Wednesday, December 29, 2010


(Click on the Chart for a bigger, clearer image)


If I'm not mistaken, that deficit figure means if it was my budget, say $38,300 a year, I'd be putting $12,700 a year on my credit cards to pay the bills.

Got to tell you, that's not gonna last very long. Even when I start accepting all those credit card deals with the zero percent interest for 6 months. Pretty soon I'm printing money in the basement or knocking over 7-11s.

BTW, our credit card company (China) has nukes. I am not liking this picture.

Here's a link to a fabulous video on budget cuts. This is one of the best graphic representations I've ever seen on the subject. Just a few minutes long. Tells the story.

The President is talking about cutting $100,000,000 (one hundred million) from the budget.

The budget is $3,830,000,000,000 (3.83 trillion).

So, if this was my budget of $38,300, the President would be cutting 1 dollar.

100 pennies. That gets us down to $12,699 on my credit card bill. Which is better than $12,700, to be sure, so maybe I should not whine. 100 million here, 100 million there. Do it 12,700 times and VOILA! Problem solved, as Ross Perot used to say.

If the President finds 35 of these 100 million cuts (3.5 billion) per day for the next year, we are back at ground zero, my friends.

Sadly, I am unimpressed with the math. More importantly, so is Mrs. Optimist, who is the budget maven around here. When she cuts a budget, she cuts a budget. With a serrated knife her mom bought when Eisenhower was President.

You can hear the screaming and crying, the begging for mercy, for blocks. Usually the neighbors call the police and an ambulance.

I'm not saying that's the only way to do it. I'm just saying that's my experience.

Here's my impression of the current budget process:

Actually, I much prefer Jackson Pollack's results to the current federal budget situation. Why?

Photo Credit.

Told you. Much better.


I just saw a T.V. news story about the manatees freezing to death off the Florida coast. Apparently Florida has required its power companies to dump warm water into the ocean, at some minimal extra expense to taxpayers, to give the manatees a refuge from the unusually cold water. I applaud this effort to save an endangered species from the effects of the cold weather.

Manatee in Better Times.

I found an article on the subject. The same problem cropped up last winter.

Florida, and much of the Southeast, are experiencing an extremely cold winter. Like last winter. India is having freezing weather, too. Which, what's that about?

Europe was way cold last winter. Northern Europe has been hammered again this year.

It is apparently very tricky figuring out if it will be cold in Europe and the U.S. Siberian snow fall has a lot to do with it, but it is hard to predict whether Siberia will have a big snow fall or not. If they do, the Artic gets warmer and pushes cold weather south on us. So polar bears get stranded on ice floes, while manatees die. Weather scientists have a hard time getting this one right. See this interesting Washington Post article.

I called 9-1-1 about all this. They already have someone responding. Still, I felt good about taking some responsibility.

My fervent hope is that global climate change (formerly global warming) will hit Big Cold Town (BCT) right about when I move back there in a few months. The plan is that Mrs. Optimist and I will not need to move south when we retire. Instead, the south will retire toward us.

At least that's what I tell myself. So far, BCT's been smacked with a big Christmas blizzard. Ditto last winter, when BCT got crushed all winter long.

The Huffington Post bloggers tell us that the freezing Manatees are due entirely to President Obama's craven extension of the Bush tax cuts, which have enriched Republicans by allowing them to keep their own money.

Arianna Huffington (formerly married to rich
Republican, now big-time liberal blog host)

Rich old Republicans have cold hearts, which grow much bigger and colder when they get to keep their own money. Since so many rich old Republicans live near the Florida coast, it is obvious that their increasingly wealthy and frigid hearts have lowered the water temperatures, imperiling the manatees.

The article finishes by calling for a criminal prosecution of Dick Cheney for crimes against manateekind. Leaving manatees in water less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit is a violation of the Geneva Convention, and Dick was in charge of manatees and stingrays during the Bush Administration.

