Sunday, December 30, 2012

Who Can We Put on the Boat with Piers Morgan?

The White House petition to deport Piers Morgan for his lack of respect to our Constitution in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy has reached 93,683 signatures. And if that's not a good enough start, he has promised to self-deport.

Michael Moore - "But I really believe that even if we had better gun control laws and better mental health, that we would still be the sort of sick and twisted, violent people that we've been for hundreds of years." Get on the boat.

Other Blowhard Pontificators - Rachel Maddow, you can stay if you can trick Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Al Sharpton into getting on the boat. The deal is we'll slip Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh on too.

Oprah and Ellen - Can stay. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

Barbra Steisand - Let's face it, Barbra, you jumped the shark in 1981 with your Golden Raspberry nominated role in All Night Long. It was all downhill from there: Yentl, The Prince of Tides, The Mirror Has Two Faces. Time has exposed The Way We Were, your supposedly great opus with Robert Redford, to be nothing but an apology for Stalin's crimes and date rape. And, you ruined the two Focker sequels. Bye Bye Babs.

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock - Don't think of this one-way trip as being raped from the country of your birth but as a legitimate gift from God.

Joe Biden - Enough said. Barack and Hillary, just tell Joe the trip is for a foreign dignitary's funeral, and then don't let him back in.

Sean Penn - You say no one in your life of romance has ever loved you, but you blew your multiple chances with Robin Wright Princess Buttercup. Git.

Alec Baldwin - You were safe until 30 Rock jumped the shark. If it's any consolation, you can play Piers in the movie Piers' Ark.

Karl Rove - You're taking James Carville, Paul Begala, and Dick Morris with you.

Arianna Huffington - Are you still here? Well, it's time to go.

Bill Maher - I know you wouldn't want to be left off this list. You get to take along your old guests Ann Coulter, Janeane Garofalo, and Christine O'Donnell.

Oh, by the way, Canada isn't far enough, if that's what you were thinking. Your destination is Afghanistan. The boat will let you off in Tartus, Syria and you can walk the 3800 kilometers from there. I'm told Iraq and Iran are pretty this time of year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012 from Left Bank of the Charles

St. Anthony's School in Somerville.

Boston Common with the State House in the background.

Charles Durning Dances Another Little Sidestep

The actor Charles Durning has passed away at age 89.

"Now they see me now they don't, I've come and gone."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

$6.66 Billion for NRA School Shield Program, ...
Or 110 Community Service Hours for NRA Members

Wayne LaPierre put forth the National Rifle Association proposal on gun violence in schools on Friday:
"I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation."
John Boehner sent the House home Thursday, so LaPierre's call for Congress to act Friday was firing an empty chamber. Here's the outline of the multifaceted program the NRA wants to develop nationwide:
1. Armed security
2. Building design and access control
3. Information technology
4. Student and teacher training
Armed security failed at Columbine and Fort Hood, information technology failed at Virginia Tech, building design and access control failed at Sandy Hook, and the student and teacher training at Sandy Hook saved some lives but not the 26 that were lost. That's four more empty chambers.

OK, sure, improvements in those four areas could no doubt be made. Still, it takes a lot of brass to come forward now with a plan to make the NRA the lead consultant on a massive public spending project.

The Sandy Hook tragedy at its root is the story of a law-abiding gun owner, the kind of good guy the NRA likes to hold up as being our first and last line of defense from the bad guys, letting her lethal arsenal of guns fall into the wrong hands. That those were the hands of the troubled son who lived with her and shot her first should give any gun owner pause for introspection, and perhaps a little atonement.

I would have liked to see the NRA speak to gun owners on the need to keep semi-automatic weapons securely locked up and on not keeping guns in your home if you have a troubled member of your household. They could encourage such people to install gun safes at their gun club or rifle range to keep their gun collection there, or forgo owning any guns. That would be helpful and responsible.

Instead, the NRA gave us a "Guns Don't Kill People, Video Games Do" speech loaded with overheated rhetoric like this:
"Our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters -- people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them."
Crazy is just not that hard to understand. The NRA also failed to call for the states who are refusing to participate fully in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to upload all their records on criminals and mentally ill. And the NRA failed to call for making it easier to put mentally unbalanced people who haven't been institutionalized on the No Buy list.

That brings us back around to the proposal for armed security in every single school. That's not as crazy as it sounds. A lot of schools have a police presence already. One of my cousins was a Detroit Police Officer for 25 years, and left the force to take a security job at a high school in the suburbs. Currently, these school cops are focused on drug crimes and violence by students, which doesn't seem as necessary at the elementary school level. But the outside security threat may be just as great or greater.

I don't know that it would be so terrible if young school kids had to walk past a nice uniformed policeman several times every day. That might help teach them that cops are good guys, as well as keep them safe. But how much would it cost?

There are 132,183 K-12 schools in the United States (98,817 public, 33,366 private). The average salary of a police patrol officer is $50,406. To put just one police officer in every school would cost $6.66 billion.

Who would pay? That works out to just $1,550 a year for each of the 4.3 million NRA members in the U.S. Or a more affordable $83 per year if spread out across all the estimated 80 million gun owners in the U.S.

The NRA, of course, proposes that taxpayers pay. That would be $48 per year per U.S. income taxpayer. If we stick the top 1% with the full tax bill, that's just $483 per year for the privilege of being rich and the satisfaction of funding safer schools. Well, that's the one policeman cost for 1, I don't have an estimate for 2, 3, and 4.

If we are going to impose taxes, and NRA board member Grover Norquist has a no tax pledge to fight off any talk of that, I'd suggest taxing the $10 billion of firearms sold in the U.S. every year. That would add only $666 to the cost of each gun, raising the MSRP of a Bushmaster Quad Rail A3 from $1,391.48 to $2,057.76. Of course, hunters might feel their breech-loading shotguns and bolt-action rifle which are actually protected under the Second Amendment were being unfairly taxed for the sins of their cousins, so we might want to design a progressive tax that hits the privilege of owning semi-automatics more heavily than protected Second Amendment arms.

To be fair, the NRA is only calling for police officers in schools as a temporary stopgap. After that, the NRA wants to make use of local volunteers:
"The National Rifle Association knows that there are millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school."
How much volunteer time are we talking about? To provide security 10 hours a day for the 180 day school year, time enough to cover before and after school activities as well as the average 6.7 hours of instructional time, works out to 240 million hours of service annually.

That's just 55 hours of community service a year for each NRA member. I imagine they'll want to do this service on the buddy system, so let's make it 110 hours of community service per year. Now that would be something in the way of atonement.

School is out for the Christmas break, but I can just see the NRA member volunteers huddled in the cold in front of our school buildings in January and February. While they are there, they can answer any questions that parents might have, and I imagine there will be a few parents with a few things to tell them.

But my advice for Wayne LaPierre and Grover Norquist is not to pull their guard duty together. Grover prattling on about how the school shield can be paid for with no tax increase by cutting art and music while Wayne moans about having to amputate his cold, frostbitten fingers would just be too much to take.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Can Still Get the MAG5-60 for Christmas

The $179 100-round magazine is out of stock due to tremendous demand and heavily backordered, but SureFire wants you to know that their $129 60-round mags are available now. At 2 pounds each fully loaded, that's a little lighter load than the 3.3 pound 100-round mag. Or you can get two, for 20% more total firepower.

Both magazines are compatible with M4/M16/AR-15 variants and other firearms that accept standard STANAG 4179 magazines. Best of all, FREE HOLIDAY SHIPPING! That's free ground shipping on all orders of $40.00 or more. To ensure delivery by Christmas, orders must be placed by:
Noon on Wednesday, December 13, 2012 for Standard Ground shipments
Noon on Thursday, December 20, 2012 for 2nd Day shipments
Noon on Friday, December 21, 2012 for Overnight shipments
Actually, December 13, the day before the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a Thursday. The shooter is reported to have had 30-round magazines, which some of us might be excused for thinking is already way more than enough. But if 30 is not enough for you, SureFire will ship overnight to 41 states (not including Massachusetts).

The Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle shown costs around $1,391.48. You have to pass a background check to get one of these, unless you buy one at a gun show, or find one your mother left lying around the house. It comes with the standard 30-round magazine. I've shouldered an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle like this myself. It's kind of fun, although the friend whose gun it was commented on my poor marksmanship by suggesting I buy a shotgun.

