November 28, 2011

LinkWorking Class Zero: Early on in an analytical piece about the President's reelection strategy comes this little nugget:

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.

It is instructive to trace the evolution of a political strategy based on securing this coalition in the writings and comments, over time, of such Democratic analysts as Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. Both men were initially determined to win back the white working-class majority, but both currently advocate a revised Democratic alliance in which whites without college degrees are effectively replaced by well-educated socially liberal whites in alliance with the growing ranks of less affluent minority voters, especially Hispanics. [emphasis mine]

I wonder when the term "working class" went from being a description of those who engage in manual labor for a paycheck, to a somewhat dispargaging term referring to educational underachieving. The use of the term "working class" to describe anyone who lacks a college degree seems rather arbitrary, and doesn't provide much in the way of analytical value, since it includes Bill Gates, Gwyneth Paltrow, the late Steve Jobs, and the Kardashian sisters as "working class," while expelling any autoworker with a degree from Wayne State from the ranks of the proletariat.

As a demographic term used in political analysis, I fail to see why this term is useful, unless one wants to make the elitist argument that white people who aren't well-educated lean Republican. If there is one group that has been most dramatically impacted by the Great Recession, it's low-to-medium wage college graduates, a group that is particularly susceptible to an appeal based on economic populism. On the other hand, if you want to dig deeper and understand the political biases of those who work for someone else for a living, merely using a label based on educational accomplishments won't get you there.

October 24, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Haka:

Unclear whether the French were preparing some sort of response along the lines of the can-can, but thought better of it at the last minute. The All Blacks ended up winning the WC Final, 8-7.

September 16, 2011

Solyndra, solyndra....

I suppose there's no point commenting on the faux-outrage about this story, but it is interesting (at least to me) that there seem to be people who are under the impression that it is a horrible, beastly thing for the government to have lost money on this sort of investment. Solyndra was involved a business that is typically high-risk, so any sort of investment was going to be iffy; the fact that it (and other businesses like it) went under isn't a surprise. The free market is inefficient when it comes to picking and choosing the sorts of new technologies that have a socially useful benefit in the future, since it's all about maximizing profits, right this minute. If the government was basing every decision on what to subsidy as a guaranteed profit center, it wouldn't be serving the public.

For emerging technologies, that's always the case: fifty years ago, similar investments by Big Gub'mint were made on new-fangled devices known as "computers," which were necessary because the free market hadn't really figured out a way to make a profit out of the gadgets. Later, the internet emerged out of similar risk-taking, unprofitable investments by the government. Society as a whole benefits when there is a tension between the free market and government, with the latter making the former more creative and less destructive.

August 21, 2011

Another legacy brat falls: With the pending fall of Tripoli to the rebels comes word that Saadi Gadhafi, idiot son of the dictator, and the subject of this piece from the early days of my blog, has been arrested. Interestingly, after his soccer "career" ended, he had been investing in the moving pictures, with little luck, before events in the homeland compelled his return earlier this year.

UPDATE [9/16/11]: As it turned out, young Saadi had not been captured by the rebels, and as of this date, is reportedly exiled in the West African nation of Niger, a nation best-known for not providing Iraq with yellowcake uranium, contrary to an infamous set of forged documents.

August 11, 2011

Something to know about the Kings of the Jungle:
Researchers plotted the timing of nearly 500 of those lion attacks against the phases of the moon. And they found that the odds of being devoured by a lion were highest on nights following the full moon—nights when the moon rises late, providing hours of darkness for lions to stage a strike.

And previous studies have found that the fatter the moon, the slimmer the lion. Probably because the bright nights make hunting harder. So lions are hungriest around the full moon, too—and more willing to pounce on two-legged prey, as soon as they're provided the cover of darkness.
So says a recent study. Also something important to know: the global population of lions living in the wild has declined by nearly 95% in the past fifty years, before, during and after full moons. Thoughts?

August 07, 2011

About a week ago, I had the opportunity to party it up with some friendly small-l libertarian types. Possessing the Obamian tendency of trying to find common ground with others, particularly ideological adversaries, and not wanting to say the one obviously libertarian tendency that I and other left-of-center types possess (Yes on Pot !!!), I was reminded of something that has rankled me no end on my frequent visits to the high seas: the existence of the what may well be the dumbest, least worthwhile law in the books, the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (PVSA).

