Saturday, February 28, 2009

Me and Hunters

I don't hate all hunters. Subsistence hunting is a fine, even necessary,activity for people who live in or on the edge of wilderness. Hunt to eat, hunt to feed your family, and I have nothing but respect for you. I also have boundless respect for people who give an animal an even break when on a hunt. Knife hunting for bear is an excellent challenge as long as the hunter also dresses and eats his prey.

On the other hand those wusses who hunt deer with automatic weapons, who sit in a lounge chair on canned hunts, and hunt from planes (yeah, I'm talking to you Sarah P.) are contemptible. To them I quote the Constitution:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Kansas City's Medical Examiner

It's time to expand the CSI television franchise. With popular show about crime scene investigations based in Las Vegas, Miami, and New York the logical next location is Kansas City. Of course, they would have to do it as a wacky comedy (Think "The Office" with blood and dead bodies).

Jackson County, Missouri definitely has the most inept police and medical examiners in the country, perhaps the world. The most recent showcase for their lack of minimal competence is the case of Anthony Crockett. Crockett, 49, was found dead in his home. A paramedic, finding blood pressure medicine in the house, assumed natural causes. The police, wanting to get back to their Sudoku at the donut hut, said it was fine by them and didn't bother investigating. The medical examiner, not wanting to get her hand all yucky touching a dead body, quickly signed off on the natural causes assumption. It was only at the funeral home that somebody did a cursory examination of the body and discovered three bullet holes, two in the head. The news report mention this was not the first time. Earlier, in 2007, the medical examiner had confused the rape and murder of Lorraine Grayson with death by natural causes.

While some people are calling for the firing of Mary Dudley, I think KC is missing a great promotional bet. City officials should be making a beeline to Jerry Brickheimer's Hollywood office pitching CSI:KC. I'm sure the police files have dozens of wacky foul ups to turn into scrips. Believe me, Kansas City is comedy gold.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FDR vs. Kenneth the Page

The internet is agog with Bobby Jindal's spot on impression of Kenneth the Page in the Republican response to President Obama's speech to Congress.

President Obama was commanding, presenting an air of confidence and hope that inspired the vast majority of the nation. AP likened Obama's talk to FDR's fireside chat. Republicans, delivering the highest possible praise they can imagine, are describing Obama as Reagan-esque. Faced with an impossible act to follow, Jindel decided to go for comedy.

For those who don't know, Kenneth the Page is a character in Tina Fey's television show 30 Rock. Earnest yet clueless with a persistent vacuous smile, Kenneth always sees the sunny side of any depression.
My mother always told me that even when things seem bad, there's someone else who's having a worse day. Like being stung by a bee or getting a splinter or being chained to a wall in someone's sex dungeon. ~ Kenneth Parcell, 30 Rock
Jindal is the perfect character to pitch the Republican "Don't Worry, Be Happy" attitude over the economic crisis. The unemployed don't need assistance, they need to smile more. When times are hard the government should stand by and do nothing. As Paul Krugman notes, "the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny."

Besides, Jindal's impression of Kenneth was an in-your-face response to Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin. Take that, Tina. We Republicans will always by more stupid than you can possibly act.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

PGA Fertilizer

That stench you're picking up is the smell surrounding the Professional Golfers Association. The week of June 8th the PGA's best will play at the Stanford St. Jude Championship. That's Stanford as in Stanford Financial Group. That's Stanford as in Sir Allen Stanford the alleged fraudulent investor who has allegedly laundered money for Mexican drug dealers. If those two allegeds are true he may also have defrauded Mexican drug cartels in which case his life is worth even less than his financial empire.

It takes more than processed cow flop to make golf course grass grow. While he is too disgusting for cricket pitches, sometimes pro golfers like to use really strong smelling shit like Sir Allen Stanford.

The Rich Boy Riot

Or as I like to call it - Rick Santelli and the Chicago Trading Floor Putsch.

CNBC's Santelli is an Ayn Randian who believes whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger - so let's try to kill everybody as often and cruelly as possible. Watching CNBC these days is a lot like watching professional wrestling, only less educational.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Deserving Jobless

Former Bush Administration officials are having a hard time finding work. Beyond cosmic karma, the fact that these bastards have earned their unemployment, there are several other factors at work here.
  • The Nitwit Brigade. George W. Bush did not hire "the best and brightest." They were, by and large, ideologues and religious fanatics who put their beliefs ahead of things like common sense. The few competent people in the mix are hopelessly tainted by their association with the general numbskullery.
  • It the Economy, Stupid. This is Schadenfreude within Schadenfreude. The Bush Depression has hit Republican money extremely hard. Exploitive businesses, which tend to attract Republicans, and greedy fraudsters have been failing at a greater rate than the rest of the economy. There is a lot less money available to feed the wingnut welfare machine.
  • A Generation is a Long Time. The current theory is that there has been a quantum shift in politics. Such Republicans who are successful in the future will be moderate and nonideological. It will be decades, if ever, for Bushite radicalism to regain political favor. It is silly to hire a former Bushite with the idea that he again wield power. None of them will live that long.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Less Than Worthless

Citigroup, the largest bank in the United States (as of May 30, 2008), is worthless. In fact it is less than worthless. If the bank were put out on the street corner with a sign reading "Free Bank, Please Take" no sane person would touch it.

