Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thank Goodness We Have The Federal Government To Take Care Of Us

The Bundy-BLM dispute has opened up a whole can of worms regarding who should own and/or manage public land in western states. I don't intend to get into that in-depth, but I did run across a quote that pretty well sums up the federal government's attitude towards its subjects citizens.

Most of you have probably seen this map by now. It shows the percentage of federal land in each state.


Seems a bit one-sided to me. However, rather than have an open and honest discussion about the hows and whys of the situation, we are subjected to more arrogance on the part of our federal overlords.
A conservative state lawmaker and a liberal former director of the Bureau of Land Management argued the merits of a debate that’s sweeping the West — whether states should take control of federal lands and would they manage them better.

Former BLM Director Pat Shea challenged state Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, to a formal debate at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, and the lawmaker said he would accept such a challenge.

Wednesday’s conversation identified the deep philosophical disagreement that would underpin any such debate. Ivory argues the federal government used to own much of the land in states like Florida, Illinois and Nebraska and has since turned it over to private owners or the state. He believes it’s time for Western states to demand equal treatment in this matter and if Congress won’t comply, it may be time to launch a major court case. He said the land would be better managed and the profits from mining would help fund the state’s education system.

Shea was dismissive of such an idea.
Of course he was. What do us poor ignorant common folk know about such things? How can mere states do anything as well as the all-mighty federal government?

Here's the money quote:
"I don’t think states are capable of the complexity of managing these lands..."
Yassa, massa, we sho 'nuff needs you to take care of us...


Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes is Latin. Its literal translation is "Who will guard the guards themselves?" but today it is commonly quoted as "Who will watch the watchers?"

The phrase originated with the Roman poet Juvenal in the context of marital infidelity.
I hear always the admonishment of my friends:
"Bolt her in, constrain her!"
But who will guard the guardians?
Plato introduced the phrase into a philosophical discussion of political corruption. Socrates took it a step farther, proposing a guardian class to protect society. Socrates' solution to the problem of ensuring the guardian's incorruptibility was to manipulate them via what has come to be known as "a noble lie."
We must tell the guardians a 'noble lie'. The noble lie will assure them that they are better than those they serve and it is therefore their responsibility to guard and protect those lesser than themselves. We will instill in them a distaste for power or privilege; they will rule because they believe it right, not because they desire it.
The lowlifes running the IRS obviously are immune to a noble lie (although there is little doubt they are more than familiar with ignoble lies). It's bad enough that they have politicized the IRS, allowing it to be used as a tool to punish anyone who dares disagree with their political masters. But now they've gone so far as to pay bonuses to employees who owe the government back taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service handed out $2.8 million in bonuses to employees with disciplinary issues — including more than $1 million to employees who didn't pay their federal taxes, a watchdog report says.

The report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said 1,146 IRS employees received bonuses within a year of substantiated federal tax compliance problems.

The bonuses weren't just monetary. Employees with tax problems received a total of 10,582 hours of paid time off — valued at about $250,000 — and 69 received permanent raises through a step increase...
But wait! It gets worse. To fix the problem of giving bonuses to scofflaws "would require negotiations with the National Treasury Employees Union."

Does anyone out there seriously expect a union to do the right thing and agree that its members should be held to the same standards as us common folk?

This problem isn't limited to just IRS employees.
Non-payment of taxes by federal employees is a government-wide problem. The IRS says 311,536 federal employees were tax delinquents in 2011, owing a total of $3.5 billion.
So why are those deadbeats still employed by the government? Why can't we just fire their worthless asses if they won't pay their taxes?

Evidently it takes an act of congress to discipline tax deadbeats. And we all know that when congress gets involved things go from bad to worse.
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to fire federal employees with seriously delinquent taxes. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, failed to clear a procedural hurdle; the Senate bill by Sen. Tom Coburn is in committee.
GMAFB. Our do-nothing congresscritters can't even get together and agree that people who don't pay their taxes shouldn't be employed by the federal government? They damn sure don't have any problems hassling, harassing, and intimidating non-government employees.

Assholes one and all...




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Wit And Wisdom Of Charles Barkley

At one time former NBA star Charles Barkley spoke of getting into politics. I wish he would. We could use more people like him - people with common sense who aren't afraid to speak the truth.








