Dienstag, Juni 30, 2009

Congress' Folly...

I've been perusing the recently passed House Bill HR 111 1476 IH, aka "'American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009'', which is indeed 1201 pages long.

No one in the House of Representatives has read the bill.

Whilst perusing, I came across this on Page 120, Section 127:

the status of oil as a strategic commodity, which derives from its domination of the transportation sector, presents a clear and present danger to the United States

That stopped me right there.

That oil is a strategic commodity presents a clear and present danger to the United States?

Ah: the alcohol lobby at work, right on the page 122:

the United States has an urgent national security interest to develop alcohol fuels technology, production, and distribution systems as rapidly as possible

An urgent national security interest? This is madness. Plain and simple.

Further down the road: Peak Demand Reduction Programs using a "Smart Grid", which I read as basically saying that rather than providing energy for peak demand use, the grid will react to peak demands by ... reducing peak demand. Sorry, I really did try to figure that one out, but all that is talked about is reducing peak demand. Not how, except by inference by cutting power to users.

In other words, what are now called brownouts.

Now down on pages 192-193, we see the end of incandescent light bulbs by 2012 for bulbs greater than 70 Watts, and all by 2014. Replacement? Not a word.

Florescent? Out in between 18 and 36 months.

I can't even begin to figure out the appliance regulations, but it looks like automobile manufacturers get no more than three years to change designs for new cars based on whatever regulations the government gives them: in other words, model changes will increasingly be determined by changes in government regulations, as those three years is pretty much the absolute minimum time needed to make a new model and get it into production. Given the very long lead times for engines and the like, this is going to gut what is left of the automobile industry, reducing it to executors of government regulations regarding what they are allowed to sell. Watch out for further cuts of this time period to force the industry to become proactive in second-guessing what environmental folly will be put through next...

Reading further, manufacturers of machinery using electrical motors will have to design them so that the motors can be retrofitted or replaced when the regulators deem this necessary. While modular design is all fine and good, deciding what that design will be is going to put a damper of design work.

I'm only up to page 500...

On page 506: energy efficiency target goal is 2.5% per year, measured as energy used per unit of GDP, to be kept up through 2030, starting in 2012.

On page 521, the real fun starts: Titel III, "Reducing Global Warming Pollution"

A modest proposal: stop politicians from talking, especially about global warming.

Goal: in 2050, the US economy may not exceed greenhouse gas emissions of the baseline economy (2005) by more than 17%.



Emission allowances.

Here the IPCC report, with all of its errors, omissions and hairy little problems,  has become the Holy Bible.

What emissions are covered?

Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexaflouride, hydrocarbons from industry, perfluorocarbons, nitrogen triflouride, and any other gas so designated. Each of these gases will be indexed against carbon dioxide in terms of its greenhouse effect. But how?

By the effect that this gas will have over the next 100 years.

In other words, by forecast. Oh, this one is gonna be fun.

Emissions allowances start in 2012 with 4627 million tons, climbs to 5482 in 2016 (with an odd jump from 5003 in 2015) and then declines to 1035 in 2050.

In other words, there is a built-in reduction of ... 2.941% from the peak in 2016 to 2050, which is greater than the mandated energy efficiency of 2.5% for the same time period.

But actually, this is worse: this means that the pool of available allowances for emissions allowances will decline, on average, by around 3% per year, meaning that, ceteris paribus, if an emissions allowance for 1 ton was priced at 1000 USD in 2016, it will cost ... 2697.20 USD in 2050.

Ouch. Built-in inflation, did anyone ask someone at the Fed about this?

As of 2012, emissions in excess of the emissions allowances are forbidden. Not fined, not compensated for, but forbidden. As in do this, you go to jail.

There is something called the Strategic Reserves Auction, the purpose of which I don't understand at all, other than this: it starts out with a minimum price of $28, but this minimum increases by 5% plus the CPI per year through 2015; thereafter, it increases at 60% above the rolling three year average of the daily prices for emissions allowances. Again: built-in inflation, did anyone ask someone at the Fed about this? Sixty percent per year post 2015??? And in constant dollars, not current dollars?

First auction of emission allowances is Mar 31 2012, quarterly auctions, single-round, sealed-bid, uniform price format. Get in line now.

At around page 700, my ability to read, let alone comprehend, was severely limited.

But at least I did more than any Representative did. At least I tried to read Congress' Folly...folly because it sets goals that cannot be reached, foresees massive reductions in civilization (after all, civilization is energy in our modern societies), and all because the IPCC says the sky is falling.

Truly Congress' Folly.

Just briefly...

Here are two links worth perusing.

The first is an excellent take on what President Obama appears to be doing with US foreign policy, deliberately creating political vaccums for the enemies of the US to fill:

Obama's continuing obsession with America's supposed misdeeds - deplorable but necessary actions in time of war - is consistent with his determination to erode America's influence in the most troubled parts of the world. By removing America as a referee, he will provoke more violence than the United States ever did. We are entering a very, very dangerous period as a result.

The second is a rousing condemnation of Waxman-Markey as the new Smoot-Hawley by Republican Representative Tom McClintock:

Today, California's unemployment rate is more than two points above the national rate, and at its highest point since 1941.

What is it that happened in January 2007? AB 32 took effect and began shutting down entire segments of California's economy. Let me give you one example from my district.

The city of Truckee, Calif., was about to sign a long-term power contract to get its electricity from a new, EPA-approved coal-fired electricity plant in Utah. AB 32 and companion legislation caused them to abandon that contract. The replacement power they acquired literally doubled their electricity costs.

So when economists warn that we can expect electricity prices to double under the cap and trade bill, I can tell you from bitter experience that in my district, that's not a future prediction, that is a historical fact.


If this measure becomes law, two things are certain. First, our planet will continue to warm and cool as it has been doing for billions of years. Second, Congress will have delivered a staggering blow to our nation's economy at precisely that moment when that economy was the most vulnerable.

His points are logical, inevitable and correct: Waxman-Markey will make life in the United States more expensive - and hence is a regressive tax, affecting those with lower incomes proportionately more - and it will not, even in the best-case scenarios, make any appreciable difference.

The Democratic-led Congress is increasingly beholden to special interests, but not the boogey-man special interests of the past (big oil, car companies, banks), but rather to the watermelon ideologies (green outside, red inside) that drive the environmental movement today. What is worse is the fact - and it is a fact - that no one in the House actuall read the legislation before voting on it.

If that is not the definition of a rubber-stamp congress, I don't know what is.

We are heading towards increasingly difficult times: not only is the economy in serious trouble, caused by government interference in capital markets (remember, folks: no subprimes, no sub-prime crisis!), and the government, rather than working on solving the problems, is busy making things worse.

Much, much worse. You can already expect energy prices to increase with oil already over $70/bbl (again); if Waxman-Markey passes the Senate and is signed into law by President Obama, then expect energy prices to double. My bet? That they will be up even more.

The First Serious Error...

The Obama Administration has made its first serious error of fact.

They've already made a number of errors of opinion, but this is the first case where they simply have the facts wrong, and are clearly siding on the wrong side of those who are right.

Here's a brief description of what has happened, which basically comes from here. If someone has a better source, I'd be happy to update this, or if there are any errors here, please correct: however, from what I've read, this is accurate.

The country of Honduras has a constitution. To change their constitution, to make amendments, you have to have a general assembly of the Honduras congress that is the only legally permitted organ to make constitutional changes.

The deposed President of Honduras is Manuel Zelaya.

* When the armed forces refused to distribute the ballots, Zelaya fired the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, and the defense minister, the head of the army and the air force resigned in protest.
* Yesterday the Supreme Court ordered by a 5-0 vote that Vásquez be reinstated.
* Honduras's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ordered authorities to pick up all the ballots and electoral material, which were held by the country's air force.
* The country's Attorney General requested yesterday that Congress oust Zelaya.
* The courts have declared the referendum unlawful. Last Tuesday the Congress passed a law preventing the holding of referendums or plebiscites 180 days before or after general elections. Congress has also named a commission to investigate Zelaya.


An official statement of the Supreme Court of Justice explained that the Armed Forces acted under lawful grounds when detaining the President of the Republic, and by decommissioning the materials to be used on the illegal poll which aimed to bring forth Executive Power against a judicial order.

Other sources verified that the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, will assume the presidency of the republic in a few hours.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was detained this morning by the military in compliance with an order of the courts of law.

The above is from linked site, emphasis in the original.

In other words, when faced with a president who was actively seeking to break Honduras law and suborn the constitution, the Honduran legislature ordered his arrest. Zelaya resigned (link here, only in Spanish). He now claims he did not.

