Wednesday, September 30, 2009


You knew it was going to happen eventually. With the Governor of Texas suggesting secession is a reasonable option for his state, it was only a matter of time.

Yesterday a "news" web site very popular with right-wing wacko "Christians", called Newsmax, ran a piece that nearly begged for a military coup:
Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a "family intervention," with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.
When the article began to get some uncomfortable attention, it was removed from the site. But Talking Points Memo has the full text here.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I'm going to try hard to write this post without saying anything snarky about any individual or any publication. It will be a struggle, and I'm not sure I can do it, but here goes:

The New Republic [argh! (struggle) argh!] has a fascinating essay by Richard Posner [argh! (struggle) argh!], whose name will be familiar to some readers, about John Maynard Keynes. Posner [argh! (struggle) argh!] is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals (7th Circuit). Perhaps you will be as surprised as I am by it. The essay is longish, but will reward you with deeper understanding.

A sample:

Until last September, when the banking industry came crashing down and depression loomed for the first time in my lifetime, I had never thought to read The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, despite my interest in economics. I knew that John Maynard Keynes was widely considered the greatest economist of the twentieth century, and I knew of his book's extraordinary reputation. But it was a work of macroeconomics--the study of economy-wide phenomena such as inflation, the business cycle, and economic growth. Law, and hence the economics of law--my academic field--did not figure largely in the regulation of those phenomena. And I had heard that it was a very difficult book, which I assumed meant it was heavily mathematical; and that Keynes was an old-fashioned liberal, who believed in controlling business ups and downs through heavy-handed fiscal policy (taxing, borrowing, spending); and that the book had been refuted by Milton Friedman [HA! Oops, sorry], though he admired Keynes's earlier work on monetarism. I would not have been surprised by, or inclined to challenge, the claim made in 1992 by Gregory Mankiw, a prominent macroeconomist at Harvard, that "after fifty years of additional progress in economic science, The General Theory is an outdated book. . . . We are in a much better position than Keynes was to figure out how the economy works."

We have learned since September that the present generation of economists has not figured out how the economy works. The vast majority of them were blindsided by the housing bubble and the ensuing banking crisis; and misjudged the gravity of the economic downturn that resulted; and were perplexed by the inability of orthodox monetary policy administered by the Federal Reserve to prevent such a steep downturn; and could not agree on what, if anything, the government should do to halt it and put the economy on the road to recovery. By now a majority of economists are in general agreement with the Obama administration's exceedingly Keynesian strategy for digging the economy out of its deep hole. Some say the government is not doing enough and is too cozy with the bankers, and others say that it is doing too much, heedless of long-term consequences. There is no professional consensus on the details of what should be done to arrest the downturn, speed recovery, and prevent (so far as possible) a recurrence. Not having believed that what has happened could happen, the profession had not thought carefully about what should be done if it did happen.

Baffled by the profession's disarray, I decided I had better read The General Theory. Having done so, I have concluded that, despite its antiquity, it is the best guide we have to the crisis.

More War

This isn't fun, thinking about whether we should get more involved in Afghanistan.

The stakes seem pretty high. The Taliban are not nice people. In addition to treating "their own" people badly, they were, after all, the folks who gave Al Qaeda sanctuary before and after the 2001 attacks. If they return to power, we can expect more of the same. As John Kerry said in 2004, Bush took his eye "off the ball" with his Iraq invasion. We didn't finish our business with the Taliban, and now we're paying the price.

And right next door is Pakistan, a country with 50 nuclear weapons, teetering on the edge of anarachy. Right now the Taliban and Al Qaeda use Pakistan as a base to attack Afghanistan. A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan would be a base to attack Pakistan.

Meanwhile, our NATO allies are getting pretty tired of this. Trust in American leadership has been so diminished that the fact the Americans are involved is now good enough reason for some Europeans not to be involved.

What are the consequences of failure? Pretty ugly.

What are the chances of failure? Informed people, even those who support sending additional troops, admit the chance of failure is significant.

Polls are showing that Americans, by and large, want Afghanistan to "go away". They don't want to send more troops, they want American troops home. That's a very understandable position. What does that say about our chances of a sustained operation? And how much of a factor should that be in Obama's decision-making?

What are the alternatives? Pretty ugly. We could pull out entirely. We could maintain a military presence that goes after Al Qaeda and leaves the Taliban alone. Got any other ideas?

In a column that overstates the case, David Brooks wants to go for it. He points to an excellent discussion of the issues in a Stephen Biddle piece in The American Interest magazine. It's reasonably short. Go read it.