Here's a few more non-illustrated quotes from Chuckles.
We're not all supposed to think alike.

I think anybody who is racist is an idiot whether they are black or white.

I don’t create controversies. They’re there long before I open my mouth. I just bring them to your attention.

Being black or white isn't an accomplishment. What you do with your life or what you accomplish with your life dictates what you should be proud of.

Barkley also has a sense of humor that appeals to me. Of course, it might offend some people, but that's another thing I like about him. He doesn't care if some overly sensitive politically correct loser can't take a joke.
After retiring from basketball: “I’m just what America needs – another unemployed black man.

On his 17-year old daughter not dating yet: “Thank goodness. I just hope she doesn’t start before I go in the Hall of Fame. That way, I won’t have to kill anybody before I get inducted.”

Asked if he had ever been in the governor’s office in Montgomery, Barkley said no. “They don’t let many black people in the governor’s mansion in Alabama,” he said, “unless they’re cleaning.”

On national TV on Valentines day: “I’d never buy my girl a watch… she’s already got a clock over the stove.”

After throwing a guy through a 1st floor window in a bar Charles was in front of the judge.
Judge: “Your sanctions are community service and a fine. Do you have any regrets?”
Charles: “Yeah. I regret we weren’t on a higher floor”

If nothing else, he'd at least make following politics more fun...

Social Media Explained

I'm not really sure anymore why I keep this blog going. I guess it's become a habit. I do, however, draw the line at Twitter, Instagram, and those other Johnny-Come-Latelys. In fact, I'm not even sure what many of the new social media variants are. Which is why I was grateful for this explanation.



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just The Facts, Ma'am

(H/T to Joe Friday for the title.)

Today is Earth Day.
Each year, Earth Day -- April 22 -- marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

The height of hippie and flower-child culture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Protest was the order of the day, but saving the planet was not the cause. War raged in Vietnam, and students nationwide increasingly opposed it.

At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.  Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962.  The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center.
Like a few other aspects of the progressive movement, I find myself in agreement with their intentions...


... but turned off by their extremism and holier-than-thou attitude. So I have mixed emotions about the following story.

Oklahoma To Charge Homeowners Who Install Solar Panels
Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.

“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”

The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.
Once again a legislative body passes a law in the dark of night (i.e., quietly slipping it in as a rider to an unrelated bill) that benefits special interests -- in this case, public utility companies -- to the detriment of the general public.

You'd think that utilities would be in favor of home-installed renewable energy generators. After all, they take some load off the grid during peak demand times, preventing brownouts or rolling blackouts. They put off the need for new power plants, reducing capital costs. They reduce maintenance costs on existing equipment and transmission facilities.

For the rest of us, solar and wind powered homes help with clean air efforts, reduce greenhouse gases, provide employment and small business opportunities, and generally make positive contributions to our overall quality of life.  So why are utilities fighting the trend? Two words: lost revenue.

Actually, the utilities refer to it as the “utility death spiral.”
"...as customers choose to install solar panels or adopt energy efficiency measures, a utility will sell fewer units of energy and has to increase what it charges for electricity to ensure that it can still cover its fixed costs, such as grid maintenance and labor. As energy prices go up, more customers will look to energy efficiency and distributed energy resources to reduce their energy bills, which will continue to push electricity prices up and drive customers toward other energy sources and services."
While that may sound like a reasonable argument, keep in mind that "rooftop solar makes up less than a quarter of 1 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S."

So at this point I'm sympathetic towards the solar/wind supporters. But then they had to go and spoil it.
As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers.
Ah, yes ... the evil, "ultra-conservative" Koch brothers.

I guess it's too much to expect an informed debate on the merits. We have to drag our ideologies into it. Granted, the right does it just as much as the left, but it's still disappointing, no matter which side it comes from.

And it distracts us from focusing on the issues at hand...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Out Of Whack

From the A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words department, here are two unrelated, yet similarly troubling, images I ran across today.





Talk about priorities being out of whack. Somehow, some way, we've got to put adults back in charge of this country...

