Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tomorrow (which is only in an hour or so): in the WNJ you'll find lil' ole me and the Blue Enigma Party

If everything goes according to plan (just ask those new good buddies Dubya and Nancy P about that), Beth Miller will have an article in tomorrow's WNJ/Delaware Online about the Blue Enigma Party's gubernatorial candidate Jeff Brown.

Jeff lists himself as a Native Delawarean and long time community advocate; Politics1 lists him as a bartender & stripper. I don't see the two descriptions as incompatible.

Beth and I spent a good ten minutes discussing third parties in Delaware and across the nation; hopefully some of that will make it into print.

In case you wondered, here's the platform of the Blue Enigma Party:

The Delaware school system needs more teachers. Teachers are crucial to the development of Delaware’s future and growth. Through a comprehensive plan, we will eliminate the costly school districts and create a more unified state educational system; thus providing more money for teacher salaries and programs. The Blue Enigma Party supports the development of curricula which encourages every student's need to achieve. By incorporating diversified lesson plans, Delaware teachers will be able to reach all students on an individualized academic level. The Blue Enigma Party supports a Statewide educational reform.

We believe that the state government needs to take a more active roll in the growing crime problem throughout Delaware. By adding police presence in high crime areas, we can begin to tackle crime before it proliferates. The Blue Enigma Party is an advocate for promoting job placements in low income areas, business management training for local residents, and creating a positive liaison with wealthier communities. With continued progress, Delaware will be able to rebuild the image and the foundation of high crime areas.

The Blue Enigma Party is in full support of Green Energy. Harnessing Delaware’s landscape through the combination of solar, wind, and wave power; we can begin to tackle the increasing cost of energy consumption in our state. The Blue Enigma Party will ask that the curbside recycling program becomes a permanent fixture in all communities. As a reward for partaking in the promotion of sustainable energy, Blue Enigma will provide voucher coupons for supermarkets and local businesses. These vouchers will also produce an increase of revenue for the local economy.

The Blue Enigma Party also promotes legalizing sports betting and allowing poker rooms in casinos. The legalization of sports betting and poker rooms in casinos will help build revenue for the state. This will generate more income for Delaware to utilize for numerous obligations.

I'm not sure how the whole supermarket voucher for green energy thing works, but--on the whole--I bet Bill Lee wishes he actually had this much of a platform.

Ratcheting down catastrophism again...

Two sets of thoughts.

The first is from Coyote Blog, entitled Lenders Have to Lend:

I know this may be pointing out the obvious, but I think it needs to be said: Lenders have to lend, just as much as borrowers have to borrow. I know most people understand the "borrower" part of this phrase, but they seem to act as if lenders are somehow only putting their money on the street as some sort of charitable activity, and if we don't sufficiently kow-tow to all their needs, they will run away and never help us all again.

The fact is that people with large pools of money -- banks, pension funds, insurance companies -- HAVE to lend. And in a time where stocks are dicey, they probably have more, not less, cash than normal they want to lend, much of it short-term. Now, they may be temporarily scared off from doing so for a few days or weeks as they try to assess what is safe and what is not, but they can't stick their money in a mattress or buy tons of gold or invest in ammunition and run for the hills. Banks have to pay off depositors; insurance companies often aim to break even on premiums and payouts and make their money on investing the cash in between; pension funds can't make their long-term obligations without making steady returns.Their very survival, in many cases, depends on making continuous returns off their free cash.

The second is from Just a Girl in Short Shorts, channeling my favorite lesbian financial planner Suze Orman appearing on Anderson Cooper:

Q: How worried should people be right now? Not only about stocks but mutual funds, portfolios, 401(k)s, jobs?

A: They should be worried about everything. And they should be so worried, not that we should start a panic, that they really start to truthfully change their behaviors.

They have to realize that nobody is joking here. They can’t continue to go out to eat, charge it on a credit card and then just pay the minimum at the end of the month. They have got to go into a different type of financial mentality...

I have to tell you, I don’t think that has sunk into them yet. so a few more days like this a few more things coming down the pike, they may go ‘oh, my God, we may be in serious trouble here.

Ultimately, there's still going to be credit for secured loans, like houses or cars, if you have a down payment and a decent credit history. There are going to be credit cards with reasonable limits for businesses and individuals in the middle class who have a proven track record of knowing how to use them.