What about ammunition, always a great stocking stuffer? The Ammunition Depot has this notice on its website:
Dear Customers - If any particular ammo is listed on our website, it is in stock. Due to dramatic increase in ammunition demand, please allow 7 to 10 extra days for us to process, ship and email your tracking information. Please understand that the reason we've had to raise prices is due to sharp increases in replacement costs in the wholesale market, which we hope will be temporary.
All of these purchases are protected by the Second Amendment right? Wrong.

Now don't get me wrong. I believe the Second Amendment means what it says, "the right to bear arms shall not be infringed." But no less a gun nut than U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (554 U.S. 570 (2008)):
(1) The majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.

(2) Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

(3) We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those "in common use at the time." 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons."
You see, most of what you hear about Second Amendment rights, including that old chestnut about having to join a well-regulated militia (don't have to, never did), is actually wrong. Yes, you have a right to keep a loaded handgun in your nightstand so that an intruder has something to shoot you with in your sleep or point at you when you wake up, but that's about it. Owning a semi-automatic handgun or rifle is a privilege, not a right.

I'm glad to see that the National Rifle Association has said it will offer meaningful contributions to the national debate on what we should do now. I've been to their headquarters in Virginia. They gave me a copy of Wayne LaPierre's book Guns, Crime, and Freedom. I read it. On the other side, the proponents of gun prohibition need to rethink whether their equally hardline positions just reinforce the not-so-erroneous perception that any proposal for needed regulation is a pretext for infringement of the Second Amendment.

I'm not saying it's time for all semi-automatic weapon owners to stack arms, although under the Second Amendment all you are really entitled to is a revolver, breech-loading shotgun, and bolt-action rifle. Anything more is a privilege that can be taken away anytime enough Americans are ready to do so. If we don't get better background checks and screening in place, and get gun owners to lock these semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines up tight when not in use, it is going to come to that.

There's a little thing about "life" and "property" in the U.S. Constitution too. And, dear gun owners, if you want to get yourself something for Christmas, may I suggest a very good gun safe. You'll sleep better and may live to see Christmas morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Susan Rice Sandbagged for Secretary of State

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has bowed out of the running to replace Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State. So who sandbagged her nomination?

(1) Susan Rice, who read the foolish talking points about spontaneous demonstrations in Benghazi on four Sunday TV talk shows.

(2) John McCain, who would prefer his old friend John Kerry for the job, especially after the sacking of his favorite general David Petraeus at CIA.

(3) Barack Obama, who didn't back up his "you have a problem with me" tough talk.

(4) Hillary Clinton, Susan's boss and supposed mentor who has been deafeningly silent.

(5) James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence whose office provided the ill-fated talking points.

Here's the thing. September 2012 was Susan Rice's job interview and she muffed it. Hillary Clinton was announced to be retiring, Barack Obama was odds-on for reelection. In the post Iraq War era, the successful candidate for U.S. Secretary of State checks the facts on what the intelligence community gives her. And if what they tells her proves false, she comes up with a better explanation than "I read what they told me to read."

However, it is worth asking whether Susan Rice was set up. "Here, I swear this is true, go read this on TV, I've booked you for four shows. Yes, make the same points on all four." Call me a Susan Rice truther, but I'm not buying that the Susan Rice implosion is a case of spontaneous combustion. Still, she flunked the job interview.

What would a successful job applicant have done? "Yes, hey, these talking points look great, you know I'd love to come on these shows, but I've got a prior family commitment that I just can't get out of. Hillary is really not available? How about we send John Kerry?"

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tea Party Libertarian Rand Paul Offers a Deal

The spirit of bipartisanship sometimes comes from unexpected corners. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman and perennial Presidential candidate Ron Paul, has offered to give Democrats the road on higher taxes:
"Why don't we let the Democrats pass whatever they want? If they are the party of higher taxes, all the Republicans in the House vote present and let the Democrats raise taxes as high as they want to raise them, let Democrats in the Senate raise taxes, let the President sign it and then they can own a tax increase."
And just to be clear, Rand Paul pledged not to filibuster such a deal.
"In the Senate, I'm happy not to filibuster it, and I will announce tonight on your show that I will work with Harry Reid to let him pass his big old tax hike with a simple majority if that's what Harry Reid wants, because then they will become the party of high taxes and they can own it."
That's an interesting offer as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can get the deal done for President Obama if he can find several more Republicans willing to break with a Republican filibuster.

Senator Rand Paul doesn't speak for the House, but if the Tea Party Caucus abstains by voting present, the Democrats in the House should have enough votes to pass the tax increase even if all the other Republicans vote no. With recent reports that House Speaker Boehner has been purging Tea Party representatives from key House committees, they may well be disinclined to support Boehner's holdout position much longer.

The problem Rand Paul has with the establishment Republican position is that it is a tax hike too. "Let's don't be the party of just almost as high taxes," he says and he isn't the only one who noticed.

To get back to a fiscal balance, tax revenues have to be raised and spending has to be cut. Republicans as much as Democrats own the idea that we can paper over that truth with borrowed money. The idea that you can force big spending cuts by running up big debts doesn't work and is recklessly irresponsible. Setting the taxes at the level to support the spending just might work, as then the public will feel the full cost of the spending.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just What Would I Do with $550 Million?

What would I do with $550 million? I will never have that problem, even if I win the "$550 million" Powerball drawing at 11:00 pm EST this evening. But it's fun to think about I would do with all that money.

(1) Choose the cash option not the annuity option. The cash option is estimated at $360.2 million. To get the full $550 million I would have to take it in annual installment payments over 30 years. The first installment would only be around $9,806,555 (before taxes) and grows each year to a final payment in 30 years of around $30,583,225. In the meantime, the state sits on my money, forget that.

(2) Pay the income taxes. I don't want to end up in jail like Survivor winner Richard Hatch who failed to report his $1 million in winnings. Assuming I have to pay a combined federal/state rate of 38.45%, that would chop off $138,478,890 and leave me with $221,721,110. That sucks but I knew that going in.

By the way, if I don't get the check until next year, I would potentially get hit with an extra $29,378,632 in federal taxes at the higher 46.6% rate that may apply. The fiscal cliff just stopped being funny.

And, if I took the annuity option, the total taxes over 30 years adds up to $256,306,600, an additional $88,449,078, so it's not like I'd really be getting the full $550 million that way either.

(3) Set aside $20 million or so for charity, by creating a private foundation or donor-advised fund. That will save me $7 million in taxes up front and let me dole out $1 million a year to worthy causes.

(4) Get a thousand $100 bills I can pass out for a couple of days like Rockefeller used to hand out dimes, and a couple hundred $1,000 bills for close friends and family. OK, they took the $1,000 bill out of circulation so maybe it will have to be gold coins for the friends and family.

(5) Move to Oregon, which has no sales tax, the government already took its cut. Portlandia, here I come. If I am going to spend this money, I want to do it from a nice condo in the Pearl District. Nothing too fancy, $1 million should do it.

(6) Put $3 million into farmland, perhaps a few hundred acres in Yamhill County, something I can tell all my Cambridge friends is a winery and all my Iowa friends is a ranch. Then, because grapes and cattle are too much work, I'll find some lazy farmer to seed it down and cut it for hay a few times a year.

(7) Buy a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, $32,320 MRP, 31-34 mpg and no bailout.

(8) Buy a new laptop, $2,000 should cover a 13 inch MacBook Air with retina display and a few accessories.

(9) Buy a case of Dark Chocolate M&Ms. I can't find them anywhere but on the internet. It looks like I could get a gross of 12.6 ounce packages from for $469.20.

(10) That would leave me with $175 million, which if I invested in the stock market would give off about $3.5 million in dividends each year. The tax man's cut could be as much as $1.6 million, leaving me with $1.9 million a year. I could live on that.

I bought 2 QuickPicks for $4 earlier this evening. I don't consider it gambling because I know I'm almost certainly going to lose. It's a $4 entertainment, more than 2 trips to RedBox, less than going to a movie.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Add the Anti-Tax Pledge to the Mayan Prophecy

Fiscal cliff, taxmageddon, you'd think Washington, DC was about to slip into the abyss of the Mayan prophecy. But rather than the world ending on December 21, 2012, the U.S. Congress will probably just take its usual Christmas vacation.

