February 2008


The Soviets loved their “five year plans,” much imitated by other Communist nations back in the day, though often with slight variations like the “seven year plan”. (ObFascism: Five years was too long for Germany: The Nazis had four year plans.) It seems that some Democratic primary voters are touting the “sixteen year plan.” This is a plan dreamed up by people who say things like:

Imagine the possibilities…

  • A generation of progressive leadership in the White House
  • A new era of global cooperation to combat poverty, hunger, and AIDS
  • A lasting commitment to protecting the environment and combating global climate change
  • A new progressive balance of power on the Supreme Court
  • Enough time to begin undoing the damage caused by 8 years of George Bush

In other words, people who are blowing as much sugary sunshine the back door way as a delusional modern progressive can stand without going into insulin shock, in a nice way that makes Barack Obama look Rush Limbaugh-mean.

In a nutshell—which is about all there is here, and it’s one of those disappointing empty peanuts—the Sixteen Year Plan is:

  1. In 2008, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  2. In 2012, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.
  3. In 2016, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  4. In 2020, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.

This plan, therefore, neatly side-steps that 22nd Amendment, which states that a person is eligible for two terms as President, c’est tout, you’re done. I admit that it sounds “hinky” to me (thanks Abby) and probably violates some constitutional thing or another, but it’s on the edge of plausible, legally. I recall seeing this touted on the Washington Post forum by a poster (not one of the columnists) and thought it was ridiculous then but, it has taken on a life of its own on the intarweb much like other dumbass ideas. It’s the sort of plan that a smart high school civics student might dream up, with no notion of just how amazingly damaging to the all-too-fragile system and the norms that hold the entire electoral edifice up it would be. Such an idea was bandied about on the Republican side in 1976 when they were facing a split convention… Ronald Reagan wisely rejected such a deal, and waited four years to win a legitimate victory. We don’t need plans like this, not after the 2000 election, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, invented notes about George W. Bush’s service record (thin as the real one was), Karl Rove’s shenanigans such as accusing John McCain of fathering a black child out of wedlock in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and whatever other sleazy shit from the pile of digested Alpo from the last several years you want to pick up. No, right now what we need is a nice, clean “by the book” election, not this is freakin’ stupid and profoundly anti-”little d” democratic idea.

It’s wrong but not close to wrong enough to be “so wrong, it’s so right.” No, it’s just plain wrong.

W-R-O-N-G.

W-R-O-N-G.

Never mind the fact that this would be a clear case of “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” (two too many, given the unelected presence of Bill Clinton throughout the whole process).

Never mind the fact that it’s ludicrous to believe it would be a “credible commitment” for whomever went first—Hillary, obviously, given that this is a cheesedick way for wavering HRC supporters to get Obama to back down. Sure, I believe that you’re going to step down after being president, sure. It’s with that property in Florida and the Brooklyn Bridge….

It makes a total mockery of the electoral system and is, in essence, a throwback to the smoke filled room in the worst sort way. And I’m somewhat a fan of the old days of the smoke filled room, but this is pathetic.

It’s the kind of scheme that elected dictators of the likes of Vladimir Putin dream up when political pressure gets high enough that they need to step out of the office. Wait… Vladimir Putin IS ENACTING it!

It’s the kind of thing that shows up in Latin America, cf. Puntofijismo. It might have been OK for a while but lead to the inevitable stagnation down the road that gave the world my buddy Hugo Chavez.

I’m sure Karl Rove got semi-hard when he was hanging in Dick’s secure, undisclosed location thinking about this sort of thing, but then laughed when he realized that one’s never going to the altar with him….

This is America. We can, and should, do better than this pathetic scheme.

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs. For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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The Advisor is pretty pissed about what happened to Li and seems to think that I was at fault in the matter, even if, to the trained observer (and the university police, for that matter), it appeared to be nothing more than an unfortunate accident. Despite spending the evening in university hospital, Li seems not so particularly worse for wear and is “excited about getting back to work.” This means that my offensive did not have the desired effect — instilling fear in Li. That must be rectified, but first I need to switch to defense mode. I must protect the server.