Take a look at these numbers. The one shouting out at me is the Enterprise Value. EV is what it would cost to buy a company outright. Basically it is Market Cap + Debt - Cash. Citigroup's Enterprise Value is minus $39 billion. Citigroup has no value. It has a negative value. You would have to pay me $39 billion to take the mess that is Citigroup off your hands. For comparison, General Electric has an EV of $616 billion. Even General Motors has an EV over $30 billion.

When considering nationalizing banks keep this in mind. Citigroup is not worth a red cent. At $2 a share, its stock is grossly overpriced. In fact, with all of the money the Federal Government has given to Citigroup, we should already own it.

Obama's Miles Driven Tax Plan

President Obama is a smart politician. The plan to replace the Federal gasoline tax with a tax on miles driven is certain to be wildly unpopular because it is wildly flawed. Leaving it to Republican Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to carry the water for the plan is politically inspired.

I understand the logic behind the plan. As gasoline use declines and as electric and hybrid cars that use little to no gas become popular using a gasoline tax to pay for road maintenance makes less and less sense. In the future it makes more sense to tax the miles a vehicle drives that the gas it uses. Just not enough sense.

The wear and tear on the road system is not just a product of miles driven but of the weight of the vehicles on the road. A heavy-duty pick-up gouges out a great many more potholes per mile that a mini. Roads pounded by those massive semi-tractor trailer rigs deteriorate at an alarming rate. A smarter system would calculate miles driven times vehicle curb weight.

The Hummer wagon has a curb weight of 7558 pounds, a Ford F150 tilts the scales at 4524 pounds empty, the Toyota Prius weighs in at 2921 pounds, while the tiny Smart ForTwo nudges the scales at only 1804 pounds. Motorcycles only weight a few hundred pounds. On the other hand those big semis can weight up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded and have a curb weight over 10,000 pounds.

Take a figure of, say, 1 cent per 1000 miles per pound curb weight. A Hummer driving 10,000 miles in a year would pay a tax of $756. A Prius driving the same distance would pay only $292. Those big trucks would pay a road use tax of about ten cents a mile. This is a rational way of taxing the true impact of driving on the road system. If it also directs shippers to using the far more energy efficient rail system over trucks, well that's just an added bonus.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

California: Closed Until Further Notice

The curse of modern Republicanism is that it seeks anarchy for its own sake.

California is in its eighth month without a budget and the largest state in the union is literally bankrupt. The result is mass layoffs and construction projects left idle. Vendors, taxpayers, cities and counties, and welfare recipients are receiving IOUs in place of cash.

The fault lay entirely with the Republican governor and Republicans in the state legislature. Although Republicans are in the minority, the state constitution requires a 2/3 vote to pass a budget. Acting as a united front Republicans have blocked every effort. Repeatedly Republican leadership has negotiated an agreement only to renege at the last minute and block passage. When a budget passed in January Governor Schwarzenegger promptly vetoed it.

This coming weekend the California Republican Party intends to hold a celebration, rejoicing in the chaos they have caused.

Read also Why Republicans Hate Higher Education and Who Is Obstructing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Fool and His Money

George Bush Jr. is failing in his scrounging for money for his presidential library, being that the economy is tanking and he is so hated. So many thoughts come to mind.
  • How much do Dick and Jane books cost these days, anyhow?
  • Schadenfreude, much?
  • Just deserts
  • Maybe they should think about downsizing. How expensive is a bookmobile in Waco?
  • Better yet, there will be plenty of empty space for the Bush Library at Gitmo in a few months.
  • Why build something that American patriots will just want to burn down?
  • Libraries, like education, are Democratic institutions. How about something more Republican? Maybe the George W. Bush Drive-Thru Church and Coffee Shop.
  • #1 thought: "I was President for eight years and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Curse of the Zombie Banks

They are dead yet they still walk among us. The wander the country surrounded by the stench of their corruption and their rotting flesh. And they are hungry. They must feed and they can only eat human brains government bailouts.

They have been called Dead Banks Walking. A more descriptive term came from the Japanese depression of the 1990's - Zombie Banks.

