Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Last Call

Bret Stephens of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is the latest winger voice to shred the "losers" currently running for the GOP nomination, but as awful as these clowns truly are, Stephens all but promises that the GOP version of history (which no doubt the WSJ will play a big part in) will be far, far more cruel to the Republican "A-Team" currently sitting out this election if they can't stop the Kenyan Socialist Usurper from another term.  After all, Stephens argues, it barely takes anyone with a pulse to beat "that one" and yet Romney and Gingrich aren't cutting it...

Finally, there are the men not in the field: Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour. This was the GOP A-Team, the guys who should have showed up to the first debate but didn't because running for president is hard and the spouses were reluctant. Nothing commends them for it. If this election is as important as they all say it is, they had a duty to step up. Abraham Lincoln did not shy from the contest of 1860 because of Mary Todd. If Mr. Obama wins in November—or, rather, when he does—the failure will lie as heavily on their shoulders as it will with the nominee.

What should readers who despair of a second Obama term make of all this? Hope ObamaCare is repealed by the High Court, the Iranian bomb is repealed by the Israeli Air Force, and the Senate switches hands, giving America a healthy spell of Hippocratic government.

All perfectly plausible. And the U.S. will surely survive four more years. Who knows? By then maybe Republicans will have figured out that if they don't want to lose, they shouldn't run with losers.

And Stephens is basically praying that Israel attacks Iran, because Rick Perry won't be able to make that (immediate) call.

Of course, the joke is that all the Republican names being bandied about have the same exact problem:  they can't win the rabid right and the moderate middle needed to beat President Obama.  After all, if it was as easy as Stephens yells it is, they'd be in the race now, wouldn't they?

Republicans swear up and down that any "thinking" American electorate would make a permanent GOP majority where liberals are regularly thrown off cliffs for sport, and yet they can't figure out why they can't achieve it.

Bret Stephens is a big clue as to why that's the case.  Keep begging.  I'm sure that Magical Super Republican will jump in the race any day now...

Alzheimer's Prevention

Use your head.  How many times do we hear that?  In the case of preventing Alzheimer's, it can be incredibly useful.  Studies have shown that engaging the brain has helped "routing" issues with protein buildups associated with Alzheimer's.  It makes sense on a basic level.  Our brain is constantly making new paths, and by constant use we are blazing new trails, more options for our brain if faced with the disease.

What is new is that a recent study suggests that exercising the brain not only helps with pathways, but the buildup of the damaging plaque as well.  That doesn't mean Alzheimer's strikes people who aren't intelligent, but by using our brains in certain ways we can  help lower the risk or the effects of the disease.

It's hope.  For those who haven't seen it, there are few things worse than watching a person disappear one memory at a time.  Anything we can do to head that off is a good thing.

Team Obama And The Stimulus

A midly depressing piece from Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker this week about President Obama running headlong into the political reality of a Republican Party sworn to destroy the country in order to take him down is all the rage right now, but the essay reveals the kind of bad advice the President was getting, especially economically, from his top advisers on the stimulus.

Obama was told that, regardless of his policies, the deficits would likely be blamed on him in the long run. The forecasts were frightening, and jeopardized his ambitious domestic agenda, which had been based on unrealistic assumptions made during the campaign. “Since January 2007 the medium-term budget deficit has deteriorated by about $250 billion annually,” the memo said. “If your campaign promises were enacted then, based on accurate scoring, the deficit would rise by another $100 billion annually. The consequence would be the largest run-up in the debt since World War II.”

There was an obvious tension between the warning about the extent of the financial crisis, which would require large-scale spending, and the warning about the looming federal budget deficits, which would require fiscal restraint. The tension reflected the competing concerns of two of Obama’s advisers. Christina Romer, the incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, drafted the stimulus material. A Berkeley economist, she was new to government. She believed that she had persuaded Summers to raise the stimulus recommendation above the initial estimate, six hundred billion dollars, to something closer to eight hundred billion dollars, but she was frustrated that she wasn’t allowed to present an even larger option. When she had done so in earlier meetings, the incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, asked her, “What are you smoking?” She was warned that her credibility as an adviser would be damaged if she pushed beyond the consensus recommendation.
Peter Orszag, the incoming budget director, was a relentless advocate of fiscal restraint. He was well known in Washington policy circles as a deficit hawk. Orszag insisted that there were mechanical limits to how much money the government could spend effectively in two years. In the Summers memo, he contributed sections about historic deficits and the need to scale back campaign promises. The Romer-Orszag divide was the start of a rift inside the Administration that continued for the next two years.

