Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TSA has it's list of how it "behavior profiles"; AOL/CNN warn of things "never to do"

CNN, with reporter Jeanne Meserve, has a story on specific behaviors that TSA considers suspicious at airports. AOL and CNN turned this into a list of "don'ts" at the airport. 

It seems that complaining about the government, or about waiting or security screening is one of them. All this played out last year with the “junk” slogan, but it has not been forgotten. 

I actually considered becoming a screener back in 2002; I’m glad I didn’t.  They really wanted to hire people, too.

It’s hard out here for someone expected to travel for business – unless he’s a VIP.   Andersoon Cooper tweeted this morning about packing lightly to fly to London for the royal wedding – and celebration of the “meaning of (heterosexual) marriage.”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Are higher taxes on the rich "fair"? There's more to sacrifice than economic calculation

We can recollect the Facebook Live session last week, and the pleasantries between Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg on their both paying more taxes, and then on Easter Sunday morning, look at an article by Arthur C. Brooks in the Washington Post Outlook section. It is titled, “Obama says it’s only ‘fair’ to raise taxes on the rich. He’s wrong,” link here

Brooks usefully discusses the importance of merit and hard work and incentive and admits it can never be perfect in a free society.  Even Donald Trump would say, (besides “Excuse me” and “You’re Fired”) that “Life isn’t fair” but losing, well, s__.  Ask any Washington Senators baseball fan from the 1950s. 

There’s one aspect to the discussion that “everybody” misses. That’s uneven sacrifice. Or, moreover, hidden sacrifice.  I (and probably “you”) depend on a stable infrastructure to keep a meaningful, if individualistic, life going.  And it’s true, that even as “Atlas Shrugged” points out, it takes accepting some risk to keep an infrastructure stable.  But that risk impacts individual people.  And some people experience loss beyond what an economy can compensate. Think of what our electricity depends on. Coal mines.  Go on and on.

I had just a little touch of that the other night. A work client wanted me to call back at a time when I had other plans.  No big deal, and past “bed time” or work time, but she probably didn’t realize I could be put out.  Just a little thing. But this happens all the time.

I was concerned about this sort of thing as I wrote my first “Do Ask Do Tell” in the 90s.  A lot of it had to do with inequality of real sacrifice, as with the Vietnam era draft and deferments in the 60s.  Some of it had to do with more subtle things, like the cultural tension over the hidden sacrifices in parenting and now taking care of the elderly.

During the early part of my adulthood – the late 60s and early 70s, there was a lot more concern with inequality at the individual level. The far Left, particularly the Peoples Party of New Jersey, wanted to limit maximum incomes for all individuals and implement all kinds of other measures to bring “fairness” down to the personal level. That’s what Chairman Mao tried to do with the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s, the effects of which remain today.

Maybe pastors like Rick Warren (the “Purpose-Driven Life”) have a point when they say it is not just about “you”.  Belonging to something bigger than self ultimately becomes part of the discussion, even if this brings back well-justified fears about corruption at the top. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Here’s a Reason TV interview with Arhtur C. Brooks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Facebook townhall on the deficit/national debt is live now

Okay, you can watch Facebook Live with the President celebrating his session, taking questions (read by Mark Zuckerberg, in a tie this time with rolled-up sleeves) from the audience, in a towhall on how this country will live within its means.

Zuckerberg asked, "What do you think we should cut, and what do you think we can cut, to make the numbers add up?"  Obama was not very specific as to details. 

Tax the rich?  No, Mark doesn’t need a Bush tax cut. The president doesn’t need a tax cut. Michelle doesn’t need a tax cut (even if her likeness is a character in NBC’s “The Event”).  Jason Ritter probably doesn’t need one.  (His fictitious character Sean Walker sure needs one.) Do I need one?

In fact, the president said to Mark that (like the president himself) Mark doesn't need a tax cut and that his taxes should be raised, and Mark said, offstage, "I'm OK with that."

The question is a moral one, what is to be expected of everyone.  Back when I was growing up, we knew how to ask those kinds of questions.  That’s ultimately one of the reasons why “don’t ask don’t tell” became a wedge issue for me.

But thanks to Rep. Paul Ryan for “calling the question” on entitlements.  Or did he really do that?

A tea-party friend of mine is always saying that Silicon Valley has become the new heart of the Democratic Party.  It seems that the Democrats (and their "Blue Families") are the rich ones!  After all, Wall Street is largely Democratic. 

 Randi Zuckerberg called this Town Hall "The Event".  I wonder if Sofia is going to appear.   

Don't ever forget: without Facebook and other social networking and connectivity companies, the revolution in the Middle East wouldn't have kicked off.  Is Mark "President of the World" then?

The music for The Event is stirring. It sounds like an SLDN national dinner. 

Latest Facebook Live embed:

Watch live streaming video from facebookguests at

Update: Midnight (which is the title of a Dean Koontz novel!):

The Facebook Live chat isn't running now;  maybe it resumes tomorrow  (I just found the recording of it and put it above); in the mean time, amuse yourselves with this YouTube video: Who has more "power"?  Zuckerberg, or Obama?  (They call Bill Clinton "President of the World".  They've forgotten "W.").