In short, the PVSA forbids "foreign vessels" from transporting passengers between American cities. Well, actually it doesn't technically prevent that; what it does is force cruiseships going from one US city to another to either stop at what is called a "far foreign port" (ie., outside of North America), or to stop at a foreign port within North America before returning to the American port of embarkation. Thus, a cruise ship cannot start in Los Angeles and end in San Francisco unless it stops in Tokyo or Lima first. But it can start in Los Angeles, go to San Francisco, then later end in Los Angeles, as long as it stops in Ensenada, Mexico or Victoria, British Columbia first.

And effectively, almost all cruise ships are considered "foreign vessels" for purposes of this act, regardless of whether the line is a domestic corporation, since almost all cruise ships are built overseas. This is not from any fault of the American shipbuilding industry, or from high labor costs, or from any of the other reasons typically used to disparage American competitiveness, but because domestic shipbuilders view building ocean-bearing craft for the military or for cargo lines as a much more profitable use of their resources than building cruise ships. The one recent effort to create such an industry collapsed in the aftermath of 9/11, and the only "American-flagged" cruise ship, the "Pride of America", sails for Norwegian Cruise Line in Hawaii, where it has a government-sanctioned monopoly on inter-island cruising.

Although this may be a boon for Norwegian, it's hard to see how other cruise lines have really been disadvantaged by this protectionist inanity. Other cruise ships have their own lucrative version of the Hawaiian cruise, with the minor disadvantage being that it's length is twice as long (since it starts and ends out of a western coastal port, like L.A. or San Francisco), and it must make at least one brief stop in Ensenada. The cruise ship gets to rake in the dough by having its captive passengers on board ship, purchasing overpriced trinkets and souvenirs, not to mention drinking and gambling, for 9-10 sea days, while the customers are none the wiser.

Obviously, there is nothing in the current law that would encourage the development of a domestic cruiseship building industry, since it doesn't increase the operating costs, or diminish the profits, of those lines that contract with Italian or Japanese shipbuilders to build their next megalopolis-on-the-seas. However, the consumer is shortchanged, since we: a) have to spend more money to take an unnecessarily longer cruise, and b) have fewer consumer choices as to which ship to take, since the domestic market is already saturated with ships taking the same routes to the same locales. Moreover, dockworkers and others who benefit from having busy and profitable ports are screwed by the PVSA, since few cities are close enough to foreign ports to make cruising out of those cities a worthwhile proposition.

And who likes this law? Cruise lines, of course. If the law were to be repealed, the increase in the number of short, affordable cruises within the United States would be exponential. One of the most popular cruises at present is the weekend "booze cruise" that leaves a US port, sails to a nearby foreign locale, like the Bahamas or Ensenada, and back. The typical passenger on such a cruise is much less affluent than the seagoing traveler who typically sails on the larger ships; given the option of taking a weekend cruise from LA to San Francisco and back, or from Baltimore to Brooklyn, or to and from cities on the Great Lakes, more people would sail than ever before. But that would also entice other ships into the market, so the market share of the half-dozen or so companies that control the US market would plummet.

In effect, the PVSA provides for the cruise industry what the pre-1980 regulation of the passenger airlines did for flying; it creates a non-responsive, expensive business oligopoly that caters to the well-off, and prevents the emergence of innovative, cheaper competitors. And it does all this while providing nothing of benefit to the consumer, to industry, or to the worker.

UPDATE: Thanx to the good people at Reason for the link. In the comments, a number of people have pointed out that the restrictions in PVSA purportedly protect "American flagged" ships, not ships originally made in the USA. That mix-up is due, I believe, to the confusion centered around the notion that many ships fly what are called "flags of convenience", ie., are registered in 3rd World countries that do not have the labor or OSHA restrictions required under American law. In fact, under American maritime law, in order to qualify as an American-flagged ship, the ship must not only obey such laws and regulations, but must also be built domestically. The government can grant waivers to this requirement, as it did with the aforementioned Pride of America, which was only partially built (with heavy taxpayer subsidies) in the US of A. Since the lack of a domestic cruise ship building industry makes even this step impossible, the circumvention of American labor and safety laws are the least of the problems with this statute.