Biddle says encouraging things, like "failure is not inevitable." Oh, boy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Health Care Again

Charles Peters at The Washington Monthly identifies four ways health care reform can lead to less expensive, but better, health care:
• Give the government the power to negotiate prices with the drug companies. This could save Medicare a ton of money—the Veterans Administration cut its drug bill in half when given the right to negotiate. The House bill makes this reform, but the Los Angeles Times reported that the White House has made a deal with the drug companies’ chief lobbyist, Billy Tauzin, not to support the reform. According to the New York Times, the White House at first confirmed the deal, but then denied it—sort of. The potential savings of having the government bargain for drug prices are so great that Obama should leave no doubt. He should repudiate the deal. Better to betray Billy Tauzin than to betray the American people.

• Abolish or radically reduce drug advertising. Remember, it was outlawed until relatively recently—and for good reason. Not only does it often obscure dangerous side effects, it encourages people to bug doctors to prescribe drugs either that they don’t need or that are the most expensive of the possible therapies. Representative Jerrold Nadler has offered a bill to take away the tax exemption that is now given to drug advertising. And the FDA is proposing regulations that would require drug ads to disclose side effects in an obvious way instead of rapidly reciting them sotto voce over sunny pictures of people happily enjoying the benefits of the drug.

• Encourage doctors to work in Mayo- and Cleveland-type clinics that have doctors working together, and that pay salaries instead of fees for service. Massachusetts, the only state with experience offering near-universal health care, is now being urged by a high-level commission to abolish fee for service, which encourages physicians to recommend services that pay the highest fee, rather than those that are the most needed by the patient.

• Don’t allow physicians to administer expensive tests in their own offices when that encourages them to order more tests than they ordinarily would. To understand why, consider this anecdote reported by the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam: "In August 2005, doctors at Urological Associates, a medical practice on the Iowa-Illinois border, ordered nine CT scans for patients covered by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. In September that year, they ordered eight. But then the numbers rose steeply. The urologists ordered 35 scans in October, 41 in November and 55 in December. Within seven months they were ordering scans at a rate that had climbed more than 700 percent. The increase came in the months after the urologists bought their own CT scanner."
The practice of medicine is a different animal than it was in the old days.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Scourge of Libertarianism

Want to read a great essay on prolonged adolescence libertarianism? Meet Rinth de Shadley, who is, I believe, a college student.

Let's Not Blame Fox Yet

Here's one to keep our eyes on:
The FBI is investigating the hanging death of a U.S. Census worker near a Kentucky cemetery, and a law enforcement official told The Associated Press the word 'fed" was scrawled on the dead man's chest.

The body of Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and occasional teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The Census has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether the death was a killing or a suicide, and if a killing, whether the motive was related to his government job or to anti-government sentiment.
Doesn't sound good.


Obama has a big decision to make about Afghanistan: throw more troops in and hope the Afghan government cleans up its act enough to turn things around; or ... what?

Kevin Drum has a good synopsis of where things stand right now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Quoting the Bible

Couldn't resist sharing this:

The sign is not a quote, actually, but a summary of the verses. The full quote is even worse. It's something every card-carrying Taliban could agree with.


This is one of a series of pictures of "The Funniest Protest Signs of 2009" at the Huffington Post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sailors Take Warning

As I stumbled past the living room door early Saturday morning, I noticed a deep red colored light coming under the blinds. I grabbed my camera and went out the door.

I probably should have put on some trousers, but hey, who besides a dairy farmer is up at that time of day on a Saturday?

Anyway, here's the scene.

The little tower thing on the lower right is a tornado/air raid/terrorist siren. When the world comes to an end, we'll know it before you do.

I applied a little sharpening to the picture, but that's all. And yes, it rained later that day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is It Racism?

We had a wonderful dinner last night with wonderful friends (Happy Rosh Hashanah, everyone!). As our conversations usually do, we got around to talking about current events, and sharing our own perspectives on what has transpired.

And that gave me the impetus for this post, which I've been thinking about doing for several days, about the animus behind the wild-eyed frothing that is the conservative movement today: the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, the pictures of Obama as an African witch doctor. I've found several articles I can recommend that offer different perspectives on the issue. They're all from the NY Times, and that's no accident. Despite the shortcomings of some of its political reporters, the Times is still the best place to look for informed commentary.

A week ago Maureen Dowd kicked off the discussion in the mainstream press with her September 12 NY Times column, the punch lines of which were:
I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

But [Rep. Joe] Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.
Five days later, David Brooks offered an answering column, No, It's Not About Race. Brooks does not deny that racism is a part of how the foamers express themselves, but sees other historical movements as the motivation.
...I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics, so I can’t measure how much racism is in there. But my impression is that race is largely beside the point. There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.