Will they have a deal? Won't they have a deal? A lot is being made to depend on whether enough Republicans break the Grover Norquist Americans for Tax Reform Pledge not to raise taxes. Here's why you should add that to the list of things you don't really need to follow:

The Pledge is toothless. How toothless? Well just compare the Pledge asks from U.S. Senators and Congressman to the Pledge he asks from state legislators:
State: "I pledge that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

Federal: I pledge that I will ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."
Anyone can plainly see the big gaping difference between "any and all efforts to increase taxes" in the state pledge and that mishmash of words in the federal pledge. The U.S. Congress can pass any tax in any amount it wants without breaking with Grover Norquist, as long as it's not a "marginal" income tax rate increase or a "net" reduction in deductions and credits.

Any real promise to hold spending in line so taxes won't have to be raised has already been broken. We've already run up $16 trillion in debt under the not-so-watchful eye of the Pledge. Since deficit spending = future taxation we've already decided to raise taxes. When and how is just a detail.

Consider this. The Bush tax cuts were extended from their original expiration date of 12/31/2010 to expire on 12/31/2012. Would letting them expire and thereby allowing tax rates to rise on 1/1/2013 break the Pledge? Grover Norquist didn't seem to think so in July 2011:
"Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase."
If Republicans can just let the tax cuts expire without breaking the Pledge, then they can also agree to set the income tax rates on 1/1/2013 at any level up to the higher rates that would otherwise apply. They don't have to wait until 1/1/2013 to make such a deal and exempting even one person would make it a "tax cut."

The so-called Buffett Rule doesn't break the Pledge. Warren Buffett's latest version is for Congress to enact a minimum tax on high incomes at 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million and 35 percent on income above that. That's less than the current top marginal income tax rate of 35% so no Pledge to break here folks.

The Pledge doesn't even have enough adherents to stop a tax increase. The Democrats have a majority in the U.S. Senate along with 6 Republicans who haven't signed the pledge and a few others who say they don't feel bound by it any longer. Grover Norquist can't even mount a filibuster. In the U.S. House, only 17 Republican votes are needed to go with the Democrats and at least 16 Republicans declined to sign the Pledge with several others publicly ready to sign off. As long as Republican Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are on board the deal, it can't be stopped in the U.S. House.

So don't worry, Pledge or no Pledge, President Obama and the U.S. Congress will save us from going off the fiscal cliff and into taxmageddon, they just haven't decided whether to "save" us before we reach the precipice or "catch" us on the way down. This is just Daylight Savings Time. The extra hour we get back is the one they previously took away.

So what's really a stake here? The question is what kind of reform Republicans can get in return for giving up their Pledge. They want entitlement reform but I would have them go for constitutional reform.

You do have to admire Grover Norquist for his tenacity:
"Deadlock or gridlock is better than moving in the wrong direction. Stasis for the last two years has been a big improvement over heading in the wrong direction."
However, the strategy of allowing federal budget deficits to run up crippling debts by not raising taxes in the hopes that somewhere years down the road some future Congress and President will agree to spending cuts simply doesn't work. What would work is giving the people a direct say in major tax and spending decisions via a ballot question process.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Her Best Understanding of the Intelligence

President Obama gave a spirited defense of his U.N. Ambassador yesterday:
"But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
I'm not sure if I were Susan Rice I would like being thrown under the "her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her" and the "simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received" bus.

I will say this about Susan Rice and that Sunday she made the rounds with the spontaneous demonstration to an anti-muslim YouTube video story. The four dead Americans, including fellow Ambassador Christopher Stephens, were the least of her, and our, problems.

The U.S. faced demonstrations against our embassies in Egypt and some 23 countries all told, with the Palestinians waiting in the wings to press their statehood demands at the U.N. session that was about to begin. The demonstrations were pretextually about the YouTube video, her statements essentially accused the demonstrators in those other countries of complicity in the Benghazi deaths, and her work helped defuse the crisis.

Susan Rice's problem is she can't be praised for that directly, as doing so would undermine her exemplary work. Was there coordination between the 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the 9/11 demonstrations at the U.S. embassy in Cairo? Think about it. A planned attack is made against a U.S. diplomatic facility and spontaneous demonstrations erupt against other U.S. diplomatic facilities.

Yes, the YouTube video was a pretext, as was the "spontaneity" of the demonstrations, but it was their pretext not our pretext. I see what Ambassador Rice did as blunting the enemy attack. Essentially, she was parroting back the enemy's dishonest cover story, and in the process made their purported cause look ridiculous. Her fault is that she did that a little too well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Inviolable Jill Kelley

Jill Kelley's business card reads:
Social Liaison, Unpaid, Tampa
So far Jill has ruined the careers of two four-star generals, one the CIA Director and the other the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, a lieutenant colonel, an FBI agent, and very likely a South Korean diplomat.

The one I feel sorry for is the hapless FBI agent. As a favor to the foxy brunette with the twin sister he initiated an FBI cyberstalker investigation. In the course of said investigation his colleagues found that he had previously sent said foxy brunette pictures of himself shirtless.

A 911 call Jill made Sunday to get rid of the reporters camped out at her house exposed the South Korean connection:
"I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property. I don’t know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well, because that’s against the law to cross my property because, you know, it's inviolable."
Jill has been driving her Mercedes around Tampa with license places that say "Honorary Consul" and no doubt exercising her inviolability to park in handicap spaces and in front of fire hydrants. That was courtesy of some yet-to-be-named South Korean official.

The South Korean government had this to say:
"She will be relieved from the symbolic post if she is found to be problematic."
And you know that word "if" is just being diplomatic.

Personally, I blame Hollywood. Jill is just playing the Julia Roberts character in Charlie Wilson's War, the slutty Houston socialite with an honorary ambassadorship intent on world domination. Jill just moved the location from Houston to Tampa.

Update: The shirtless FBI agent has been identified as a Frederick W. Humphries II. The New York Times has posted this curiosity:
"On Wednesday afternoon, a man standing in the driveway of Mr. Humphries's home who appeared to be him said, in response to questions from a reporter for The New York Times, that his first name was not Fred. The man then walked into the house, closed the front door and did not respond to the door bell's being rung several times."
Even I could tell you that men named Frederick W. Humphries II do not answer to Fred. Humphries does have something the usual Frederick W. Humphries II would not have, a union rep. Lawrence Berger, the general counsel for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association has taken up Humphries defense.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

David Frum Tells Conservatives to Not Despair

David Frum addressed this CNN article to conservatives, but it should also be addressed to libertarians.
"The United States did not vote for socialism."
Don't despair he says, and how right he is:
Compare the United States of 2012 to the United States of 1962. Leave aside the obvious points about segregation and discrimination, and look only at the economy.

In 1962, the government regulated the price and route of every airplane, every freight train, every truck and every merchant ship in the United States. The government regulated the price of natural gas. It regulated the interest on every checking account and the commission on every purchase or sale of stock. Owning a gold bar was a serious crime that could be prosecuted under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The top rate of income tax was 91%.

It was illegal to own a telephone. Phones had to be rented from the giant government-regulated monopoly that controlled all telecommunications in the United States. All young men were subject to the military draft and could escape only if they entered a government-approved graduate course of study. The great concern of students of American society -- of liberals such as David Riesman, of conservatives such as Russell Kirk, and of radicals such as Dwight Macdonald -- was the country's stultifying, crushing conformity.
It is unclear with whom libertarians should align at this moment in our nation's political history, and many split the difference by aligning with Obama and Boehner. Reid, by the way, is just the impeachment nonsense stopper.

We have crossed a line, and it isn't about makers and takers. Too many women voted Democratic on the single issue of reproductive freedom for the last two Republican nominees to reach Presidential viability.

As far as the Hispanic immigration menace, I'm not worried. A full 40% of my nieces and nephews are Hispanic. Akin and Mourdock can't be blamed for losing the Hispanic vote.

Election returns are the one objective fact in politics. But still, even after 2012, I suspect Republican candidates will continue to self-abort and self-deport.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Paula Broadwell Claims "I'm Not in Love with David Petraeus"

Was Paula Broadwell all in? Cue the video to 10:08. Paula Broadwell tells interviewer Arthur Kade back in February 2012:
"It's not a hagiography. I'm not in love with David Petraeus"

I considered buying her book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. It's authored by Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb.
Q: Since when does a biograher need a ghostwriter?
A: When she needs a beard.
I didn't buy the book. I guess I knew.

