Republicans hate Socialism

July 11th, 2008 – US Government seizes control of IndyMac, largest S&L in Los Angeles and 7th largest mortgage company in the USA.

September 7th, 2008 – US Government acquires control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two largest mortgage backers in the USA.

September 16th, 2008 – US Government acquires 80% control of AIG, largest insurance company in the USA.

Save the Rich!

Another great example of how people who are not, by any reasonable definition, wealthy are somehow able to be convinced to support something which is not in their own self-interest.  If you make less than $111,000 per year, why would you support the plan on the left over the plan on the right?  You prefer to give your tax money to rich people, rather than keep it yourself?  Amazing.


Edit: This all assumes, for good historical reason, that the gummint isn’t planning to reduce spending, and therefore the total revenue needs to remain somewhat static.

You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!

The oil industry in the USA isn’t using most of the oil fields they have leases for, but they’re begging for more? I don’t understand.  The USA uses 21 million barrels of oil per day, and produces 8; the oil fields they have access to which they are not using could be worth 5 million barrels a day. Meanwhile, the proposals to open up more offshore drilling, combined with the proposals to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, could lead to 2 million barrels a day. So, they’re begging for the ability to get half of what they already have available which they aren’t using. I honestly don’t understand economics, but that just doesn’t sound kosher to me.

I understand the investment to exploit the open fields would be substantial, and the leases they are asking for would be cheaper to exploit. But, still – makes you wonder about the rhetoric about who is patriotic, eh?

Plays for not much longer

Remember when the MSN Music Store shut down over a year ago? Remember that Microsoft said that songs you “bought” from the MSN Music Store were going to be yours to keep forever? Guess what, sucker? After August, you can’t upgrade your computer without losing your music.

Yet another in a long series of “DRM Hates Customers” stories. You’d think the computer industry ditching copy protection years ago, coupled with the complete meltdown of DRM in music over the past couple years, would make the movie industry wake up and kill their copy protection plans. You’d be wrong. Not that their DRM will hold up either… Oh, yeah – it didn’t! HAH!

Why do so many people hate themselves?

The estate tax only affects estates valued at above $2 million today, and maybe down to $1 million if things are allowed to lapse in 2011 (not $675,000 no matter what your talk radio told you). How much do you expect to leave in net worth for your heirs? More than a million dollars? Not likely. Yet, a significant number of people who will never be affected by the estate tax are fighting to repeal it, on behalf of people making amounts of money most of us can’t imagine.

There are so many complicated economic issues wrapped up in estate tax debates, it would be ridiculous to try to summarize them. My curiousity is piqued by the rabid defense of the “repeal the death tax” mantra by people who will likely never have to pay it anyway. What kind of strange phenomenon causes people to spend time and effort fighting for something that helps only people most of us would classify as filthy rich?

I recently read a Princeton research paper, which showed quite clearly that the party in the Executive has historically been a good indicator of the rate of increase in income inequality. Republican presidents have been very good to the top 20% of Americans, and pretty crappy to the bottom 20%, with a relatively straight-line graph between them. Democratic presidents have been pretty good to the bottom 20%, and just about as good to the top 20%, with a straight-line graph between them as well. The difference, of course, is that the Dem graph is nearly horizontal. Income growth is about 2.5% for the top quintile under either party, but under a Dem that’s about the same level for everyone in the country (2-2.5%). Under the GOP, on the other hand, the top quintile still gets a nice growth rate of 2.5% or so, but the bottom quintile gets growth of 0.5%. The only exception to this pattern is in election years, when the Democrats seem to shoot themselves in the foot with the poor, and the Republicans somehow discover they can give money to the plebes to gain votes. Economic stimulus package, anyone?

By the way, I’ve been told by someone near and dear to me that the Princeton paper is not nearly as fascinating a read as I think it is. Something about “deathly dull” was murmured, as I recall. I am focusing on income inequality because it is so stark a statistic of economic health for most people, as well as being an indicator of widespread discontent.  Discontent breeds instability and all that, ya know. So, currently, the top 1% of people in the country have 22% of the income, which is the greatest concentration of wealth in such a small group since before the Great Depression.  We all know how well that turned out, eh? Another good indicator of economic health is personal savings. In 1982, that rate was 11%; in 2006, it was negative 1%. I’m pretty sure that’s not good.