The removal of Zelaya is fairly popular. See here and here, especially the comments. Zelaya was driving the country into the ground.

From the first link:

In the first 2 years of his term, he seemed to be trying to fulfill his promises, but then we see him starting to engage in relations with Venezuela's leftist president Hugo Chavez, which per se is not a bad thing, but he starts to support his ideologies.

This is where Mr. Zelaya stabbed the Honduran people in the back. He makes an unpredicted turn to the left, which the majority of the population is against, but nevertheless, he goes on with the integration of Honduras to the ALBA, Hugo Chavez's initiative, which has caused nothing but civil unrest on countries that have joined. This mostly motivated by promises of easy money by Chavez.

Zelaya starts also to take a populist stance, first approving a huge increase in government workers' wage, then approving a general increase to the minimum wage to levels where small and medium business were not able to cope with. He uses his "Citizen's power" initiative to promise the poor areas of Honduras a thousand and one benefits with the integration to the ALBA. This all seems good, but in the background, he is asphyxiating our country's air-thin budget with these initiatives, and forgoing such responsibilities such as the fight of crime, drug trafficking, diseases, the World's economical crisis, and many other social matters.This is Zelaya first crime.

With this strategy, Zelaya "purchased" the support of some in-country blocks, such as peasant and indigenous organizations.This all would have been good, until you see Zelaya's true intentions.

His purpose was of gathering support for his new project: to dispose of the current Constitution, over which he was sworn in, and create a new one, similar to ones crafted by Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, with which he would be allowed to be re-elected. This is Zelaya's second crime.

From the second link:

President Zelaya talks of a new, better kind of Democracy where the representatives in Congress will be chosen by social organizations, such as worker unions, peasant unions, teacher unions and other social organizations, in other words, a new version of Lenin's Proletarian Dictatorship. This model of the 60s, 70s and 80s has been tried and failed because it limits representation to a few. Yet he ironically claims that the other branches of the government and the "Oligarchies" are the ones who want to keep power in the hands of a few.

Thus, with the survey and fourth ballot, President Zelaya seeks to break the constitutional order, to defeat the constitution and change the rules of representation. That is why the majority of the Honduran people oppose this survey. That is why Congress opposes it. That is why the Supreme Court and the judicial system oppose it. That is why the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman, opposes it. That is why the churches oppose it. That is why the Honduran Bar Association opposes it. That is why the military oppose it. That is why we, the people oppose it.

Article 64 of our valid constitution protects itself from the passing of laws that contradict any other article in it, specially the seven non-amendable articles. There is also an article that states that no referendums or surveys can be held within 180 days before the general elections. Mel's survey would therefore involve going against each of these articles, and ultimately assault the constitution as a whole. Our legislative and judicial institutions are aware of this, declaring it an illegal action. Our armed forces have rejected the commands from the president, because they refuse to participate in an illegality, causing further discourse. The news channels and newspapers have encountered themselves with people who have been offered money in exchange for their vote, and a woman was even denied service at a public hospital because she refused to sign in favor of the ballot.

The judicial courts and Public Ministry (attorney general's office) ordered all the material to be removed and stored in the Air Force base, at which point, Zelaya proceeded to march there with a group of about 2,000 followers suspected of being bought, brought down the gates, and retrieved the boxes of material which were then taken to the presidential palace.


Yes, Zelaya was democratically elected, but he also betrayed the Honduras's people vote by trying to take the country to a path that we do not chose (ALBA and Chavez extreme socialism), forgetting important country affairs for promoting his Chavist agenda, and using the country's poor for this purpose. If he promotes democracy through the voice of the people, why didn't he asked us if we wanted to join the ALBA?

Finally, I want to remind everyone that this was not a military coup, this was the arrest and destitution of a criminal president, with the help of the military. Proof that it is not a coup, is that as of this moment we already have the Constitutional State of Right re-established, with a new president, and new cabinet. Let us Hondurans be, we have already defenestrated what was causing us such stress, division and unrest, and we will reunite ourselves, to again perform our right of suffrage in 5 months.

So, what does President Obama do?

He sides with Castro and Chavez, who were grooming Zelaya to take power in Honduras as Chavez had in Venezuala, by suborning the constitution and perverting the process.

According to this:

"We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there," Obama told reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.


"It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections," Obama said, noting the region's progress in establishing democratic traditions in the past 20 years.

Despite Obama's comments, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most U.S. aid to Honduras.

Under U.S. law, no aid -- other than for the promotion of democracy -- may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup.

"We do think that this has evolved into a coup," Clinton told reporters, adding the administration was withholding that determination for now.

We see here a common thread, one that ties in with the Obama conceit "I won" and how his Administration, Pelosi and Reid are turning the Congress into a rubber-stamp parliament, who won't even slow down to read the laws they are passing.

The only thing that counts is "democracy", the mob rule, getting elected. The Rule of Law?

Only when it's convenient.

In developing countries, the Rule of Law is the most important step to development at all. No one will work if the fruits of their labors are simply taken by despots; they'll work to survive, but no one will build businesses and create jobs so that they can be turned over to politically correct cronies, who usually then plunder the company and lets it then fail, blaming the original owners.

This is the first truly egregious error of the Obama Administration, an actual error of fact.

Montag, Juni 29, 2009

Treason, Betrayal, Environmentalism...

This by Paul Krugman got me to thinking.

What is treason?

Treason is, simply, betrayal: high treason is the betrayal of country or king; low betrayal (petit betrayal) is the betrayal of a husband by his wife (or vice versa).

What is betrayal?

Well, according to Wikipedia:

Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract, trust or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party from the others.

Perhaps the greatest betrayal of all is that of Judas. Or, perhaps more fittingly, Satan as in Milton's Paradise Lost.

This is what Krugman thinks that the deniers are guilty of.

He's wrong.


Because to betray, you have to have the trust first. If you don't trust someone, there's no sense of betrayal when that person breaks confidence.

Krugman's viewpoint is nothing less than a religious tract calling for the punishment of heretics, condemning the unbeliever for his audacity not to submit:

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we're facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

In other words, the TRUTH has been decided and declared, and the nightmare scenarios - based on veiled and hidden models, driven by people who have no interest in garden-variety science now that the TRUTH has been revealed - are the fire-and-brimstone of the modern pulpit, designed to scare and terrify.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday's debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a "hoax" that has been "perpetrated out of the scientific community." I'd call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Well, I've got news for Paul.

The records aren't what he thinks they are. As a matter of fact, they aren't what the fire-and-brimstone crowd believe they are either.

The data that the models are based on is compromised: this has been documented extensively at sites like Climate Audit. Of course, the true believers belittle those who dare to actually look at the data because they're not "peer reviewed".

Well, the boy who stated that the King wore no clothes wasn't peer-reviewed either.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn't it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that's why it's unforgivable.

Well, what's actually unforgiveable for Krugman is he fact that these people just won't go away.

Nor should they.

Sorry, Paul: it's only betrayal if trust exists. And sorry, having seen the hysteria, the fire-and-brimstone preaching, the extraordinary belligerence and outright hostility that meets anyone who is not of The True Faith, I see little reason to trust anyone in the field at this point.

You see, I think you're the betrayers. I don't trust you.

Persuade me: show me the data, the raw data, the non-adjusted data,

Persuade me: show me how the models work.

Persuade me: document your addfactors and tell me why.

Persuade me: show me the equations.

Call me a doubting Thomas, but if you can't do this, or think I'm too stupid or too ignorant, or that I can't understand it because I don't have the right degree from the right School of Indoctrination, or that I'm not qualified to raise these questions, then you are the Betrayer: you demand that I believe, but without divine revelation, how am I to believe that you are not, in fact, the counter, the exact opposite of what you claim to be.

Freitag, Juni 26, 2009

In Praise of ... Skilled Labor

This caught my eye.

One of my greatest problems with academia and those who populate it - I grew up in an academic family - is the implicit, never spoken assumption that white collar work is better than blue collar work.

But it's not an assumption: it's an article of faith, a fundamental underlying belief that working with your hands is something that, at best, you do as a hobby, one to be indulged by those who would rather that their friends not be so mundane.

What arrogance.

At one point in my life, when I was more indulgent in using my time to explore arcane ideas, I studied philosophy and worked on the philosophy of technology, which, as you can imagine, is a fairly poorly defined field. Technology, after all, is nothing more than the logic of tools: how can this be studied?