A lot of other people knew too. And that may explain the recent books on Dwight Eisenhower and their fascination with Kay Summersby.
The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower by Stephen E. Ambrose (reissued in paperback January 2012)

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith (February 2012)

Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas (September 2012)

Eisenhower Was My Boss by Kay Summersby (reissued in paperback September 2012)

Eisenhower: The White House Years by Jim Newton (October 2012)
I might buy one of those. Or I might go straight to the source:
Crusade in Europe by Dwight David Eisenhower

Counterinsurgency Field Manual by Lt. General David Petraeus and Lt. General James F Amos
Today is Veteran's day. I, for one, will take this moment to thank David Petraeus for his service to our country. His immediate tender of his resignation shows he would not subject his CIA tenure to blackmail or compromise.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Florida, the West Hasn't Gotten Its Vote In Either

It's two days after the election and we aren't just waiting for Florida. Take a look at the estimated percentage of the vote that is in the Western states.
68% in Alaska
75% in Oregon
55% in Washington
69% in California
71% in Arizona
That is a lot of missing votes, as many as 7 million in my estimation. That's not going to change the outcome of the election. It will increase the vote totals, both for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Right now, the popular vote is at 61 million to 58 million, but it could really be 65 million to 61 million.

What difference does it make? John McCain polled roughly 60 million votes in 2008, so that is the difference between McCain's total decreasing or increasing for the Republicans.

It could also be the difference between a 2% or 3% margin of victory for President Obama, a betting proposition at Intrade. Better read the fine print, bets settle at midday Friday but who knows when the votes will come in.

Where are the rest of the ballots? In the mail. The effect of vote-by-mail is that the Post Office gets to hold the ballots from Election Day until it feels like getting around to delivering them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

President Obama Is Alive, Speaker Pelosi is Still Dead

Gridlock can be a wonderful thing. Most Americans love their country just fine the way it is. There are things we would reform, but only around the edges. President Barack Obama is reelected, but U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is also returned.

That's two losses in a row for former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She should exit stage left. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should also go, but through the grace of God and the gift of bad Republican candidates forfeiting easy wins, Harry retains his majority. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, exit stage right, please.

Does this election solve any of our self-created problems? No, but the message from America is to get on with it. We're not going back to the squandered hopes and dreams of 2008, or 2010, we're going forward!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

More than One Way to Steal an Election

Election Day greetings from Tip O'Neil's hometown, our fair city, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I voted today at the Cambridge National Guard Armory.

There was no line. But I did have to wait at the check-in table for the poll worker to finish his conversation with a Cambridge cop about Hurricane Sandy.

The guy at the ballot box was also engrossed in conversation. "Oh, did you just put one in?" he asked. "Just one?" I answered.

The other rooms in the building were locked up tight and these signs were everywhere:

"This is a military installation, not a public or private building. You are guests allowed to use this facility. Don't move or take anything."

I did hold still while I took this picture.

Confident Predictions of an Obama Victory

At 1:45 AM EST, the wags give Obama between an 11 to 1 or 2 to 1 advantage to win when the votes are counted later today. I'd take the 11 to 1 shot for Romney, that's a good bet, even if he loses.

I've always thought that if Romney had a chance to win this election, he would. It should be remembered that not all roads to victory lead through Ohio. On the other hand, I've never seen the Democrats I know more motivated.

Candidate Obama Obama Romney Obama Romney Obama Romney
Result Odds Electors Electors U.S. U.S. Ohio Ohio
RCP   303 235 48.8% 48.1% 50.0% 47.1%
NYT 538 92.0% 315.2 223 50.9% 48.2% 51.4% 47.6%
Intrade 67.9% 290 249 50.5% 49.5% ^ v
Betfair 78.4%            
HuffPo   271 191 48.1% 46.7% 49.2% 45.8%
Politico   303 235 48.0% 48.0% 50.0% 47.1%
Gallup       49.0% 50.0%    
Rasmussen       48.0% 49.0% 49.0% 49.0%
CNN       49.0% 49.0%    
ABC/WaPo       50.0% 47.0%    
NBC/WSJ       48.0% 47.0% 51.0% 45.0%
Pew       50.0% 47.0%    
Actual   332 206 50.6% 47.9% 50.1% 48.2%

You might ask, why not forget the polls and just vote? Well, there is a certain category of fair-weather voter who likes to vote for the winner. There is another category of voter who likes to vote for the underdog, but by definition that is a smaller category. That means in a very close election "I'm going to win" is how you get those last swing voters.

In the perfect campaign, the candidate would collect both the underdog vote and the fair-weather vote, by targeted messaging of "I'm going to lose" and "I'm going to win." Could it be that the Obama campaign is just that smart?

Update: Now that we have the "official" results from Florida, it would appear that the predictions of an Obama victory weren't confident enough.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Another 25 Cynical Reasons to Vote for Barack Obama

My first 25 cynical reasons to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 worked out well. I had my taxes cut by 30% (#2). Cindy and John got their leisurely retirement (#6) as there has been nothing going on in the U.S. Senate. The iocane powder trick (#18) is still awaiting deployment against Iran. Here are 25 even more cynical reasons to vote for Barack Obama in 2012:

(1) For limited government and putting America first, a do-nothing socialist is better than a can-do empire builder.

(2) Katy Perry looks better than Kid Rock in a skintight bodysuit. Forward!

(3) Depriving Bill Clinton the honor of being the only Democrat reelected President since World War II is the best revenge. Vote for revenge.

(4) The magic underpants refrain Chris Matthews has planned to prattle on and on about for the duration of the Romney Presidency will fit just as well on Harry Reid.

(5) Malia Obama will turn 18 on July 4, 2016. Keeping Malia in the White House could be more fun than the Bush twins.

(6) Have you seen the resumes or checked the references of the 12 million people Mitt Romney wants you to hire?

(7) With a father from Mexico and a wife whose family came to the U.S. through Canada, Mitt Romney’s secret plan to forge a North American Union will be thwarted.

(8) Mitt’s charge of currency manipulation by China is our 25% off sale. What’s the list price for one of those new Jeeps made in China?

(9) Vladimir Putin will be surprised to find out what Barack Obama really meant by having more flexibility after the election, flexing his driver even more on the golf course.

(10) Why cut Medicare just for those under age 55? Hey, I’m under age 55. Obamacare cutting $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade is a good start toward having something left.

(11) Mitt’s tax plan proposes an expansion of the 47% by exempting interest, dividends, and capital gains for non-job-creating couch potatoes sitting on up to $10 million in stock and bond inheritances.

(12) We know U.S. House Speaker John Boehner won’t give Barack Obama a dime in tax increases, but under the ruse of tax reform he might raise taxes for Mitt Romney.

(13) Without President Obama, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts Scott Brown will have no one to bipartisanship with.

(14) A reelected President Barack Obama will send Vice President Joe Biden to Benghazi on the next apology tour. I don’t know what that means, I just read it on the internet.

(15) Come to find out, Mitt Romney wrote the blueprint for the auto bailout as well as for Obamacare.

(16) Mitt Romney failed to answer correctly Clint Eastwood’s question, if we are going to set a target date for withdrawal, why not bring them home tomorrow morning? If you can't bring yourself to vote for Obama, write in Eastwood.

(17) Lutherans don’t let other Lutherans vote Republican.

(18) John McCain sent me $1 during the 2008 campaign, so surely the Koch brothers could have sent me $50. I’m willing to let them buy the election, just not so cheap.

(19) If Barack Obama loses, the mainstream media will accuse you of racism, but if Obama wins, you can remain racist in peace.

(20) Obama will win anyway, and you want to able to pass the life detector test on who you voted for at the gulag reeducation camp.

(21) The Tea Party free zone that Mitt Romney created will dissipate after Obama is reelected. I miss the entertainment provided by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

(22) Rachel Maddow will be able to pursue her equal pay claim against MSNBC, as will Erin Burnett against CNN.

(23) Mitt Romney is such a flip-flopper he can’t be trusted to keep his promise to kill Big Bird. Turns out Big Bird was listed in his binders full of women.

(24) Gallup says a full 22% of LGBT voters support Romney, and those are the ones who want to get married.

(25) Sure, Barack may run the debt up to $20 trillion, but on his last day in office he can produce his Kenyan birth certificate and all those IOUs are rendered invalid since he was never legally President.