Zombie banks are so burdened by debt that in any rational economy they would have gone bankrupt, died, and been buried. But these banks are "too big to fail" so they are propped up, filled with whatever reanimation liquidity the Federal Reserve can devise, and made to walk the land. But all that effort doesn't make them any less dead. We are talking about big banks here. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, CitiBank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland are all rotting corpses yet still walk.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has decided to follow the same much loathed policies (such as they were policies and not frantic panic) of his predecessor, Hank Paulson. In a sick remake of Weekend at Bernie's, Geithner insists on propping up these banks and pretending they are still functioning enterprises. The bankers, as is their fashion, continue eating away at Geithner's brain with their multi-million dollar bonuses.

President Obama rejects nationalization of the banks, saying it wouldn't make sense. On the other hand, Nouriel Roubini in Forbes and Paul Krugman in the New York Times point out that only nationalizing the gigantic failed banks makes any kind of sense at all. I realize that the President is afraid that Rush Limbaugh will call him a socialist and is rejecting nationalization mostly because of how Republicans would react. But, the nation needs aggressive action. The Republican path of weak socialism is the route to certain failure.

Read also Arianna Huffington on this issue.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Silly Rabbit

What's the point of giving a speech if you insist it is off the record? Why talk to the National Press Club and demand the reporters present pretend they are not reporters for the evening? Who does David Plouffe think he is? Madonna?

What is it about campaign managers? They win one or two elections and their heads swell to twelve time its normal size and they start believing they are God Incarnate. Karl Rove, Plouffe, and several I have known personally, it is a common disease of the profession called ego elephantiasis.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whither the Banks

or Wither the Banks. It's sort of a pun, you know.

Very, very generally there are three things that can be done with the nation's crippled banking system.
  1. Laissez-faire. The Ayn Rand, hardcore survival of the fittest philosophy. Leave them alone, the strong will thrive and the weak will perish. This is the Radical Republican solution which, parsing their rhetoric, is to do as little as possible as slowly as possible. It's been tried before (See Hoover, Herbert 1929-1932.) and failed horribly. Take away the weak banks and there will not be enough banks remaining to move the economy and it will continue a sickening decline.
  2. Socialism. The government supports the failing banks, keeping their structures and personnel in place. This too has been tried before (See Japan 1986-present) and has also failed horribly. The problem here is that the same stupid business models are being driven by the same ignorant banking executives. Government resources are wasted propping up the weak sisters. The stronger banks become tainted by the weak banks and, in the end, it all becomes a generally weak mishmash. Stagnation. This was Hank Paulson's plans, as far as he had any plan at all. As far as I can see Timothy Geithner is planning to wander down the same path.
  3. Nationalization also here. The government takes over the banks entirely, running them for the common good until the economy recovers. This has been done in the past very successfully in Sweden. France has nationalized and then later privatized their banking system several times. The argument against this is that nationalized banks would be less efficient than private banks. Given how inefficient private banks are right now, that is not a strong argument.
Baby steps and half measures will not work. The longer we wait to nationalize the nation's banks the worse things will get.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The World According to Michael Steele

According to Michael Steele, this is not a real job.Or this.
Or even this.
Government jobs, you see, are not real jobs. Building a parking lot for Macy's is a real job while paving a new interstate highway is a phony job. Erecting a warehouse for Nike is a real job; building a new state-of-the-art prison is just a pretend job. Army soldiers, being government employees all, perform valueless tasks.

Conversely, Steele holds the bizarre belief that private sector jobs never "go away" permanently.

George STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but we've seen millions and millions of jobs going away in the private sector just in the last year.

Michael STEELE: But they come -- yes, they -- and they come back, though, George. That's the point. When they go -- they've gone away before, and they come back.
U. S. Steel in in 1943 employed 340,000 Americans. By the year 2000, they only employed 52,000. Those jobs have never come back.

The reality is 1) this economic decline in unprecedented. The jobs may not come back in our lifetimes.
2) The nation is sick. Very sick. Too sick to come back with a cup of thin, tepid chicken broth and telling him he recovered from that little cold he caught back in 2001. It is not a cold recession this time, it is economic pneumonia. The patient needs active intervention or our nation may become permanently disabled. Perhaps even die.

Historically, great civilizations have died many times - Greek, Roman, Mayan. The great economic power of Timbuktu is now just a dusty town with 32,000 impoverished citizens. The jobs never came back to Timbuktu.

At its height, Rome had enough jobs to maintain a population of five million. After Rome's fall there was barely enough work for a population of 50,000. Even now, two millennia later, Rome has not fully recovered and can only support a population of 2.5 million.

Sorry, Mr. Steele. Sometimes the jobs don't come back. Sometimes, if you stubbornly insist on doing nothing at all, the patient dies.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Quirky Delights

One thing I love about the internet is that it give access to a world of wonderful, quirky things.