As the only guy in the group who does any computing beyond the “Excel” level, I use about 95% of the non-idle cycles on the server (yeah, ok, that counts BitTorrent), so protecting the server from idiots like Li is high on my priority list. As any decent admin knows, physical access is root access (or in Li’s case, break-memory-in-half access). Ergo, I need to come up with a better place of stashing the server than in the lab so Li and his ilk keep their bloody hands off. Seeing as I don’t really have an office — Javier, the first year and I work in the lab — there’s no obvious place to put it. The thought of leaving it in Amy and Sasha’s office makes me shudder… the prospect of putting in some spadework with Amy is overshadowed by the prospect of having to interact with Sasha at all. I will need another plan.

After finishing off a few rounds of Xevil against the first year and the condensed matter guys down the hall who’s advisor is gone all week, I grab my coat and head out to McSweeney’s for department happy hour. On the way out, I see the Jimmy the janitor and invite him along. Despite the fact that he’s on the clock, he joins us. I like this man’s work ethic. A few hours (and more than a few stouts) later, I’m sitting with Jimmy and Javier and discussing the server problem.

“… and you see, after the memory chip problem, I need to put the server somewhere more secure.”

“What about the department server room?” says Jimmy offers.

Javier and I laugh heartily. “Uh, No.” The departmental web site has been rooted 3 times in the last six months (OK, one of those times was me and Javier), so I wouldn’t trust those guys further than I could throw them (which, given their computer-user physiques isn’t very far).

Jimmy responds, “Well I suppose I could keep it in one of the janitorial closets.”

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, what about moisture?”

“I’ve got the perfect dry space in one of them. And nobody has access but me.”

“And if I need to get to the machine?”

“Come by any time I’m on shift and it’s yours.”

“Well, I’d need to see the facility,” I note.

“Not a problem,” smiles Jimmy.

Now Jimmy is probably about 50 with the libido of a 18 year old. Even the normally oblivious female grad students notice his naughty leer and make it a point to avoid him. Even given his Dirty Old Man status, I’ve made it a point to shout Jimmy a few beers — in the large, heartless bureaucracy that is the university, a janitor is one of the best friends you can possibly have.

After happy hour ends, I head back with Jimmy to inspect his proposed server site… in the basement. I wonder for a moment whether or not I’ve just stepped into a slasher flick when Jimmy opens the door to the room. Needless to say, I’m impressed. Ecce love nest.

Jimmy’s “closet” is almost as large as the lab, and it’s equipped with a large flat panel TV (so that’s where the screen from conference room 234 went), a mini-fridge, a fully stocked bar, the complete collection of the works of Ron Jeremy and a bed that’s so gaudily decorated it looks like it came from a motel with hourly rates. I whirl around to face Jimmy.

“Uh, man, if you’re a thinking that I’m…”

“I’m not a fuckin’ queer, you moron,” Jimmy retorts, “This is for the ladies.”

I ponder in disgust as to what kind of “ladies” would find their way here. Swallowing my doubts, I ask, “Where do you think I can put the server?” Jimmy responds by pointing to a nice area in the corner, near a powerpoint where I could easily place the machine and have it completely undisturbed.

“Well that will do quite nicely. What’s the catch?”

“Come again.”

“I know I was buying drinks, but if there’s an off chance I might be interrupting your escapades, this is going to cost me a lot more.”

Jimmy smiles and says, “Son, you definitely have your head on straight. I’ll tell you what I want. The department just installed a satellite HDTV feed up on the roof, and I’ve heard they have all the special channels. You’re going to get me a feed.”

I shudder to think exactly how many porno channels that thing will carry. But it’s either give the man his porn or have Li’s hands all over my server… an easy choice, but a tough job. I’ll need to tap the line, run cable all the way to the basement and do all of this without anyone noticing or caring. I pause for a moment.

“For that much work, I want a key. I won’t use the bed, I promise.”

“Done.”

