Friday, February 27, 2009

Trade-Offs, TP, and Green Politics

I have been putting off writing a longer post about green politics generally because frankly I'm afraid the thing might turn out to be about 6578 pages. But slowly it's becoming more difficult to avoid. First we get the "Tax and Trade" plan from yesterday. Then today the Times tells us we have to use sandpaper on our asses or we hate trees.

It seems that the manufacture of softer toilet paper requires the use of older trees rather than recycled material. This is not a new issue for the National Resources Defense Council, which first published this report in 2005 on the topic. What's changed is that Obama's call for Cap and Trade has sent the major papers scrambling to find stories like this one.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that the NRDC's main point person on this stuff has a Ph.D. in an unknown field that 10 minutes of Googleing cannot determine, I again return to the trade-off's theme I've been harping on lately. Check out this quote from an interview with him in 2003:
Looking for the "post-consumer" label helps support and reward the billions of dollars in infrastructure investments made by local governments to collect the paper that has been used by consumers and that would otherwise be sent to costly and dangerous landfills or incinerators. That's not the case with paper that's not marked "post-consumer." It takes a little more effort to look for that label, but the environment deserves as much.
The key part for me is the bit about "billions of dollars in infrastructure investments." As if simply paying for the "billions of dollars in investments" is not enough, this guy wants us to "reward" those investments? What the hell does that mean?

Roughly translated "investments" for these folks means about what it means when the agriculture industry talks about farm subsidies or the GM talks about bailouts. It means "billions of dollars in YOUR tax money to support MY GOALS AND INTERESTS that might be used more productively elsewhere in society." The idea that the goal of recycling should be compared to other goals, say sending money to eliminate malaria in Africa or buying everyone 143 hands of "Death's Icy Grip" shaped out of popcorn, is what needs to be discussed.

Billions of dollars in "investments" means billions diverted away from something else. It's not like it's a free lunch. And using coarser toilet paper versus softer is also a trade-off. Anyone who's traveled a lot knows that on long flights home in airline seats.

Even for the Times, this story is so unfair it's silly. Everyone, EVERY-FRIGGIN-ONE makes decisions about how to reconcile the broad goals they support and the lifestyles they lead. I know very few people who want to give us everything that has adverse environmental impact in order to save the planet, but apparently the folks at the NRDC would like us to think that this "sacrifice" is not a big deal:
All toilet paper should be made from recovered, second generation fibers. No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper. Toilet paper made from trees should be phased out in the same way we're phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs starting with our schools, theaters, auditoriums, office buildings, and of course our homes. A little "sacrifice" on the "need" for three seconds of softness vs. a whole lot of healthy forests left standing, providing habitat, inspiration, clean water, and soaking up carbon would be a very good change for this New Year. Let's stop flushing our forests down the toilet.
What exactly are acceptable uses of forests? Can I hunt in them? Should we just "let them be" and not try to conserve them? Can we even hope to achieve that?

Tell me what it costs, provide me with alternatives, and explain to me your real agenda - full stop. If it's simply, "Hey, this is stupid; the trees are pretty, and the toilet paper won't chafe your butt too much" I might consider it. If it's more like "You should become a vegan, join PETA, live in a recycled packing peanut house and give up your car to walk to work through forests of old growth trees and pay through the noses in taxes to achieve all of these goals through `investment'" You can count me skeptical and count me out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Democrat Proposes Tax and Spending Increase.........This is News?

Lots of freaking out on right wing blogs today over Obama's proposed tax and spending increases. I'm sorry, did I miss something during the campaign? Was there some speech I didn't hear in which he argued for cutting the size of government and reducing taxes? He was elected to do this; he said he was going to do this; now he's doing it. You don't have to like it, or the amounts, but this is hardly surprising.

And let's face it - it's not like Republicans have any leg to stand on after 8 years of the biggest spending president in history. So please, save me the histrionics.

In two related thoughts I have yet to see any constructive conservative/libertarian response to this health care stuff. There's lots of screaming about "big government" which I predicted. But I continue to search for the alternative right-wing plan on health care. I'd be grateful to any reader who can point me/us to that proposal.

Secondly, in the spirit of full disclosure, the Fundhousehold is not directly affected by the proposed increases, although we will of course be indirectly affected like everyone in ways we simply cannot predict.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whole Lotta Huburis Going On

Uncle Ben Bernanke and Barney Frank are playing with fire. It's one thing to be a popular president who throws out a vague set of plans about bailing out people stuck in their homes and claiming you won't help the ones who acted in bad faith. It is a whole other animal to stand before Congress, dismiss the moral hazard concerns, and say we need to bailout those who did act in bad faith.