In many ways it can't: good technology is transparent, it becomes an extension of your self, of your being, such as using a hammer to drive in nails. A good hammer, properly weighted and balanced, is a thing of beauty, allowing you to cease paying attention to holding it and aiming it to hit the nail and not your thumb: a good hammer lets you put the nails precisely where you want them to be, without even contemplating how you are going to do it. This is also true for master carpenters: they don't think about how to build that cabinet, they just make it so.

The article I refer to has a PhD is political philosophy, but has found that his real life calling is as a motorcycle repairman.

For an academic, one who lives and worships in the ivory tower, that is an admission of vast failure, a proof that admissions to graduate programs should be tightened to keep out this kind of people.

For me, it's really the main reason I'm not an academic.

One of my hobbies is watchmaking. Not merely collecting watches - I am the moderator for what has become the world's largest and most popular watch collecting forums on the Internet, Watchuseek in the Netherlands, moderating both the Vintage & Pocket Watch forum as well as the Pilot/Military watch forum - but also the watchmaking itself. I've had around 30 hours of training at this point from a master watchmaker and know just barely enough to realize that I know very little about watchmaking.

But I persevere. I don't have a proper watchmaking area at home and clearing the debris from my desk - blogging, photography, watches, bills, sundries - prevents me from really getting into it. I want an old watchmaker's lathe, powered by a foot pump, to work on parts; I want a micro CNC machining center to make gears. I have ideas about how to improve watch accuracy that have to be tried out in the real world.

But most of all, I marvel at watch movements. The best are pieces of art, the worst are functional tools that simply do their job. I know several watchmakers at this point, from the fairly rude and impatient master watchmaker with over 50 years career as master watchmaker behind him to the bright, industrious, dedicated master watchmaker who taught the courses I took and who, with a smile, fixes the mistakes and errors I bring him.

So here is praise for the manual worker, the fellow who has dedicated his life to doing things with his hands, who can take a look at something and who doesn't even have to think about what to do and how to do it, but rather visualizes the final product and lets his hands do the rest.

I've tried to persuade my daughters to become watchmakers, to do what I wished I could do. So far no luck: at least they do know, however, that there are real-world jobs that don't require a degree.

But what those real-world jobs require is skills.

To bring this back to the world of economics, one has to understand the value of labor. It is the great failure of most economics to not differentiate between skilled and unskilled labor, and even then not to differentiate between skill levels of labor. It is perhaps one of the great failures of the economics profession to not understand fully what skilled labor really means, which is not unsurprising, given the difficulties in evaluating skilled labor. It is indeed the great failure of the unions that they reward seniority, rather than skills: that has, fundamentally, weakened the labor movement, rather than to have strengthened it.

The point that the article I refer to makes briefly deserves to be expanded: skilled labor can't be exported. It has to be consumed locally, and it is mobile. Not nearly as mobile as capital, but nonetheless capable of voting with its feet. You might be able to send, say, a watch to be worked on in some distant city, but you have to seek skilled labor. In the US skilled labor creates a reputation via word-of-mouth, recommendations from satsfied customers; in Europe, skilled labor is the result of apprenticeship systems with guilds and the creation of formalized training for master craftsmen. I don't know how it is done in Japan or elsewhere in Asia.

Skilled labor is always in demand. Unskilled labor is dumb labor: it makes no difference who does it, it can be done anywhere, and at the end of the day the unskilled laborer is indeed the proletariat, a faceless member of a group that lacks the control over the means of production. Skilled labor always controls the means of production: simply put, a company that thrives by using skilled workers is one that cannot afford to have unhappy workers who take their skills with them when they leave. That is, they control the means of production.

Unskilled workers are readily exchangeable, and indeed many industries have effectively left the industrialized countries to move to China and elsewhere in Asia where unskilled labor is almost so cheap as to be meaningless in terms of costs during the production process. Rote skills, standing on an assembly line, putting part A in part B and attaching two screws in 12 second takt, that is the modern face of unskilled labor. It is where labor has become industrialized, where the skill is mere dexterity, doing without understanding.

Those jobs move whereever their cost is lowest. The people don't, and unemployment results. Japan has hollowed-out, as has the UK and the US, with many if not most unskilled manufacturing gone to lower-cost countries. Europe is actively exporting these jobs to Eastern Europe.

But skilled labor?

Japan is facing a massive shortage of skilled labor. Germany as well, despite high unemployment rates. Try to find a good plumber in the US, or a good electrician, and you will quickly find how scarce such labor is, especially if you are not in a major city.

Labor policies today should be oriented towards increasing labor skills. Sure, programs exist right now to help increase labor skills, but these are ponderous efforts crippled by misconceptions of what skills are needed.

But consider this to in praise of skilled labor. For the post-industrial society, it will turn out to be that which makes or breaks the economy.

Donnerstag, Juni 25, 2009

I'd Never Thought I'd Read This...

Here is an editorial in The Japan Times which stopped me in my tracks.

Right there, in the first sentence:

Nearly six months after U.S. President Barack Obama entered the White House, it is apparent that America's Asia policy is no longer guided by an overarching geopolitical framework as it had been under President George W. Bush.

Wow. I guess I'm so used to the usual Bush-bashing from editorialists and journalists that I've simply never come to expect any but that, and here is someone pointing out the massive problem facing the Obama Administration, a lack of focus. But it is nice to see the recognition that US foreign policy under President Bush was understood abroad to have an overarching geopolitical framework...

Or perhaps, more exactly, a massive focus on China to the exclusion of most other countries there. This is, I think, indeed a problem: India is in so many ways the more "natural" partner for the US, if one ignores the massive Chinese purchases of US treasury bonds.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration apparently thinks that China is the only country that matters: this means, in classic liberal wonk fashion, that the other countries will, for the most part be simply ignored or put on the back burner.

Japan and India are, basically, the losers in the Great Game as it is being played out in Washington. The new Ambassadors to both countries? Political rewards for the faithful. The new Ambassador to India is, to quote, an "obscure former Congressman Timothy Roemer"; the new Ambassador to Japan is "a low-profile Internet and biotechnology lawyer, John Roos". Neither have any real connections to these countries, and join the long list of US Ambassadors whose claim to fame is the ability to generate campaigning money and organize the party faithful or receive their Ambassadorships as part of some political deal involving others.

For most countries, the US Ambassador is a fairly big deal, representing the US in that country. Sending a party hack or giving the post away to one of the party faithful is a clear sign of disinterest that many countries recognize and while they may not like this, there is virtually nothing they can do.

Sending these Ambassadors sends a clear message: you're not really very important. Remember who has been Ambassador to Japan in the past: President G.H.W. Bush (aka Bush 41) was Ambassador there way back when. That is the quality of people you send, not an internet and biotechnology lawyer who just happened to be one of President Obama's premier fundraisers.

Especially when it had been planned to send Jospeh Nye, former US Assistent Secretary of Defense.

Timothy Roemer? Turns out to be a few days younger than I am (ah, but for a few different choices in life...), was a Representative in the House for Indiana for around 10 years, choosing then to leave the House for think-tank work. He's a strong Obama supporter, and his work lies in disarmament and anti-proliferation.

Well, that's not quite the political hack that Roos appears to be, but do we see the message being sent here? Sending an anti-proliferation and disarmament specialist to be the Ambassador to India?

Guess what pressures will be put on the Indian government there. This will be analyzed and parsed by the Indian government, think tanks and pundits in India, which points to the path that US policy towards India may take: that of pressuring India to give up its nuclear plans. Watch for that to come up as a policy point over the next year or so.

The Indians have already noticed that President Obama has pointed to a security triangle of the US, Japan and China, pointedly leaving India out of the game:

It is as if the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral has fallen out of favor with the new U.S. administration, just as the broader U.S.-India-Japan-Australia "Quadrilateral Initiative" — founded on the concept of democratic peace and conceived by then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — ran aground after the late-2007 election of Kevin Rudd as the Australian prime minister. Without forewarning New Delhi or Tokyo, the Sinophile Rudd publicly pulled the plug on that nascent initiative, which had held only one meeting.

Now the Obama administration seems intent to bring down the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral. While announcing the new U.S.-China-Japan trilateral, it did not forget to cite the U.S.-Australia-Japan and U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilaterals. But there was no mention of the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral, as if that Bush-endorsed enterprise had become history like Bush.

The writer here, Brahma Chellaney, is Professor of Strategic Studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Why is this happening?