After a quick trip to city hall in the morning, the next afternoon Jimmy and I are inspecting the dish — it’s a pretty nice system. I can only begin to dream about watching the Super Bowl in HD in one of the conference rooms. I jar myself back to reality by realizing that snow has started falling. Quickly I pull out the laser range-finder and find that the dish is precisely 465 feet from the west wall. Looking over the blueprints for the building (thank you Mr. Mayor!), I trace my finger across them to find out exactly where the feed will drop. A chill comes over me as my finger settles on the office of the professor known as the “Columbian Slave Driver.”

Gulp. This is going to be much harder than I thought.

(to be continued…)

President Bush’s new (and DOA at the House) $3.1 trillion dollar budget projects that, by September 30, 2008 — the end of the current Federal fiscal year — the shortfall over revenues will be $410 billion. The House majority party is salivating over the choice chops of political fodder this provides in an election year, while at the same time patting themselves on the back for delivering a $150 billion stimulus package to the economy, which does nothing to stimulate the economy. Because this stimulus spending is short term, the package outlay translates dollar for dollar directly to the deficit. (To be fair, the President has signed off on this package also in the spirit of true bipartisanship — lookout taxpayer!)

I consider myself somewhat prudent in that while I have a mortgage, the P&I seldom exceeds $1000 a month (it’s an ARM and thus varies with LIBOR); I don’t have any outstanding credit card debt — I am a transactor rather than a revolver; and I have some investments and savings.

The Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates in the last few months by almost 2 points. This is to bolster the economy (as perceived through the lens of the equities and bond markets). The markets have rallied, and then sunk as the impact is absorbed and evaluated. Democrats in Congress are talking about not being able to ‘afford extending the Bush tax cuts‘ and not being able to ‘afford the revocation of the AMT‘. They are also talking about expanding many programs.

What does this all mean to me?

My ARM resets every February based on the preceding six months LIBOR so the reduction of the Fed rate is likely to have little impact on my P&I. Additionally, since the LIBOR has lately decoupled from the Fed rate there is no guarantee that any Fed action will lower LIBOR. Credit card issuers adjust their loan rates monthly, usually based on 10-12% over the Fed rate, so that they can maintain a good net interest margin. However, since I am prudent and have no revolving card debt, I obtain no benefit from this. Since the rate goes down, so does the interest accrued to my meager savings and money market accounts. Current savings rates are less than the CPI so in terms of dollar denominated spending power, the value of my savings actually decreases.

One effect of the cuts manifests in the dollar’s value compared with other currencies. The dollar has achieved new lows. As a result, dollar denominated commodities such as oil and grain, have increased in terms of price. The value of a barrel of oil is the same or slightly rising (due to demand) but the value of the dollar is falling meaning that you need more of them to buy that barrel. Consequently, gasoline is hovering near $3.00 per gallon and can only rise as demand picks up again. Consequence to me: I have to pay more to get to work and back to buy fuel. I have to spend more of my pay to keep my house heated in the winter and to pay for electricity.

Policy decisions in Congress, particularly with the ethanol alternative fuel initiative, have also had their effect. These efforts are a derivative effect to mitigate the higher oil prices. Subsidies to ethanol producers — again an expense supported by taxes — have driven corn prices higher. Basic grain products have increased in price, cattle feed and thus meat has increased in price, and since corn syrup is used in about everything, most other processed foods have increased in price. Consequences to me: inflation.

One of the reasons that is used to support the package is that the liquidity of the financial markets is being reduced. The reason for that is simple — bankers don’t have a good feel anymore for what an asset is worth, and consequently are reluctant to lend money against that asset. Multiple levels of risk diversification haven’t quite worked out as planned. While I am a fan of and support securitization, the packaging of asset and mortgage backed securities with credit enhancements and credit default swaps constituted building a house of cards. Young financial engineers with little experience in the downside of things spun up an edifice of risk that is still in the process of toppling. But the Fed has already provided an answer to the liquidity problem through its discount window where banks are assured of obtaining the capital they need. The stimulus package doesn’t affect this. By viewing the economy entirely through the lens of the financial market, rate cuts only reinforces risky behavior. The Fed action is predicated on the premise (unsubstantiated) that whatever affects the markets eventually affects the general economy.