Just A Minute
Nowhere but the British Broadcasting Corporation would have a radio program such as this. Just a Minute is a quiz show on the BBC Radio 4. It's rules are simple - speak on a subject for one minute without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Within that simplicity is a devilish trial. Think about it. Could you talk for sixty seconds, extemporaneously, without any of the hemming or stuttering or "you know" verbal crutches we use to allow our brains to catch up with our mouths? Not the slightest hesitation. And could you do it without even once repeating any single word a second time? If your first line is "He threw the book against a wall," then "threw," "book," "against," and "wall" are all forbidden for the rest of the minute. Tricky if the subject is "War and Peace." (Yes, they do allow the little words to be repeated, but not too frequently.)

Most of the contestants are comics trained in improvisation. It's fun and quintessentially British.

Says You
Another game show, of sorts, out of WBGH, Boston public radio, Says You is what the Algonquin Round Table would have sounded like if they had done radio. They describe it as a simple game of "bluff and bluster, words and whimsy." Clearly a labor of love by a collection of very smart, very witty Bostonians, Says You is the only radio program in the world that requires you to have a pen and paper to listen. It is really impossible to describe. Go take a listen.

Starlet Showcase
No radio show this, it is a simple blog that features pictures of actresses from the silent screen to the recent past. Glamorous, sexy, and (rare for the internet) not a hint of porn. The pictures the blogger, C. Parker, finds are a treat.

About San Diego
Purely for local San Diegans or San Diego expatriots, this is a television show that tells the little, out of the way stories about San Diego, California and its history. They tell the story of the "Lady in White" ghost haunting Anza Borrego Desert. There is the story of General William Rosecrans strange non-connection to San Diego.

Friday, February 06, 2009

What Republicans Want

California, as is often the case, is leading the way. This time in showing what it is that Republicans want to do to the entire country.

California is in the eighth month of its fiscal year and still does not have a budget. Every attempt to pass a budget has been blocked by the Republican minority in the legislature or vetoed by the Republican governor. The effect of this radical Republican agenda has been the closure of public schools and the worst credit rating of any state in the union. The state has stopped paying it bills. It is laying off thousands of workers. Thinking about a tax refund? Forget it, the state is sending out IOUs instead.

This is a Republican caused crisis. It isn't quite destruction of its own sake, but close. Republicans are refusing any compromise and are holding the entire state hostage. The problem is that the Republicans don't really have any demands (Try your own search, you'll come up empty too. Like this says anything.). Their goal is the total collapse of government services in the state on the theory that they can only benefit for the resulting chaos.

My warning is that the past will be prologue. What the Republicans are doing in California in 2009 they will do to the entire United States government in 2010. Just wait for it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Given How Badly They've Done,
I'd Think He'd Want Them to Leave

The consequences of it are going to be a massive brain drain of senior talent from those companies that have taken TARP money to those companies that have not. ~ Donald Straszheim
The wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the rending of clothing (a $5,000 pinstriped Domenico Vacca) has begun. No one, we are being told, can live on a measly $400,000 a year. I see visions of Wall Street bankers burning their Louis XV side chairs ($2,300) for heat while dining on day-old caviar and drinking Nevada Brut champagne.

These titans of investing, we are told, will go elsewhere if they are not paid obscene amounts of money. As if Burger King would hire as a day manager some snot-nosed 20-something who so completely fucked up his previous job that Wells Fargo, for example, a bank that survived the Great Depression, is only staying afloat now because of massive government support.

Most investment bankers are just overrated salesmen, little different than the guy down at the used car lot wearing a white belt. As this rather frightening blog points out, there is little experience or education required to be an investment banker ("personality fit rates higher than technical skills"). The overriding requirement is unbridled, ruthless greed unchecked by anything resembling moral fiber.

It will be an interesting experiment. I suspect that TARP banks will outperform banks burdened by extremely expensive executive bonuses that suck up half of all income. The waste of the bonuses will exceed any potential gain through expertise.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Another Way Regarding the Bankers

For the sake of argument let's assume that it would be unconstitutional to execute the nation's bankers by guillotine just because they earned it and it would be fun. If Dick Cheney were still Vice-President we wouldn't be quibbling over constitutional niceties when there is gratuitous pain and suffering to commit. But, we're supposed to be better than that. (How boring.) So, is there some alternative that doesn't include thumbscrews and pouring tap water up people's noses?

Jerome a Paris at DailyKos suggests taxing bonuses, in all their forms, at a higher rate than salaried income. Salary and wages, standard income, is taxed at one level. Non-standard employee income would be taxes at a significantly higher rate. If the highest marginal tax rate is 35%, the tax on non-standard income would be, say, 50%. This higher tax would not just be for bonuses but for scooting around on vacation by corporate jet, free taxi service by corporate limo, and stock options - the difference between the purchase price of the stock and the market price at the time of purchase would be taxed as income at 50%. Of course, we know that Republicans will try to make this tax apply to salaried workers making overtime so we need to exclude hourly wages.

And, if that doesn't work, it's not hard to build the national razor. Instructions plans are available.