According to Chellaney, it is because the economies of the US and China - "Chimerica" - have become so interdependent that it will drive political rapproachment and further economic integration. The US and China together represent 31% of world GDP and over 25% of total world trade. But not all is and can be rosy:

But China's expanding naval role and maritime claims threaten to collide with U.S. interests, including Washington's traditional emphasis on the freedom of the seas. U.S.-China economic ties also are likely to remain uneasy: America saves too little and borrows too much from China, while Beijing sells too much to the U.S. and buys too little. Yet, such is its indulgence toward Beijing that Washington seeks to hold Moscow to higher standards than Beijing on human rights and other issues, even though it is China that is likely to mount a credible challenge to America's global pre-eminence.


And this is the perception from at least Prof. Chellaney:

Despite its China-centric Asia policy, the Obama team, however, has not thought of a U.S.-China-India trilateral, even as it currently explores a U.S.-China-South Korea trilateral. That is because Washington now is looking at India not through the Asian geopolitical framework but the subregional lens — a reality unlikely to be changed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's forthcoming stop in New Delhi six months after she paid obeisance in Beijing. While re-hyphenating India with Pakistan and outsourcing its North Korea and Burma policies to Beijing, Washington wants China to expand its geopolitical role through greater involvement even in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is where the US has a long way to go before they can really understand how to play The Great Game: Obama's Realpolitik is turning out to be flawed, because he is apparently incapable of playing countries off one another, as has been done in the past under such folks as Kissinger:

It is shortsighted of the Obama team to lower the profile of India and Japan in America's Asia policy. Tokyo may be ceding political capital and influence in Asia to Beijing, and India's power might not equal China's, but Japan and India together can prove more than a match. The Japan-India strategic congruence with the U.S. is based as much on shared interests as on shared principles.

This raisies several points:

1) US policy should be driven more by shared principles rather than the chimera of shared interests: interests can change on short notice, principles do not. Those who share principles can disagree on the nuances, but there will never be major disagreements, as the fundamental principles are the same; those who have shared interests can naturally have massive conflicts of interest on other topics, and that is most assuredly the case for China and the US.

2) The degree to which the US and China, driven by mutual interests (and firmly within the realm of Realpolitik), are increasingly seen to cooperate by other countries in Asia as being problematic, as there are some fairly huge differences between the US and China in terms of common principles: it is also a very poor policy choice to belittle and antagonize your allies of principle in order to gain ground with your ally of interests, especially when these interests are drive mainly by economic interests, and especially when the relationship is one of debtor and consumer on the one hand and creditor and supplier on the other. While this will be a period of great ascendency for China in Chinese-US relations, the question then arises to which degree are US principles to be sacrificed for short-term gains?

If one reads the Obama Administration clearly, as I've tried to do, then you realize that this Administration will go down in history as one of the least principled Administrations, driven entirely by interests and held to principle largely to avoid being unmasked as unprincipled. At the end of the day, the Chicago machine has only one principle: stay in power.

On that note, the Chinese and the Obama Administration share the same principle. But it's the only one that they do share.

Afficiandos of Realpolitik would say that such a principle is the only one that matters. That's why Realpolitik was so successful in preventing wars and achieving lasting peace. And yes, I am being sarcastic.

As Professor Chellaney says:

At a time when Asia is in transition, with the specter of power disequilibrium looming large, it has become imperative to invest in institution-building to help underpin long-term power stability and engagement. After all, Asian challenges are playing into global strategic challenges. But the Obama administration is fixated on the very country whose rapidly accumulating power and muscle-flexing threaten Asian stability.

That's really going to help. I dare say that this was not the change that was hoped for...

Mittwoch, Juni 24, 2009

The Inmate In Charge Of The Asylum...

This is too good to pass up.

Senator Barney Frank is the inmate in charge of the asylum.

Instead of acknowledging that forcing banks to make loans that normal risk management would say were high risk loans, likely to default, lies at the core of the current financial crisis, he firmly believes that the sub-prime crisis only developed because bankers were greedy and the Bush Administration is to blame.

And yes: the banks were forced to make the loans. They were required, by law, a law that they strongly opposed, to create and make sub-prime loans. No sub-primes, no sub-prime crisis.

But in the world of Barney Frank, a world that has no economic effects from his actions, it is more important to continue his legacy of "helping those disadvantaged to live the American Dream".

After two years of telling us how lax lending standards drove up the market and led to loans that should never have been made, Mr. Frank wants Fannie and Freddie to take more risk in condo developments with high percentages of unsold units, high delinquency rates or high concentrations of ownership within the development.

After all, it's not real money: it's taxpayer money to bail out the next set of banks that go tits up.

Fannie and Freddie have restricted loans to condo buyers in these situations because they represent a red flag that the developments -- many of which were planned and built at the height of the housing bubble -- may face financial trouble down the road. But never mind all that. Messrs. Frank and Weiner think, in all their wisdom and years of experience underwriting mortgages, that the new rules "may be too onerous."

Duh. High risk investment objects require high risk premiums, turning them, quite properly, into white elephants that no one wants. Want to bet that there are ties between these investors and the Democratic Party? That these investors are crying how terrible it is that these beautiful apartments, built by loyal Democrats, can't be sold because of those greedy bankers?

And in a display of the wit for which Mr. Frank is famous, the letter writers slyly point out that higher lending standards won't reduce taxpayer exposure to bad loans because the Federal Housing Administration has even lower standards for condos. "While the underlying goal may be to reduce taxpayer exposure relating to the current conservatorship of the GSEs [government sponsored entities], such a goal would not have such an effect if it merely results in a shifting of loans from the GSEs to the FHA." Tougher lending standards will merely shift market share from one government program to another, so what's the point in being cautious?

Perhaps one should contemplate, instead, that the FHA tightens its standards...

Fannie and Freddie have already lost tens of billions of dollars betting on the mortgage market -- with that bill being handed to taxpayers. They face still more losses going forward, because in the wake of their nationalization last year their new "mission" has become to do whatever it takes to prop up the housing market. The last thing they need is lawmakers like Mr. Frank, who did so much to lay the groundwork for their collapse, telling them to play faster and looser with their lending standards.

Fannie and Freddie have always been political creatures under the best circumstances. But we don't remember anyone electing Mr. Frank underwriter-in-chief of the United States.

No one did.

This is the perfect example of why Fannie and Freddie must be closed and why the US government should be banned, permanently, from ever setting up anything even remotely resembling this. What worked for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations was abused and ruined by the Clinton Democrats, who have done more damage to this country than anyone really realizes, less direct as indirect, with their greed and their belief that the taypayers owe them a life of luxury and wealth. There is no other way to explain their levels of corruption, malfeasance and outright greed. The Clinton Democrats - and Barney Frank belongs to them - are the reason why we are in recession: they tried to manipulate markets, and in their greed and incompetence manipulated them to the point where when the markets reacted, as markets do, they undid the accomplishments of a generation.

Because that is what the current recession and financial crisis is doing: undoing the accomplishments of an entire generation, the sandwich generation, those between the baby boomers and the lettered generations (X, Y, whatever). It is the folks between 40 and 55 years of age, that age right now, who have seen their major investments disappear in smoke, who are underwater with their mortgages, who will not be able to even contemplate retirement at any age under 65 and who will probably have to work significantly longer just to break even.

Y'all can thank Barney Frank for that. He's still at it, still the inmate in charge of the asylum, digging the hole deeper and deeper.

But y'all voted for him and the Clinton Democrats. Thanks a lot.

Further Data Points For The Trend IX...

Or actually, in this case, a single data point.

The Obama Administration, during a recent press conference, did something that no previous administration did: it orchestrated questions.

I lived in DC for four years, and like everyone in DC, I had a love/hate relationship with the Washington Post. I hated the at times snide and arrogant liberalism that permeates the paper like water permeates the ocean, but there were always those journalists and columnists who were and are shining examples of what their profession out to be.

Instead of what it generally has become.

Dana Milbank is one of those (the former, not the latter), as you can see here.

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. "I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post," he announced.

Obama knew this because White House aides had called Pitney the day before to invite him, and they had escorted him into the room. They told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian. "I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet," Obama went on. "Do you have a question?"

Pitney recognized his prompt. "That's right," he said, standing in the aisle and wearing a temporary White House press pass. "I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian."

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world -- Iran included -- that the American press isn't as free as advertised. But yesterday wasn't so much a news conference as it was a taping of a new daytime drama, "The Obama Show." Missed yesterday's show? Don't worry: On Wednesday, ABC News will be broadcasting "Good Morning America" from the South Lawn (guest stars: the president and first lady), "World News Tonight" from the Blue Room, and a prime-time feature with Obama from the East Room.