What there's not going to be are unsecured credit cards for college kids, people working minimum wage or hourly part-time jobs, and the like.

Which is OK, because we seem to have forgotten one exceedingly important point lately:

Credit in a capitalist system is not a right; it's something you have to qualify for.

Boston Tea Party endorses Libertarian Party of Delaware candidates

The Boston Tea Party, which is advancing its case as the potential nationwide replacement for the essentially non-functional Libertarian National Committee as the central organizing group for individual liberty and smaller government, has turned its attention to Delaware.

The BTP has now formally endorsed LPD Congressional candidate Mark Anthony Parks and LPD/GOP 4th District House candidate Tyler Nixon.

For Tyler, this endorsement can be added to his earlier seal of approval from the Liberty Caucus.

Given that I'd suspect only a few Libertarians and not many others have heard of the BTP (running Charles Jay and Thomas Knapp as their Presidential ticket), what significance does this have for our candidates?

Primarily, it's another piece of national exposure, however modest. Libertarian candidates run not just to win (go, Tyler!), but also to make a point about the erosion of civil liberties and the continuing encroachment of government on our freedoms--both economic and social.

The BTP has a one-sentence platform:

The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.

There is another point to be taken here, however: whether it's Ralph Nader's independent candidacy, the Libertarians, the Greens, the Constitution Party, the Modern Whigs, or any of a dozen other third parties across America, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the exclusionary two-party system we have allowed to be foisted upon us.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: if we are a national that supposedly values social and cultural diversity, why do we continue to put up with a political system that offers only two choices?

Congratulations to our LPD candidates!

Monday, September 29, 2008

You do have to wonder why Senator Obama's followers apparently don't want this video to be seen....

... so badly that they are hacking websites that show it:

Four sideways thoughts on the Bail-out (guaranteed to provoke somebody)

1. So if the lack of a bail-out results in a national or even global recession/depression that causes people to go bankrupt and poor and businesses to fail, won't the resulting reduction in the use of fossil fuels have a positive effect on climate change scenarios?

2. If the stock market tumbles, the real estate market collapses, and T-bills continue to be worthless, won't that be a just reward to China, which will then end up holding 500 billion to a trillion bucks of useless paper?

3. Imagine just how bad the chaos would be if legislators always demanded the right to read legislation before they passed it?

4. If my home still provides shelter for my family, and if I intend to still be living there a decade from now, what difference does it really make to me what the market says it's worth?

A Time to Ratchet DOWN the catastrophism....

kavips takes the failure of the Bail-out hard:

The American Dream of what could have been… is over.

I could find dozens, hundreds, thousands of impassioned posts on both sides. Throughout the Delaware blogosphere, a strange alliance of opposites from Tyler Nixon to cassandra have taken the opposite tack, remonstrating against this issue.

But I'd like to emphasize a very salient point:

There may well be a legitimate need to do something, but the best and the brightest among our professional economists argue strongly that there too much at stake to do something, even if it's wrong.

Here is the text of a petition to Congress, sent a couple of days ago and signed by over 125 leading economists from all persuasions (including three Nobel laureates):

To the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate:

As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:

1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

Very few of us understand economics even well enough to pass classes under these individuals.

So let's use an analogy.

Suppose the US Congress was about to pass a measure regarding global warming (I don't care what, let's just assume it is some emergency measure that will make drastic changes in our economy, driven by the fear that if we don't do it, next Tuesday the entire Greenland ice shelf will explode and NYC will be under water before the next Giants' game), and 125 of the world's most imminent climatologists said, Wait! Don't do that so quickly!

Would we follow their lead, accept their counsel, or take the word of the Secretary of the Interior that the experts be damned, we've got to DO SOMETHING NOW?

Many of these economists, by the way, were the same ones who warned against Phil Gramm's changes in securities' regulation in the 1990s, or the expansion of Freddie and Fannie into the sub-prime market.

This is the opinion of people who study the function of markets for a living, and they agree on one particular sentence that is worth repeating:

The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

I don't know how that could be done, which is exactly why we need to hear from them before we turn on the printing presses in pursuit of more liquid credit.

kavips says [and I am using kavips not for negative reasons, but because the post captures the feeling of desperation so well]:

You lost your job… was it worth it….
You lost all your money… was it worth it…
Your house was foreclosed and you had excellent credit… was it worth it..
Sorry retiree’s…. your accounts are closed… was it worth it..
I need a loan for a water heater, today.. No….was it worth it…
I need a loan to float payroll for a week… No…. was it worth it…

Let's parse that a bit:

If my business needs a loan to float payroll for a week and I don't have any collateral, whose problem is that? Mine? or the government's?