Finally, it seems as if Congress doesn’t learn anything. If anything was clearly demonstrated by the Bush tax cuts, it was Laffer’s theorem that there is an optimum taxation rate to provide maximum revenue. Since the stimulus package will increase the deficit, the inevitable result will be a call for an increase in taxes. The result of that will be a slowdown of the economy, a decrease in tax revenue, which will result is still higher deficits. Plus, the effect will flow down to the States and their revenue streams. All of the ‘good’ and ‘beneficial’ programs will be strained and States and Cities will attempt to make up the shortfall. Consequence to me: My take-home pay decreases as my fed taxes increase. My property tax component which is now slightly less than my P&I amount will exceed it and I will absorb more of the burden of government.

The reason that the market has blipped higher and then reset is that investors collectively know these things. This non-stimulus stimulus package offers no long term market or economic benefit. This package and the rate cut itself is a profligate renunciation of fiscal prudence. The current set of policies rewards the behavior the current Congress rails about: the lack of savings of US citizens; an excessive burden of credit card debt; highly leveraged mortgages; overreliance on oil.

Here is my table of consequences:

Result/Effect Prudent Man Profligate Consumer
Gasoline Prices Screwed Screwed
Leveraged Mortgage Not Applicable Bailout
Savings Reduced Value Say What?
Food Prices Higher Higher
Credit Card Payments No Effect Lower
Risky Financial Behavior No Effect Rewarded
Income Taxes Increased Likely Exempt
Property Taxes Increased Dude! I rent.

So!

Never one to bitch without offering a solution, here is what we need to do:

  • Actually limit federal and state spending. Cut agency staff and eliminate costly programs which do not perform. Insure each agency has a performance metric upon which future funding is based.
  • Stop adding new entitlement classes to existing entitlements of Medicare and Social Security. Take a close look at the implementation to insure that the program is not driving UP the cost of health care.
  • Eliminate tax deductions on corporate contributions for employee health care.
  • Increase the Fed Rate by 3 full points. The market will take a dive. So the next day …
  • Announce the elimination of the AMT (and follow through) and make a permanent tax rate of 10% ($20,000 < Income < $250,000) and 22% (Income > $250,000).
  • Completely eliminate capital gains tax.
  • Eliminate corporate income tax. (This is just another tax on the consumer , since it’s passed through).

Basically, fix the tax problem and all other problems will fall into line. There is a reason why formerly Communist countries have gone to flat taxes and low rates.

Today is Super Tuesday, where almost half of the delegates of both parties are up for grabs. But who will win? Can Hillary stop the Obama Man Train? Will Ann Coulter’s anti-endorsement actually hurt John McCain? Courtesy of our patented Angry Crystal Ball technology, the 12 Angry Men offer their predictions of who’s going to come out on top.

If we get off our angry behinds, we might actually update this during the day. Or not.

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Angry New Mexican
On the Republican side of the aisle, I expect to see some fairly solid support for McCain in most of the bluer states — New York, California and New Jersey, for instance. Romney picks up most of the redder states, discounting a Huckabee victory in Arkansas, plus perhaps a surprise in Missouri, Alabama or Tennessee. Overall, I see McCain picking up a (slim) majority of the 1,081 Republican delegates chosen on Super Tuesday. This will probably be enough to off Huckabee for good, but not enough to quash Romney. Ron Paul will get no delegates, which will of course, providing tin-foil hat whining from his partisans on slashdot.

On the Democratic side of things, expect to see Hillary take a majority in all of the big states save Illinois and Georgia. Obama does very well in the smaller, more liberal states like Connecticut. States with large Hispanic populations (New Mexico, Arizona) go heavily for Hillary. Overall, Hillary comes out on top by about 5% or so in the polls and a tighter margin among the 2,075 Democratic delegates. Obama will be able to keep up his campaign for a bit longer, perhaps even until the convention.