For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government. Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites. Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the United States because he feared the fusion of federal and financial power.

This populist tendency continued through the centuries. Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones. Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented. Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude
So two white NY Times columnists disagree. What about the Times' black columnists?

Bob Herbert weighed in yesterday:
Republicans have been openly feeding off of race hatred since the days of Dick Nixon. Today’s conservative activists are carrying that banner proudly. What does anybody think is going on when, as Anderson Cooper pointed out on CNN, one of the leaders of the so-called tea party movement, Mark Williams, refers to the president of the United States as an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug, and a racist in chief.

After all these years of race-baiting and stirring the pot of hatred for political gain, it’s too much to ask the leaders of the Republican Party to step forward and denounce this spreading stain of reprehensible conduct. Republicans are trying to ride that dependable steed of bigotry back to power.
Charles M. Blow is one of the least visible of the regular NY Times columnists, but he always offers a unique perspective. That's probably because his beat is "By the Numbers," examining data from polls, censuses, and elsewhere to see what they say about us. His column goes into detail, but his conclusion is this:
Racism is real. It is very likely an element of some people’s opposition to President Obama, but everyone who wants smaller government is not a racist.

Let’s stop talking about racism as if it’s black or white. There are many shades of gray.
My own thoughts about the issue are not as coherent as any of these folk's.

On the one hand, I take as established historical fact that the modern Republican Party was built on racism. When the Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republicans gave the defeated segregationists intellectual cover for their racism (it wasn't racism, you see, it was Brooks' Jacksonian opposition to the big, bad, federal government).

On the other hand, as insufficient as it is for life in the 21st century, the Jeffersonian view of the political world as a conflict between small-town virtues and urban decadence is still a strong descriptor, with adherents who are not just using it as cover for ugly souls. The problem with Brooks' perspective is that the Republicans so mixed the two that you can't neatly pull them apart now. You reap what you sow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mary Travers

Word has come in the last hour that Mary Travers died of cancer tonight in Connecticut. I've looked for a video that captured the babe-osity that was Mary Travers in the 1960s. This is the closest I could get, even though she's not in it so much.

Peter, Paul, & Mary was a group that held up over the years. I wish they could have stayed together for another couple of decades (i.e., until about 2029).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stupid Leads, 1-0

Please watch this trailer for a new movie, Creation.
The London Telegraph says:
Creation was developed by BBC Films and the UK Film Council, and stars [Paul] Bettany [as Charles Darwin and his] real-life wife Jennifer Connelly as Darwin's deeply religious wife, Emma. It is based on the book, Annie's Box, by Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, and portrays the naturalist as a family man tormented by the death in 1851 of Annie, his favourite child.
Watch the trailer, because you may never get a chance to see the movie itself.

Distribution rights to the movie have been sold all over the world.

Except in the United States.

In the country that gave you Pulp Fiction, and endless Holloween slasher movies, a movie about Charles Darwin is too controversial. The "Christian" Right hates it, doesn't want you to see it, so nobody wants to touch it.

The campaign to make us stupid has won a great victory.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Public Option

Everybody who reads this knows who Robert Reich is. Here he describes, in less than 3 minutes, what the Public Option is.

Was that so hard? Why has it taken so long?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Olive Branch to My Opponents

It's time to stop the caricatures, and take a fair look at both sides of the health insurance reform issue:

Good News for the Legal Profession

The Ave Maria School of Law, bankrolled by the founder of Domino's Pizza and intended to create little clones of Antonin Scalia, is not doing so well. The Washington Monthly has the story. So far, the comment section is as entertaining as the article.

The GOP At Its Best (Unfortunately)

In case you missed it, the Republicans were disgusting at last night's speech, but Republicans being disgusting is not news. What's news is they're even disgusting the Washington Village people.

All in all, it looks like a debacle for the GOP. John McCain was on Larry King later in the evening, calling on Congressman Wilson to apologize.

It will be interesting to see how the evening plays out over the next few days. It didn't take very long for the Repulsives to come up with their first attempt at deflecting criticism. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham:

I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of [Obama's] speech. At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office.
They'll try that for a few days and see if it works.

Update: It doesn't look like it's going to work. Steve Benen has a good wrap-up here. Some outtakes:
When Wilson accused the president of lying, Wilson was, in fact, lying. Even in Congress, facts should matter, and the right-wing Republican wasn't just obnoxious with his idiotic interruption, he was also wrong.

...Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress, said, "Whoever shouted out that the president was lying is a dumbass." John McCain denounced Wilson's outburst as "totally disrespectful." While right-wing blogs were thrilled, Republican lawmakers have been entirely unwilling to defend Wilson's behavior.