Even then, the President was told that the only thing that mattered was the deficit, not the economy.  Any idea to do more was shot down ruthlessly.  The reason was that Larry Summers badly underestimated the depth of the Great Recession, and Orszag and Rahm Emanuel went along with it.

Since 2009, some economists have insisted that the stimulus was too small. White House defenders have responded that a larger stimulus would not have moved through Congress. But the Summers memo barely mentioned Congress, noting only that his recommendation of a stimulus above six hundred billion dollars was “an economic judgment that would need to be combined with political judgments about what is feasible.”

He offered the President four illustrative stimulus plans: $550 billion, $665 billion, $810 billion, and $890 billion. Obama was never offered the option of a stimulus package commensurate with the size of the hole in the economy––known by economists as the “output gap”––which was estimated at two trillion dollars during 2009 and 2010. Summers advised the President that a larger stimulus could actually make things worse. “An excessive recovery package could spook markets or the public and be counterproductive,” he wrote, and added that none of his recommendations “returns the unemployment rate to its normal, pre-recession level. To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions—which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on markets.

Paul Krugman, a Times columnist and a Nobel Prize-winning economist who persistently supported a larger stimulus, told me that Summers’s assertion about market fears was a “bang my head on the table” argument. “He’s invoking the invisible bond vigilantes, basically saying that investors would be scared and drive up interest rates. That’s a major economic misjudgment.” Since the beginning of the crisis, the U.S. has borrowed more than five trillion dollars, and the interest rate on the ten-year Treasury bills is under two per cent. The markets that Summers warned Obama about have been calm.

In other words, it wasn't just a bad political decision to short-change the stimulus, it was a bad economic one too.  And The Kroog was right all along.  Interest rates in the US remain at record, historic lows.

And yet we're told that if Republicans get back into power, they will cut, cut, cut government spending while the economy continues to languish because it will "encourage growth."
It sure will.  Growth in the top one percent's share of wealth in the country, that is.  But the larger issue is that Larry Summers basically killed the recovery.  They never fought for a larger stimulus because they truly didn't believe a larger one would even help.  In fact, Summers pointed out a larger stimulus would have hurt the markets.

Considering the trillions doled out to the banks anyway, I find that laughable.

StupidiNews! Science Roundup Continues

A scientist has found possible signs of life on Venus.  This is far from confirmed, but I get excited when a scientist bucks convention and has some facts to work with.  Our history is riddled with stories of scientists who were objective and refused to let the snooty league keep them from questioning observations.  What he describes as a flap and a possible scorpion-like shape could very well be signs of life.  At this stage, one way or the other, we should refrain from believing we know the answer.  Considering the differences in atmosphere and surface, any discoveries wouldn't just be entertaining, it could lead towards a better understanding of life as a whole.

Speaking of strange forms of life, a deep sea shrimp spews bioluminescent fluid to scare off the predators. And as the article points out, that's not even when it gets weird.

All I'm saying is, we don't know everything and until we do (in fact, after we believe we do) we should let our minds remain open and try to see things for what they really are.  Even when that is glowing shrimp goo.

Mom Hosted Kegger... For Teens

GREENSBURG, Pa. -- A prosecutor will seek a prison term for a western Pennsylvania woman who has pleaded guilty to serving a half-keg of beer to teen guests at her son's graduation party, before three of them were killed in a crash about a mile away.

Sanders-Watt wasn't charged with involuntary manslaughter, because prosecutors couldn't prove the beer she served caused the crash on June 26, 2010. That's because the driver, 19-year-old Michael Simpson, had been drinking at another location before the defendant's party.

But Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said Sanders-Watt faces a maximum of 45 years in prison and, though she'll likely receive less under state sentencing guidelines, he will ask a judge to put her in jail or prison rather than letting her serve probation or house arrest. Her sentencing will be scheduled in about three months.

Parents don't have the right to make decisions for other parents. This woman's poor judgment led to the death of three people, and any parent who serves alcohol to teenagers is running the same risk.

I've heard adults say they take the keys and make the kids stay at their home if intoxicated. That's just disgusting. Teaching underage kids how to drink is not admirable. Letting them participate in the myth that they are old enough to make mature decisions isn't helping them. Supplying alcohol can lead to many risks, from alcohol poisoning to accidents at the home.