If I've spent sufficient time living beyond my means on credit that I can't afford a $150 [do-it-yourself] or $700 [installed] water heater out of my emergency savings?

If I am a retiree who (a) placed all my money in accounts in excess of the FDIC limits, or (b) failed to seek advice to start transferring my assets into more secure investments several years ago?

If I had excellent credit and bought far more house than I could really afford (a 2.5x annual salary multiplier) and then kept charging goodies on the home equity line?

If I didn't take it as my responsibility to either (a) check from time to time on the stability of my bank, or (b) diversify my accounts to more than a single institution?

If I became so complacent about the security of my job that I didn't bother keeping up on my skills or acquiring new ones, just in case....?

Frankly, folks, there is a global recession in the making right now, that has as much to do with the end of cheap oil, the economic uncertainty of climate change, and the spiraling world population as it does to do with the greed of American investors, bankers, and politicians.

As Americans we like things big: our victories have to be more spectacular than anybody else's, our crimes more heinous, and our crises more important....

Sometimes, however, we forget that our actions are just as often effects as they are causes....

A New Era

Ron Paul calls it.

January 24, 2008 - Florida.

Here's a thought....

Maybe I am just naive, but if we are going to have to live with a central bank issuing and manipulating our national currency, why not let the American people go directly to the discount window and eliminate the usury-loving, fee-grabbing banker-broker middle men??

I think I could handle having a reasonable line of available credit, especially if collateralized, directly available to American citizens
at say...1.5%. Aren't we already being stuck with the bill for the failures of a credit system run by a central bank in the interest of...the banks.

Seriously, is there a reason why the FED can't be made a direct lender to consumers (aside from the entire industry of "shylocks" * and cozy financiers and whores on the Hill who control the levers, get rich from it, and then walk between the acid raindrops they seeded)?

[* Preemptive Political Correctness Alert : I use this term like underworld slang for 'pound of flesh' loan sharks, in NO way shape or form with any anti-Jewish connotation.]

Better yet, how about we (the people - our government) take actual unambiguous control of our money supply, rather than continue leaving it in the hands of private bankers. [*The Federal Reserve is, yes, a PRIVATE bank backed by a handful of concentrated BANKING INTERESTS.]

How nice it would be to be able to go borrow United States Notes rather than go to credit issuers peddling increasingly-sketchy Federal Reserve Notes. Our government is supposed to be the backer of Fed currency anyway, since we ditched the gold standard, so why not just let people directly borrow at 1% from the sole guarantor of our currency...our government. Isn't that what the banks do anyway and then add a fat price tag?

It is the PEOPLE's money......isn't it?? Should it be??

Look, the Sell-Out is coming, so it's time to get ready

Congress will pass the Sell-Out plan, and we're moving into the phase of life when placing the blame for the mess or arguing about how much (and what kind of) regulation is needed become secondary to....

How is this all going to affect you or your family?

I started with this a couple days ago, and kavips has an important post up today.

But those are first glimmerings. The reality for most people has yet to set in. Commercials on TV are still offering great values. Soccer games are still occurring. Movie openings are still pulling in millions of bucks every weekend.

A lot of this is going to change, and perhaps I can give you a preview.

I should probably sub-title this More than I want you to know; less than you need to know.

For the past several years, we've struggled as a family and got into far more debt than was healthy. No, we weren't splurging on kitchen makeovers or Hummers, but medical bills, school expenses, and just a pattern of less than optional decision-making in short- and intermediate-term finances had left us on the verge of serious trouble.

So, six months ago we started the serious move to get out of debt and get back to living within our means.

First things first: it was tough and it was painful. There are basically three things you have to do in order to get your financial house in order, and they have all become more critical in the past three weeks than ever: (1) you have to cut spending until you are back within your means; (2) you have to turn and face your debt, creating a reasonable plan for repaying it; and (3) you have to burn your bridges behind you, so that you can't go back.