I'm not an economist, so my particular understanding of the economic arguments here are limited. But sites like this ought to make everybody on the Hill and in DC realize this issue is radioactive. Go into a bar (like this one). Ask some of the 92% of Americans who are not defaulting through tough economic times what they think about this plan, and they'll tell you - loudly - about how they did not choose teaser rates, saved enough for a down payment, and played by the rules. Remember when Democrats talked about helping people who played by the rules, not people who broke them?

In the 1950's and 60's large Northern cities were hit with a large migration of African-Americans from the South. The response of political machines throughout the Midwest and Northeast was to place those people in massive, isolated, stigmatized government public housing. That policy effectively created two Americas and produced a ton of racial tension that divided us. It said to most of America "these people are different - not equal."

In sort of the same way, giving subsidized loans and bailouts to people in some homes will divide us again. Everyday when people drive past the homes of folks they know who were bailed out their anger will simmer a little more until next November. Careful gentlemen..............we don't need more division based on perceived need. We need to discourage foolish behavior, level the playing field, and not create social tension. Isn't that what this whole "hope" thing is supposed to be about?

Cap, Trade, Bait, and Switch

Mrs. Fundman and I bought a new car last year, and while we love it, I wish we had waited until the financial armagedon of the past year to get a really awesome deal.

We hit a couple of local dealerships including one in which the fastest talking, most unscrupulous, slimiest car sales manager I have ever encountered tried to talk us into leasing, not buying, our car. This despite the fact that on about 35 separate occasions I told him we weren't leasing.

He was trying to get us confused with the numbers. He kept pulling out alleged dealer cost sheets, depreciation charts, showing us different discount offers, all the time pushing the leases. I felt like Homer Simpson with Cowboy Bob selling me an RV. I started to find it really entertaining when he begin telling us how proudly his dealership supported NPR, which meant he read us as leftie greenies. Then he told us the lease would be really great when electric cars came out in a few years and we could give him back the leased one for a new plug-in.

I suspect his schtick has changed some since gas is now $1.68 a gallon. However, entertainment value aside, I think our President may have trained with this sales manager because last night he tried, and may have succeeded, in pulling off an awesome "bait and switch." Folks, if there was one thing to take away from that speech last night it was this - get ready for much higher utility bills, food prices, and prices on manufactured goods. Why? We are going to get a "cap and trade" scheme in this country.

You cannot pay for all of the goodies he wants, balance the budget, and give out ponies unless you are going to generate revenue. Raising taxes on the richest 2% of people, who are now not very rich, won't raise much cash. Electronic medical records is going to save billions and pay for this? If you believe that, buy yourself a beer tree and plant it in your back yard.

So then how is he going to pay for the Christmas list we got last night? Hell even the NYT called his plan to pay for health care reform "vague." The same way that state governments are coming up with increasingly "creative" ways, like casinos, to pay for things. Obama is going to give us all a hidden tax - cap and trade. In fact he's counting on 300 billion bucks in new revenue to come into federal coffers through this program.

So what exactly is "cap and trade?" As the Oracle of Internet information tells it, it's a way that polluters pay the government for permits that provide a "right to pollute." If the right number of permits are issued for the right price (and yes, the government is supposed to do that pricing) it should help to put a premium on pollution and limit emissions to the most valuable polluters. In theory it decreases marginal pollution and improves environmental quality. And it provides the government with a new source of cash.

BUT it also inevitably raises prices - that's a given because it imposes costs on businesses that they will pass onto consumers. So imagine inflation that's government mandated. And as the government tries to limit the issuance of more permits (to lower carbon emissions) the demand for permits raises the prices and increases costs even more.

In theory, the upward pressure on prices should promote innovation to develop new cleaner technologies. In practice when the Europeans did it, they issued too many permits and carbon output friggin increased in some countries. But, good news, the EU got a nice wad of cash from the companies for the permits and consumers paid higher prices.

Now we are being asked to pay what amounts to a tax during a bad recession, a banking crisis even the left sees as bad, with lots of future inflation coming from printing trillions in new money. All of this to save us from global warming, opps climate change, during one of the coldest winters in recent years.