This is a further data point to understand how the Obama Administration is shaping up: they view the press as to be manipulated, to be organized, to be turned into something sycophantic, resembling not a free press, but rather a captive press like that of the former Soviet Union or the press in China. In other words, a political tool.

Rahm Emanuel grinning shows his contempt for the press, pride and joy in his ability to manipulate and control them. He is controlling access, he is controlling content, he is controlling which careers to make and which careers to break: these are not the actions of a man working with the press, but rather the actions of a man controlling the press. Welcome to Chicago.

"The Obama Show" was the hottest ticket in town yesterday. Forty-five minutes before the start, there were no fewer than 107 people crammed into the narrow aisles, in addition to those in the room's 42 seats. Japanese and Italian could be heard coming from the tangle of elbows, cameras and compressed bodies: "You've got to move! . . . Oh, God, don't step on my foot!" Some had come just for a glimpse of celebrity. And they wanted to know all about him. "As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting," McClatchy News's Margaret Talev empathized with the president before asking him how much he smokes.


The host of "The Obama Show" dispatched with similar ease a challenge from CBS's Chip Reid, asking whether his hardening line on Iran was inspired by John McCain. "What do you think?" Obama replied with a big grin. That brought the house down. And the studio audience laughed again when ABC's Jake Tapper tried to get Obama to answer another reporter's question that he had dodged. "Are you the ombudsman for the White House press corps?" the president cracked.

But rather than answer substantially, President Obama is entertaining the crowd, playing them, ensuring first and foremost that his press conferences become trivial, that he cannot be threatened by the press, that he's in control. And the vast majority of the press? Able and willing participants in what is increasingly becoming a three-ring farce.

The laughter had barely subsided when the host made another joke about Tapper's reference to Obama's "Spock-like language about the logic of the health-care plan."

"The reference to Spock, is that a crack on my ears?" the president asked.

Isn't he just so adorable?

But yesterday's daytime drama belonged primarily to Pitney, of the Huffington Post Web site. During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner -- from the Huffington Post.

Pitney said the White House, though not aware of the question's wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian. And, as it turned out, he was not the only prearranged questioner at yesterday's show. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language EFE news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see whether she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. She asked about Chile and Colombia.

If this had been the Bush Administration there'd be scores of irate reports on how the press is being manipulated and abused. President Obama and Rahm Emanuel are playing the Washington Press Corps for the fools that they apparently have become.

Why doesn't he simply trivilize the whole thing and simply invite only "journalists" from People magazine and the other trivial wastes of dead trees that pass for magazines and newspapers in the United States? While I have no desire to cast aspersions on Macarena Vidal's competence as a journalist, giving her a seat usually assigned to publications like Barrons, International Business Daily, Forbes, Business Week, The Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal or any other number of publications that actually cover Washington for business, rather than for someone relatively unknown to ask a pre-arranged question, points to the role that the Press will play for the Obama Administration.

Useful fools.

But what does this imply, and why is this a further data point?

The implication, of course, is that the Obama Administration is not interested in being open to the public, but will control not merely the access to the President, but first and foremost will control who is allowed to inform the public. By turning it into entertainment, President Obama is creating an image - sorry, he's been doing that from Day 1, hence: maintining the image - of someone who is so perfect for the job that he's relaxed and cool under all and any conditions, the perfect authority figure, the man in control of everything. Nothing is so dangerous for such personality types as a question answered, or even the posing of a question not approved. He is a control freak, wanting to leave nothing open and uncontrolled.

Why is this important? Because this means that Presidential press conferences will be nothing more than orchestrated farces of the kind that you see only in countries who cannot afford a free press.

Watch for the following: financial help for ABC, whose ratings are the worst of any of the networks and whose reputation is being actively trashed not merely by the "journalists" who are going along with the Day of Worship, but also the White House who would even contemplate singling out one network to favor.

Once again, welcome to Chicago, where nothing political ever happens by accident...

Montag, Juni 22, 2009

Further Data Points For The Trend VIII...

This time, two points on Obama, Chicago politics, and the primacy of money in this style of politics...

This underscores something I've been saying for a while: Obama's politics can be best understood by understanding Chicago politics.

...he does business Chicago-style. His first political ambition was to be mayor of Chicago, the boss of all he surveyed; he has had to settle for the broader but less complete hegemony of the presidency. From Chicago he brings the assumption that there will always be a bounteous private sector that can be plundered endlessly on behalf of political favorites. Hence the government takeover of General Motors and Chrysler to bail out the United Auto Workers, the proposal for channeling money from the private nonprofits to the government by limiting the charitable deduction for high earners, the plan for expanding government (and public employee union rolls) by instituting universal pre-kindergarten.

Chicago-style, he has kept the Republicans out of serious policy negotiations but has allowed left-wing Democrats to veto a measure upholding his own decision not to release interrogation photos. While promising a politics of mutual respect, he peppers both his speeches and impromptu responses with jabs at his predecessor. Basking in the adulation of nearly the entire press corps, he whines about his coverage on Fox News. Those who stand in the way, like the Chrysler secured creditors, are told that their reputations will be destroyed; those who expose wrongdoing by political allies, like the AmeriCorps inspector general, are fired.

This ties in directly with the second point: how money will determine the policies of President Obama in ways not seen since the days of Nixon: fundamentally, a corrupt politician was caught, his corruption threatened his political office, and the person fired ... is the person who caught him.

This is where President Obama is most vulnerable, where the most can be made of his governing style, which is, at the end of the day, fundamentally corruptible. This is the quid-pro-quo of Chicago-style politics.

In the political patronage system, if big-time donors think they are being harassed - which may simply mean they have run afoul of the law or of reporting requirements - they are too-often forgiven, depending on the seriousness of the offense and how likely it is to be publicly reported or prosecuted.

The press could help keep things honest, but we all know that the press is working with fewer resources and fewer readers - and Walpin's firing is not a YouTube sort of story.

This is where the writer gets the story wrong: the press could help keep things honest, if the press were even remotely interested in the fact of corruption within the Obama Administration. Of course, they're not: this is a non-story for most, if not all, DC reporters.

So much for the Fifth Estate.

Utter Stupidity From Academia...

Who is Carole M. Swain and why should you care?

She is quoted in the Washington Post thus:

Even among proponents of a congressional apology, reaction to yesterday's vote was mixed. Carol M. Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University who had pushed for the Bush administration to issue an apology, called the Democratic-controlled Senate's resolution "meaningless" since the party and federal government are led by a black president and black voters are closely aligned with the Democratic party.

"The Republican Party needed to do it," Swain said. "It would have shed that racist scab on the party."

It's that last bit that is truly bizarre: the pedigree of the Republican Party is anything but racist, if you would bother to actually look at the history of the party of Lincoln. It is a party that was created as an antislavery party, it is the party that proposed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the constitution, and it is the party that provided the support for the Civil Rights Act of President Johnson when the members of President Johnson's own party almost stopped it from becoming law.

If anything, the Democratic Party has been the party of institutionalized racism and segregation, especially southern Democrats, whose legacy is repugnant.

This is mind-boggling: the racist scab that Swain refers to is the invention of the modern and has no relationship to the past. This is a travesty of history at best: it is the epitome of the Big Lie.

And it is utter stupidity from academia. Stay tuned for more: there's a lot more coming...

Freitag, Juni 19, 2009

Iran and the Obama Administration...

If you want to know anything about Iran and what is going on there, go read Michael J. Totten over on Commentary.

Above all, the man can write.

Here's what prompted me to write:

Obama Administration officials still hope they can talk Khamenei out of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. This is delusion on stilts.

Perfect description of current US foreign policy if I ever heard one.

Delusion on stilts indeed.

You Can't Have It Both Ways...

According to Frank Rich, of the New York Times, the "Obama-Haters" are getting mighty uppity and their call to resistance is appearing to become "pseudo-Scriptural".

Give me a break.

You can't have it both ways: the left is putting Obama on such a pedestal that they are comparing him to God (see here): you can't expect the loyal opposition to pretend that the rhetoric of the left is simply rhetoric. As always, the left plays with the language so that words mean what they intend them to (like Humpty-Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland); that others understand their words in ways that the language means them to is, for the them, incomprehensible.

You can't have it both ways: you can't effectively claim that your boy is God (and those are the words involved) and then berate conservatives for reacting negatively to that over-the-top rhetoric with their own.

Unless of course, you're Frank Rich. You see, it's okay for the left to call President Bush a fascist and compare him to Hitler, but the other way around?