If this income inequality issue is so blatantly obvious, the question remains: Why does anyone who isn’t already wealthy vote Republican? My theory is “the media makes people crazy.” Look at the giant storms of controversy and outrage the media talking heads have been stirring up over relatively minor issues of things like “bitter people” and cleavage and flag pins. Do any of those things really matter to the citizenry? Of course not. But, people have grown so accustomed to the din of information flowing from the magic box that shows them both parties looking stupid and venal and self-serving and hypocritical, people assume there’s no difference between them. We’ve watched the offshore outsourcing and domestic dismantling of our industrial base, through several presidents of both parties. People have become used to the idea that either party will screw the citizenry over. So, the parties end up ceding the ground of substance to “none of the above” and spend all their time fighting over trivia and “social issues.” Most of the social issues affect very few people, and based on my reading of that quaint document called The Constitution, are none of the government’s business anyway. But, you can sure rile folks up if you claim your opponent wants to take their guns or Bibles away (no matter how fictitious your claim may be).

It’s all rather disgusting. If you can stand it, watch the Pennsylvania Democratic debate – the first half is devoted to flag pins and bitterness. We’re so screwed.

Willful Ignorance

Remember the chucklehead from martial arts class? I somehow couldn’t get it through to him by my reading while he was talking, that I don’t really care to hear his wacko far-right talk radio dittohead talking points. *sigh*

I’m reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest trilogy, which hasn’t a name yet that I’m aware of but we’ll call it the Climate Change Series, absent anything better. I’m about 30 pages into the second book, and I do rather like to read books that I have open to read. But, chucklehead decided to regale me with more of his tales from the conspiracy side. Global warming may or may not be happening, and if it is it’s nothing we can fix anyway, blah blah blah. Of course, he admits that he has never read anything on the issue, and only gets his information from talk radio. Personally, I try to read the occasional article from an actual scientist, but I’m sure Laura Schlesinger is very well-read on subtle issues of climatology.

Last time I talked with this man, he told me about the evil Law of the Sea Treaty, which was going to give our sovereignty to some group of UN bad guys (it’s not). Ever notice how the far right has some sort of paranoia about the UN? Considering how completely ineffectual the UN has been in almost everything they’ve ever attempted, how scared could anyone be of them? So, this time around, his UN conspiracy is surrounding the IPCC, which of course he doesn’t even know the name of but just calls “them scientists.” There are some people who wrote pieces of the IPCC-4 report who don’t agree with the totality of that report. Surprised? Of course not. How many people wrote that document? Look up Richard Lindzen; I’m certain that’s the most prominent person that fits his description. Chuckles says that there are a lot, well, maybe a few, at least a significant number, of IPCC signers who want their names removed from the document. Let me just say, every large group has some nuts and publicity hounds. Doesn’t mean that the entire organization is wrong. The lack of any coherent alternate hypothesis to the prevailing one does not imply that there is a conspiracy which is repressing information. There aren’t a lot of coherent alternate hypotheses to the Earth being an oblate ovoid either; doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy against Flat Earthers.

Wandering farther off the path, chucklehead then had the insane notion that one should “follow the money” to find out who is benefiting from the climate change folks. Um, if we were to follow the largest streams of money surrounding this “debate” (not really a debate in the scientific world, no matter what politicians may think), we’d find it leads to the anthropogenic climate change deniers, as backed by the most wealthy corporations in the world, the petroleum industry. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but if you want to throw around “follow the money” tropes, maybe you should have a clue what you’re talking about first.

I tried to explain thermohaline circulation, and the fact that its disruption took less than a decade but caused the 1300 year Younger Dryas period of intense cold (5 degrees Celsius drop in the North Atlantic region), but I’m sure it was pointless. He’s also oblivious to the fact that our instruments get better each year, and so do our predictive abilities. The concept that theories are refined and perfected over time is foreign to him, of course.

Somehow, he even worked abiotic petroleum into his meanderings. Remember, this is someone who quite openly admits he has read nothing about the science behind all this, but just goes with his instincts on things. Our instincts are great for catching balls and shooting at slow-moving animals; they aren’t much good at megayear musings and thousand-mile discussions. I find it interesting that the majority of abiotic petroleum believers are in Russia, which is famous for such scientific breakthroughs as Lysenkoism (Lamarckian evolution).

Seriously, it’s not hard to learn enough to be halfway cognizant of the underlying science. Chucklehead is one of a depressingly large number of people who are willfully ignorant of things that they form strong opinions about. Just because you wish something were true doesn’t mean reality must bend to your will.