Canvassing for Donuts

I caught up today with the vaunted Obama ground game, at the local Dunkin's Donuts.

All Quiet at the Romney Headquarters in Boston

The news dispatches from the various battleground states keep coming in, but all appeared quiet Sunday at the Mitt Romney national campaign headquarters on Commercial Street along the waterfront in Boston's North End.

I did see a few people go in and out as well as people working in some of the offices, and that bus may be bound for New Hampshire, but there was no visible sign of the Romney campaign.

The back of the office buildings is on the Boston Harbor waterfront, with a dilapidated pier just waiting for a James Bond finish. That steeple in the background is the Old North Church.

I did see a flag in one window, and on closer examination it proved to be the lone star flag of the State of Texas.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Katy Perry Puts an Exclamation on Forward!

Sometime in the last few days the Obama campaign changed it's slogan from the lame "Forward." to the more compelling "Forward!". But it was Katy Perry who really added the exclamation point at a rally in Wisconsin (where, coincidentally, the state motto is also Forward):

The stage trick was for Katy to strip off this more conservative outfit to reveal the very forward body suit:

Katy did the same stage trick a couple of days earlier in Las Vegas starting from this dress:

The Vegas body suit was a little more flattering, perhaps because it has Mitt Romey's name scrawled across the bottom:

Joe Biden almost got lost in the folds, the lucky old dog, but Paul Ryan got left on the cutting room floor, the victim of a short skirt. I'd like to examine that ballot, and not for hanging chads.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Did Nate Silver Just Blink? Or Wink?

The headline at dated November 3, 2012, 9:33 am:

For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will Lower Manhattan Need to Be Evacuated?

This crane dangling over Midtown Manhattan may be the iconic image of Hurricane Sandy hitting New York City. It has supposedly been secured to the building and another crane will be installed to remove the damaged one. But how long will that take?

How long will it take? is the question that hangs over Manhattan, with many residents especially in lower Manhattan without water and electricity for 48 hours. There were fights today as residents lined up for crowded city buses to get them off the island. Others walked out over the bridges.

New Yorkers are famously tough, and they can last a few days without water service. Most buildings have large water tanks on the roof. Standard practice is to fill the bathtubs to have water to flush the toilets. But at some point that runs out.

The subway system is supposed to reopen tomorrow, but what percentage of the system will be operating and in what neighborhoods? While large parts of the city may be up and running without problems, that doesn't necessarily help the neighborhoods that are still down.

With Long Island and New Jersey also in tatters we may have a very large problem looming if services across the city and region don't get put back to normal in the next day or two. In the meantime, it is Occupy Wall Street on a large scale.

Update 11/1: ConEd is saying they will have the power back on in lower Manhattan by Saturday but it could be out another week in other places. Mayor Bloomberg wants to go ahead with the New York City Marathon on Sunday. Organizers are probably counting on a majority of the usual 50,000 runners not showing up.

Update 11/2: Mayor Bloomberg has succumbed to climate change and cancelled the NYC Sandy Zombie Apocalypse Marathon that he was still planning to run on Sunday: "While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division." Politicians thrive on controversy and division, corporate sponsors not so much.

Update 11/2: Mayor Bloomberg also spoke today on the world's largest dangling metaphor:
"Concerning the crane on West 57th Street: Tomorrow, work on securing the crane will begin. It’s an approximately 36-hour operation, and the goal is to remove the vacate order and allow people in the vicinity to return to their homes and offices by Monday night.

We’ve just got to make sure that we do this where it doesn’t cost any more lives – or any lives – and we think we have a plan that’s been well studied by everybody, and we’ve been on the crane and with workers and we’ve photographed everything, and we’ve studied the blueprints, and we think we have a plan that will in 36 hours let us secure the boom to the building, and then over the next three or four weeks they’ll have to build another crane next to it to take down the pieces that are damaged."
You've got to admire the use of the word "we" by the world's newest expert on dangling metaphors.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh Sandy, What Will They Say?

The whole east coast is being left stranded at the drive in. No need to worry what they will say Monday at work here in Massachusetts, the governor has told all non-essential workers to stay home.

I brought in the porch furniture and roped the garbage cans to the chain link fence. I got out my flashlights, candles, and transistor radio. It looks like the center of the storm will make landfall in New Jersey and then hook back around through upstate New York. so Boston may not take a direct hit.

The crowd at the grocery store Sunday afternoon was fairly impressive, although Shaw's had full staff and the express line moved faster than it often does. Judging from which shelves were emptied, Cambridge will be living for the next few days on chips, crackers, and tuna fish.

Thursday last week, some neighbors down the street took down a big tree. Probably judged it better to take it down first than have the wind bring it down.

At 2am I got an email from the Obama campaign inviting me to a phone bank to make calls into New Hampshire Wednesday evening. I can see that as long as I keep getting the regular-as-clockwork ping from the Obamaspam machine I'll know the internet is still up and running.

It will be creepy-ironic if the power fails and people can't watch the Monday night episode of Revolution. Or, as I like to call it, the best advertisement for stockpiling guns and ammunition since the Alamo. OK, since Hurricane Katrina.


A friend's Camry took a direct hit from a tree limb.

Cambridge firefighters secure a stray line in the street below my window, probably phone or cable as no one in the neighborhood lost power.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Steal the 2012 Election in Three Easy Steps

With the polls close, there is a lot of talk about stealing the election, Democrats running in dead people, felons, and illegal aliens, Republicans kicking legitimate voters off the rolls and turning away voters without ID. But the real danger may come from the Libertarian Party exploiting a few quirks in the 12th, 20th, and 23rd Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Here's how it would work:
(1) Tie up the electoral college.
(2) Elect or lure one elector.
(3) Put the pitchforks to Congress.
First, a small cadre of libertarian activists would orchestrate a 269 to 269 tie in the electoral college, the little understood institution that actually elects the President under the U.S. Constitution.

The number of electors in the electoral college was originally set to the number of representatives in the U.S. House, always an odd number, plus the number of U.S. Senators, always an even number. That would be a total of 535 electors, making a tie impossible with two candidates in a two-party system.

However, the 23rd Amendment gives the capitol city of Washington, DC the number of electors it would be entitled to as a state by population limited to the number allotted to the least populous state. That works out to 3 electors and brings the total to 538, which makes possible a 269 to 269 tie.

The 12th Amendment requires to elect the President a "majority of the whole number of Electors appointed" which is 270. In the event that no candidate gets 270 electoral votes, the selection of the new President goes to the U.S. House of Representatives. More on that later.

How would libertarian voters tie up the electoral college? As polling stands today, Romney victories in Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada would do the trick.

Now you are probably thinking that there is no way libertarians can organize enough people to influence the vote in those 3 states. But Ron Paul did just that with libertarian voters in the Republican primaries. He got 26,036 people out for the Iowa caucuses, 7,759 out for the Colorado caucuses, and 6,175 out for the Nevada caucuses. Only 537 votes made the difference in Florida in 2000.

The next step exploits another aspect of the 12th Amendment. In the event of failing to get a majority of the electors, the U.S. House chooses "from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President." Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be #1 and #2. Who will be #3?

Most states award their electors based on who wins the state. Nebraska and Maine, however, award their electors by Congressional districts. These are not swing states getting a lot of attention, so it would be possible for the plainsmen or woodsmen to sneak in one libertarian elector. A Republican elector might also be lured into defecting. That last happened in 1972, when Virginia Elector Roger MacBride switched his vote from Republican Richard Nixon to Libertarian candidate John Hospers. The Paulistas may well already have planted libertarian infiltrators on Romney's elector lists in any number of states.

This year the Libertarian Party candidate is Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico. As such, Gary is uniquely qualified to be #3. No one has ever become U.S. President without first being Vice President, a victorious general, a cabinet secretary, a senator, or a state governor. Unlike recent past third party candidates Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, and John Anderson, Gary Johnson qualifies - all he has to do is get on the list as #3.

That brings us to the final step. For the presidential election tiebreaker, the U.S. House votes by state delegation. That's generally thought to favor the Republicans, because Democrats control most of the bigger states but Republicans control more states. House Speaker John Boehner would be expected, in the event of an electoral college tie, to save the day for Mitt Romney.

But factor in Joe Biden and Michele Bachmann. Under the 20th Amendment, "If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified."