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

S&P minces no words on "The United States of America" as outlook moves to "negative"

Go ahead and read Standard and Poor’s story on it’s rating on “The United States of America”.  It affirms the “AAA/A-1+” rating (not sure what that means), but labeled the long term outlook as “negative”, here

Ezta Klein, in the Washington Post, this morning (with his “lots of it” on domestic policy) explains how an economic (like a deer on a highway as on Allstate’s ad about “mayhem like me”) can freeze over uncertainty. And Congress is certainly creating uncertainty as to whether the US can fully honor its bonds (and T-bills, which suddenly aren’t as safe – and I have plenty of them).  Here’s Klein’s article.

Here is a video by Korelin Economics (and Roger Wiegand) on the downgrade:

He talks about the "eye of the perfect storm for gold".

There is never a time to be complacent. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Today is Procrastinators' Day

On this last day for tax procrastinators, AOL News ran a big story on how many “ordinary people” (rich and poor alike) pay no income taxes.  Here is the link.

The April 15 deadline was moved to April 18 because on April 15, Washington DC celebrated Emancipation Day. The taxes are never due on a legal holiday, federal, state or “quasi-state”.

Only a few years did I go to the wire. When I lived in New York City in the 1970s, I had to do federal, state and city income taxes.  I do remember driving to downtown Dallas in 1980 and, in a queue of older cars (I had a Chevette then) handing a return to a postal worker on Elm Street at the last minute.

I can remember those glorious libertarianesque days in the middle or late 90s when Steve Forbes was talking about a flat tax.

The trouble is that any tax policy change in the law at all tends to change the order of computation, greatly exaggerating the effects of some behaviors and diluting others. Remember the blunderous “Tax Reform Act of 1986”?

For my mother’s estate, the entire preparation charge this year was over $1200.  The year someone deceases is always more complicated (particularly when there is a trust), but you can see how government sets up everyone to get their bite.

HRBlocks’ website does show you how to check your own refund status. You just need a ssn (watch your firewall!) and refund amount.  The IRS said this morning that it had experienced “processing delays” and that mine wouldn’t finish until “end of month”. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Would gasoline prices come down if offshore drilling were again allowed to expand?

Is it time to “drill, baby drill”?  If Obama lets up on offshore drilling again (forget what happened in 2010), will gas prices stabilize or come back down?

There is still a lot of debate on how much oil can be produced domestically in the US and Canada at $100 a barrel, and it seems that as soon as it starts, the price drops and domestic production stops and we revert back.

But, ah, there is the carbon footprint, and climate change.  But peak oil might be further away than we think. The conservatives (or at least the Ayn Rand crowd, especially this weekend) may be right on that one.  Watch out for Wyatt’s Torch.  (Go see the movie.) 

Picture: Arlington VA, near Ballston, Friday night.  Along Four Mile Run it was over $4 for regular. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NYTimes has stunning slide show on mountaintop removal in southern West Virginia, as towns disappear (and it's behind the "paywall")

New York Times subscribers (right now my "paywall" fee for unlimited access is still $.99 the first month) will want to read Dan Barry’s article Wednesday, “As the Mountaintops Fall, A Coal Town Vanishes”, link here (from the "This Land" series, as if to evoke Aaron Copland). 

The article discusses the disappearance of  Lindytown (not on my Rand McNally road atlas) in Boone County, W Va, south of Charleston about 40 miles, as well as the threats to the nearby towns of Twilight and Bandytown.

The article has a great 11-piece slideshow which is not legally available for embedding – sorry, the Times really wants you to pay for some of this content – it’s like a documentary movie.  For the average motorist, these areas are remote and hard to reach, often now on private roads owned by coal companies and kept out of sight.  You might see them from the air.  I visited the area in 1999 and could not see the notorious Kayford mine from the ground. 

Anyone notice the word analogy: "paywall" v. "highwall".  Use it on the SAT.

Picture: Strip mining hasn't affected the Spruce Knob country farther north, although any land west of the Allegheny Front (Eastern Continental Divide) has coal. I wonder if Dolly Sods is safe.

Second picture (today): In Frederick, MD, BP keeps a corporate sign of very socially desirable business (solar power) behind barbed wire, maybe because of all the bad vibes (from CEO Tony) in 2010:
In fairness, you can see the BP Solar HQ from I-270 as it merges to I-70, but you can't drive on a public street in front of it to get a good picture of what should be a positive image. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Debt Ceiling battle in May will make the shutdown threat look like "kids' stuff" (as in "Social Network")

With the brawl over “shutting down the government” now made to look like child’s play, the next battle will be extending the debt ceiling.

And Speaker Boehner has told the president, no, the ceiling won’t be raised without other big cuts.  Compassion make be reduced by fear, but not sacrifice.

MSNBC has the basic story here (by John Schoen). 