You can make a case that better health care coverage and lower costs would be beneficial to the economy. But as I noted earlier today, this is about trade-offs. Are 218,000 Iraqi widows worth a democratic system? Is a very costly cap and trade system with undetermined effects, worth increased accessibility to health care for people who are currently uninsured or under-insured?

I can't really answer that question because I'm neither a climate scientist nor a doctor. However it would really be decent of the President to be honest to people and pose the question, and the trade-off involved, properly. Otherwise he's no better than a car salesman pushing leases on people who want to buy.

If DC Were Republican........

Would the Wall Street Journal have written this editorial opposing the creation of voting House seats for its residents? Probably not, but what's a little hypocrisy among partisan mouthpieces?

I mean it's not like, just friggin yesterday, the Journal attacked the NYT's coverage of civilian deaths in Iraq. The Journal seemed to argue that 218,000 widowed Iraqi women was an acceptable trade-off for the creation of a democracy rather than having Saddam Hussein in power. Now it's an interesting question if democracy is worth that cost of human life, but the Journal's position appears to be that democracy is worth a very high price.

IF the Journal is really willing to defend democracy to the tune of more than 200,000 killed in civil war, why not defend the right of people in DC to get representation even if it leads to more support for the opposition?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Michael Lewis has the Second Coolist Job

I have the first. I actually had never had heard of Michael Lewis until I went to visit my late Uncle Lou who had played minor league baseball, very well, in the St. Louis organization in the 1940's and 50's. He led the Pacific Coast League in hitting for the Padres and was called by Ted Williams as one of the best right handed hitters he'd ever seen.

Anyway, he loved baseball and he loved the A's, so every once in a while we'd go to A's games especially since he could go for free with his Old Timers Card. We'd get horrible seats, and then move down to the Lower Deck. He's smoke cigars (because you could in public places in California then) and explain the game to me. Fun times.

So one time I'm stopping by to visit him and my Aunt, and I see this book sitting on the kitchen table called Moneyball which I'd heard of from some of my economist baseball friends. He told me how cool this book was and I had to read it..............and Uncle Lou was right.

Now I love reading just about everything Michael Lewis has written. His first famous book was about his time as an investment banker in the 80's and was widely hailed as excellent - because it is. After that success he's decided to focus on the intersection of statistical analysis, sports, and finance.

So here's this guy who gets to write stuff about the end of Wall Street, baseball in Cuba, NFL Left Tackles, and now the NBA. And he gets paid.

But do I let him blog here? Nope. Still not the coolest job in the world.

We Have Returned

Loyal readers may have noticed a dearth of posts lately. Mrs. Fundman, Fundbaby and myself decided we needed to defrost in the midst of all of this global warming we've been getting in the Midwest lately and so we exited to warmer climates last week. Apologies as I had hoped to post a couple of things during the week, but golf and the hotel pool prevented any such actions. One is up this morning, and another will be up later today.

Also, as you can imagine, I have a lot of pent up "thoughts" I'll be sharing this week. I appreciate your patience and continued interest.

Many thanks to La Cheapa Chica for her outstanding recommendations for activities during the holiday. And kudos to my boss for not firing me while I was away.

The Cost of Outlawing Failure

Blared across the front page of the Wall Street Journal last week was this headline that Ben Bernanke's boyhood home has been foreclosed and sold. I guess they are shooting for the focus on how this is illustrative of how this hits everyone, even the Fed chairman..........blah, blah, blah.

But note what the headline did not say. "Fed Chairman's House Destroyed" or "Fed Chairman's House Razed and Salt Sown in the Ground" Someone bought the house; someone will live in it again, someone will BENEFIT from the fact that they were able to pay less for it and now will use this house. I'm sort of surprised the Wall Street Journal, the supposedly free market paper, missed this point.

Of course the previous owners lost out - the house used to be theirs, and now it isn't. In this particular instance the market didn't work in a positive sum game (the way it usually does). Instead there was a winner and a loser, which is unfortunate for one side.

But one side is better off. One side is going to take that asset and use it productively. And it's happening throughout the economy. First home buyers (who are QUALIFIED) have one of the best environments in years.

Shoppers face all sorts of advantages be it either as innocent as taking advantage of sales throughout the economy or as unfortunate as picking over the retail remains of a bankrupt firm. Even in bankruptcy someone benefits if we let the market work.

I worry about all of these plans to "keep people in their homes" or "keep GM viable" because while the owners and investors in those firms are better off, the potential bargain hunters are not. That's something the smart guys ought to remember when they start talking about saving the buggy industry.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Audacity of Markets, a Continuing Saga

After today's rout Rich Karlgaard at Forbes notes that stocks are down more than 40% since Obama clinched the nomination in June. And today's debacle coincided with the "historic" signing of the Stimulation Package that was supposed to save us.