The Vice President elect in an electoral vote tie will almost certainly be Joe Biden. Unlike the President, the choice of Vice President falls to the U.S. Senate and must be "from the two highest numbers on the list." That will be Joe Biden and Paul Ryan as #1 and #2. Democrats are expected to retain control of the U.S. Senate, and they won't pick Paul Ryan. Joe Biden will be waiting in the wings to become President if the U.S. House is unable to choose before noon January 20.

That gives Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann enormous leverage in her role as Chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus, and she is just crazy enough to use it. The Tea Party Caucus currently has 61 members in the U.S. House, all ostensibly Republicans. Without the Tea Party Caucus votes, Republicans would only have 180 seats as compared to 191 for the Democrats. That's clout.

The state of Texas, for example, has 11 Tea Party Caucus members. That's enough to tip that state's delegation in the tiebreaker vote. The tea party vote can deprive Mitt Romney the win and that means Bachmann can go to Boehner and say, "It's my guy or Joe Biden."

Why would the tea party prefer Gary Johnson to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? Both Romney and Obama plan to cut the federal deficit by raising taxes, albeit in different ways. Taxed Enough Already is the tea party motto, and they already scuttled the grand bargain on the deficit between Boehner and Obama because it would have raised taxes.

All this Constitutional coup d'etat needs is a slogan. Gary Johnson has five:
Be libertarian one time
Cast a protest vote that counts
Be the 5 percent that changes America
End the two-party system for good
Live free

There it is, the Libertarian Menace, and Hollywood may be behind it. Over the last couple of years, Hollywood opened the door to libertarian values with TV shows like The Walking Dead and Revenge. The hot new TV shows Revolution and Last Resort feature strong libertarians fighting against tyranny.

The Thursday night comedy 30 Rock will feature an episode on November 1 titled "There's No I in America" in which fans of Jenna Maroney (played by Jane Krakowski) under the catchphrase "Unwindulax" will determine the winner of the election. The Revolution episode "The Children's Crusade" will air on the Monday election eve before the Tuesday, November 6 election.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

If Winning the U.S. Senate Was Something God Intended to Happen ...

Would that the Republican Party not have picked these two morons to run for U.S. Senate:
Todd Akin of Missouri: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Richard Mourdock of Indiana: "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." "
By this latter logic, God intends everything to happen, including saying stupid things that cost you an election.

Mourdock's statement is less stupid than Akin's, but it was made after Akin's caused enough stir that a smart man wouldn't have gone near the subject of rape and pregnancy, so that makes it more stupid.

Mourdock is still being given a good chance to win his race, but I suspect he will lose too. In both cases, they will lose because a number of voters in these two Republican-leaning states will blacken the Mitt Romney oval, then either vote for the Democrat for U.S. Senate or leave their ballot blank.

In the 2010 election, Republicans saw their U.S. Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell of Delaware and Sharon Angle of Nevada go off in their hands like grenades. A swing of 4 seats in the U.S. Senate would have given them control after this election, instead they've given it away.

Felix Baumgartner Takes a Big Fall for Mankind

Let's see. Strap on a pressurized space suit and a parachute, ascend in a hot air balloon to 128,000 feet (24.2 miles) above the earth's surface, take a step off the side, and freefall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds to reach a maximum speed of 833.9 mph (Mach 1.24). Says Felix Baumgartner just before he took that step on October 14:
"I know the whole world is watching right now and I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are. ... I'm coming home now."
It's not the fall that kills you. The truly impressive fete is that he was able to slow that freefall down and land on his feet in the New Mexico desert. Otherwise, it's a Wile E. Coyote ending, and a man is not a cartoon character who can pick himself up from that.

One downside to going so fast, faster than the speed of sound, is that Felix missed setting the 1960 record for longest freefall by 17 seconds. That was set by Joseph Kittinger who jumped at a mere 102,800 feet. Colonel Kittinger was later shot down over North Vietnam and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.

Felix will have to settle for the record highest manned balloon flight, highest sky-dive jump, farthest freefall, and fastest freefall speed. These records are subject to verification by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. If they are unable to verify, he'll just have to do it again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Last Presidential Debate Will Please Stand

You may have thought the last debate was on Monday but C-Span had a third party candidate debate moderated by Larry King on Tuesday.

Larry got a little confused and forgot to ask for the opening statements before asking the first question, so the opening statements start at the 24:00 mark.

David Letterman Calls Bullshit on President Obama

David Letterman tells Rachel Maddow he is a little discouraged in his support for President Obama:
"President Obama was not telling the truth about what was excerpted from that op-ed piece."
The subject is the auto bailout and the claim is that President Obama saved GM while Mitt Romney would have put GM out of business.

The now famous "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" editorial by Mitt Romney appeared on November 18, 2008. Of course, there are two types of bankruptcy, the "going out of business" bankruptcy and the "can't pay all the bills so the creditors have to accept less to keep the doors open" bankruptcy. Chrysler filed for bankruptcy on May 1, 2009 followed by General Motors on June 1, 2009.

So what happened in the six and a half months between November 18 and June 1? A lot of secret meetings were held in Detroit, NYC, and DC to determine which auto plants and dealerships around the country would be closed, which would stay open, and how much federal cash that would take.

I visited Detroit for a great uncle's funeral in April 2009. There was a feeling that times were tough but no feeling of impending doom. There was considerable scoffing at the notion that the U.S. government would be guaranteeing the warranties on GM cars, which had been announced at the end of March. GM will warranty its cars was the Detroit wisdom.

As for Chrysler, it had been owned by Germany's Daimler Motors and would end up owned by Italy's Fiat. If it had been liquidated, Form and GM might have been given the opportunity to buy its best brands, and they would have returned to American ownership.

The Ford family wanted to keep control of their company and Ford didn't take the bailout. They were able to avoid bankruptcy in no small part because they had proactively closed unprofitable auto plants and dealerships starting in 2006. Their reward was to watch their competitors have large portions of their debts forgiven and fill up on cheap government money.

One of Mitt's ideas in that op-ed has a distinctly populist ring:
"Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat."
Another of Mitt's ideas is exactly what eventually happened 4 to 6 months later:
"The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk."
Another one of Mitt Romney's prescriptions that took much longer to become true:
Management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries.
GM CEO Richard Wagoner was allowed to stay on until March 29, 2009, when he was replaced by longtime GM hand Fritz Henderson, who served as CEO until December 1, 2009. Eventually GM got around to hiring outsider Dan Akerson, a former telecom executive and private equity investor, as its CEO on September 1, 2010.

What then President-elect Obama should have done was immediately appoint Mitt Romney as his Car Czar. That would have sent a signal he was serious about the new era of bipartisanship he had promised. And the U.S. auto industry would have gotten where it needed to go a year or two earlier.

At the end of the day, I don't think U.S. taxpayers can complain too much about the auto bailout. It all went on the federal credit card, so it hasn't cost taxpayers anything out of pocket, yet. The U.S. might have to write off about $14 billion of the GM loan. That works out to about $45 person, or $122 per taxpayer. You can buy a share of GM today for $23.69. Some are agitating for the government to send them a share. Frankly, I don't want one.

In any case, the auto bailout was a bipartisan effort that started under President Bush and was completed under President Obama. But you'll never hear Barack Obama say, "President Bush and I saved the auto industry."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

All Over In a Fortnight, Unless ...

The 2012 election will be held in a fortnight - 2 weeks, 14 days, 336 hours - and it looks like it is going to be very close.

How close? RCP shows Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama in the national poll average 48% to 47.1%. Intrade puts the odds at 57% for Obama and 43% for Romney. That's because Mitt Romney, while narrowly leading in the national Gallup, Rasmussen, and ABC News/Washington Post polls, is narrowly trailing in several important battleground states.

If the election were to follow the RCP polls, Barack Obama would win 281 electoral votes to 257. In the battleground, that assumes Romney wins Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida but loses Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada.

But let's say that the last two states in the Obama list move over to Romney. Iowa and Nevada each have 6 electoral votes for a total of 12. That would bring the totals to 269 for Obama and 269 for Romney, a tie.

Update: I see Ann Althouse has noticed this same possibility. Under the 12th Amendment, the U.S. House voting by state has to pick the winner off list the candidates who got electoral votes:
"from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President"
Presumably Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would be #1 and #2. So who will be #3? The last time a third party party candidate got an electoral vote was 1972, when Virginia Elector Roger MacBride, pledged for Richard Nixon, cast his electoral votes for Libertarian candidate John Hospers.