Medical Care in the USA

In case there are people who still don’t understand how screwed up the USA is, in regards to medical care, I present to you Steven K. Brust.  Mr. Brust is a successful science fiction author.  He’s published around 20 novels, been on the NYTimes bestseller list, and is considered a decent fellow.  He’s also in danger of losing his house because he got sick this year.   Commenters on his blog who are not from the United States are aghast that someone could have to declare bankruptcy due to illness.  No other developed nation allows citizens to go broke getting sick.  It seems deeply immoral and inhumane to me.

Fortunately for Brust, he has a dedicated following of fans (personally, I’ve only read Cowboy Feng – it was amusing) who are helping him out financially.  How many less well-known people are declaring bankruptcy today because of a hospital bill from last year?

People Believe Junk

I don’t understand how so many people, presumably graduates of high school or even college, can be so credulous or just plain stupid. Just in the past week, I’ve seen a few surprising things folks say and seemingly believe.

Many people continue to promulgate the story about Speaker Pelosi demanding a giant aircraft to fly cross-country. In case you’re one of those not involved in the reality-based world, the House Sergeant at Arms requested a larger plane for the Speaker than her predecessor had. The reason for that is because the Speaker, due to security concerns, is expected to fly nonstop to her home district from DC. Hastert lived in Illinois, Pelosi lives in California. Basic physics, folks.

A strange number of folks continue to blame President Clinton for everything wrong in the world, and when that doesn’t work, they just try to say that whatever bad things President Bush does are okay because Clinton did them too. Except they get facts grossly wrong. A letter in last week’s newspaper said that Clinton was responsible for thousands of deaths, and at least Bush hasn’t been convicted of perjury. Well, Clinton wasn’t convicted of any crime either, so huh? And, as for the thousands of deaths, I find no data to support that. If we are discussing only deaths of US citizens, Clinton’s forays into various locales caused approximately 100 deaths. If we include civilians or enemy combatants killed in Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, et cetera, the numbers undoubtedly rise into the thousands but probably (by most estimates) not above 15,000. But, to be fair, if we want to blame President Clinton for anyone who died in military actions he promoted, we need to blame President Bush for all deaths related to military actions he promotes; that number is somewhere above a half million, by all estimates that use real numbers instead of guesses.

Ann Coulter called John Edwards a faggot. I honestly don’t get it. Is the woman so completely unhinged that random gibberish is falling from her lips now? Has there ever been the slightest indication that Edwards is not straight, if that was even relevant? Of course, Coulter has a history of calling every man in the Democratic party gay: Al Gore is a “total fag,” Bill Clinton had the “whiff of the bathhouse,” etc. I love that she implied that Clinton was gay, cuz that horndog was chasing every skirt he saw, but no slacks.

And, naturally, Al Gore continues to be harassed by the Right even though he’s not remotely close to an elected office. Latest jabs are that he’s overweight (ooh!) and that his house in Tennessee uses a lot of electricity, and is therefore producing greenhouse gases at a hypocritical rate. The people who make this attack are usually the same folks who deny that greenhouse gases cause global warming, science be damned. Makes you wonder why they would point out that something they don’t believe is happening is being exacerbated by someone’s actions to begin with. Secondly, the Gores do use a substantial amount of electricity, but they pay double the market rate in order to buy only renewable energy. So, no greenhouse gases there after all. I still wonder about why anyone with a small family needs to use 20 times as much electricity as the national average, even when you include the security detail and offices on the premise. But, it’s not increasing greenhouse gases. Darn facts sure cause trouble.

Wages

Let me preface this with the admission that I am not making, and have never made minimum wage. Sure, during the early years of my indenture to the U.S. Army, I’m sure the wage I made, prorated hourly, was a pittance. But, they did give me a crappy room to crash in and some mediocre food and medical care. So, better than many.

This week, I had a conversation with my boss about the death of the minimum wage. He is convinced that we do not need to raise the minimum wage for any reason, letting the market decide how to pay things. So, here’s a few things that I can point to as some backing for my opinion (everyone has one) that the stagnation of our minimum wage is a bad thing for the country.