In the meantime Bob Herbert, the guy who just this year figured out that Zimbabwe was a tragedy, characterized Obama in this fawning interview as relaxed with a long term outlook. Of course in the long-term, as the left's hero likes to say, we're all dead.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Our Green President

Remember when the President went to Elkhart, Indiana to sell the shopping spree? Well apparently Elkhart, other than having a sort of a weird name, is the RV capital of the world. So why is that important?

Global warming, glaciers melting, Cap and Trade..............and what does the Obama Shopping Spree include? A tax break for RV's! Yes, RV's. You know how many gallons to the mile, sorry, bad joke, miles to the gallon a house on wheels gets? That would be about 5 mpg..........

The Dems have gone from subsidizing big gas guzzling cars to RV's. That my friends is the audacity of hypocrisy, and that my friends is politics.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The U.S. Constitution of 2009 (Director's Cut)

We the People, in order to avoid responsibility for any of the unfortunate missteps of the past few years, would like to make a couple of teeny, tiny little changes to our founding document. We therefore propose the following new Amendments to the Constitution. We're not going to bother having an actual, you know, amendment process, because we are apparently moments away from the end of the world according to our new national economist.

Amendment XXVIII - All Americans, as of this morning, are entitled to own a home even if they are unable to afford the mortgage payments or decide to simply stop paying them. All those who took out 30 fixed mortgages and bought homes they knew they could afford shall from now on be known as "suckers."

Amendment XXIX - The United States shall never enter into recession - ever. Congress and the President shall act accordingly, and in a bi-partisan manner, to outlaw recessions even if such actions cost so much they will probably lead to huge budget deficits and inflation down the road.

Amendment XXX - Market losses in pension plans shall also be illegal and gaps between investments and returns shall be paid for by the government.

Amendment XXXI - Large private banks will be outlawed.

Amendment XXXII - The government shall provide additional lines of credit to those who have been living beyond their means. Those who have not run up huge credit card debut, been responsible about paying off their credit cards, and will be paying for all of this will from now on be known as the Chinese.

Amendment XXXIII - All Americans shall be receiving ponies whether they want them or not. Oompa-Loompas will also be available upon request.

Additional suggestions for amendments are, as always, welcome and appreciated.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Don't Understand Europeans

I'm willing to bet the ranch that this type of story would never appear about a Midwestern town. Ever.

And while I'm at it, who at the New York Times saw this on the wire and said "Yes, that's important news that's fit to print!"

Beltway Blather About Stewie

Does Dana Milbank honestly think that Stew Parnell's "shaming" by Congress means a damn thing? Has living a long time in DC pickled his journalistic brain? Check out this bizarre quote:
But to deter others as brazen as Parnell, a searing public censure may be every bit as important as the criminal prosecution he probably will face. For once, lawmakers' grandstanding served a useful purpose.
WTF?????? Public censure = criminal prosecution? Stewie will "probably" face criminal charges? THE GUY IS ACCUSED OF BEING RESPONSIBLE, AT LEAST PARTIALLY, FOR KILLING 8 INNOCENT PEOPLE, and yet he writes in his column that we have to engage in "public censure" to make sure others don't follow his path.

Dana my boy, people like you and me may react to public censure because we have a sense of decency. We wouldn't knowingly endanger people's lives for profits. We are not socio-pathic scumbags like Stewie who don't care what other people think. That's why we have criminal codes and prisons dude.

No, no we do not have to censure him because it wouldn't do any good in his case. We need to simply send him to a maximum security prison for killing people. Full stop. I suspect for most people, morally good or morally bad, who have not been living inside the Beltway too long, the thought of being gang-raped in a shower while living in a tiny cell couped up with murders, drug dealers and violent offenders for many years is really quite sufficient to deter crimes. What exactly does a political show-trial accomplish?

Seriously, Dana, go easy on the gas huffing, it's starting to affect your judgment.

Would Someone Please Do the Math?

Today's New York Times had a sobering reminder of how infrequently the government gets it right when it tries to either predict future trends or change behaviors that run contrary to basic incentives. Here in the Midwest over the past couple of years you couldn't drive a mile without seeing some new ethanol or bio-diesel plant. All of them, ALL OF THEM were built for one reason only - heavy government subsidies. It appears that it hasn't worked as many are now in economic trouble even with all of this support.

