially accepted this disaster instead of trying to end it."

--Paul Krugman, NYT, April 20, 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012


When prices go up Americans get crazy.  Some folks blame the President, some trade in conspiracy theories, though most of us simply feel misery every time we fill up.  When I'm at the pump, I feel like I'm in Vegas.  Flashing digits moving even more quickly than a electronic slot machine.  The pump itself selling me with video and audio.   And of course, the sinking feeling that comes with the knowledge that the house is winning and I'm losing.

Specific industries, like taxi cabs and truck drivers are surely hurt by rising gasoline prices.  But gas prices for me and other regular Joes and Janes don't actually matter nearly as much as we think they do.   A recent analysis by the AAA shows that the overall cost of car ownership has increased only slightly over the last year.  Just 1.9%.  That's less than the core inflation rate over the last year (for example, as measured by the Mar 2011 - Mar 2012 CPI rate of 2.7%).  And the cost of owning and operating your car is what really matters.  Not what you may be paying for gas in any particular month.  If you break down what your car insurance, car purchase price, financing, and servicing costs you over the life of your car, you'll see that gas is a relatively small fraction of the total life-cycle cost of driving (here's a typical calculator).

As James Surowiecki wrote in the New Yorker a year ago, increases in gas prices shouldn't matter as much as they do, when one looks at the numbers.  Surowiecki says that a (permanent) 85 cent increase would translate into a few hundred dollars a year for your average American household.  I come up with a similar figure of about $375 for a $1/gallon temporary increase.**  This ain't nothing, but it represents less than 1% of the median American household income

In any case, gasoline prices have been trending downwards in the US fairly strongly over the last month or two.  I guess all those folks who have been blaming the Obama administration for not doing enough about high gas prices will now publicly reverse themselves and praise the President for a job well done.

Or not.

**figured as follows:
       average driver estimated at 15,000 miles/year
       gas spike is estimated at $1/gal, and lasts 6 months
       average car estimated to get 20mpg
       ->>> [$1/gal increase]*[(7500miles)/(20mpg)] = $375

Friday, March 2, 2012

urination nation

Make those welfare cheats piss in a cup!

One of the many angry white guy bellowings out there.  I know they're just angry and not interested in analyzing their position.  But I am. 

Here's a recent NYT short piece on the growing support for requiring drug testing of welfare recipients.  In case the URL doesn't work, it says that conservatives and the GOP presidential candidates support such a requirement.  About half the states in the US are considering making laws to that effect.

Quoth the Romney: "People who are receiving welfare benefits, government benefits, we should make sure they're not using those benefits to pay for drugs".

Quoth the Gingrich: "...It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid — unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it."

OK, I'll name it.  The homeowner's mortgage deduction.  If you're a regular middle class Joe with a regular mortgage, you get a medium-sized reduction in your tax bill.  If you're rich or you have a large and expensive mortgage (like Mitt Romney), you get a big tax break.  Sounds like a government benefit to me.  And a large one.  How large? The estimates are that the federal budget outlays are roughly $100 billion/year.

Compare this to welfare expenditures.   Conservative mag Forbes estimates that even in the depths of our economic crisis, the US is spending $100B/year on the various programs loosely thought of as "welfare"Food stamps comes in at $75B/year.

How could conservatives demand that the poor welfare recipients have to pee in a cup without also demanding that middle class and wealthy home owners taking the mortgage interest deduction on their 1040 tax returns also pee in a cup?  The size of the programs is similar, and the $$ comes from the taxpayer.  After all, as Governor Romney might say, how do we know that mortgage interest deduction recipients aren't using those benefits to pay for illegal drugs?

Unless conservatives come flat out and say that they're really just interested in picking on the poor, they should also demand drug testing for everyone receiving federal benefits.

Make those mortgage deduction cheats piss in a cup!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

green cheese

Newt Gingrich promises that "...we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American." If I were his opponent, I would counter with "all your base are belong to us."  He also suggests that his moon base would not only be American, but that its citizens could petition for admission to the union as the 51st state.  

If so, would the Interstate Commerce clause of the US Constitution apply to space travel?  If so again, should the Healthcare Reform Act ("Obamacare") be found constitutional, lunar citizens might be subject to a federal mandate to purchase Earth-based health insurance.  If there were navigable waterways, they would also be subject to federal oversight.  Of course, there's not much chance of finding those.

Former Speaker Gingrich further promises that the lunar base would be finished by the end of his second term.  Since it would take decades to establish a lunar base with human inhabitants, the only way this could be true is if Gingrich's second presidential term occurred decades after his first term.  So, his age at the time his promise is kept is approximately 68 years + 4 years (term #1) + a couple of decades + 4 years (term #2) = 96 years.  Just barely possible, but... possible.

A can of possible worm-like aliens opens up when we consider gambling in the 51st state (Moon-braska? Lun-aho? Satell-ississippi?)  As in other US States, native America peoples will have the right to their ancestral lands.  And, as many aboriginal peoples have done in the first 50 states, native moon-Americans may want to open casinos.  Who would be eligible to make such a claim?  Well, obviously the ancestors of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the other ten Apollo astronauts who briefly inhabited the land, lo, these many decades ago.  Maybe they would build something tasteful, with pai gow tables featuring moonrock pieces, and very slow-motion roulette tables, in which the bouncing balls would take several minutes to settle on the wheel.  I'd put it right in the middle of the Mare Traquillitatis, to honor the original tribe.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

America, my little piece

If you wanted your faith in America restored, you could have come with me tonight. 

Into my little neighborhood public library - recently restored to its art deco glory - and down into the community room.  There, filling the meeting room, were my neighbors.  All sorts of people from Bernal Heights, San Francisco.  Plus earnest staffers from the San Francisco Dept. of Parks and Recreation.  We gathered to talk through plans to make small trail changes to the park on top of the hill.  People making their comments, suggestions, ideas.  The Parks and Rec people scribbling ideas on posterboard, rolling through their Powerpoints, listening.  Children in the next room, reading actual books and running around a little.  Dog walkers, cranky old timers, hipsters, lesbians, blacks, nerdy white guys*, immigrants, working people, retirees, dotcommers, gay couples.  Each taking their turn, raising their hands.  Lots of opposing views.  All aired carefully, respectfully, thoughfully.

If you were there, you'd have felt proud to be a citizen of the USA.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hue and cry

As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gains ground, the language of racial resentment grows.  Charles Blow's Saturday piece highlights recent quotes from Gingrich.  It's getting harder to avoid the conclusion that a big part of the right's desire to defeat President Obama is located in racial animus.

Here are a few recent Gingrich racially-tinged quotes that aren't in the NYT piece:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Occupy GOP?

Seems like a good sign for Democrats in 2012 that many Republican presidential candidates are attacking former Governor Romney for his career at private equity firm Bain Capital.   The political press is concentrating on the angle that the ads and rhetoric used by former Governor Perry and former Speaker Gingrich in particular could be used by Democrats and President Obama in the campaign.  What I take from it is the growing mood in the nation - event among social conservatives and Republican stalwarts - that the ills in our particular form of capitalism are a concern for everyone, left or right.  And that the defenders of the existing order on Wall Street may be due for punishment in November.