Continue reading Wages

Some People Don’t Listen

The folks over at JoeUser are a bit more right-wing than most large groups online, it seems. They’re not even, in general, libertarian but definitely a preponderance of Bush-lovers. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se; it does make for some interesting discussions at times. This post stimulated a lot of responses, most of them (to my mind) unthinking. The original poster is a retired Colonel and was sharing his personal economic status change over the previous year, as contrasted with the “great news” about the economy that is trumpeted on Fox News. He was, of course, attacked as an idiot on multiple occasions. The fact that few people on that board seem capable of spelling much correctly does distract me, but here’s one correctly spelled response that jumped out at me:

People don’t know if they are better off or not.

Oh, well, then. We’ll just tell people they’re better off, and even if their checkbooks tell them differently, they’ll believe us.

Net Neutrality

I just saw an anti-net neutrality ad from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.  They portray Google and its allies on the pro-neutrality side as “multi-billion dollar tech companies” who just want more money from you, the poor consumer.  Why, we all know that the cable and telecom companies have always done what is best for the consumer, right?

Lots of people have spilled lots of ink over net neutrality in the past few months, but if nothing else this one ad would make me side with Google.  If it comes down to who I trust more, Verizon or Google?  Easy.  Which one of those companies has ever charged me a dime?  Which one of those companies has a history of near-whimsical pricing and abuse of government-sponsored monopoly power?  Yeah, exactly.  Hell, just last month, Verizon wanted to punk their cellular customers with an invented new fee to recoup the losses from the FCC cancelling the Spanish-American War tax.

Who do you trust?

Miles Per Dollar

Back in 1987, when I first started driving, I had a 1967 Dodge Coronet. It got 17 miles per dollar (mpd). That car had horrible mileage, a cranky carburetor, and generally drove like the tank it resembled.

When I got back from my first tour in Korea in 1992, I got a cheap Toyota. With advances in technology, I was able to average 25 mpd. Of course, I had rare need for air conditioning in Monterey, but that 25 mpd was mostly city driving.

My next car, the Dodge Neon, was a victim of a slight rise in gas prices, so I only got 23 mpd when I first got the cute little thing in 1995. By the time I moved on to the next car, I was only able to squeeze 17 mpd from the Neon.

The Ford Contour (crappy car, don’t ever get one) I got saddled with in 2000 made a then-sad 15 mpd. Power locks, air conditioning, but otherwise a simple auto.

Now we’ve got these insane fuel prices, and I drove to and from Dallas this weekend. The previous week, with commuting the primary fuel usage, I only made 7 (seven!) mpd. The highway trip made things slightly better, with a massive 11 mpd.

Of course, even a Toyota Prius would only average around 15-17 mpd nowadays. I don’t even want to do the math on that old Coronet (OK, fine – it would be five mpd). I think my “Check Economy” light is flashing…

Hydrogen != Energy Source

This week, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was shown driving off in a hydrogen-powered vehicle, and two blocks later hopping out and getting into his gigantic gas-guzzling SUV. Politicians being mendacious and venal is not news. But, the news continues to refer to the hydrogen “energy source” of the future.

Hydrogen is not and will never be an energy source. It is an energy storage system, like a battery that you can charge with a hose instead of an outlet. And, it’s not a very good replacement for gasoline anyway.

Gasoline stores nearly 10 killowatt-hours worth of power in a liter of space. Liquid hydrogen can only store one quarter that density. What’s amusing is that gasoline actually has more hydrogen embedded in it chemically per liter than liquid hydrogen does.  Yes, gasoline is a way to store and transport hydrogen that is more efficient than the raw hydrogen. Brain hurt yet?

If you were wondering about the other alternate fuel vehicles, liquid natural gas (which is an energy source) holds about 75% of the energy per liter as gasoline; liquid propane holds about the same.

So, why do I say hydrogen is not an energy source? Because, unlike natural gas or petroleum or coal, we don’t harvest or discover hydrogen. The way we produce hydrogen today is to create it from other molecules, through electrolysis (splitting water molecules), or microbes exhaling it, or gasification of peanut shells and the like. Regardless, the difference between making gasoline and making hydrogen is pretty stark. We drill for oil, and refine it to make gasoline. This wastes a little energy in the process, but is necessary because crude oil doesn’t explode very well (gasoline does explode under pressure very nicely). Assuming we use natural-gas fired electrical generators to make hydrogen, we would use the entirety of our current natural gas consumption to make the hydrogen to power the current level of transportation that uses gasoline.  Shoot, that leaves no electricity for keeping our houses lit and comfortable.  Well, whatever shall we do?