Now we've just decided to spend 789,000,000,000 dollars of OUR MONEY, not the government's, in order to pursue a policy designed to inspire us to spend more money. Setting aside for a moment that it seems illogical to me that somehow spending more of our money will get us to spend more money, as I've noted before, these are the same people who just a year or so ago warned us about taking on debt and spending too much money.

Harry Reid this morning said, not predicted, that this plan will create more than 3 million jobs. For the sake of argument, let's assume this bill does create 3 million jobs (which I really doubt). Folks 789,000,000,000 divided by 3,000,000 equals (drumroll) $263,000 per job. We are going to spend $263,000 per job to create 3 million jobs. Is it just me, or does that seem like a lot of money per job?

I've got a better idea - let's give the 24,000,000 unemployed in this country checks for $32,875. It's the same amount, and it will get them through a couple of years of life. Also, it will give them a chance to start businesses and start spending or keep them in homes.

It won't go to banks, Wall Street, special interests, big businesses, unions, construction companies, state governments, or anybody with their head in the government's trough. If we are going to spend that much of our money, let's simply do a direct transfer to the folks who need it. How about that for a plan?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Put the Shrink in the Chair

There's a common protocal among therapists of which most people probably are aware if they watch the Sopranos. Therapists are all strongly encouraged to have therapists themselves, much like Eliot Kupferberg is to Jennifer Melfi in the Sopranos. The reason? Well sitting around listening to other people's problems all the time sucks, and you need to let it out. Also, it provides the therapist a little bit of perspective and alternative viewpoints to deal with patient problems.

The U.S., indirectly through financial institutions we have dominated for years like the IMF, dished out tons of paternalistic advice to developing countries about how they needed to make tough choices and deal with financial crises. In many cases the advice was brutally honest and led to very painful consequences.

Now, unfortunately, the U.S. needs to get in the patient's chair, and listen to this guy's brutal advice about what Timmy G. should have told Congress yesterday. Let the big banks fail. That's what we told the Japanese in the 1990's. We were right then, and we should follow that same advice today.

Think the president of the IMF isn't persuasive enough? Try the best financial columnist in the world Martin Wolf - he thinks the same thing.

Do as I say, not as I do?

Don't get me wrong - this "solution" would suck in the short-term. A lot. But it's also, as far as I see it, the best and only way really to get out of this.

Your thoughts and comments would be welcome on this one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Audacity of Markets Continued

It's been about a month since the inauguration, and the Dow is still down about 500 points. It's also interesting, at least to me, that the heaviest volume days have been selling days.

Oh, and today it increasingly looks like there is a deal emerging for the stimulus - so that's not helping either.

Hey Baby, Are You a Scorpio or a Macro-Economist?

I was born in the 1960's at the beginning of Generation X, but I really remember the 1970's. I remember the first wave of couduroy, Three's Company, Bruce Jenner (not Brody, his worthless spawn), and of course astrology. Growing up a young lad I often watched television shows in which smooth talking dudes opened conversations with foxy ladies by asking them "Hey baby, what's your sign?"

Astrology, as the internet's font of complete wisdom notes, is mere superstition. The idea that the stars can actually influence our lives has been discredited and now merely takes up space in a newspaper that could probably be better spent on advertising. Instead people just use the impossibly vague "predictions" of astrology to confirm what you already think about the world. I now feel very much the same way about economics these days. Allow me to explain.

Economics is a social science, which purports to be able to accurately predict what political and social institutional arrangements will best produce economic growth and prosperity. It does this using assumptions about human behavior (we all have goals and pursue them) and the way that certain institutions (i.e. central banks, tariff laws, the government generally etc.) will help or hurt economic growth.

Here's the problem - they can't agree on ANYTHING. Let's begin at the top. You'd expect that any discipline that has a Nobel Prize awarded to its "top" researchers every year would provide some guidance about what to do during, oh I don't know, a major economic crisis. Well, here is a Nobel Prize winner saying that Obama's stimulus isn't very good. But wait, here's another Nobel Prize winner saying that the stimulus is great, and Obama should make it even bigger.

Ok, you might say, so suppose we go down a notch and look at prominent economists who might not have so much professional prestige tied up in a particular position or research agenda. Surely, they agree on this stimulus, bank bailout bill thingee? No, they don't - at all. These guys, think the stimulus is a bad idea, and they are prominent. This guy, thinks it's a great idea, and he's also prominent.