(By the way, the Huffington reported no such thing. I made all this up on my own. I just like to say the word "Huffington." Makes me think of sniffing glue. But that's another story.)

So I'll be busy the next few days, following the freezing India story, as well as the chill manatee story. In the meantime I will figure out if "Shotgun" Dick Cheney is to blame for global warmcooling, or wobal glorming.

Or something.

Is it chilly in here or is that just me? Excuse me, I've got to go turn the heat up.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Clement Attlee generated a memorable quote: "He was a modest man, with much to be modest about." Churchill described him as a "sheep in sheep's clothing."

Clement the Great.

Great Britain won WWII, against all odds, then fired Winston Churchill immediately and hired Clement Attlee as its Prime Minister. From 1945-1951, under Attlee, Great Britain acquired a huge, Anaconda-like welfare state, for which Churchill coined the phrase "cradle to grave." To pay for this they divested themselves of their Empire around the world and nationalized great swathes of their economy.

In all they did, the Attlee government was guided by complete confidence in the power of smart bureaucrats and politicians to make smarter decisions about the economy than the market could. Their great prophet was John Maynard Keynes.

Lord Keynes.
The Attleeites' great fear was a return to the Depression and political chaos of the 1930s. Their great myth was that free markets wrought the Great Depression. In fact, it was a series of politically motivated decisions imposed by governments on the economies of Europe and North America that gave birth to the Great Depression.

At the time the grand project seemed like a marvelous idea to everyone involved, Labour, Liberals, Conservatives.
It was the right thing to do, the only moral thing to do. Anyone who opposed it was a selfish. unreconstructed troglodyte, out to stiff the working man. There were a few lonely economists who predicted that the whole business would come to no good. They were vilified, marginalized, and ultimately proven to be correct.

Friedrich Hayak. Read his "Road to Serfdom." Chilling.

By the 1970s Great Britain was in desperate economic shape as a result of the grand experiment. The very smart politicians and bureaucrats had proven quite incompetent at running an economy. The British economy was suffering from both stagnation and inflation, memorably dubbed "stagflation."

Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 (very much as did Reagan, in 1980) with a mandate to dismantle the welfare state. The notion at the time was that however unpleasant a less regulated economy might be, it couldn't be much worse than the ramshackle, broken muddle Britain was living with.

Margaret Thatcher
Thatcher's efforts, while not completely successful, did result in a substantial unwinding of government controls over the economy, and an economic boom.

If you think a welfare state is the right thing to do, never mind the economic consequences; if you think good intentions allow you to ignore economic facts; Clement Attlee is "The Man."

For a hip-hip hooray! rendition of the jolly good Attlee years, see the Guardian. For a less enthusiastic view, see Andrew Stuttaford.

For an explanation of the phrase "mess of pottage" check the link, or read Genesis 25:29-34.

Right now my Democratic friends are building Attlee Progressivism right here in River City. Never mind the Brits have spent the last 30 years trying to unwind the Anaconda from around their necks.

We continue to ignore the fact that we cannot afford to tax our economy at the rate necessary to support our present wealth of government expenditures. We spend and borrow, believing that economics is like politics. If we have smart enough people in charge and give them enough power, somehow they can command the tide to stop coming in and the rivers to flow uphill.

President Obama Parts the Red Ink
But economics is not like politics. Economics is like gravity. Step off a cliff and you will fall down. Every time.

Here. Listen to Garry Marshall from the movie "Lost in America." He's trying to explain all this economics stuff to Albert Brooks, whose wife just lost their "nest egg" in a casino.

I am not concerned because I am afraid of the future. I am concerned because I am aware of the past.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


An article by an author from Central California, musing on the "two Californias" he saw on a bike ride through his home, caught my attention. It is well worth reading.

Other writers have given a great deal of attention to California, from General Sherman to John Steinbeck to The Grateful Dead. It is safe to say that none of them focused on California's fiscal future circa 2010. Given the astonishing wealth of the land, there seemed no point in such musings.