The 2012 Libertarian Party candidate is Gary Johnson. He made this pitch in Tuesday's third party debate:
"Wasting your vote is voting for somebody that you don't believe in. That's wasting your vote. I'm asking everybody here, I'm asking everybody watching this nationwide to waste your vote on me."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Obama Beats Romney 9-0 in Final Debate

OK, 9-0 was the score of the baseball game. The San Francisco Giants from blue state California beat the St. Louis Cardinals from red state Missouri for the NL pennant to go to the World Series. There was a Presidential debate tonight too on the subject of America's place in the world, last in the series.

Boca Raton, Florida? What kind of place is that to hold a Presidential debate? Where next, Beverly Hills, California? Highland Park, Texas? Cherry Hills, Colorado? Glencoe, Illinois? Bloomfield Hills, Michigan? Brookline, Massachusetts? Scarsdale, New York? In 2016, we should hold the first debate in a Southwest Iowa sale barn.

Boca Raton means "mouth of the mouse" in Spanish. This debate was not the mouse that squealed or the mouse that roared. It was a debate where both candidates tried to mouth all the rights words.

I'd have to say that foreign policy is Barack Obama's best pitch (or perhaps Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta's). Mitt whiffed on Libya, Syria, and Iran. Then he hit a couple of fly balls on Israel, which Barack was able to easily catch. Mitt hit a few more fouls and tips, but mostly Barack threw strikes across the plate.

The problem I have with Mitt Romney is that he has such a long list of foreign nations where he says we haven't done enough and should do more. That's a lot of men to put on base, and once you get them there it's hard to bring them home.

"After a decade of war, it's time to do some nation-building at home," sounds like a great formulation to me. The Republican Party used to understand this principle. Where is Dwight Eisenhower when you need him?

China selling us goods too cheap is a tough competitive problem. But how are we going to punish China by labeling them a currency manipulator and making them raise their prices. So the "punishment" is that China is forced to make bigger profits on sales to the U.S. What am I missing? Am I an idiot?

The foreign policy question not asked was the one question I wanted to hear, what Clint Eastwood asked the empty chair:
"I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that's okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. You know, I mean -- you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how did it -- they did there for 10 years. But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and I think that, when we get to maybe -- I think you've mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question, you know, he says, 'Why are you giving the date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?'"
Instead Bob Schieffer asked a question about whether Obama or Romney would stay past the 2014 target date if Afghanistan was still a mess.

I suppose there was commentary but I switched back to the ballgame, which ended in the rain. I missed the Detroit Tigers sweep of the New York Yankees to win the AL pennant in in 4 games, that should give them an advantage over these wet Giants. It should be a good World Series. I'll be rooting for the Tigers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern Catches the Last Plane

George McGovern, who passed away today at age 90, is one of three major party candidates for President that I have actually met. The other two are Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney, but in their cases I only got to shake their hands. I got to talk to George.

The decorated World War II bomber pilot, who flew 35 missions against the Germans, took on Navy vet Richard Nixon in the 1972 election. George would win only 37.5% of the vote and carry only the state of Massachusetts and DC. The only comparable loss on the Democratic side is 1984 when Walter Mondale won 40.6% of the vote.

When I first arrived in Massachusetts in 1980, you'd still see the occasional faded "Don't Blame Me, I'm from Massachusetts" bumper sticker left over from the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign. Nonetheless, Massachusetts voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

Mondale and McGovern are the corner post and brace post of the Democratic Party. On the other side, Bob Dole (40.7% in 1996) and Barry Goldwater (38.5% in 1964) are the corner and brace for the Republican Party. American politics is the barbed wire fence strung between those two corners. You can get through a barbed wire fence only if you are willing to suffer a few snags.

I turned 10 in 1972 and that's the first Presidential election I can really remember. I was a Nixon boy in a largely Republican small Iowa farm town. I had a Cub Scout meeting on election night, and the Democrat father of the family sat in the next room watching the election returns come in on TV. After the short meeting, we joined him, and I remember feeling a little sheepish as the states came in one after another for Richard Nixon, 520 electoral votes to 17 didn't seem sporting.

I met George McGovern in May 1998. He was giving a graduation speech at the University of Montana in Missoula, and I was there with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and cousins because one of my cousins was graduating.

I'd arrived a couple of days earlier and we had all watched the final episode of Seinfeld. I may be confusing my Missoula trips, but I believe this trip was the first time I used a cell phone. My brother lent me his and I got a call from him on his wife's phone as I was driving down the main drag in Missoula. I pulled off to the side of the street to take the call. That seems a rather quaint practice now. Just yesterday I saw a girl on her bicycle chatting on her cell phone as she rode in city traffic.

George talked about his work at the U.N. This was the Clinton administration and he was the new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture. He also told a truly poignant story about his daughter Terry, who struggled for three decades with depression and alcoholism. On a cold night in December 1994, at age 45, she stumbled out of a Madison, Wisconsin bar and into an alley where she passed out and froze to death.

The historian Stephen Ambrose also spoke at the graduation. His best quote, which I remember being such a stark contrast to the Terry McGovern story:
"This is the American century. Our greatest gift to the 21st century, which you will be running, is freedom. ... America is the land of opportunity. Reach out and seize it."
Those kids who graduated that day would now be around age 36, so they are finally eligible to run for President and take on running this operation (next time, maybe). My cousin just announced on Facebook that he had bought a tarp and joined the local gun club. He is a teacher.

I met George McGovern at the Missoula International Airport the next morning. It would be more precise to say that my grandfather met him. We were standing in line to check luggage on the Northwest Airlines flight to Minneapolis, from which we would get separate connecting flights. The line was long and the flight was delayed. And there was George McGovern in line right in front of us. My grandfather never missed an opportunity to extract someone's life story and introduce his family.

The airline sent us home and told us to come back in the late afternoon. They told us our plane had mechanical difficulties and had to bring another one up from Salt Lake City. I later read that the mechanics union was involved in some sort of work slowdown. So they stranded the Ambassador for nine hours, and us as well.

When we came back in the late afternoon, it was the same people waiting for the same plane out of Missoula (the International Airport designation being an artifact to some now-discontinued short hop flights to Canada). There was George McGovern again and we were his old friends from the morning. We had another long chat.

First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Professor of History and Political Science at Dakota Wesleyan University, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, Democratic Presidential nominee, U.S. Ambassador. That's a great career and a great life of public service, even if it does have its bittersweet qualities. He reminds me of Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
George McGovern was a good-hearted populist. His 1972 campaign wasn't running a communist fifth column secretly negotiating to surrender Vietnam as Richard Nixon feared when he sent the Plumbers into the Watergate to bug his phones. And, of course, Nixon would ultimately dispatch Kissinger to do just exactly that.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitt Romney's Pig in a Poke Tax Plan, Or Why Surrender Our Tax Deductions without a Fight?

Mitt Romney's tax plan is the centerpiece of his promise to create 12 million new jobs. He expects 7 million of those jobs to come from the benefits of the tax plan alone. So what's in that tax plan? It's a bit of a pig in the poke. He's got a sack, he says there is a delicious pig in it, but we can really only see the outline of the pig against the sack. It could just as easily be a cat.

On the individual tax side, here are the highlights to Mitt Romney's tax plan:

Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates - The top tax rate would come down from 35% to 28%, but there's a catch - some taxpayers will have to give up tax deductions they currently get.

Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains - This maintains the current 15% top rate, but due to the next provision that only applies to people who earn more than $200,000.

Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains - That means, for example, that someone with $10,000,000 could park it in U.S. Treasury debt, collect a $200,000 annual check from the federal government at current 2% interest rates, and pay $0 in federal income tax. Talk about expanding the 47%!

Eliminate the Death Tax - At Mitt Romney's $250,000,000 estimated net worth, this could save the five Romney sons up to $83,958,000 at current exemptions and rates or $137,154,200 at pre-Bush tax cut exemptions and rates scheduled to go back into effect in 2013. No wonder they are out campaigning for mom and dad.

Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) - You probably don't know about AMT tax if you don't have to pay it, but it's a 28% flat tax on a broader definition of ordinary income above certain thresholds. As we will see, Mitt Romney is not so much eliminating the much-hated AMT but folding it into the regular income tax. Won't that be fun for everyone.