Like the weather before severe storms, bond prices may slip and interest rates may slip up as the idea that a default is even thinkable by mid May circulates.

Here’s the Gospel according to ABC.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The GOP budget and "survival of the fittest"; how about a "free market cultural revolution"?

Colbert I. King has an op-ed on p. A15 of the Saturday April 9, “GOP to have-nots: tough luck”. Online, he calls the column “A survival-of-the-fittest budget”, link here.
This is not “Darwinian”; it’s more like Herbert Spencer (ask this on “It’s Academic”, please).

King gives Paul Ryan credit for recognizing that some baby-boomers will live high on the hog with entitlements, and that (plus defense) is really the big place to cut – and that’s led to my discussion of means testing on my Retirement Blog and an admission that even Social Security, however set up to look like an earned retirement annuity, is at least in some measure “welfare”.

But the nearer term cuts, so much a matter of contention during the repeated threatened shutdowns (and I’m still not sure it’s over), are really about things that mathematically make little difference to the budget, but mean everything to a certain kind of right-wing ideology.

What the GOP seems to want is a "free market cultural revolution".  Everyone takes his turn at menial labor, everyone pays his dues. Except the hereditarily rich. 

For those who are interested, here is the text of the President’s address last night. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Ryan's "premium support" model for Medicare seems like an outfield wall during the government shutdown talks

As the government shutdown “debate” continues, the media is tossing around the “premium support” plan for Medicare future retirees (those under 55 now) by Paul Ryan (R-WI), as if to suggest that the GOP won’t agree to a deal to avoid shutdown without some movement in Ryan’s direction.

Ezra Klein has a column on the Washington Post Thursday morning [website url] (link), comparing it to the Alice Rivkin proposal and talks about the Bipartisn Policy Center’s deficit reduction proposal and debt reduction task force (link)  [watch hour-long video there

Klein indicates that he likes the idea of putting Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act into the “same system”.

This is only a beginning.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A quick visit to a nuclear power plant (sort of)

Today, I did a little field trip to personally inspect the nuclear power issue, visiting the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County VA, NW of Richmond, SW of Fredericksburg, S of Culpeper, on a dammed lake.

Dominion says that the largest earthquake ever recorded in Virginia is around 5.5, back in the 1700s. Of course, this plant is not on the ocean and could not be affected by waves.

The scariest item in the Visitor’s Center (open 9-4 weekdays) is the bunny suit.

The actual plant is not visible from the Visitor's Center, and can be seen only from private land on the artificial lake. 

The company’s site for the plant is this.

In September 1982, I visited the Glen Rose Power Station under construction in central Texas on a Dallas Sierra Club weekend trip, of all things. 

Pictures 1, 4, 6: via Dominion Power

Update:  July 6

New York's Indian Point:

Sunday, April 03, 2011

"Details" presents the case for childlessness; "No Kidding"

Take a look at the article in the April 2011 “Details” by Brian Frazier, “The No-Baby Boom”, p. 123, link here

There are all sorts of cute graphics:  of about 58 million married couples in the US, 27 million are childless.
There are the Eight Points, or 8 Signs you should remain childless, of which one is “independence”, and another is “control over life circumstances”. Another amusing chart is his “uncle vs. dad” comparison.

He mentions the group “No Kidding”, link here. It used to be called "The Child Free Network," also. 

Brian also charts the paradoxical issues of the “gay parent trap.”

I won’t belabor what the other side (the "Demographic Winter" crowd) can say here. Just imagine.

I was nearly published in "Details" back in 1998 after my first book came out.  It turned out that the magazine was just too "hetero".  It doesn't look it.  

Update: April 8:

On "Who wants to be a millionaire?" a contestant punted on the number of children per female it takes to maintain population. It's 2.1.  I guess he hasn't read the "Natural Family Manifesto".  Not too many people have. 

Friday, April 01, 2011

GOP still threatens DC Metro system

A Washington Post editorial Friday morning April Fools Day (hint: the Nationals lost their home opener March 31) warns of major service disruptions and safety problems (like recent accidents and tragedies) if the GOP insists on gutting funding for Metro. The link is (wesbite url) here.  The Metro section has a supporting story.

The Post points out that nearly every other major country (especially China) invests in transit systems, even more imperative in a time of global warming and fossil fuel shortages.  At the same time, the DC government is trying to award residents with free Smart Card trips for agreeing not to commute by work along some routes like New York Avenue.

Oddly, night owl service on weekends is no longer on the chopping block, despite GOP notions that nighttime Metro service mainly meets the needs of sinners.

All this happens while I replace a mountain bike that got busted some years back in a household move.  Arlington and DC are pretty good about bicycle lanes. 

 And I think about another incident Sunday morning. A motorcycle ran a light on me near Dupont Circle, as I “drove” to Church.  My peripheral vision picked him up just in a nick of time. And my light really was green, and there was a camera there.  Cyclists and motorbikers have to obey the same laws drivers do. He will get a photo ticket.