August 04, 2011

Definitely not the sort of problem that the fans of Phoebe Nicholls have to worry about....

July 28, 2011

All Hail Our Galtian Overlords !!!

Ex-TV journalist turned free market shill John Stossel, on a paradise we hard-luck democratic saps should consider:
Hong Kong doesn't even have democracy, but because its rulers protected people's personal safety and property and left them otherwise free, Hong Kong thrived. In 50 years, it went from horrible poverty to income levels that are among the highest in world. Prosperity, thanks to economic freedom.

We should try that here.
Cause if there's one thing the U.S. should be emulating more of, it's the political and economic policies of totalitarian China....

July 19, 2011

Maybe Chapter can play left field:

July 18, 2011

"'Linda Green'" by any other name would smell as sweet: Apparently the scam continues:
Mortgage industry employees are still signing documents they haven't read and using fake signatures more than eight months after big banks and mortgage companies promised to stop the illegal practices that led to a nationwide halt of home foreclosures.

County officials in at least three states say they have received thousands of mortgage documents with questionable signatures since la fall, suggesting that the practices, known collectively as "robo-signing," remain widespread in the industry.

The documents have come from several companies that process mortgage paperwork, and have been filed on behalf of several major banks. One name, "Linda Green," was signed almost two dozen different ways.
One of the big problems in California is that neither the courts nor the prosecutors care if documents used by lenders to bolster foreclosure sales are even close to being accurate; under the "tender rule," a homeowner who has lost his residence in foreclosure has to come up with the entire principal balance of his loan to even get the courts to look twice at a bogus foreclosure, so most judges won't go anywhere near these cases. Unlike her counterpart in New York, the new state Attorney General, Kamala Harris, has been in office for six months and done nothing other than pose for the cameras.

More on the ubiquitious "Linda Green":
In Essex County, Mass., the office that handles property deeds has received almost 1,300 documents since October with the signature of "Linda Green," but in 22 different handwriting styles and with many different titles.

Linda Green worked for a company called DocX that processed mortgage paperwork and was shut down in the spring of 2010. County officials say they believe Green hasn't worked in the industry since. Why her signature remains in use is not clear.

"My office is a crime scene," says John O'Brien, the registrar of deeds in Essex County, which is north of Boston and includes the city of Salem.

In Guilford County, N.C., the office that records deeds says it received 456 documents with suspect signatures from Oct. 1, 2010, through June 30. The documents, mortgage assignments and certificates of satisfaction, transfer loans from one bank to another or certify a loan has been paid off.


The 14 biggest U.S. banks reached a settlement with federal regulators in April in which they promised to clean up their mistakes and pay restitution to homeowners who had been wrongly foreclosed upon. The full amount of the settlement has not been determined. But it will not involve independent mortgage processing firms, the companies that some banks use to handle and file paperwork for mortgages.

So far, no individuals, lenders or paperwork processors have been charged with a crime over the robo-signed signatures found on documents last year. Critics such as April Charney, a Florida homeowner and defense lawyer, called the settlement a farce because no real punishment was meted out, making it easy for lenders and mortgage processors to continue the practice of robo-signing.
The problem won't be curtailed until some judge decides to throw a bank president in prison for some ridiculous length of time.

June 27, 2011

Dodgers Go Red: Here are the initial Chapter 11 filings for the Los Angeles Dodgers, which actually entails five separate bankruptcies, involving the team and the various holding companies that own the team and the surrounding property, including Dodger Stadium. The bankruptcy was filed in the state of Delaware, which is not uncommon for high-end corporate filings, and not surprising considering the profound and deep contempt the local community has for the McCourts at this moment.

The team's largest creditor, interestingly enough, isn't the soon-to-be-ex-wife of the team owner, but is instead former team star Manny Ramirez. Being the largest creditor has certain advantages in bankruptcy court; it was from a similar position that Mario Lemieux was able to put in a bid (financed by Ron Burkle, who is also thought to be in the lead to buy out the McCourts) to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins out of bankruptcy in the late-90's. However, since Manny, being Manny, clearly defrauded someone when he signed a huge extension of his contract shortly before failing a drug test in 2009, the team's liability to him is open to challenge.