FOD 2014.04.21

Started a new Easter tradition yesterday. After the egg hunt and dinner there was lots of wine drinking with degenerate friends. Anyway...
More than half of Americans said they had virtually no confidence in President Barack Obama's ability to improve the nation's sagging economy — the highest rate during his years in the White House, according to a new Gallup poll.

Those survey respondents said they had little or no confidence in Obama making effective economic decisions...
Pardon my French, but fuck that worthless SOB!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Miscellaneous

I don't mean to be sacrilegious, but couldn't Jesus have left the tomb at a more convenient time - say, around noon? Getting up for Easter morning sunrise service is tough (especially after Saturday night).

Our 19-year-old son is home from college for the weekend. I'd forgotten how much that boy eats. He got here Thursday night and we've already gone through 2 gallons of milk, a pound of bacon, and a dozen eggs ... and that's just for two breakfasts. I've lost count of the chickens and pork chops that were sacrificed for dinner.

This afternoon we're hosting an Easter egg hunt for a few neighbor kids whose parents are gone for the weekend (work/duty obligations). Afterwards we'll have the traditional Texas Easter dinner - fajitas.

Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I wish you a Happy and Blessed Easter.


Sunday Funnies 2014.04.20

It is Easter weekend. Any holiday which starts with a "Good Friday" can't be all bad...



Fluffy, the young Easter orphan bunny and Cedric the orphan snake lived in the forest; they were, by an amazing coincidence, both blind from birth.

One morning, bright and early Fluffy was hopping through the forest when he tripped over the body of Cedric who was basking in the sunlit undergrowth. Fluffy landed quite hard on the prostrate body of Cedric.

'Crikey,' exclaimed Fluffy the bunny, 'I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to squash you. I've been blind since birth, so, I can't see where I'm going. In fact, since I'm also an orphan, I don't even know what creature I am.'

'That's OK, mate,' commented Cedric the snake. 'Actually my story is much the same as yours. I, too, have been blind since birth and also never knew my mother. Tell you what, maybe I could slither all over you and work out what you are, so at least you'll be able to find that out.'

'What a marvelous idea,' replied Fluffy the bunny.

So the Cedric slithered all over Fluffy and said, 'Well, you're covered with soft fur, you have really long ears, your nose twitches and you have a soft cottony tail. I'd say that you must be a bunny rabbit.'

'Oh, thank you, thank you,' cried Fluffy with tremendous pleasure. Then Fluffy the bunny suggested to the snake, 'Perhaps I could be allowed to feel you all over with my paw and help you the same way that you've helped me.'

So Fluffy the bunny felt Cedric the snake all over and summarized, 'Well, you're smooth and slippery, you have a forked tongue and no backbone.  I'd say you must be a politician.'


Young Ernie and his family were invited to have Easter lunch at his grandmother's house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served.  When Ernie received his plate he started eating straight away.

'Ernie, wait until we say grace,' demanded his father.

'I don't have to,' the five year old replied.

'Of course you do, Ernest,' his mother insisted rather forcefully. 'We always say a prayer before eating at our house.'

'That's at our house,' Ernie explained, 'but this is Grandma's house, and she knows how to cook.'


The following images have been around for a while, but I'm a sucker for the classics...







Saturday, April 19, 2014

Things My Mother Never Taught Me

My mother, God bless her, did her best to teach me proper table manners. She was a farm girl, so it wasn't high-falutin' royal wedding type etiquette. Instead, it was the common-sense good manners that most mid-westerners grew up with. Even today on special occasions I still dust off the 'company manners' she taught me.

I cannot imagine her reaction to this story.