...President Obama couldn't have been more magnanimous last night, highlighting a plan that "incorporates ideas from many people in this room tonight, Democrats and Republicans." He made frequent references to Republican lawmakers and even George W. Bush. Obama even talked up medical malpractice reform. It was in this context that Wilson decided to lash out? As Gail Collins noted this morning, "Let me go out on a limb and say that it is not a good plan to heckle the president of the United States when he's making a speech about replacing acrimony with civility."

...It's striking that Wilson, unable to find any support from his allies, quickly apologized....

But the damage has been done. Indeed, Wilson's outburst is an almost perfect summation of 2009 -- President Obama appears big, Republicans appear small. Democrat show class, Republicans act like children. One side is serious, one side is shrill. The White House says something true, Republicans lash out with falsehoods.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Simple Prayer

When it comes to making much of the trivial, it's hard to beat American popular culture. We're so used to it now that the most contrived programs on television are called "reality" shows, and we don't blink.

Still, it was hard not to go slack-jawed when a "business reporter" recently described an advertising campaign as "the #1 mascara launch in recent history."

Come soon, sweet Jesus.

A Course in Economics

Long-time readers will know that I have no use for the late Milton Friedman and the cult that grew up around him at the University of Chicago.

I was surprised, therefore, that Paul Krugman (who is brilliant, irritating, and sometimes wrong) was so kind to him in this survey of economic theory and real life: How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?

Would you like to take a quick college survey course in the history of economic theory? Professor Krugman gives us one for free (or, should I say, for the cost of the New York Times Sunday edition, which you can read for free). Describing current macroeconomic thought, he divides American theory into two schools: "saltwater" economists (i.e., East Coast and West Coast) and "freshwater" economists (i.e., the University of Clueless).
... Friedman certainly never bought into the idea that mass unemployment represents a voluntary reduction in work effort or the idea that recessions are actually good for the economy. Yet the current generation of freshwater economists has been making both arguments. Thus Chicago’s Casey Mulligan suggests that unemployment is so high because many workers are choosing not to take jobs: “Employees face financial incentives that encourage them not to work . . . decreased employment is explained more by reductions in the supply of labor (the willingness of people to work) and less by the demand for labor (the number of workers that employers need to hire).” Mulligan has suggested, in particular, that workers are choosing to remain unemployed because that improves their odds of receiving mortgage relief. And Cochrane declares that high unemployment is actually good: “We should have a recession. People who spend their lives pounding nails in Nevada need something else to do.” [That condescending attitude about people who are not University of Chicago economists is typical of the cult.]

Personally, I think this is crazy. Why should it take mass unemployment across the whole nation to get carpenters to move out of Nevada? Can anyone seriously claim that we’ve lost 6.7 million jobs because fewer Americans want to work? But it was inevitable that freshwater economists would find themselves trapped in this cul-de-sac: if you start from the assumption that people are perfectly rational and markets are perfectly efficient, you have to conclude that unemployment is voluntary and recessions are desirable.
It's a long article, but well worth your time.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Musical Interlude -- Perpetuum Jazzile

This one's going viral. Over 5 million views as of this post. Forwarded to me by my friend Ted.

Perpetuum Jazzile is an a cappella jazz choir from Slovenia. But you knew that, didn't you? Very cool.

To see it in a larger screen, click on it after it starts.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air

Have you been following the "controversy" about Obama's coming speech to school children? Obama plans to tell the kids to study hard and stay in school. The tenor of the argument is best illustrated by this press release from the chairman of the (what else?) Republican Party in Florida:
As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.

While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda. The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates.
I guess studying hard and actually learning something are just part of the liberal Democratic ideology.

Three cheers for John Harwood, a real middle-of-the-roader who just can't take it anymore:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Looking at the Bright Side of Global Warming

How long do you think it will be before one of the climate change deniers latches on to this headline in the NY Times:


Of course, if they bother to read it, they'd have to consider the good news to be tempered just a little bit by the time frames being discussed:
Scientists ... said it provided fresh evidence that human activity is not only warming the globe, particularly the Arctic, but could also even fend off what had been presumed to be an inevitable descent into a new ice age over the next few dozen millenniums.
Who do you think will be the first Bozo to cite this article as proof that global warming is a good thing (even though it doesn't exist)?

My money is on the clown Inhofe.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Consequences of the Crash

Hey, you were looking for something to really bum you out, right?

Via Steve Clemons at The Washington Note comes this 9-minute video of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating's analysis of the consequences of that little blip in the economy in the past year.

Don't expect the future to be like the past. Things aren't looking too good.