You might say, ok, the real problem is that politicians are involved, and all of this conflict is just about politics. Well, here you'd be partially right because the Dems are saying that just about any economist of merit supports the stimulus. The folks at Cato, a libertarian group, say no, look, we have a list of 200 economists who oppose the plan.

But that's not enough, in my view to overcome the fundamental problem here - a conflict of normative public policy questions. V.I. Lenin, who for younger readers might be a bit of a mystery, was the first "president" or "leader" of the Soviet Union. Much as Soviet style communism has been discredited, this passage from "The Crisis of Power" is really interesting. Russia in 1917 had a conservative political power base with socialists and communists in opposition. He notes that during a crisis there are basically three choices - the status quo, a blended compromise between the capitalists and their opponents, or a revolution. We know which alternative Russia chose.

While I doubt we are facing a crisis of the same magnitude, Lenin's analysis is about world views, not a scientifically agreed upon consensus of what WILL happen. Instead we are seeing shouting matches about what SHOULD be. That's why this stimulus bill includes the seeds of health care reform and expanding unemployment insurance. That's not stimulative - at all. Those policies represent departures from the years of Reagan and Bush where the supposition was that government didn't play as big a role in people's lives.

So in many ways asking economists about the stimulative impact of this bill misses the point. Democrats and Republicans should come out and simply say what they mean - this is not about a scientifically agreed upon view of economic theory that will help us out of this mess. There simply isn't one, agreed upon view among economists about how to solve this problem.

It's a proposed change, or maybe a revolution, in the role that government will play and it's based on a normative view of the way the world should be. Whether you agree with it or not, the Democrats seem to be promoting a wide expansion in state power, not some scientifically based stimulus. And in many ways it's a return to the 70's when government was bigger.

So we seem to be reliving some bad 1970's movie in which some right-wing Austrian economists wearing Corduroy like this swinging dude are competing with a bunch of hip, polyester wearing John Ritter type Keynesian economists for the attention and affection of the public and politicians. If we have to re-live the 70's, I just hope to God that we can avoid disco, Watergate, and another oil crisis this time around.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Enough Already, Legalize It

Maybe it's lack of sleep from Fundbaby and travel. Maybe it was the conference I attended over the weekend where, at one point, Milton Friedman, Milton Friedman the world renowned defender of capitalism, was attacked as being a statist. Maybe it was all the cough syrup I drank this morning, but I think it's time, seriously, we talked about drug legalization in this country.

This morning one of Mexico's top retired generals was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Cancun, not Juarez or Tijuana, CAN-FRIGGIN-CUN where kids go on spring break. This is the latest in a massive war between Mexican drug cartels and the part of the Mexican government that is not completely corrupt. The war claimed 5,300 lives last year.

Then last week Michael Phelps got caught taking a bong hit. He was then crucified by morons in the media who probably couldn't swim a lap in a kiddie pool. If anything doesn't this show that the guy is an even more amazing athlete? Imagine how good he'd be if he wasn't doing bong hits?

Finally A-Rod tests positive for steroids in 2003, and will now apparently be shot on sight by some Yankee pundits if he even tries to arrive in spring training. A-Rod, by the way, is far and away the best player in baseball.

Barack Obama's life story includes drug use, which he freely admitted. Now the guy is president. Why, why in God's name, does he get a pass when A-Rod and Phelps get tried and convicted by the media? Why did thousands of people die all over the world in drug related violence when most elites probably smoked some pot or snorted some coke at their Ivy League frat houses? Why don't these same elites figure out the astronomical cost of keeping drugs illegal here and in Latin America?

Don't we have better things to worry about, spend money on, and get people killed for than drugs? Let's save some lives in Latin and South America, let some people live peacefully in private here in the US, and stop throwing people in jail for satisfying a demand that seems impossible to control.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Mere Coincidence, I'm Sure

Yesterday Obama announces this executive pay cap on firms that receive government money. Shockingly, today, Goldman Sacks announced it would like to pay the government back - asap.

The only reason I used the word "shockingly" in that previous paragraph was because I was shocked it took them a whole day to decide this. I kind of figure the decision at Goldman took about a millisecond, if that long.

But this does raise an interesting question. How can they pay it back - I thought every bank on Wall Street was broke? Isn't that the reason we gave them 700 billion dollars in the first place? If Goldman can pay the government back this quickly, why did the government give them a huge chunk of our money, and no one seems to know what these friggin banks are doing with the money? I guess since no one bothered to follow-up on how the money was spent, there was no reason to see if Goldman needed the money in the first place - right?