Cut spending. In our case it took a good two months to seriously confront our overspending large and small. It takes that long to realize what you're actually spending. We kept a spending diary for three weeks that tracked every dollar. I discovered that my addiction to Mountain Dew was costing us $45/month because I was buying the individual 20-ounce bottles for $1.29 each, instead of the two-liter bottles at $1.09 each. We looked at how much cereal was spoiling on the pantry shelves. We groaned when we examined how much we were spending on books, DVDs, and too much conversation on our cell phones.

And we started cutting back. You know what we found? We found out that we could cut 25%--I'll say it again, 25%--from our grocery budget each month. Most of those cuts came from eliminating snack and convenience foods, and from watching non-food expenses (cleaners, paper products) like a hawk. We now actually eat better, hard as it is to believe. But eating out is now take-out Chinese or take-out pizza, and twice a month out for Mom and Dad (who deserve it!).

We reduced our cell phones minutes. We eliminated our lawn service and bought the chemicals we needed ourselves. We cut the pest people back to on-call status (I'd rather pay $99/visit when I need them twice a year than $75/quarter for the privilege of free visits at my beck and call; savings equal $100/year). Our kids got two weeks at a really good summer camp rather than the usual six. I learned how to change my own oil in the cars (wasn't that fun?). We let a car sit in the driveway and not move for four days because we needed to wait for payday to get it fixed rather than run up a bill.

We turned off the air conditioner and learned that sweating wouldn't kill us.

I started driving a hell of a lot slower.

None of this is easy, but when we figured out what we were making, subtracted fixed costs (mortgage, car, electricity, etc.) and realized that Oh shit, there's not enough left to live on!. Something had to be done.

In our case it also involved me managing to find a second job, primarily (I hate to admit it) to pay off debt so that we actually had our regular income to live on.

Turn and face your debt. We eliminated our credit cards--all of them. Maybe we wouldn't have, but that was the buy-in cost for restructuring our debt with credit counseling. Hi, I'm Steve, and I went into credit counseling. Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Maryland and Delaware (we picked that one because Jack Markell recommends it on the State Treasurer's website). We went on a payment plan to eliminate our debt completely in five years. It hurt my pride and it hurts my wallet--but in five years we will be completely out of debt and we will not have run up anything new.

If you are in consumer debt of more than $5,000, you need to do this now, while the options are still open.

One of the things you can expect is that negotiating with your credit card companies is going to become more difficult, and their practices of harvesting money from you via late fees and usurious interest are only going to get worse (thanks, Joe Biden, for all the help with that--NOT).

You are running out of time to make this kind of decision, or the government and your creditors will make them for you.

(I have a good friend who knows he needs to do this, but each month there is a new emergency for which he needs just a few thousand bucks more credit. There will always be such an emergency. You need to start learning new ways to deal with them.)

Burn your bridges. I'm serious here. There will be difficult days ahead, and if you have the means you will convince yourself that this is an emergency and justifies more borrowing. But if you can't borrow, you will find other ways to deal with each crisis. We closed accounts that CCCS did not require us to close. We changed our last line of emergency credit (a home equity line of credit) into a type of account that would require at least 72 hours to access. It's still there, but now both of us have to go down to the bank and fill out papers to use it. That puts some emergencies into perspective.

Likewise we committed ourselves to three very lean months up front, where every optional expense was eliminated in favor of clearing the decks of as many back bills as possible. We spent a lot of time at the Y pool this summer, rather than taking the usual vacation, and--you know what?--that period is now over and there is light at the end of our personal tunnel.

We've now actually got savings that are building, so that when we need a new van (the old one is going to have to last until it falls apart), we'll have at least $6-8,000 to put down on it (although it may well end up being a pre-owned vehicle this time around).

I have far less fear of the future--even with the coming credit collapse--than I used to. Yeah, shit happens, and it will probably happen to us. My second job might go under. More medical bills might crop up. But every day that we don't spend more than we make (we're trying to save 10% of our take-home income; not there yet, but we've gotten up to 5%), we get a little further ahead.

Here are three things I've learned:

1) None of this will traumatize your kids.

2) There's nothing to be embarrassed about in actually taking the necessary steps to deal with your problems like an adult.

3) It feels good to start reclaiming your life from your creditors.

But here's the bad news:

Over the next year it is going to get progressively harder to do what we did, so you better start now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Poet and The President - October 26, 1963

A month shy of 45 years ago President Kennedy spoke at Amherst College to dedicate the Robert Frost Library and memorialize Frost, who had died earlier that year. (My father graduated from Amherst in '62, missing the chance to see Kennedy's speech by a little over a year).