9 Rules for Naked Dining: The Etiquette of Nude Resorts

1. Towel On:
“Naked butts at the table are a big no-no,” says travel writer and photographer David Lansing, who likes to take off his press hat (and everything else) at nudist resorts around the world. For reasons of basic health and safety, everyone brings a towel to sit on. More proof that, as fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know all too well, a towel is “the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker”—or hungry nudist—”can have.”
2. Just Because We’re All Naked Doesn’t Mean We’re All Friends:
“You should wait to be invited to a table,” says Lansing. “This isn’t like going on a cruise; even though there may be eight or 10 people at a large table, they usually all know each other, and there will be a very uncomfortable pause in the conversation if you just sit down at a table uninvited. That said, nudists are some of the friendliest people I’ve met and invariably you’ll be asked to join one group or another for lunch or dinner. But do wait to be asked.”
3. Listen to Your Mother—Use a Napkin!
“As a matter of etiquette,” says advice columnist April Masini, “covering your private parts with a napkin while at a nudist event is good manners the same way not chewing with your mouth open is. We all know it’s there; we all know what’s happening; we don’t need to see everything at dinner. Just because you take your clothes off doesn’t mean you should strip yourself of manners.”
4. Some Don’t Like It Hot:
“Most nudists resorts will hold traditional barbecues, and first-timers need to be careful around the ‘weenie roast,’” says Tom Mulhall, who owns the Terra Cotta Inn in Palm Springs, California, and writes about nudism for the Huffington Post. Nor is the grill the only danger—the dinner table, too, can be hazardous. “Don’t allow your waiter to serve you a bowl of hot soup. He can spill into your lap,” notes photography instructor Eugene Louie, who visits clothing-optional resorts  for self-reflection.
4. Listen to Your Mother, Part 2:
“Sit up straight,” says Masini. “Good posture at the dinner table is always a way to show good breeding and good manners, but when you’re nude, slouching and elbows akimbo are not only more noticeable—they create a silhouette that is less attractive than if you have clothes on. Sit up straight!”
5. No One Will Pardon Your Reach:
“Don’t reach—even if you think it’s not a reach,” says Masini. “Nude or naturist dining requires a greater margin of coordination and control. Without a bra, and with a well-endowed chest, reaching—even a little—may result in your breasts in the marinara sauce.”
6. There Is Such a Thing as Too Casual.
“Casual dining doesn’t mean you can put your ankle across your knee, or your feet up on the coffee table—even if it’s an outdoor barbecue with paper plates,” says Masini. “Reconsider the view others will have while eating.” Of course, if you keep a napkin in your lap, this won’t be an issue.
7. Eyes Up Here, Buddy!
“I’d say the most important table etiquette for nudists is no staring,” says Lansing. “It’s not unusual for nudists to just wrap a gauzy sarong around them as they go straight from the pool (or beach) to the table, so you want to try really hard to maintain eye contact.”  Instead of discussing people’s bodies, it’s safer to talk about the food.
8. Food Porn, OK. Real Porn, No Way!
Go ahead and Instagram your dinner if the resort allows it, says Nerud, but don’t shoot other guests unless they sign a photo release form.
9. Chill Out:
If you’re nervous about dining in the buff, don’t be. The resort owners I spoke to all said concerns about being naked usually go away after 15 minutes. Nude dining seems naturally relaxing: You don’t have to think about what to wear (or dry-cleaning bills), and you never have to loosen your belt if you overeat. Although, actually, I can’t think of a better motivation to lose weight than the fact that everyone can see your gut (and everything else).

I have nothing else to add...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Follies Happy Hour 2014.04.18

I'm still recovering from paying my income tax this week...

What A Revolting Development This Is

I like to think of myself as a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, tempered with a healthy dose of realism. But lately that dose of realism has reached such proportions that it threatens to overwhelm my normally sunny disposition. I won't post a laundry list of reasons why that is so. It would take too long and be too depressing. Besides, I'm sure you're familiar enough with them yourself. But I will post one more gloom and doom article. Tomorrow, however, I promise there will be something to take your mind off all these clouds gathering over our heads. In the meantime, though, you'll have to suffer through this.
In real terms, the U.S. economy expanded by a total of $290 billion dollars in 2013. With some minor adjustments, that's essentially the amount of extra income created by the nation as a whole. It also represents the increase in the purchasing power of its residents.

By comparison, China's economy added over $800 billion dollars to its citizens spending power during 2013 alone. That's an extra $800 billion that is now available for Chinese households to purchase new products and services or to save and help fund new ideas and technologies. At this rate, China is expected to overtake the U.S. as the largest marketplace in the world by the end of the decade.
One implication of this trend is that international capital -- both financial and intellectual -- will begin to shift from the U.S. to China. As a result the chicoms will be able to invest in new and improved physical facilities and infrastructure. They will also attract the 'best and brightest' by virtue of being able to provide opportunities for innovation and growth. The U.S., in contrast, will become less and less attractive to producers and entrepreneurs.
What can be done?