How did Goldman get on this list for government money in the first place? Wait a minute, who did Hank Paulson work for while he was on Wall Street????? Oh yeah, GOLDMAN FRIGGIN SACHS.

And as if God himself wanted to give me a cherry to top this baby off right, the government's own Congressional oversight queen told the folks on the Hill that they probably overpaid for some of the bank assets they bought with the TARP. Gee, you think? Chris Dodd's quote that this finding will "raise some eyebrows" is so priceless I had to laugh. Not as many eyebrows as you getting sweetheart deals on mortgages from Countrywide Chris, but yeah, this should actually raise a few eyebrows and a couple of fists.

Sometimes this blog just writes itself.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Does It Come with Floormats?

Good news if you are a member of the UAW or like those Howie Long truck ads that pollute NFL games on Sunday, the Senate, which is supposed to be the thoughtful side of the Congress, thoughtfully added an 11 billion dollar income tax write-off for the interest and sales tax for anyone who wants to buy a new car - seriously. When I read that I really thought that the ever foxy Senator Barbara Mikulski was kidding. By the way, check out her official Senate page where she has a tab that says "How Can I Help You?" Grrrrrooooowwwwllllll. Absolutely schedule a meeting Senator!

Let's do the math shall we? First, a Republican President decided to give the Big Three 17.4 billion dollars, and I know we are all a little numb from the numbers being kicked around lately, but visually that's $17,400,000,000. That was supposed to last a couple of months. I mean, Mrs. Fundman couldn't go through that much money in a couple of months.

Now they were supposed to come up with a plan to get out of this mess by this month, but they just had the worst January in decades and Chrysler is already saying they need another 3 billion bucks.

The government, the people who couldn't estimate how many fingers I have, are currently projecting that this auto sales perk would cost another 11 billion dollars. Let's say GM is gonna need another 7 billion or so. That puts us at almost 40 billion dollars - for three companies.

Now before I continue, let me remind you this plan is for ALL CARS over 25,000 dollars. So the government will not only be subsidizing buying a Malibu, it will also be subsidizing buying this, and this, and even this.

Moreover, this subsidy to go out and buy more cars comes from the same Barbara Mikulski who voted to increase CAFE standards just a year ago. Now she wants to subsidize rednecks and piston heads buying Hummers and Dodge Trucks with Viper engines.

Car dealers and politicians seem to think that this little plan will encourage "hesitant" buyers onto car lots. You wanna know why people are "hesitant" to buy American cars, aside from the fact that American cars are lousy? It's because they are too busy worrying about losing their jobs, homes, and health insurance. CONGRESS SHOULD NOT BE ENCOURAGING PEOPLE LIKE THAT TO TAKE ON YET MORE DEBT FOR A FIFTH CAR! I mean I thought everyone was in agreement that we had too much debt and that taking on FRIGGIN CAR LOANS when the entire county was tapped out was sort of like sending Keith Richards heroin while he's in re-hab.

Senator, and just about every other member of the Congress, if you want to spend lots of our money on wasteful government projects and Keynesian stimulus, ok. I don't like it, strongly suspect most of it will end up being wasted, and would much rather just be issued a check of my own money. But please, do not additionally encourage my fellow citizens to go out and take on even more debt. We're done; shut down the buffet; we all could use a little debt diet.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Loyalty vs. Practicality

It's clear that Obama won't be emulating one part of the Bush administration and that's its famous loyalty that was written about in books like this one which characterized W's administration as giving blind, unquestioning loyalty to insiders in the face of adversity without a whiff of sensitivity to public opinion or alternative viewpoints.

Still who would have thought that less than one month into his presidency he would have thrown three cabinet level appointments under the bus all of whom were supposedly vetted by the "most rigid" process ever. And at least two more, Eric Holder and Timothy Geithner came under serious attacks for other "issues" in their backgrounds. Well apparently the Obama's people thought rigid meant something a little different than the OED's definition.

First there was Bill Richardson, who as I noted before at least publicly bitched about the back-stabbing. Then today a two-for, with Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer both getting this kind of treatment from the White House for some unpaid taxes. Hell Daschle even got the ole kiss of death, an "absolute" vote of confidence from Obama less than 24 hours ago.