Kennedy's address was powerful and timeless. He was an orator with the heart of a poet. In our current age of political doublespeak, sound bites and slogans Kennedy's remarks remind of an era when rhetoric wasn't so hollow and cheap. Thankfully we have recordings of great speeches like this to reflect upon.

Some excerpts :

"In America, our heroes have customarily run to men of large accomplishments. But today this college and country honors a man whose contribution was not to our size but to our spirit, not to our political beliefs but to our insight, not to our self-esteem, but to our self- comprehension.

In honoring Robert Frost, we therefore can pay honor to the deepest sources of our national strength. That strength takes many forms, and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant.

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation's greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us...

When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment...

I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.

And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction."

Senator John Blutarsky (D - Confusion)

Some fun with real audio.

Worth a 1000 words (or 700 Bajillion Dollars)

....or "How I sold my soul to be George W. Bush's newest bestest BFF".

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Now It's Starting to Get Personal, OR: Why you should be paying more attention to the Great Meltdown than the Presidential Election

OK I'll admit I'm dense, but it was not until today that I started thinking seriously about what it would mean if my bank failed.

I bank at PNC; it's convenient if often usurious in its fees. PNC fail? Can't find it on any warning lists (and the FDIC doesn't publish its watch list, which is now up to 117 banks), so just on a lark I went looking.

And there's my OH SHIT moment:

From Mortgage University:

PNC Bank owned by parent PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC) is offering $100 new customer bonus to raise capital. Why does PNC Bank need a large influx of capital? This may spell trouble for the bank.

PNC Bank about six months ago ceased their home equity wholesale operation citing market conditions and high operating costs. It could also meaning PNC closed their home equity program because they finally realized their exposure to the higher default rates on home equity loans would cause significant losses down the road.

PNC Bank Raising Capital With Bonus Program

New personal checking account customers who make a direct deposit of $500 will get a $100 Bonus. The payout of the bonus will happen within 7 days of the first qualifying Direct Deposit as long as the Direct Deposit happens before the deadline of 9/30/08.

The key phrase there is “qualifying” Direct Deposit which they define as a Direct Deposit of a paycheck, pension, Social Security, or other regular monthly income made by an employer or outside agency.

A Brilliant Move - But For Whom?

Raising capital by enticing folks to regularly put money into PNC Bank is pure genius, but it smells fishy if you ask me.

The real question to ask is why does PNC Bank need to raise capital this way?

Is their balance sheet so out of whack they need a capital injection in a hurry?

Are all other methods of raising capital exhausted for PNC Bank?

Does PNC Bank see a wave of mortgage-related losses heading there way and need the money to stay afloat?

All good questions…of course, only time will give us the answers.

Great. Just great.

Is it mattress time? Probably not, but I decided to visit one of my favorite financial blogs, Wheaties for your Wallet, to find out what could happen just in case PNC turns out to stand for Probably Now Crashing.

The best case for bank failure (it that's not an oxymoron) is that you have less than $100,000 in any one account [that's me!] and are thus insured; and that a buyer is found for your bank very quickly. If that happens, the bank closed on Friday, reopens under new management on Monday, and your debit cards work all weekend.

If not--if finding that buyer takes a little more time--you can have the experience of this customer at NetBank:

For two to three weeks after NetBank closed, he had “no real access” to his money. At the time, he had all of his liquid funds in NetBank accounts, so in order to get by, he relied on his parents and his fianceĆ©, and a couple hundred dollars he happened to have in his wallet when the bank failed.

He got one note from the FDIC saying that NetBank was failing, and after that, all of his communication was with ING Direct. (He had less than $100,000 in his accounts, so all of his funds were protected.)

The first message from ING Direct said (paraphrased), “In a few days, you’ll get read-only access to your account so you can confirm the funds are present.” As he put it, “Oh, great, a web page with some numbers on it. When can I actually get that money!?”

He had direct deposit set up to his NetBank account, and had one direct deposit payment “vanish into nowhere.” He had to get his employer to resend that payment to his new ING Direct account. (Note that the FDIC site says this won’t happen.)

Several automatic payments from his NetBank account were not processed, but since he was able to get the new ING Direct account set up within a few weeks, there was no real harm from this.