Current nuclear reactors are considered low-temperature reactors, and produce mostly hot water as waste. These reactors can produce electricity approximately four times more expensively as natural gas (which explains why nukes are so rare still). A new direct thermodynamic conversion can produce hydrogen with only a 30% penalty compared to natural gas (at least with today’s prices for natural gas – as NG becomes more expensive, nukes become more attractive). Japan, Korea, and China are all working on these and also on pebble-bed reactors. The Japanese estimate they’ll have an operational high-temperature reactor producing somewhere around 100-200 tons of hydrogen per day.

So, those hydrogen-powered cars are actually electric cars with hydrogen fuel-cells storing the energy which was originally produced by burning natural gas or oil, more likely than not. Any time you see “hydrogen-powered” in the news, think “hydrogen-battery electric” instead.

RIAA Suing EVERYONE

The recording industry mafia have gotten a new one – they are suing a family for filesharing when the family doesn’t even own a computer. I believe it is quite difficult to infringe copyrights (not steal any darned thing) the way the RIAA accuses them of without at least some kind of computer to use.

So, the morons have shaken down little old ladies, small children, dead people, families without computers…how many cases has the RIAA won? Not a single one. That’s right; no matter how much they bully people, not a single case has been decided in their favor. Of course, almost no cases have been decided at all. The strongarm tactics and extortion that the cartel has used are effective. People know they have no reasonable chance of fighting the RIAA in court because the RIAA can afford better lawyers, and in the modern judicial system money talks. So, when the mob boss industry lawyer offers people a way out of the multi-million dollar suit, they tend to take it. Unsurprisingly, the amount of money the RIAA settles for varies from case to case – it is generally defined as, “what do you have?” One college student was told to max out his student loans to maximize the industry profit. Think this will encourage that student to buy more CDs next year? Yeah, me neither.

Return of the return of the Broadcast Flag

Boy, those congresscritters really don’t seem to get it. Nobody outside the MPAA and RIAA wants a broadcast flag, no matter what you call it. As always, Cory Doctorow’s analysis is fantastic.

Under the DCPA proposal, digital media technologies would be restricted to using technologies that had been certified by the FCC as being not unduly disruptive to entertainment industry business-models.

Unduly disruptive? Hey, folks, the disruptive technologies are the ones that drive us forward and upward to ever-higher levels of economic and creative success. Phonographs, automobiles, computers, compact disks, radio, television – all disruptive technologies in their time. There is no Constitutional right to protect existing business models, and isn’t Congress supposed to be in the business of protecting the Constitution and the sovereign people of the United States? Or are they instead in the business of protecting campaign donors against their own customers? Yeah, that was rhetorical, thanks.

People are sheep

Something which strikes me on occasion is how, when I speak to my coworkers or others with any brains at all, and the topic drifts to politics or economics, there is a sameness. Almost everyone I converse with is generally reasonable, with a few blind spots (we all have them). Almost nobody claims that Tom DeLay is a good example, and almost nobody claims that Mike Moore is anything but a self-aggrandizing propagandist. Nearly everyone agrees that the unfettered capitalism of the late 19th century which led to the Robber Barons was a bad idea, and almost everyone also agrees that the total socialism practiced in Cuba is not exactly an economic boom.

Yet, all these reasonable people go to the polls every two to four years and vote for people who are anything but reasonable. How in the world do we get ideologues and idiots in office, when most people are basically decent human beings, with the minor difference in opinion about things like the proper role of government in our lives? It’s astounding, especially when you consider that the American governmental process is remarkably transparent compared to many other countries. If this is the best of all possible systems, I’m glad to be living in it.

Of course, another issue which recurs is a growing lack of personal responsibility among individuals. Blaming the government for the failures of the past month is easy. Now, what is that pesky phrase in the Constitution? Oh, right – We the People. We, the people, are considered to be the sovereign rulers of the United States. We, the people, should not be waiting for the government to Do Something when things go awry. We, the people, comprise the country and if our elected representatives aren’t doing something, we need to. This lack of personal responsibility spreads through the public school system as well, with the consequence that parents seem too willing to abdicate all requirements that they raise their own darned kids, preferring the strangers of a major institution to take care of that rather personal issue. Mystifying.

Good night.

No Bankruptcy Protection for Troops

The Democrats introduced an amendment to a bill sponsored by shills for MBNA; the amendment would prevent poor military members from being screwed over by being forced into bankruptcy when they’re deployed and can’t handle their bills properly because they’re being shot at. The Republicans (wrapped in flags at the time, no doubt) shot the amendment down.

Way to support our troops.