I gotta admit, I'm surprised. Remember when everyone was talking about "the Chicago way" that Obama brought to the White House. Well Old Man Daley (the original Richard J.) would not have done this. In fact as Mike Royko's classic book Boss illustrates, the Chicago Machine was famously loyal to its own even facing far worse than either Daschle or Killefer were accused of.

Part of me kind of likes the fact that Obama rips the rug out from underneath people when they least expect it, but another part of me wonders who the hell was "vetting" these people and how in God's name he thinks he's going to get anyone's loyalty acting this way. Whatever the answer, at least Obama has made working for this administration more like the real world in one way - folks can sure lose their jobs in a hurry.

Monday, February 2, 2009

We All Get Ponies Too!

Yahoo (that means AP) news is reporting that the Senate has added about 100 billion dollars to the spending spree. Republicans are now suggesting that the government provide 4% mortgages to people and $15,000 home buyer tax CREDITS to EVERYONE who buys a home. You read that correctly. The party that purportedly believes in smaller government is pushing for all of that.

Democrats reportedly said in response "Hell yes!"

In related news, beer is now free forever and the government is buying.

A Copycat League

"We could feed a homeless person with all the food on the floor of our house" Mrs. Fundman declared this morning as she and I were surveying the destruction that our Second Annual Super Bowl Fiesta wrought upon our home, and frankly I could not disagree with her - a shocking first. Although to be honest our agreement this morning may also have been born from my hangover which sapped whatever energy I may have had to disagree with her. To her credit she saved me from a mammoth headache by shoving Advil in my hand late last night which I washed down with a big gulp of Malbec.

I vaguely recall watching the game, freaking-out when the UVerse stopped working in the 2nd quarter, watching the Czarina and La Cheapa Chica dance and sing their way through ABBA's Dancing Queen during the sound interruption just before the half, lecturing Fundbaby on the finer points of the Steeler's various blitz schemes, and eating a lot of Velvetta.

But I do recall the earlier parts of the day, and during one of the 769 pregame shows, some former football player was commenting on the league-wide revival of the 3-4 defense that the Steelers used this past season. This guy, along with mis-using the phrase ironic about 7 times, not very originally noted that the NFL was a "copycat league" and cited how the schemes of successful teams, such as the West Coast offense and Tampa-2 defense, become the models for others throughout the league.

Well Friday the Republicans continued that tradition by electing, of all things, a middle aged, good looking, African American lawyer, as the head of their party. Where could they possibly have gotten that idea from? If a Martian had been elected president would the GOP have chosen a Martian party chair?

Yes leave it to the GOP to make PT Barnum look relevant once again. I mean how friggin dumb do politicians think people are? So like 2 months after losing an election to a black man, the Republicans nominate a black man to be their party chair, and the guy has won exactly one election in his entire career, lost at least two other elections, including a Republican primary, and did a pretty lousy job as Maryland GOP chair.

The hilarious thing about this, is that when I did a Google search for Michael Steele in blogs I got this collection of hits. Now I didn't go past page three (hey, I do have a job), but none, NONE of the blogs mentioned the obvious reason the Republicans chose him - cause he's black. Folks on the left, like this guy, probably aren't sure if they can write about the hypocrisy of it because they are so afraid of sounding racist. And folks on the right are probably too embarrassed, and frankly unaccustomed, to discussing race, so all they are talking about are his views on guns and his stupid quote on stem cell research.

But if you listen to all the "mini" Limbaughs of the world like this guy, they are angry that he looks pretty unqualified without the race thing. I'd say it will take them about 4 days to start turning on Steele and his inclusiveness strategy.

I'm not saying the Republicans shouldn't try to do something different, and imitation is supposed to be the highest form of flattery. Losing elections forces parties to try attract more voters. And who knows, today's GOP may successfully reach out to blacks, tofu eating dupe smoking hippies, and radical feminists. Monkeys may also fly out of my ass later today.

To be fair there's been a lot of change in the composition of the duopoly in U.S. history. As much as we may forget it, Democrats used to be the party of farmers while Republicans were the party of urban dwellers. Democrats used to be a Southern party, and Republicans used to be moderates. And of course it was a Republican president who ended slavery, and a Democratic Congress that blocked Civil Rights Legislation for years.

But there's a big difference between trying something "new" and just "imitating" your successful opponents. Teams that copied the "West Coast" offense didn't do so well. The San Francisco 49ers who originated the "West Coast" offense won a ton of Super Bowls. Losers imitate winners. Winners innovate.

And frankly I think we need more differences between the Republicans and Democrats, not fewer differences.