California owes $8.8 billion in short-term loans that have to be paid off by June [2010], and over $120 billion in outstanding bonds and interest that will be paid over decades. The state’s pension fund, CalPers, has $16.3 billion more in liabilities than assets, plus California also faces a $51.8 billion expense for the health and dental benefits of state retirees and future retirees. Read more here.

Well, here we are.

Right now the sobering fact is that our richest, most populous state is in the end stages of social disintegration. It is like watching the prom queen become a bag lady.

Prom Queen?
Photo Credit

The government can't govern. The wealthy and their jobs are leaving. The middle class are following. The state does not or cannot control illegal immigration. The state is insolvent. It cannot pay its bills, except by borrowing about $28 billion this year alone.

California is the canary in the coal mine for the rest of America. And right now, California is expiring. The fumes killing it are emanating from the welfare state assumptions under which it has been run for many years. Matters not if the government was Republican or Democratic, the underlying engines of the social welfare state were purring along.

Canary and Coal Miner.

My guess is that California will have to completely break before there will be change. When it does, it may help the rest of us sober up and realize that however noble an ideology, if it spends more money than it takes in, it breaks. And when a state breaks, the average Joe winds up hurting.

I'm not going to fuss about the correct balance of taxes versus spending. I think there is a great deal of flexibility on that subject. I happen to be on the "southern" end of that debate - I think we should err on the side of low taxes and low government spending, as a general matter, with certain limited exceptions.

Mostly I am there because it seems much easier for people in government to justify increases in spending, rather than decreases. As a general rule it seems wise to keep as far from the icebergs of overspending as possible, adjusting for the fundamental human bias toward overspending. It is much easier to pump up spending quickly, if the need arises, than it is to cut back on spending in a hurry. Just a practical observation.

But two things are for sure: there is an upper limit to how much money a government can suck from its people in taxes before the people stop cooperating, and there is an upper limit to how much a government can borrow before lenders stop cooperating. Liberal ideology over the last 50-100 year has essentially ignored both upper limits in the (now more clearly) mistaken belief that those limits were far, far away, if they existed at all.

They may have been, at one time. But now, like all long journeys, this one is coming to an end. Now we feel silly for assuming the trip would never stop.

End Of The World As We Know It?
In California, Greece, and Ireland, and in other locations around the globe (cast your eyes on New York) we are now seeing practical illustrations of the limits on government spending, taxation and borrowing.

The next year or two will be very interesting. I hope for the sake of the regular people in California that the government is able to step back from the cliff somehow. I don't see that happening, however. I predict the Wiley Coyote conclusion to this mess, the one where he speeds off the cliff while chasing the roadrunner, realizes where he is for just a second, then plummets to the canyon floor a thousand feet below.

Wiley E. California Just Before the Fall.

We will see what emerges. It may be that the rest of the U.S. votes for California to secede, kind of the reverse of 1861. Can they do that? It will be full employment for lawyers, that's for sure.

I don't think that will happen, but people in less crazy-ass states might get irked when Cali comes looking for a federal bailout. I guess it depends on the Cali attitude at the time, but nothing about California politics in the last few years tells me that reasonableness will be the keynote to that discussion.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the death penalty:

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined,the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing, crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself- the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

Catechism, par. 2267.

Sadly, there is a facile and aggressive assumption many absolute opponents of the death penalty make: that modern society actually has the ability to defend itself or its citizens in all cases without the use of the death penalty. (I will call absolute opponents of the death penalty "Absolutists," for short.)

This is a false assumption, perhaps based on ignorance about what goes on within modern prisons. More troubling than ignorance is the devaluation of the lives of prisoners and guards that is an unspoken but very real foundation and consequence of Absolutism.