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Angry Overeducated Catholic
On the Republican side, I agree with ANM in general terms, but with some important caveats. California remains too close to call, with McCain and Romney trading the top spot constantly. I’m going to call it for McCain but I would not be surprised at all to see Romney take it (esp. with the immigration issue looming large). New York, of course, is a no brainer: on it’s most conservative day it’s slightly to the left of Castro—so McCain there for sure. Jersey, ditto, it’s New York with more mobsters and toxic waste dumps. And Illinois, which might still be glancing nervously towards Nauvoo. Romney, meanwhile, carries his own state of Taxacusettes, Utah (duh), Nevada (still duh), and some of the other western states. But he loses the South to McCain(!) and maybe Huckabee in one or two places. I just don’t see Romney able to overcome both Huckabee and his open Mormonism to take the more conservative voters in the South. Overall, I think there’s a real solid possibility that Super Tuesday to cement McCain as the clear choice, put the final nail in Huckabee’s coffin, and persuade Romney to bow out as well for the sake of party unity. Ron Paul, of course, will soldier on, no matter what, as will his followers, but who cares.

The Democratic side strikes me as even more interesting. Despite ANM’s clear Billary boosterism, Obama is a real contender in Califronia, as well as in Illinois and Georgia. None of those are winner-take-all states, though, and Hillary has a lot of support across New England and through the Mid-Atlantic states. Obama may take several states in the Midwest and Deep South, but it’s by no means certain. My gut tells me that there won’t be a clear leader after Super Tuesday, but Obama will be in trouble if he doesn’t come out with either a majority or a close minority of the votes. Given the number of superdelegates leaning towards Hillary in the Democrat’s corrupt nominating system, Obama has an uphill fight unless he can show clear momentum today. Still, unlike the GOP side, I see little chance for a decided race tomorrow, which will doubtless make Hillary even more shrill and uncompromising towards “uppity” Obama. Worse, the Clintons will be smelling blood and enraged by Barack’s lack of meek obedience: so look for the last remnants of restraint to fade after today, as the Clinton smear machine shows Barack what a dirty campaign really looks like.

Angry Political Optimist
Frankly, I am sick of the political coverage of this dragged out election season. It even makes the Brittany Spears/Natalie Holloway/Paris Hilton celebrity coverage look attractive. Gag! (I can’t believe I said that.) I suspect that there are a lot of people who feel like me and will express their displeasure at the voting booth by voting for Ron Paul or Mickey Mouse. Expect to see an uptick in low percentage candidates.

So deep is the hate-juice among some conservatives for John McCain that they favor an opponent over the possible (likely?—in this crazy campaign, I’m not going to say that) nominee of their own party. Jimmie Dobson has been rumbling again, for instance, and Limbaugh has been working himself into a faux-frothing-at-the-mouth fury. This more or less reminds me of the hard-core Green Party Nader voters of 2000. It’s a long standing theme in American politics going back decades when a party splits into its component factions. But nothing tops this little gem:

Of course, it’s been making the rounds and chances are good you’ve seen it already, though if you haven’t, watching Colmes’ reaction to Ann is damn funny. No, if there’s anything new to this, it’s Ann’s little line on John McCain “he has led the fight against torture at Guantanamo” about a minute in. Has “torture” been turned into a one-word talking point? WTF?

Mind-twisting quasi-logic of the John Yoo variety I understand (he is a law professor after all), but Ann goes out of her way to correct Hannity when he uses the term “interrogations”. Props for being honest, I guess, but… whoa. Chuck Norris in the movies might do that, but I’m not sure where the Chuckster stands on it in real life, and Chuck does know the difference, though evidently some conservative commentators don’t understand that ’24′ is a TV show. (Anyone know?)

Discuss!

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ObFascism Tag: Can’t you just see Ann as one of Josef Goebbels’ girlfriends in a different life?

As the Glorious Heartland is once again covered with snow to a depth sufficient to fill Southerners with eternal horror for the first time in the season, your gentle (but angry) author feels a burning need to once again rail against the greatest peril of the season: other drivers. So we proudly present this classic rant for your enjoyment and edification. If it forces even one horrible driver off the road, well, then, it’s all worth it, isn’t it. I mean, think of the children!

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These past weeks, we had our first major snowstorm of the year in the Land of Lincoln. Oh, not that there hadn’t been snow before, but this was the first snowstorm that truly deserved the “storm” part. Blizzard Warnings, Blowing Snow Advisories, and all that. Which meant, of course, it was time for Morons on Ice (well, snow).