Do you want your kid to grow up to be like Andy Dick, sobbing at a bar until closing time, and hated by all mankind? That's how people get to this stage of stupidity, contributing to their failure at an early age sets them up for punishment that takes a lifetime to recover from... if they live long enough.

Iran, So Far Away, Part 9

The US continues to ratchet up the tension on Iran's economy by singling out Iran's largest banks and saying that anyone who does business with them will not be able to do business with the US.

The United States on Monday sought to tighten the financial screws on Iran by imposing sanctions on the country's third-largest bank for allegedly helping Tehran develop its nuclear program.

Now any foreign firm that deals with Iranian state-owned Bank Tejarat and its affiliate, Belarus-based Trade Capital Bank, will no longer be able to access the U.S. financial system.

The sanctions "will deepen Iran's financial isolation, make its access to hard currency even more tenuous, and further impair Iran's ability to finance its illicit nuclear program," Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said in a statement.

The United States and Europe are pressuring Iran to talk to the international community about its nuclear activities, which the West says are aimed at developing a weapons program but which Tehran says are peaceful.

The European Union on Monday banned imports of oil from Iran and followed the United States in imposing sanctions on its central bank, which acts as the clearinghouse for the country's oil revenue.

And yes, yesterday's EU decision to go along with oil sanctions has Iran in a real bind now.   They are screaming for revenge.

Iran accused Europeans on Monday of waging "psychological warfare" after the EU banned imports of Iranian oil, and President Barack Obama said Washington would impose more sanctions to address the "serious threat presented by Iran's nuclear program."

The Islamic Republic, which denies trying to build a nuclear bomb, scoffed at efforts to choke its oil exports, as Asia lines up to buy what Europe scorns.

Some Iranians also renewed threats to stop Arab oil from leaving the Gulf and warned they might strike U.S. targets worldwide if Washington used force to break any Iranian blockade of a strategically vital shipping route.

Yet in three decades of confrontation between Tehran and the West, bellicose rhetoric and the undependable armory of sanctions have become so familiar that the benchmark Brent crude oil price edged only 0.8 percent higher, and some of that was due to unrelated currency factors.

In other words, the market has already priced in the sanctions, meaning that Iran has less leverage than ever.  We'll see how this goes, but the combined EU and US sanctions are going to have an effect on Iran's political situation, and soon.

The Big GOP Debate Thread: Newt And Mitt

The two big stories from last night's Florida debate were Mitt on the attack, and Santorum and Ron Paul clearly being treated as also-rans.  The contest is now down to Gingrich vs. Romney.

Mitt Romney came ready to take on Newt Gingrich in Monday night’s debate. And for one moment at least he really seemed to throw over the Florida frontrunner in a conversation about lobbying.

Gingrich’s GOP opponents have attacked him for months now over the work he took on after leaving the House, accusing him of being a lobbyist. Gingrich has responded by saying he was just an extremely well-paid former politician companies hired to help them do business with active politicians.

Gingrich has tried to dance that dance for a while now, but during the debate Monday, he finally seemed to trip up.

Romney went after Gingrich hard on the topic, first dismissing Gingrich’s claim that he was a historian for Freddie Mac.

“They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians,” Romney said, referring to the fees Gingrich’s consulting firm was paid by the mortgage giant. “They weren’t hiring you as a historian.”

Which is funny if you think about it.  Here's Mitt Romney, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, going after Newt for being on Freddie Mac's payroll, and Newt dropping back into indignation as a defense.

Meanwhile, we learned early this morning that Romney's tax rate last year wasn't 15%.  It was less than that.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released tax records on Tuesday indicating he will pay $6.2 million in taxes on a total of $42.5 million in income over the years 2010 and 2011.

Bowing to increasing political pressure to provide more detail about his vast wealth, the former private equity executive released tax returns indicating he and his wife, Ann, paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent in 2010. They expect to pay a 15.4 percent rate when they file their returns for 2011.

Romney's tax rate is below that of most wage-earning Americans because most of his income, as outlined in more than 500 pages of tax documents, flows from capital gains on investments.

Some 500 pages of  awesome capital gains, taxed at at lower rate than Americans who make 40 grand a year.  That's going to help him with the average American, right?


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