He didn't seem to grasp that "fascism" is nonsensical as a description of the Obama administration or that there might be a risk in slurring a president with a word that most find "bad" because it evokes a mass-murderer like Hitler.

Just replace Obama with Bush and you'd think that Mr. Rich was deploring the over-the-top rhetoric of the left during the Bush years.

You can't have it both ways: you can't, Mr. Rich, savor the ravings of the Bush Derangement Symptom crowd over the last 8 years and then express dismay and fear that conservatives might use the the same rhetoric and express the same feelings of outrage.

You can't claim the title of godhood for President Obama and then expect someone like Jon Voight not to say that Obama is a false prophet.

You can't have it both ways. The time to have reigned this in was 2001. Not 2009.

You can't have it both ways.

Donnerstag, Juni 18, 2009

Three More ...

The global climate alarmists are like vampires, always re-awakening when others are asleep, following an alternative reality that has little to do with the real world, living as parasites on the community. Their ideology, seductive and prone to leave the affected impervious to argument and swooning at the voice of their master(s), is fundamentally suspect: it is based on ignorance and keeping people in the dark about reality, rather than serious scientific examination.

The first of the three links here is to Roger Pielke, Jr., a climatologist who has seen the meaning of the work he has done turned completely around in an attempt to prove a point that he actually disproves, in such a way that the only real explanation is apparently outright misrepresentation and deliberate fraud, but in a government document that the watermelon people are going to be using in the years to come to brow-beat their opponents.

The second: fundamental forecasting errors by MIT scientists that can really only be explained by ideological blindness and a collapse of the scientific method: the parading of opinion as scientific fact.

The third: that the models used by global warming proponents continue to be fundamentally flawed and incapable of standing up to rigorous testing, resulting in widely variant results for something that should, for all purposes, be readily estimable within a fairly small bandwidth if their models were actually useful.

I will reiterate the question raised by Doug Hoffman and Professor Pielke: how many years of wrong results are necessary before we reject the IPCC reports and the models they are based on?

The answer, of course, is that the "truth" of global warming is chiliastic and does not entertain empirical verification: it is true because of first principles, not because the data tell us so.

Mittwoch, Juni 17, 2009

Dave, There A Message For You...Here's Your Fisking.


I used to really, really like David Letterman. Since I can only very, very rarely get any late-night US TV programming, living as I do in Germany, it's no wonder that I haven't really be paying attention.

But then came that fateful top 10 list.

You know the one.

So he apologized. When I read the apology, all I could think of was ... this wasn't the Letterman I used to know.

Hence the following fisking, original here.

"All right, here - I've been thinking about this situation with Governor Palin and her family now for about a week - it was a week ago tonight, and maybe you know about it, maybe you don't know about it.

First of all, the usual Dave attempt at being charming and disarming: maybe you know, maybe you don't. Give his long-running career as a talk show host, of course people know. He's trying to be deliberately disarming here, trying to say "gee, maybe this isn't even of interest to you at all.

But there was a joke that I told, and I thought I was telling it about the older daughter being at Yankee Stadium.

Here's the start of the defense strategy, and boy is it a classic passive-aggressive strategy, one of the better ones, but one that fundamentally, at its core, says "I'm not the one who did something wrong". You see, he doesn't say he made a mistake, but rather that his viewers made the mistake: he thought he was telling it about someone else, i.e. Dave didn't make the mistake, but rather the viewers made the mistake of misinterpreting what he said. Like I said, classic passive-aggressive strategy of shifting blame from the self to anything else.

And it was kind of a coarse joke.

Again, not an apology: it's an admission, but not an apology. He told a coarse joke.

This is where Dave is getting into deep water: he went after someone to use them as the butt of a coarse joke.

What is, then, a coarse joke? Take a look here (you may have to scroll some): it is a joke that crosses a boundary. Wait, that's not right: it's a joke that transgresses a boundary, one that goes clearly over to the dark side. It is common, ugly, mean; it uses the deliberate violation of moral and ethical standards to make a joke at the cost of someone. A coarse joke is vulgar and is most fundamentally aimed at hurting someone, which is why it is coarse: to use someone's pain and embarrassment in order to make someone else laugh is low indeed.

But Dave doesn't really even admit that, but modifies it: "kind of a coarse joke" means "not really a coarse joke if you are on my wavelength and understand what I mean".

There's no getting around it, but I never thought it was anybody other than the older daughter, and before the show, I checked to make sure in fact that she is of legal age, 18.

Again: Dave denies that he really meant it: his people - never believe for a moment that he actually did any checking, he has people for that - apparently didn't tell him ...

What, actually? He's saying, in best passive-aggressive form, that he's not to blame, he thought it was the older daughter. Did that make the joke any less coarse, any less demeaning? Of course it doesn't, but here he is claiming that it would have been apparently okay to do so.


Again, an affirmative statement: yes, he's saying, yes this is the case, that that was his thinking, that was his intent.

But the joke really, in and of itself, can't be defended.

But isn't this exactly what he's been doing so far? This is the first time that he say that the joke, in and of itself - für sich and an sich, as the German philosophers would say - can't be defended. But what does he mean with "can't be defended"? He acknowledging at least that he doesn't want to talk about the joke, but what can be defended - and he is quite clearly doing that here - is Dave himself.

The next day, people are outraged.

Time lag: they weren't outraged immediately, but first after a while. This removes the immediate emotional reaction to the vulgarity of the joke and makes it appear that the reaction was more carefully planned and done deliberately.

They're angry at me because they said, 'How could you make a lousy joke like that about the 14-year-old girl who was at the ball game?'
And I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the Governor and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani...And I really should have made the joke about Rudy..."

Again, this is Dave saying "it's not my fault! I thought it was her older sister!" He's twisting here, trying to move the intent from what it was, to be hurtful, to cause pain and embarrassment.

"But I didn't, and now people are getting angry and they're saying, 'Well, how can you say something like that about a 14-year-old girl, and does that make you feel good to make those horrible jokes about a kid who's completely innocent, minding her own business,' and, turns out, she was at the ball game.

"But I didn't": sin of omission, which is a lesser evil than a sin of commission. Don't think that Dave doesn't know the difference. Dave makes a joke, a joke designed to be hurtful, to cause pain and embarrassment for our amusement, to deliberately cross a barrier for a chuckle, and just by accident "turns out" that the joke is clearly about a 14-year old girl.

I had no idea she was there.

See: again, passive-aggressive behavior, "I didn't know". Doesn't excuse what he said, doesn't change what he said, it is only an attempt to focus on Dave's intent, rather than what everyone heard.

So she's now at the ball game and people think that I made the joke about her.

All of a sudden the situation has changed: Dave's joke wasn't "supposed to be about here, he is innocent: she makes him guilty by simply suddenly being there, ruining his joke. Again, the attemtp is to make this whole thing not Dave's fault.

Come on: David Letterman doesn't write his material, he has a group of writers who do this. They discuss the monologue, they discuss the opening, they discuss the top ten list, they discuss everything so that Dave knows when to do his jokes, when to bring the zingers to entertain. This is not some folksy guy, he hasn't been since he moved to New York.

The point is not that his crew let him down, but deeper than that: no one in his crew thought the joke would have been too vulgar, too coarse to have been made. But contemplate this: Dave is really claiming that he didn't know, that this was a lapsus, a lapse. If you believe that Dave writes his own jokes and can make a mistake, then you can accept his apology: if you know that there's a team of people behind him, then you know that his failure was a group effort, which means ... it wasn't an error. it was deliberate.

And, but still, I'm wondering, 'Well, what can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?' I've never made jokes like this as long as we've been on the air, 30 long years, and you can't really be doing jokes like that.

First of all, he wonders: he doesn't understand, he doesn't know what he did wrong. He's never made jokes like this?

Get real: he constantly makes jokes like this, it's just that usualyl they're not about 14 year olds, or, for the most part, even 18 year olds. He's at times - not always - the master of the double meaning, the sly innuendo, the deliberate demeaning: I've seen him when Paris Hilton was on the show once, and that was exactly this kind of joke.

What can I do to help people understand that I would never make a joke like this?

It's all about Dave: all those folks out there just don't understand that I'm not the bad guy here, that I'm not the one in the wrong. Y'all just don't understand me!

And I understand, of course, why people are upset. I would be upset myself.

See the logic? If I had made such a joke, I would be upset: but since I didn't intend it so, you shouldn't be. Sorry Dave, that is classic passive-aggressive declination to remove personal blame.

"And then I was watching the Jim Lehrer 'Newshour' - this commentator, the columnist Mark Shields, was talking about how I had made this indefensible joke about the 14-year-old girl, and I thought, 'Oh, boy, now I'm beginning to understand what the problem is here. It's the perception rather than the intent.'