April 14, 2011

Perhaps the best reason why it's always a good idea to have legal representation: to avoid the old bait-and-switch from lenders. From this morning's LA Times:
Mortgage lenders call it "dual tracking," but for homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure, it might go by another name: the double-cross.

Dual tracking refers to a common bank tactic. When a borrower in default seeks a loan modification, the institution often continues to pursue foreclosure at the same time.

Lenders contend that dual tracking simply protects their investment if the homeowner is unable to qualify for new loan terms. Mortgage servicers can lose money if they don't foreclose in a timely manner, and repossessions often are complicated and lengthy.

But regulators and consumer advocates say the practice lulls some homeowners into thinking they are no longer at risk of having their homes taken away. Regulators are now aiming to curtail the practice as part of an overhaul of the foreclosure system.
This sort of stunt simply doesn't happen when a bank realizes that it will be spending the next year or two in court litigating their quicky foreclosure if they act in bad faith. In California, where an attorney is forbidden from even charging a retainer to a client until the loan is modified, this should be a no-brainer.

April 12, 2011

To much chagrin among local hoops fans, The Lads have suffered through a five-game losing streak over the last week, erasing any chance the defending world champs would catch San Antonio for the best record in the NBA, and ultimately pushing them behind Chicago (and likely Miami as well), in the event they meet up in the Finals. Now, it's more a matter of keeping themselves ahead of Dallas and Oklahoma City in the battle for the 2-seed in the Western Conference, and winning the last two games of the season, against the Spurs tonight and the Sacramento Kings tomorrow, has become vital.

Which was why Coach Phil Jackson's motivational skills are so important, as evidenced in an article in today's local paper of record, authored by beat writer Mike Bresnahan:
Whenever Jackson mentions the Chicago Bulls, it rarely hits home with Lakers fans unless it's a direct comparison of Bryant and Michael Jordan. But some solace was offered by Jackson when he talked about the 1991-92 Bulls, recalling they suffered a "couple devastating losses" in March and April.

"I was concerned. The players said it's just the end of the season and we'll get it back when we get into the playoffs . . . and we did. We got it back."

The Bulls ended up beating Portland in the NBA Finals.
Having been a follower of the sport in the early-90's, Jackson's reminiscence of his earlier tenure coaching the Michael Jordan-led six-time champions certainly resonates with me, although it always seemed to me that the Bulls of that era almost never lost big games, even in the regular season. In fact, during that run Chicago had the best record in the NBA in four of the six championship years, and in only one season did they win the title without having at least the best record in the Eastern Conference, in 1993, when the finished second to the Knicks. So I was surprised to find that the Bulls also had to confront late season demons during that era, even in winning six titles, including the 1992 title mentioned above.

As it turns out, of course, it never happened. Not in 1992, not in any of the seasons in which Jordan, Pippen and supporting cast were winning rings. The season mentioned above, in 1992, the Bulls finished the regular season winning 19 of their last 22 games, en route to a league-best 67-15 record. Of the three games they lost, one was at Cleveland, the team they would meet up with in the Eastern Conference finals, a game in which the Bulls were so pumped to play that they didn't even bother to suit up Michael Jordan.

Maybe Jackson was referring to 1993, when, as mentioned above, the Bulls finished second in the Eastern Conference to New York, and also trailed Western Conference champ Phoenix in the standings, but went on to win their third straight title. In fact, in 1993 the Bulls won 15 of 20 to conclude the season. They did finish behind the Knicks and Suns, and lost to both teams down the stretch, but they were already behind those teams to start with, and their weak, anemic .750 play to close out the regular season was not a factor.

So what championship team was he talking about? 1998, when the Bulls had the top mark in the East but were edged out by Utah (via tiebreaker) for the league's best record? Nope, the Bulls won 16 of 20 at the end, including a thirteen-game winning streak. 1991? The Bulls did have a tepid finish, winning "only" 11 of their last 17, thus enabling Portland to sneak through with the best record in the league by winning 16 straight, but Chicago wasn't the defending champion at the time, and none of its losses down the stretch could really be called "devastating," even by the melodramatic Zen Master. I didn't do a full breakdown of the 1996 or 1997 seasons, but considering the Bulls had two of three best records in NBA history those seasons, it would be hard to claim that they had a rough time of it down the stretch.