A lot is beyond our control. China is already large and is still growing quickly. Although the pace is starting to slow, the yuan is still undervalued by perhaps 10 percent or 15 percent, and it is hard not to see its economy making similar size gains for the rest of the decade.

But the U.S. can and should grow faster. It needs to grow faster. For demographic and budgetary reasons. And also to ensure it remains an attractive place for biotechnology, communications, electronics and other forms of frontier knowledge. Low growth perpetuates itself.
How did we get in this mess? In short, declining workforce participation.



(Average labor productivity and economic growth) have fallen sharply in the last few years. Some of this is surely cyclical. But much is beginning to look structural. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that U.S. economic growth will remain below post-war levels well into the next decade ... the growth in total hours worked will fall to just 0.6 percent per year. Since population growth will continue unabated well into the next few decades, this means that the average American is expected to work less and less.

The decline in working hours has been happening for quite some time now. More precisely, after adjusting for population growth, fewer and fewer Americans are working, or even trying to work. In 1999, at the height of the tech boom, over 74 percent of working-age Americans were employed. The same ratio is now 67.4 percent. That represents a loss of about 14 million workers. It also appears that those still at work are also working slightly fewer hours, although the evidence is less clear.

Reversing this trend has to be a priority for the next administration. And virtually every major domestic policy debate should be viewed from this perspective. Any policy reform that fails to deal with this issue has to be seen as an outright failure.

For example, the ongoing changes in health care law may or may not lead to improvements in the provision of quality medical care. However, their impact on the labor market is nothing short of disastrous. Once fully implemented, income-linked subsidies for individuals, combined with the employer mandates and various tax penalties, are estimated to cost us a minimum of another 2.5 million full time jobs.
Two related problems:
Reforming Social Security and immigration are two other major unresolved policy issues that will have a large impact on the incentives for households to work, on job creation, and ultimately the U.S. economy's growth potential. These have to be our primary focus.
These are the types of problems that in the past were addressed at least to some extent by our elected 'leaders.' But today's politicians are more concerned with cementing their worthless posteriors into office in perpetuity than in solving the problems we face. Until that changes (or until we change them) things will continue moving from bad to worse.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The Other Side" Are People Too

I've certainly spent my fair share of time bashing and denigrating liberals. But I do have some liberal friends. I like them, and enjoy their company. In fact, we agree on many of the same issues and problems facing our country today. Where we differ, however, is how to solve them. And while I sometimes get exasperated with them during after-dinner discussions (and, I suspect, they with me), we are for the most part able to see the merit in the other person's argument, even if we don't always find it convincing.

Which is why this article struck a chord with me.

What I learned as a liberal talking head on Fox News
For a radical progressive who once harbored negative stereotypes about folks on the right, it was a turning point for me: Though Sean Hannity or Sarah Palin and I disagree profoundly on politics – they're personable, kind, and human. If you want to persuade people, you can’t demonize them.

My time at Fox News was marked by meeting and working with some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented people I've had the pleasure of meeting in life... Sean Hannity is one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet – and even now that I've parted ways with Fox, he remains a good friend and mentor.

For a radical progressive who once harbored negative stereotypes about folks on the right, it was a turning point for me to meet people such as Mr. Hannity, Karl Rove, Monica Crowley, Sarah Palin, and so many others, and see that – though we certainly disagree profoundly on political issues – they're personable and kind and human. Just like me.

It's strange to suggest that a seemingly simple realization such as that is in fact a profound revelation, but in our hyperpartisan era, when we often vilify the other side as being less-than-human, it is.

Once I had that experience with some of the most visible voices on "the other side" – in my case, the right – it was an easy leap to find connection and compassion with everyday conservative audiences. These aren't evil people, either, or stupid, or any of the other things that some liberals, in their lowest moments, have suggested. In fact, in many cases, I've learned that the ideological labels that feel so firm and unyielding among the professional political class are rather malleable among ordinary Americans.

Most people just want a better life for themselves and their kids. And they're worried about the things they see as barriers to that opportunity – whether it's big banks gobbling up all the money and real estate titles or higher taxes or struggling public schools or the cost of food. In real communities in real places across the United States, I've found that liberals and conservatives share many of the same concerns and problems and simply gravitate toward two different sides in searching for solutions.