This is what prompted me to write this post. The problem for Dave isn't that he made such a joke: the problem is that people are perceiving that he made the joke. Sorry, I have to write this one out: Give Me A Fucking Break, Dave.

There's a message for you, Dave: you made the joke, your people failed to protect you from gross embarassment, and it's completely and totally inacceptable for you to think that the problem is that people are simply perceiving the whole thing the wrong way.

It doesn't make any difference what my intent was, it's the perception.

Well, no shit, Sherlock. Welcome to reality. It's always the perception that matters: intent is meaningless, intent is a crock. We'll never know, beyond what you dissemble here, what you real intent was: that you are grossly embarrassed at being caught and are blaming, effectively, the viewer by not understanding what you meant: classic passive-aggressive "I didn't mean it, you made me do it" behavior.

And, as they say about jokes, if you have to explain the joke, it's not a very good joke. And I'm certainly - " (audience applause) "- thank you. Well, my responsibility - I take full blame for that. I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood, it's my fault. That it was misunderstood." (audience applauds) "Thank you. So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the Governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future. Thank you very much." (audience applause)

I've gone and left the "audience applauds" in there: this is the sign of a monstrous ego. He takes responsibility, but in such a way that he points to not be responsible; the joke was bad, but the real problem is that everyone has the wrong perception. It's Dave's fault that it was misunderstood: it's not so much that the joke was bad, deliberately aimed at causing pain and embarrassment, it's that I didn't do the right way so that you'd have understood it the way I wanted it to be understood.

Dave, stop digging. You're in deep enough.

This wasn't an apology: it was a mea culpa, it was an accepting for responsibility. But it was hedged beautifully and elegantly. He's got good writers...sometimes.

If he had really meant it, he could have simply said "I told a joke that was designed to be hurtful and demeaning, and I didn't think it was a bad thing. That was a serious mistake and is indefensible. I apologize to the Governor, her family, and to all my viewers, my sponsors and the network. I've taken this as an abject lesson that my attempts at humor should never come at the cost of demeaning someone deliberately, and my writers have been told that any more such material is a firing offense. Again, my sincere apologizes: this is not why I am here."

Now that'd have been an apology. Dave didn't apologize. He made excuses.

Achieving Clarity...

This is an interesting article, presenting the views of a number of global warming advocates. I'd like not so much to fisk them, but let them speak for themselves so that you can better understand their goals.

According to the main thrust of the article, the global warming advocates are losing ground because they're being too ... scientific about the whole thing, failing to get their message across in a more convincing way.

That, right off the block, is interesting: it implies that their problem isn't with the message, but with how it is being presented. Their conviction that there is global warming and that man has caused it is apodictic: in other words, categorically true. This isn't scientific reasoning, this is nothing more than belief written with a capital B.

Why do I say this?

Because we've seen examples of fraud and outright dishonesty, plus travesties of the peer review process (within the global warming scientific community, peer reviewing ensures that no contrarians challenge the established orthodoxy which ensures a steady stream of funding and career financing) within the global warming advocates that call themselves scientists. Models that deliver the pre-determined results regardless of what data is entered (Mann Hockey-Stick); the use of extensive data cleansing to remove unwanted historical data ("We have to get rid of the Medieval Warming Period"); the outright hostility and refusal to cooperate with skeptics who simply want access to the data ("We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it."); all in all, the proponents of anthropogenic global warming have been acting fairly reliably in a "fake but accurate" mode, reflecting the apodictic nature of their thinking (categorically true, even in the face of evidence that their conclusions are problematic).

Here's the infamous Mann himself on what needs to be done:

We must find ways to translate often technical and complex scientific findings for consumption by an audience unfamiliar with the basic tools and lexicon of science. Where the science has implications for public policy, which is true for many fields in the environmental sciences — including my own field of climate change — communicators must fight against the headwind of intentional disinformation efforts, typically fostered by special interest groups that judge themselves to be threatened by the implications of the scientific findings. The contrarian disinformation machine often employs charismatic, rhetorically talented advocates who deliver their messages of doubt and confusion in carefully measured and focus-group-tested aphorisms.

Note the technique: he does not address the issue at hand, but rather uses ad hominem arguments (that his opponents are intentional disinformers, fostered by special interest groups, even inventing a "contrarian disinformation machine" that ignores his own very real contributions to the problem: this is especially rich coming from the person who created the biggest lie in the anthropogenic warming industry.

Another contributor:

"Greenhouse gases" or "our deteriorating atmosphere"? "Carbon tax" or "pollution reduction fund"? Should scientists even deign to think about this type of sloganeering? Should they stoop to tactics employed by public relations firms and advertisers?

Of course they should.

Not, mind you, because of a deep-seated cynicism about the nature of civic discourse, and what that might mean about society's capacity to solve the world's most intractable environmental problems. Not because the majority of scientists rather alarmingly tend to think they are smarter than most, and thus more capable of successful public manipulation.

We should engage in sloganeering because the emerging scientific understanding of values, social norms, and behavior tells us we should.

Whenever you hear "scientific understanding of values, social norms and behavior", check that your guns are clean and that you've got enough ammo:  the last time science was this badly abused was under the various Soviet "scientific understanding of socialism" that pointed to the need for a new Soviet man, freed of bourgeois values and whose life would be guided by scientific principles.

This has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics.

Sonntag, Juni 14, 2009

Oh What A Tangled Web...

This points to the next scandal: how the health industry will be driven into the ground in the name of equality and justice, that health care is a right and that those providing it need to get real and off their high horses.

Everyone's got a piece of the action already, even the reporters. Now the jousting begins, the elbows are being sharpened and the lines are being drawn.

The goose that lays the golden egg is unaware of how the victors - "Hey, I won" - are already deciding how it will be cooked. Fried or baked, boiled or grilled?

This isn't about providing health care to everyone: this has the classic signs of an organized plundering party. Pillage yes: let's leave the rape bit to Letterman.

The real joke, of course, is that we'll end up with a health care system more like Russia than Europe. The real joke is on the doctors and nurses, the health professionals whose years of training, whose years of sacrifice, will not be paid for when the system changes. They can't afford to be paid what they are worth, and hence the system will punish the workers who did the right thing in making their labor more valuable.

Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

Freitag, Juni 12, 2009

Welcome To Chicago ... Redux

Just a brief note before the weekend.

Here are two links for what Chicago politics is all about.

It's all about the corrupt politician ensuring that his friends, whoever they may be, profit from him being in office. The quid pro quo isn't necessarily money (in the long run, it always is, though), but much more political power to make people.

Make in the sense of making them money so that they become part of the system. Make in the sense that they cross the threshold between political lobbying and corruption without thinking about it. Make in the sense that too many become part of the system, corrupting it in such a way that you have to burn the city down before it can be addressed.

Well, actually, that's how corruption in place like Chicago and San Francisco got started, by being able to allocate rebuilding monies. But that's another story for another day.

Welcome to Chicago-style politics wrote big. This is going to be one long legislative period: Congress will get involved, and we should all know what that means.

More pigs at the trough.

Welcome to Chicago, folks, where you can't do business without being sent, where who made you is more important than who you are or what you do, and if you're not made, then you're ... nobody.

Mittwoch, Juni 10, 2009

If You're Wondering When The Recession Will Be Over...

...then you need to read this first.

Fundamentally, the recovery will be riding a very, very narrow and dangerous path: to get economic recovery, you have to get consumers, who now have to restart savings seriously, to spend their money, coupled with the willingness of banks, who are facing significant losses not yet realized, to lend money without demanding onerous interest rates.

It can be done. There will be a recovery.

But the policies of the Obama Administration - which will lead to higher interest rates, inflation and taxes - is not helping.

Why? Not merely because higher taxes and inflation will lead to, at the very best, stagnant real income growth, but more fundamentally, weak demand, coupled with higher taxes, will hit profitability: weak profit growth means that investments will weaken, reducing competitiveness and innovation at a time when these are needed...and this means that just at the time when folks are out there looking for work, there will be little hiring.

While there is light at the end of the tunnel, it's a lot, lot further off than most think. It's not that it isn't there: it's just that the Obama Administration appear to be doing its best to make it as distant as possible...

Another Candidate For Bankruptcy?

This is interesting, once again from the WSJ.

It seems that it wasn't only Wall Street that believed in ... creative accounting.

According to the article, the AFL-CIO is currently a candidate for insolvency. Also the SEIU.