Actually, that's not merely the highlights, that's the whole plan - the part in bold, I'm the one who filled in the few details and commentary. There is also a separate outline of a 4 point plan to reduce corporate taxes.

Now, this may not be a bad plan, my taxes would go down, at first appearance. Who can argue with lower taxes? Who can begrudge the Romney boys their full inheritance? But let's look a little more closely at something Mitt Romney has said about his tax plan in the first debate:
"We ought to bring the tax rates down, and I do, both for corporations and for individuals. But in order for us not to lose revenue, have the government run out of money, I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions so that we keep taking in the same money when you also account for growth."
I have listened to enough politicians to wonder, is this a stealth tax increase? Not lose revenue and keep taking in the same money sound to me like we end up paying in more taxes than we did before. That's how Mitt Romney summed it up himself:
"Get the rates down, lower deductions and exemptions to create more jobs, because there's nothing better for getting us to a balanced budget than having more people working, earning more money, paying more taxes. That's by far the most effective and efficient way to get this budget balanced."
Romney is even on record as saying that there would be no tax cut at all:
"And finally, with regards to that tax cut, look, I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce the revenues going to the government. My number one principle is there'll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that — no tax cut that adds to the deficit."
Of course, President Obama has been going around until recently telling everyone Mitt Romney's plan is a $5 trillion tax cut. But of course you can't cut $5 trillion out of the tax revenue stream and remain revenue neutral. Barack Obama may be unwittingly helping to sell a stealth tax increase.

So what sort of deductions are we talking about losing? The two that have been most talked about are the charitable deduction and home mortgage interest deduction. However, Mitt Romney has never spelled out exactly what he has in mind to take away.

In fact, what he did list in the first debate was "deductions and credits and exemptions." That could include all of the following types of items:
(1) Charitable contributions
(2) Mortgage interest
(3) Personal exemptions
(4) Standard deduction
(5) State or local income taxes
(6) State or local property taxes
(7) Foreign taxes
(8) Interest on state or municipal bonds that is currently tax-exempt
(9) Miscellaneous itemized deductions over 2% of AGI
(10) Medical expenses not covered by insurance over 7% of AGU
(11) Health insurance contributions by you or your employer
(12) IRA, 401(k), and pension contributions by you or your employer
(13) Social security benefits
(14) Educator expenses
(15) Student loan interest deduction
(16) Tuition and fees
(17) Moving expenses
(18) Business travel expenses
(19) Depreciation on business assets
(20) Section 179 expense election for purchase of business assets
(21) Percentage depletion and intangible drilling costs
(22) Domestic product activities deduction
(23) Spread on incentive stock options
(24) Child dependent care expense credits
(25) Child tax credits
(26) Residential home energy credits
(27) Education credits
(28) First-time home buyer credits
(29) General business tax credits
(30) Ethanol and other biofuel tax credits
You see, once you start talking about adding deductions, credits and exemptions to taxable income, that could bring in a lot of items that are not subject to income tax now. You can pay a 20% lower tax rate on a 25% higher taxable income and end up writing the same check at the end of year to the IRS. If your taxable income is raised by more than 25%, you've just been hit with a tax increase.

I don't know exactly which items Mitt Romney means to add to the income tax base, he may not even know himself, intending to negotiate that with Congress when the time comes, but he absolutely means to add enough to offset the 20% tax rate cut. He said it, as clear as day.

Under the Romney tax plan, your taxable income goes up, but not your actual income, that's the insidious nature of taking away deductions, credits, and exemptions - $5 trillion worth according to Barack Obama. Mitt Romney hasn't given a number but it has to be a big one.

Is there a Republican constituency for the Romney tax plan, even if it is a stealth tax increase? Of course there is. "Elect our guy President and we'll cover the deficits," is a pretty simple political transaction. And then hope to make this tax change back on economic growth. Yes, this is another brand of hope and change.

Also, this change moves in the direction of a flat tax, long a goal in Republican Presidential politics from Steve Forbes to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. A big problem is how the country would transition from the current progressive tax rates to the flat tax. Mitt Romney's plan, with its deceptively simple complexity, is essentially a transition plan.

We have long had a flat tax here in liberal Massachusetts. It's 5.3% against some exemptions and very few deductions (12% on certain capital gains). I will tell you that not having the usual deductions, credits, and exemptions is brutal. However, the Massachusetts state constitution does have some protections:
"Article XLIV. Full power and authority are hereby given and granted to the general court to impose and levy a tax on income in the manner hereinafter provided. Such tax may be at different rates upon income derived from different classes of property, but shall be levied at a uniform rate throughout the commonwealth upon incomes derived from the same class of property. The general court may tax income not derived from property at a lower rate than income derived from property, and may grant reasonable exemptions and abatements."
Income from labor can be taxed at a lesser rate than income from property under the Massachusetts state constitution. Curiously, the opposite is true under Mitt Romney's tax plan. It's hard to see how taxing work more than investments creates jobs.

Another protection is the ballot question process. In 2000 a ballot question passed 59% to 41% to reduce the tax rate from 5.95% to 5.6% in 2001, 5.3% in 2002, and 5% in 2003 and thereafter. When the legislature refused to let the tax rate go below 5.3%, a question was put on the 2002 ballot to repeal the tax outright, which was defeated by only 55% to 45%. A 2008 ballot question to repeal the tax was defeated by 70% to 30%.

The Massachusetts flat tax allows direct negotiation at the ballot box between the taxpaying-public and the legislature, and the public has shown that it will exercise its rights to rein in the legislature responsibly.

That brings us back to the Romney tax plan. The flat taxers will be glad to give up their deductions, credits, and exemptions, but should the rest of us surrender without a fight?

Mitt Romney tries to make it easy for voters to say yes. Here's how he explained it in the second debate:
"Now, how about deductions? Because I'm going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I'm going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end, because I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they're paying now. The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects. So that'll stay the same. Middle-income people are going to get a tax break.

And so in terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that would be to say everybody gets — I'll pick a number — $25,000 of deductions and credits. And you can decide which ones to use, your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit and so forth. You can use those as part of filling that bucket, if you will, of deductions. But your rate comes down."
Your tax rate comes down, but not necessarily your tax amount. Here's the kicker:
"The burden also comes down on you for one more reason. And that is every middle-income taxpayer no longer will pay any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains, no tax on your savings.

That makes life a lot easier. If you're getting interest from a bank, if you're getting a statement from a mutual fund or any other kind of investments you have, you don't have to worry about filing taxes on that, because there will be no taxes for anybody making $200,000 a year and less on your interest, dividends and capital gains."
That just sounds like an all-around good deal for a large segment of the middle class myself included. You can work your whole life and build up a nest egg, and you don't have to pay any more taxes on the income that your nest egg generates. But, again, you have to remember that this bit of tax generosity is coming out of your hide during your working life.

Let's go back to that $25,000 number Mitt Romney picked as "one way of doing that." That sounds like a lot. Most people don't have that many deductions. But of course you have to remember to include your credits and exemptions too. More importantly, it's the precedent.

Yes, the cap on deductions, credits, and exemptions may start at $25,000 and the list of deductions, credits, and exemptions to be capped may be short, to begin with. But once it is there, the cap can be lowered to $20,000 to $10,000 to $0. Likewise, the list of items to be capped can get longer and longer.

I'm letting the cat of the bag. This is it. Once we give up our deductions, credits, and exemptions, they are gone for good. This is a transition to a flat tax, and the first step in the transition is not the final one.

What protection do we get? Deductions, credits, and exemptions have provided some measure of protection against high income tax rates for as long as the U.S. has had an income tax. If we give up that protection, what's left? We know that Congress is not a good brake on reckless borrowing, spending, or tax increases. We have 16 trillion reasons not to trust Congress, with another trillion reasons being added every year.

I believe that a Constitutional amendment requiring submission of major borrowing, spending and tax decisions to popular vote by the people is the only way to protect ourselves adequately.

How would that work? If the target is to limit federal spending to 20% of GDP, Congress should have to submit any proposal to spend more to a popular vote. Likewise, increases to the U.S. debt ceiling beyond a similar ratio should also go to a popular vote. Finally, we need the initiative petition, so that overreaching tax laws can be revised by the people at the ballot box. If it's going to be a flat tax, we first need a Flat Tax Amendment.

If we can't get that Flat Tax Amendment first, we should keep our tax deductions and not surrender to the flat tax increase.