Personally, I agree with the side that says our problems, our barriers to opportunity, are the result of runaway economic inequality baked into our society by giant corporations that have crippled our government and our community supports in order to get whatever they want, and as much of it, at our expense.

But if I want that viewpoint – and those who share it – to get more powerful, so that we can fix these systemic problems once and for all, then demonizing people who disagree with me won't help. In fact, I need to persuade them. And no one will even listen to your argument, let alone agree with you, if they think you don't like them.

This is where it comes full circle: According to social science research, we're more likely to be persuaded by people we like and we're more inclined to like people who, we think, like us...
The bottom line: We respond more positively to and are persuaded by people who treat us pleasantly.

If you were a salesperson trying to persuade a potential client to switch suppliers, you would be kind and friendly to that client, not dismiss them as stupid or worse for their current supplier choice. So if you're trying to sell an idea – whether on the national political stage or at a family dinner with your uncle – why would you behave any differently? Kindness, respect, finding the basic goodness and human dignity in everyone – that is the essence of emotional correctness, and that is how we begin the conversations that lead to change.
(The author, Sally Kohn, is a CNN contributor and columnist for The Daily Beast. She was previously a Fox News contributor and regular guest on MSNBC.)
Methinks the lady has a point. I especially like the last paragraph. When I was in the corporate world, I began negotiations in much the same way. Find common ground - something both sides agreed on - and proceed from there. Sadly, I'm afraid that the national discourse has become so polarized that we may have passed the point where finding common ground with the other side is no longer possible. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Testing Theories Of American Politics - Examples

Earlier today I said something about how this country's political system is broken. Here are two illustrative examples; the first serious, the second absurd.

Earlier this year congress passed a new farm bill. As happens every time the bill comes up for renewal, it morphs from legislation ostensibly intended to regulate farm policy into a catchall for political favors and special interests.
The name “farm” bill is itself a misnomer.  It’s really a “food stamp” bill since about 80 percent of its spending is dedicated to the food stamp program.  Politicians are forthright about why these unrelated programs are packaged together: politics.  Ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Thad Cochran (R–MS) explained farm bill politics well when he argued that the farm bill includes food stamps “purely from a political perspective” since “it helps get the farm bill passed.”  Food stamps and farm programs are combined together so that the farm bill gets the support of the two distinct constituencies.  Urban members who support food stamps vote for the farm bill to protect their interests, and the rural members vote for their agriculture programs.
But wait! There's more!
...The most expensive farm program, crop insurance, wasn’t reformed at all.  While even President Obama would have cut about $12 billion from this costly program in his budget, the new bill actually increases costs by about $6 billion. Yet, programs that restrict supply and drive up food prices, such as the sugar program, were left untouched.

The special handouts to wealthy agribusinesses were left unscathed as well.  Taxpayers pay about 62 percent of the premiums for farmers who purchase crop insurance.  A minor reform in the Senate bill could have slightly lowered the subsidy for farmers with adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more.   Even this one little effort to provide some sensible policy to help taxpayers was excluded from the farm bill.  The sucking sound you hear is the money coming out of your pocket and being handed over to special interests.

Even holidays aren’t immune from the new bill.  It includes a provision from the House bill that requires the Department of Agriculture to allow a “mandatory assessment” (i.e. tax) on Christmas trees.
It gets worse. This year's version of the bill fails to plug even the most egregious loopholes.
The farm bill will allow “broad-based categorical eligibility” to continue, a policy that allows states to bypass asset tests for food stamp recipients. This means that individuals could have an unlimited amount of assets and still be eligible for food stamps as long as their income is low enough.
The 'farm bill' isn't limited to just agriculture and food stamp issues, either.
The farm bill includes the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

A Department of Interior (not Agriculture) program called Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) provides compensation to local governments to help make up for lost revenue resulting from federal land ownership (federal land generally can’t be taxed).