Overall, the experience was a big shock. “If I didn’t have very, very nice parents and a very, very understanding fianceĆ©, I’m not sure what I would have done,” he says. He now has accounts at three separate banks in order to provide better access in the time of a crisis.

How to be prepared? Wheaties offers this advice:

1. Never keep more than $100,000 in any deposit account. If you have more than that much to save in deposits, distribute it over several different banks.

2. If you maintain an emergency financial fund (which is always a good practice), consider housing it at a separate institution from your primary account.

3. Always keep essential deposit accounts at FDIC-backed institutions.

4. Check your bank’s stability using Bankrate’s “Safe & Sound” ratings, or another rating system if you prefer.

5. As part of a standard home emergency kit, keep some cash in the house in a safe place — several hundred dollars, if you can. Storing your savings in your house doesn’t make sense, but having some cash to get you through in the event of any kind of trouble — bank trouble, natural disaster, or otherwise — is smart.

6. Be an informed consumer! Keep up with the financial news, and of course we believe Wesabe Groups are a huge help as well. Financial topics are overwhelming and can be hard to follow, but the more you learn, the better-off you’ll be.

Surprisingly, I can actually add one additional piece of advice: Like many modern bank customers we have been seduced into the ease of online bill-paying [which, by the way, PNC sets up so it generates a really nice secondary revenue stream]. That means, among other things, if PNC went belly up I'd be scrambling for account numbers and payment addresses, not to mention all the tax records these represent. So the suggestion: about once a quarter, update your paper file of account numbers and addresses, and at least once a month download the payment records into QuickBooks or whatever you use. At the very least, print off the payment records every few weeks.

Remember: nobody is coming to bail you out. You're probably going to have to do it yourself.

A Slippery Slope toward a Banana Republic?

During my years in the Virginia Army National Guard it was an annual event to see the infantry companies of the 1st Brigade, 29th Infantry Division (Light) going through Civil Disturbance Training with riot shields.

On a variety of occasions our troops were called out in natural disasters (primarily floods), and had to provide security against looting in areas that had been evacuated.

That part of the mission always worried me, even though I could accept the necessity. The key part of this use of military force in a civilian setting, however, is that when our National Guard elements were so used, we were mobilized by the State of Virginia, under the command of the Governor, and paid by the State instead of the Feds.

This is a critical factor, along with the fact that 90% or better of the soldiers were citizens of the State in question.

Now, however, the Federal government is openly prepared Regular Army units for use on American soil.

From The Army Times:

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.

It is not the first time an active-duty unit has been tapped to help at home. In August 2005, for example, when Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell in Mississippi and Louisiana, several active-duty units were pulled from various posts and mobilized to those areas.

But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

After 1st BCT finishes its dwell-time mission, expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one.

“Right now, the response force requirement will be an enduring mission. How the [Defense Department] chooses to source that and whether or not they continue to assign them to NorthCom, that could change in the future,” said Army Col. Louis Vogler, chief of NorthCom future operations. “Now, the plan is to assign a force every year.”

The image of American GIs helping flood victims is appealing; the idea of our own troops being employed by the Federal government against our fellow citizens is more than disquieting.

Civil Libertarians will rush to cite Posse Comitatus as a direct prohibition against the use of Federal military force in civilian settings, but--ala Alberto Gonzalez--the military Judge Advocate General Corps is already preparing the legal [or at least the semblance of legal] ground.

From The Myth of Posse Comitatus, by Major Craig T. Trebilcock, U.S. Army Reserve JAG:

The Posse Comitatus Act has traditionally been viewed as a major barrier to the use of U.S. military forces in planning for homeland defense. In fact, many in uniform believe that the act precludes the use of U.S. military assets in domestic security operations in any but the most extraordinary situations. As is often the case, reality bears little resemblance to the myth for homeland defense planners. Through a gradual erosion of the act’s prohibitions over the past 20 years, posse comitatus today is more of a procedural formality than an actual impediment to the use of U.S. military forces in homeland defense....

Does the act present a major barrier at the National Command Authority level to use of military forces in the battle against terrorism? The numerous exceptions and policy shifts carried out over the past 20 years strongly indicate that it does not. Could anyone seriously suggest that it is appropriate to use the military to interdict drugs and illegal aliens but preclude the military from countering terrorist threats that employ weapons of mass destruction? For two decades the military has been increasingly used as an auxiliary to civilian law enforcement when the capabilities of the police have been exceeded. Under both the statutory and constitutional exceptions that have permitted the use of the military in law enforcement since 1980, the president has ample authority to employ the military in homeland defense against the threat of weapons of mass destruction in terrorist hands.