There is really only one rule to driving on snow: Change is bad. Speeding up, slowing down, turning, changing lanes—these things cause trouble. Remember that, and you’re fine. Forget that, and, well, you’re a moron. This means of course that you can drive 50 mph perfectly safely, if the road is straight, and you’re not surrounded by morons who don’t know about things like braking distance on snow and ice. It also means that you can drive 15 mph and be a complete hazard on the road…apparently a very popular option.

There is a certain type of driving moron who thinks that by driving 10-20 mph slower, they have somehow “paid their dues” to the Snow Gods and are thereafter absolved of any need to modify their other stupid driving habits. So they’ll slam on the brakes, jam on the accelerator, weave through traffic, take turns abruptly, fail to signal and do all the other things that actually cause accidents on snow, ice, or for that matter perfectly clear pavements under a sunny sky.

And, on snow, this has the added benefit of jamming up traffic behind these fools, since often it’s not possible to pass at all, much less safely, due to snow and ice blocking parts of the road or requiring a much greater amount of time and distance to pass cars safely. As I was reminded of why I hate driving to work in the snow (hint: it’s not the snow, the road, or the wind), I compiled this handy catalog of Morons on Ice:

The Scatterbrained/Ungoverned Venturers (S/UVs) These drivers have chosen the “safest” vehicle for snow: a 4WD SUV of monstrous proportions. They then either drive that SUV in the exact same way they would on dry city pavements in Chicago—brake or gas pedal jammed to the floor at all times (these are the ungoverned venturers) or they creep along at 10 mph, despite having the vehicle best able to travel straight lines safely in snow (these are the scatterbrained). Since you can’t see around them, unless you too have decided to express your hatred of the Earth in your vehicle choice, you’re stuck wondering why they bothered to buy a huge SUV instead of the tiny rice burner they clearly think they’re driving.

The Oblivious These drive any sort of vehicle, though they seem to favor larger sedans. They drive fast or slow but either way have apparently decided that driving in snow removes any requirement to observe what other vehicles happen to be doing. I was nearly rear-ended by one of these while stopped, in the only open lane of a road, waiting for someone to turn left, at the end of a line of six cars! The moron never even stopped, but he was able to swerve left at the last moment, into oncoming traffic, and barrel past the line (including the left turning car, who had the presence of mind not to get in front of the charging idiot). You’d think that the driving conditions would indicate that you should pay more attention, not less, but you’d be wrong where these fools are concerned.

NASCAR Rejects Real NASCAR drivers are skilled professionals who are amazingly good at not crashing into other cars in the worst of conditions. But the rejects here drive like NASCAR drivers without the skill, training, or special tires. Every stop light is a starting line, and every intersection is a finishing line. Each start or stop requires full, pedal-to-the-metal acceleration or braking. Strangely this behavior doesn’t mix well with snow, slush, and ice. It does, however, lead to amusing results like fishtailing out of control and spiralling through an intersection into a ditch. Sadly, sometimes they wind up slamming into a car which is actually proceeding through the intersection in an orderly fashion.

The Post-Hoc Expert These are the morons who find themselves in an accident of any sort, clearly entirely their fault, and then make increasingly absurd arguments about why they weren’t really to blame and why they deserve a break from the usual consequences of being either stupid or unlucky on snow. Why everyone else should have to foot the bill for their driving habits is, of course, never addressed. They are the “whiny little bitches” of snow driving, and deserve the contempt reserved for such.

So there we have it, a brief catalog of the worst offenders, who turn a Winter Wonderland into the Demolition Derby, and bring to every snowy intersection the level of stress of a trip “outside the wire” in Iraq. Come to think of it, that’s probably a good solution: ship these people to Iraq and force them to serve convoy duty. After all, there’s not a lot of snow there, and in sandstorms nobody can see anything anyway. And most of their bad habits could be an asset in driving supply convoys, where mad dashes through crowded streets are a survival habit, not a muderous rampage.

But whatever you do, get these people off the streets of the Heartland during Winter!

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