The (farm bill) includes direct handouts and loan guarantees for advanced biofuels and bio-refineries, and bio-based product manufacturers. It also re-authorizes the Rural Energy for America Program, where your taxpayer dollars help “complete energy audits and feasibility studies, complete energy efficiency improvements, install renewable energy systems... convert older heating sources to cleaner technologies, produce advanced biofuels, install flexible fuel pumps, install solar panels, build biorefineries, and much more.”  The farm bill even includes the re-authorization of the biodiesel fuel education program to help (educate) government entities, vehicle fleet owners and the public about the benefits of biodiesel use.
I've long been a proponent of single-issue legislation. Let each bill stand or fall on its own merits, as opposed to mixing up an unholy brew of regulations that benefit special interests, to the detriment of the general public. Sadly, I doubt if that will ever come to pass.

As for the ridiculous example I promised you, here's the back story.
After an intense search by hundreds of volunteers, the body of Peretz Sontag, the Pomona father of seven who has been missing since Friday March 14th, has been found in his car by a hiker and confirmed by New York State Park Rangers.

The 2012 Black Kia Optima driven by Sontag was discovered by a hiker down a 80-100 foot cliff off Lake Welch Parkway in the Haverstraw section of Harriman State Park.
A tragedy, to be sure. But the ridiculous part is the action of the New York State Park Police.
Volunteers attempting to search the area of Seven Lakes Drive in the Bear Mountains section of Harriman State Park were ticketed by officers of the New York State Parks Police for trespassing and illegally parked vehicles...

Volunteers of United Search and Rescue have told JP that last week Monday and again on Thursday they attempted to search the exact area where Mr. Sontag was found, but they were turned away by the Park Police.

The sources noted, that when the organizers of the volunteers search efforts reached out to the Park Police to assist with the search, they refused to take part in the search, claiming that they do not have enough resources. However, for some reason, they found resources to issue tickets.
Shades of the Cliven Bundy-BLM standoff. Funny how government entities never seem to have enough resources to help the general public (remember all the closures during the sequester?), but always manage to have enough when it comes to intimidating or outright oppressing We the People.

Sigh ... I need a drink...

Testing Theories Of American Politics - We Failed

As a former university professor, I have a tendency to place more weight in academic journals than other outlets. Granted, academics often have an agenda, and can be as guilty of cherry-picking data as better known commentators. However, they are kept in check, or at least somewhat restrained, by the peer review process. I'm not claiming academic journals are infallible or 100% bias-free, but I will argue that in general they are more objective than other sources.

Which is why I read this paper with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it confirms what I've felt for quite a while now. On the other hand, it paints a very depressing portrait of our country's political structure.
Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless? These questions have animated much important work in the study of American politics.

While this body of research is rich and variegated, it can loosely be divided into four families of theories ... Each of these perspectives makes different predictions about the independent influence upon U.S. policy making of four sets of actors: the Average Citizen..., Economic Elites..., Mass-based Interest Groups, or Business-oriented Interest Groups...
What differentiates this study from previous ones is the authors' use of an advanced statistical technique known as multivariate analysis "to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model." The paper used a large data set that measured key variables for 1,779 different policy issues. (Multivariate Analysis is a set of powerful statistical techniques for analyzing large amounts of data with many variables to identify patterns and relationships among multiple variables.)

Before your eyes glaze completely over, I'll cut to the bottom line. In what should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, the authors conclude:
"our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts... America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened... the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy ... Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis...”
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The United States of America is not a democracy, or even a democratic republic. Rather, we have become an oligarchy - "a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people."

The implication:
What the authors are able to find ... is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now.
R.I.P., U.S.A.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pictures Worth A Thousand Words Department

I think there's enough blame to go around on all sides in the Bundy-BLM standoff in Nevada, but I did get a kick out of these images.











Everyone Has Problems...

...but some people's problems are worse better different than others'.

Kate Upton hates her breasts
They’re two of the biggest stars in fashion, double-billing on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Vogue and Vanity Fair and lusted over by countless admirers — still, Kate Upton can’t stand them.

“I wish I had smaller boobs every day of my life...

If only they were a little more like . . . earrings, the covergirl muses of her natural-born 34-D’s.

“If I could just take them off like they were clip-ons...”
Sorry, Kate, but we all have crosses to bear...

Pay Up - Or Else

April 15th ... taxes due today ... sigh...
It's tax time. I know this because I'm staring at documents that make no sense to me, no matter how many beers I drink.   -- Dave Barry