The distinction between a true Federal Republic and a South American-style Banana Republic is civilian control of the military and--just as significantly--the prohibition against using military forces in civilian law enforcement.

While this last step is obviously a Bushco transgression, go back to the JAG excerpt above and note the precedents we've allowed to be set: use of the US military in the Drug War and against illegal immigrants.

Just like those whacko Libertarians have been trying to tell you for years....

Fannie, Freddie and Democrat Hypocrisy

As hypocrite Democrat partisans hysterically peddle the gigantic steaming whopper that "Republican policies" are to blame for the mortgage-centered "financial crisis", the truth comes out (HAT TIP to HUBE @ Colossus of Rhodey) :

Let's face it....the running meme of "we need more regulation [courtesy of Democrats] to fix things and the Republicans were against regulation so they are to blame" is pure, unadulterated horse crap.

It is the denizens of the Democrat party who wanted loose housing credit on the pretext that it is better to allow lower-income people to "buy" homes they couldn't afford (and would eventually lose...along with their creditworthiness) than to have responsible lending criteria, even if this meant that, God forbid, people could not live beyond their means.

(Living beyond your means has obviously never been a concern of the government-will-fix-all-we-can-just-tax-borrow-and-spend-our-way-to-solvency deficit crowd.)

The Democrat partisan fabrication that "right-wing" or "conservative" ideological purism against government regulation precipitated the present "crisis" (or "correction", if you are a reality-based thinker) is the sort of reprehensibly-false propaganda that (barney) frankly I have become accustomed to from the frenzied irrational anti-GOP/anti-conservative/anti-McCain crowd.

I dare not give them the credit of having any detectably coherent ideology nor even ideological orientation, e.g. "liberal", "left", etc., since all they do is incessantly attack their political opponents and pump poison into the well.

To call them 'liberals' would be an injustice to real liberals who actually fit this description in good faith, rather than use it as thin cheap cover for little more than pathological attack-based partisan mania.

But I digress....


This video hit parade of congressional Democrat whores demanding not "free markets" (they so love to hate) but instead
(literally) a free-for-all would be stunning if it wasn't so typical and emblematic of the way they roll.

Sloppy special-interested
Democrat governance inevitably saddles the country with reams of ill-conceived regulations manipulated by lobbyist pimps of the industries supposedly being "regulated".

Of course these Democrat regulation-lovers are all too happy to take reams of money from these industries while "regulating" them. *wink wink*

REALITY : Centralized government regulation of private activity will never achieve what the Democrats' endless regulation mania has NEVER achieved and NEVER will : ACCOUNTABILITY.

Regulation is no proxy for accountability - a word you never hear much from those who cry for more more more centralized state regulation as the perpetual answer to every problem they themselves create.


There is such a thing as accountability without regulation - it's called the free market.

There is also such a thing as regulation without accountability - it's called Democrat party governance...statism, if you will.

In fact, I dare say that regulation is the way they ensure there is never any true accountability. When their regulatory schemes inevitably fail in a reality-based market environment the regulator/whores on Capitol Hill (along with their partisan apparatchiks and an assortment of blind fools lining up behind them) :

1. Turn around and blame those who called for less meddling and regulation by industry whores on Capitol Hill, and

2. Pose once again for the umpteenth time as beneficent government intervenors come to help with new and improved regulations...after the big bailout bonanza of course.


So is it any wonder Fannie/Freddie whores Dodd, Frank, et al are now scrambling to have the taxpayers bail out their glaring malfeasance and hodge-podge self-interested "regulatory" schemes?

Is it any wonder that the Democrats have climbed snug into bed with the now-blatantly-national-socialist Bush crowd?

Wouldn't even someone of limited intelligence be skeptical if not outright suspicious to see the Democrats siding up with the hated Bush to rush through an early Christmas present to their corporate masters?

Is it not bizarre to hear the Democrats and their echo chamber shills now whining and bleating that the Congressional GOP is resisting this socialist
scheme to bailout Wall Street...yes, the same Wall Street that the phony Democrat partisan narrative would have you believe Republicans are always so eager to accommodate?