It is true that in most cases a modern American prison suffices to protect society from the murder, rape and assault practiced by its prisoners. But it is also true that a modern prison does not suffice in a relatively small but significant set of circumstances.

Eternal Optimist, just off the top of his head, is aware of two cases that illustrate the point. In one case, out of Virginia, a prisoner named Caro had committed multiple violent assaults while in jail, and had been sentenced to an additional prison term as a result. He then brutally strangled a fellow prisoner with a knotted towel for "disrespecting" him while he was housed in the "SHU" (Special Housing Unit - the "prison's prison") at a high-security federal prison. Caro casually mentioned to the guards that they should get the body out of the cell, because it was "stinking." Read the Caro opinion. It is sickening.

In another case in Pennsylvania, an indictment alleges that a federal prisoner named Savage (appropriately enough), housed in the SHU in a Federal Detention Center during his pending prosecution for running a large drug organization, got word to fellow inmates to kill a witness' family. An accomplice firebombed a witness' house, killing 6 people, including 4 small children. Read the news story

A SHU represents state of the art prisoner security. SHUs are not enough to protect against murder by certain prisoners. We have an entire federal penitentiary - Florence ADMAX in Colorado - devoted to housing prisoners we can't safely house at "ordinary" federal penitentiaries. Men are incalculably evil and incredibly creative in inflicting their evil on others. ADMAX can't prevent murders, only reduce the chances, at an unconscionable expense.

The two prison murder cases mentioned above - and prison assaults, rapes and murders are not uncommon - illustrate a basic point: there are many cases where the modern state does not have the ability to keep people safe from men intent on murder or mayhem, because "people" include the prisoners, guards and witnesses victimized by prison predators.

Absolutists prefer to gloss over this fact, as if the predictable deaths of prisoners and guards is an acceptable price for not having to pronounce judgments of death and act upon them in extreme cases.

The requirement in the Catechism to use "non-lethal means," if possible, to protect society is founded on the simple consideration that respect for human life requires us to respect the life of the killer as well as his victims, because all human life is sacred, no matter how it has been warped. If we can protect others without having to execute a murderer, we should do that. (Note: I am not addressing other traditional lines of thought about the justifications for the death penalty, which include deterrence and just desserts. I am simply addressing Absolutism from within Catholic doctrine.)

But this does not mean we can simply disregard the other side of the equation: society's right and duty to protect the lives of victims. Just as we have to value the life of the killer, we also have to value and protect the lives of his future victims. And these victims, or potential victims, include prisoners and guards, whose lives are every bit as precious, in God's eyes, as the loveliest child's.

Absolutists pretend that modern prisons always satisfy the Catechism's important predicate, "rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm." They are ignoring the deaths and injuries to prison guards, prisoners, and witnesses inflicted in and from prison by determined predators. Society owes a duty to protect these lives as much as any others. It is not acceptable to trade the lives of victims for the comfort of never having to carry out an execution.

Some people not only deserve to die; it is a moral evil not to kill them, because killing them is the only way to prevent them from committing new murders, rapes and assaults.

That's why this part of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism exists:

the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

It will not do to manufacture "possible" - and outlandishly expensive - ways of "effectively defending human lives" in prisons that outdo a federal SHU. "Possible," in the context of this moral teaching, must have some finite, reasonable meaning. It is not morally defensible to divert an unlimited amount of society's resources away from hungry children, aging veterans and national defense to construct infinitely safe super-prisons.

Neither is it an answer that juries consist of flawed men and women, and death sentences are sometimes wrongfully inflicted. The very rare instances in modern America of men dying wrongfully at the hands of the state are horrible. But they are no more horrible - or morally reprehensible - than murders committed by men whom the prison system cannot effectively prevent from committing murder. In both instances society has failed its duty, and that failure has cost a life.

The sobering thing about human evil is that there are a lot of situations in which it is not possible to "effectively defend[] human lives" without a fair trial, a verdict of death, and an execution. And in America today these situations far outnumber the surpassingly rare instances of an actually innocent man being executed by the state.