In short, the great Bulls teams of the 90's did not suffer "devastating" losses in the regular season in any of the years they won the title, and by no means suffered anything like a five-game losing streak. It could be that in his dotage, using the same brain that remains convinced that Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher are championship-calibre starters, he simply misremembered the recent past. Considering the Lakers performance tonight, squeaking out a victory over the Spurs' scrub team, it seems to have provided the proper motivation. But what's the excuse for the LA Times writer who permitted that statement to go uncorrected?

February 19, 2011

Why Wisconsin is important:
Madison has not had demonstrations like this in years, perhaps not since the Vietnam War. Obama's Organizing for America, an offshoot of the Democratic National Committee, has claimed some credit for helping to mobilize the protesters, but the demonstrations have been more bottom-up than top-down. Labor unions have been in the forefront, joined by other progressive groups and angry citizens.

The demonstrations in Madison and the reaction to the House budget measure raise an important question. Have Republicans, in their desire to move boldly and swiftly to deal with state and national budget problems, aroused the progressive wing of the Democratic Party? Through much of the Obama presidency, progressives have been quiescent, lethargic or disappointed. Now they are awake. And not just labor unions. There is a similar reaction among other groups - not just to events in Wisconsin but to some of the cuts in the House bill, such as the amendment to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

If the progressive movement is truly awakened, Republicans could pay a significant price politically. Obama couldn't rouse it in the fall, at least not enough to avoid historic losses in November's midterm elections. Labor leaders couldn't, either. Labor unions spent heavily to try to defeat Republican candidates for governor. Now they see Wisconsin as part of a do-or-die struggle. But if they lose there, and in other states, the movement could be permanently weakened.
The revolt in Wisconsin is the 1995 Gingrich shutdown of the federal government for President Obama, a chance for him to push back against extremists while allowing him a quick and easy way to garner support from one of his beleagured constituencies. Better yet, it discredits the Deficit Fetishists, since Gov. Walker's thuggish and heavy-handed tactics have revealed their true motive: to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy by prioritizing tax cuts and business subsidies over public investment. For liberals, it's win-win.

February 02, 2011

This classic was later covered by Nirvana:

Hiybbprqag !?! Caliphate !!!

January 11, 2011

George Packer, on free speech and crazy people:

Loughner might, by chance, have been completely unaware of the climate in his hometown. Or he might have been steeped in it. The point is that the climate is dangerous, in Arizona and elsewhere, and the shootings ought to have prompted its purveyors to step back and do some hard thinking...[A]t a minimum, human decency should have led Sarah Palin to express regret for the dog whistle she directed against Gabrielle Giffords, among others. Instead, in Palinland and across the right, the attitude has been: Never apologize. But this has been the right’s attitude throughout the Obama era, with considerable political success, and I don’t expect this tragedy to bring a change.
Just as many liberals in the blogosphere jumped over the line in trying to make Sarah Palin and John Boehner co-conspirators with Jared Loughner in the tragic events of the past weekend, so too many conservatives are pretending that the violent rhetoric erupting from the Tea Party movement since the accession of Barack Obama to the Presidency was unconnected in any degree or manner to the impulse Loughner had in pursuing a "Second Amendment remedy" to his problems.

Insofar as the Right has steadfastly called for ending all restrictions on the ownership of guns, the ease in which a young man who wasn't allowed on a community college campus without a psychiatric thumbs-up, and who was denied enlistment in the Army because of a history of drug abuse, could somehow purchase and walk out of a store with a Glock 19 should cause anyone with a soul some sleepless nights. This is notwithstanding the political environment fostered by the Tea Party, which fetishises long-dormant right wing talking points straight out of the John Birch Society, and a very disturbing historical pattern emerges: elect a Democrat to the White House, and watch paranoia become mainstreamed, while otherwise sensible conservatives either rationalize the extremism or attempt to pretend it away.

January 10, 2011

Jared Loughner, and others like him, should not have been able to legally purchase a gun. Period.