You read that right: the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the largest union in the US, has debt exceeding its assets, one of the critical signs of an impending bankruptcy (the other key indicator is when cash flow growth turns negative and profit margins disappear).

How did it get into this situation?

Well, first of all there's this:

In the mid-1990s, the AFL-CIO struck a deal with Household Bank to market the cards to union members in return for royalties. In the year ending June 30, 2008, the AFL-CIO earned $35 million from Household, about half the $74 million it collects in union dues. The deal has been a windfall for the union, but that may not last amid rising credit-card losses and flat consumer spending.

In other words: the AFL-CIO doesn't live from union dues, but rather through, basically, having sold their union member database to a credit card issuer who then tapped into the union membership via the "Union-Plus" credit card company. Hmmm: haven't the leadership and the unions generally attacked financial shenanigans that exploited workers?

But it's not just the AFL-CIO: the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) is also in trouble:

As for the SEIU, as recently as 2002 total SEIU liabilities were about $8 million. According to its 2008 disclosure form, the union owed more than $156 million, a 30% increase over the $120 million it owed in 2007. Its liabilities now equal more than 80% of its $189 million in assets. Net assets fell by nearly half last year, to $34 million, from $64 million in 2007. The debt includes an $80 million loan the SEIU took out in 2003 to purchase a new headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. But the liabilities also stem from political spending, including at least $67 million last year on political and lobbying expenses, twice what it spent in 2007.

The SEIU added to its debt burden last year with $25 million in new bank loans, including $15 million from Amalgamated Bank of New York. Amalgamated is the nation's only union-owned bank and its chairman is Bruce Raynor, who until recently was also general president of Unite-Here. Mr. Raynor has been fighting for control of that textile-hotel union, and he helped Mr. Stern conduct a raid on Unite-Here members before bolting to the SEIU.

By the end of 2008, the SEIU also owed Bank of America nearly $88 million, including its headquarters loan and another $10 million for unspecified purposes. This is the same BofA that the union has spent the past months attacking as the face of Wall Street excess. The SEIU has protested outside of Bank of America offices and demanded the resignation of CEO Ken Lewis. We assume no one forced the SEIU to invest in real estate or borrow from a bank to finance it.

An SEIU spokeswoman says the union works on a four-year cycle, in which it goes "all out for the presidential election" and then rebuilds its finances. She adds the union has paid back more than $10 million of the $25 million it borrowed last year. But it's nonetheless true that the SEIU's liabilities have continued to climb each year from 2003 to 2008.

That last paragraph is the key quote.

What is bankrupt is not the merely the finances of the unions: it is the role of unions per se. They have mutated into no less than political party machines for the Democrats (and don't make me laugh by claiming that Republicans benefitted here), dedicated for that purpose only, willing, if need be, to face financial ruin in order to get Democratic candidates elected.

Hence here are the newest candidates for bankruptcy: the American union movement, betrayed by its "leaders" and now, through its very actions, responsible for getting tens of thousands of union members fired.

That's gonna be hard to sell to the rank and file. But since when did the unions in the US care about what the rank and file thought?

Forcing the unions into bankruptcy would be the healthiest thing that could happen to the US unions: they could once again become representatives of their workers, rather than the corrupt political hackeries that they are.

Dienstag, Juni 09, 2009

I Think That This Wraps Up The Problem In A Nutshell...

Regardless of your political affiliation, one thing you should expect from journalists is at least a modicum of objectivity.

I think that this quote shows how thoroughly rotten journalism has fundamentally become:

In February 2007, as NewsBusters.org noted, Thomas, an editor of Newsweek, declared: "Our job is to bash the president." But a Newsbusters item last week quotes Thomas as praising Obama to the skies, literally: "I mean in a way Obama's standing above the country, above--above the world, he's sort of God."

That from here in the WSJ.

If I were a subsriber, I'd cancel my subscription. I recently canceled my subscription to Spiegel in Germany because I simply got too tired of their rampant, constant anti-Americanism. They called to check out why, and I told them why: they claimed they weren't anti-American because they were so positive about Obama. I pointed out, gently, their blindness and hung up.

We need decent journalism. Too bad we simply don't have it.

Montag, Juni 08, 2009

Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Bunch...

One of the fundamental problems I have with a lot of management ... types is that the wrong people are in charge.

Look, lawyers and accountants have their role in business: the one keeps you from making mistakes in understanding the law and what you can and cannot do, the other lets you know what your resources are and what you can do with them.

The problem arises when lawyers and accountants take control: they are, generally speaking, only qualified to provide support services, not generate value added. To do that you need talented folks who can take an idea, make it into a product and get it out there to the customers in such a way that they are seriously pleased with products and services.

Hence this article in the New York Times pleases me.

As the apocalypse on Wall Street ripples out into the larger economy, a thick red tide is lapping at the once-impregnable foundations of New York's corporate law firms, threatening to turn the industry — and with it, some iconic city characters — into an endangered species.

Well, yes: they are a support services industry, and when their clients go tits up, they should be immune?

Actually, it's true; the corporate law firms of the past years are an endangered species, and rightfully so. They provide no value added in todays' economy, and hence: good riddance.

"I hear the stories all the time," Mr. Kowalski, the consultant, said. "Real estate lawyers are honing their skills playing solitaire. Younger lawyers are gossiping all day and scaring the crap out of one another. The head of the corporate department of a major firm just told me that he hasn't billed a minute's worth of work in the last two weeks," he added.

Duh: to reiterate, corporate law companies need functioning corporations to bill, and seem to have realized this first now?

Philip K. Howard, a senior partner at Covington & Burling, another multinational firm, may be the closest thing to a gentleman lawyer that one is likely to find these days. He is courtly, white-haired, civic-minded and blessed with an aristocratic pair of arching eyebrows. While he declined to speak directly about White & Case ("I'm not really interested in the business of the law"), he touched on the firm's current troubles by suggesting that as the bottom line increases in importance, the traditional role of the lawyer as a trusted counselor slips away.

"To the extent that lawyers are simply churning out the same problems one after the other and are treated as factors of production to be laid off or not because of market forces or marginal declines in profitability," he said, "the emotional and professional commitment that goes along with being an adviser and a solver of problems begins to diminish."

Again: duh.

I daresay that that the "traditional role of the lawyer as a trusted counselor" lies largely in the imagination of lawyers to justify expensive relationships that added nothing to the bottom line of the companies being "advised".

The classic New York law firm is a highly developed ecosystem populated by certain native species: there is the brash, aggressive partner leveraged by lifestyle and, rising from below, like a creature out of Darwin, the ambitious associate who pulls all-nighters doing scut work in hopes of one day taking the chair.

But the natural order of this world has been set on end by the economic crisis and the possible disappearance of fixtures like the pyramid system (under which associates are thrown en masse at certain cases, fattening the fees), and the billable hour itself (increasingly replaced by flat rates or retainers in a client's market). The tectonic plates have begun to shift in a nauseating manner, bringing fear, ambiguity and psychological scars.

As I've said before: parasites, not creators of value. The highly-developed "ecosystem" was nothing more that providing services: given the nature of the problem, such value-destroying functions like throwing lawyers at problems in order to fatten the fees and the serious problems associated with calculating fees based on billable hours (which the client rarely can control), the collapse of this system, which generated a lot of income, should come as no surprise. After all, a lawyer's income is someone else's cost, and the system has, fundamentally, been abusive...

I hope that there are scars: otherwise, there won't be reminders that those days are over.

"For the first time in their lives, people feel sort of useless. All of a sudden, you can go to lunch for two and a half hours and really not be missed. It's a blow to the ego. You're talking about people who have never really failed."

At White & Case, the tensions have become so fierce that some people now fear staying home even if they are sick. Market forces have replaced "the social contract," a top partner there said: camaraderie is "not terribly strong," because "people are very scared."

"When you finally make the partnership, you can walk into a room and certain assumptions travel with you: This is someone who knows what they are doing, who has intelligence and authority," the partner said. "While that's still basically the case, it was a much more collegial place when I first got to the firm. Now it's colder.

"The loyalty of the institution to its people, and vice versa, isn't really there anymore — it's a different animal from what a lot of us were used to. It's much more of a business now and less of a true partnership. The problem is we're supposed to all be in this together. But at some point, you stop and think: 'Well, maybe we're not.' "

In other words, for the first time, lawyers find themselves unable to pretend that they were the ones who created value: they are not. Failure here should be viewed as a wake-up call for the profession. Welcome to the Real World.

If you want collegiality, go to academics. If you want money, welcome to reality.