As an aside, the vast majority of men whose verdicts are set aside on appeal or in post-appeal proceedings in America are not actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Instead, there is typically some procedural flaw in the trial for which our system requires a re-trial, and the re-trial may or may not be possible. One hopes that at some juncture the media will tire of being "useful idiots" for propagandists on this issue and try to report on this distinction accurately.

I do not dismiss arguments about systemic inequities or faulty jury verdicts. But systemic problems do not absolve us of the duty to execute, after a fair trial and finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, where execution is "the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against [an] unjust aggressor."

Men found guilty of murdering others in or from prison should be executed. They have conclusively demonstrated that society is unable to safeguard others from their depredations through any other means.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Michael Learner wrote an earnest article in Sunday's Washington Post in which he said the Obama presidency can only be saved by running a candidate against him in the Democratic primary in 2012 that is unabashedly "Progressive." Read it here. By the device of running a "true" Progressive, Mr. Learner hopes to discipline the errant Obama, who has been scrambling in heavy winds because of the the drubbing taken by Democrats in the November election.

Mr. Learner is himself a proud Progressive, a publisher of his own magazine, Tikkun, and a mucky-muck in the Network of Spiritual Progressives. I'm not familiar with either organization.

Here is Mr. Learner's Progressive shopping-list for his True Progressive candidate in the Democratic primary in 2012:
  • immediate pull-out in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan,
  • Global Marshall Plan that roots homeland security in a strategy of generosity and concern for the well-being of everyone on the planet.
  • a massive jobs program;
  • a freeze on mortgage foreclosures;
  • a national bank offering interest-free loans to those seeking to create or expand small businesses;
  • immediate implementation of the parts of the Obama health-care plan that would benefit ordinary citizens;
  • dramatically lower prices for drugs that treat critical diseases such as AIDS and cancer;
  • big carbon emissions tax;
  • immediate prosecution of those government employees involved in torture or cover-ups to justify the invasion of Iraq;
  • media to provide free and equal time to all major candidates for national office;
  • constitutional amendments requiring only public financing in elections;
  • corporations to prove every five years to a jury of ordinary citizens that they have a satisfactory history of environmental responsibility (much like the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment, or ESRA, advocated by the Network of Spiritual Progressives).
  • new New Deal, which in the 21st century could be the Caring Society: "Caring for Each Other and the Earth."
Conspicuously absent is any mention of how any of this gets paid for. Presumably not by Mr. Learner. The government is already running a deficit of 1 trillion or so a year. Just the "Marshall Plan for the Whole Earth" alone will probably cost many times the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, so I think the answer to how we would pay for all this would look something like the chart which follows:
  • raise taxes by 5 trillion dollars (take money)
  • issue a bunch of debt worth 5 trillion dollars (print money)
Of course, this will literally and rapidly throttle the economy. Now, ruining the economy may be a Progressive goal. If it is, Mr. Learner's a genius. If not, the policies he outlines, taken together, are puerile. Anytime you start throwing policies around without getting real about how it gets paid for, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Which may be why Progressives did poorly at the polls in 2010. People hated to vote for "ruin the country" and "puerile," so instead they voted Republican. We will see how honestly Republicans tackle government spending. Last time they were in the majority they reminded me of Julie Hagerty in "Lost in America," losing the family "nest egg" in a night of compulsive gambling in Las Vegas.

Based on Mr. Learner's article, Progressives are convinced that huge government spending and high taxation are moral imperatives. Complain as they might, Obama is one of their own. I do not see the possibility of much change in Administration policy or practice between now and 2012. Deficits will continue to grow and Progressives will continue to insist that the only way to balance the budget is to raise taxes dramatically, because spending cuts in government are taboo. Can't make Progress if you don't spend gobs of taxpayer money.

Which is going to make an interesting election day in 2012.