What a nauseating combo : Bush and the Democrats. Bush takes care of his wealthy buddies and the Democrats cover up the debacle they caused, all in one fell swoop right into the pockets of present and future American taxpayers.

But then Bush has never been a conservative (and certainly no friend to the Republican Party). When it comes to government largesse and mad power-grabbing, he might as well be a Democrat.

It looks like W's parting shot is to effectively join their ranks. It seems to be a trend for disgraced Republican rejects, as kavips noted aptly.

One can hope Bush may yet find his true home with them, since they have so nicely climbed into bed together these last 2 years. Both seem more than happy to seek reward out of their blunders, mistakes and misanthropic pseudo-ideologies.

At bottom, it's the same old story we always get from the big government crowd : the answer to any of their government failures is always....more and bigger government.

This drivel is akin to "But we're not about electing only Democrats to everything. We want more and BETTER Democrats. Oh and by the way : Democrats good, Republicans evil."

Good luck with that pipe dream. If you believe such partisan nonsense, I have some mortgage-backed securities to sell you...


UPDATE : My wonderful friend and even better blogger Shirley Vandever has posted another video, equally damning. Money for Nothing indeed!

UPDATE II : Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) puts forth some very salient observations in the Washington Post. (H/T - The Agitator).

Friday, September 26, 2008

If tonight was the first time you paid attention to the Presidential race....

(and it apparently was for millions of Americans, as hard as that is for the rest of us to believe)...

...then with two caveats I think Senator John McCain won the debate.

Caveat one: winning the debate has only a passing relationship to being right about the issues, or even getting your facts straight. I caught gaffes and intentional distortions on both sides, although I'd probably give the accuracy award to Senator Barack Obama by a hair. But that doesn't really matter: because tens of millions of people who watched all or part of the debate did not and will not do the fact check thing. They are going to go on gut feeling and stage performance [like assuming that Bush 41 checking his watch or Nixon failing to wear make-up had anything to do with Presidential qualification].

Caveat two: McCain did two things that Ronald Reagan would have approved of (although he did neither as well as the Gipper would have done): (1) he scored on the what-would-you-do-different-as-President-due-to-the-bailout question, by coming up with specific answers of things he would cut (however minimal they really were) and calling for a spending freeze, which highlighted Obama's two-time attempt to turn the question toward things he thought needed more funding. I think that for the people up in caveat one [who, by decided for whom to vote at the last minute are the people who ultimately decide who won the debate] this will play against Obama; (2) he played the decades of foreign policy experience thing really well, and Obama didn't ever come up with anything to combat it...

An example: McCain's linkage of Ukraine to the Georgia crisis may have been total BS (I really, honestly don't know), but he name-dropped the leaders' names, made a sophisticated-looking connection, and--more to the point--added a dimension to his answer that Obama didn't appear to know enough about to dispute. Even if it turns out that everything McCain said about Ukraine was bullshit, Obama didn't have the facts to call him out on it. The same is true of his "failed state" comment on Pakistan, and his references to Lebanon, Bosnia, and Kossovo.

Debate is about perception; perception becomes reality. McCain would have looked more like a doddering, disorganized old man if many of Obama's answers had not been equally rambling.

Having said McCain won, however, it also must be said that he didn't win by enough. I give him a 1-2% bounce, which only partly nullifies the rush to Washington debacle.

But he has raised the same question that has been dogging the Obama campaign for weeks now: if John McCain is such a drooling old fool, how come Barack can't put him away?

The final verdict of someone not voting for either man: McCain on points, but probably not enough to blunt Obama's momentum from this week. That leaves Uncle Grumpy dependent on Sarah Palin to do well against Joe Biden, which is both Biden's to win or lose. On experience and knowledge he should be able to put her away, but the steady money says he'll either screw that up with a gaffe of his own or keep talking for so long that nobody will care.

So what would happen if Congress did what it's best at: nothing

The best analysis of a no bail-out/no sell-out scenario is at Red State. You should read the whole thing, but here's the gist:

What happens if we let Mr. Market handle the problem all by himself?

At this point, credit markets are largely frozen in place, waiting on Congress to excrete or get off the pot. Financial institutions are extremely reluctant to lend any money to each other, even overnight, for fear of trading with someone who will declare bankruptcy tomorrow.

That means the normal ebb and flow of ordinary commerce around the world is severely impacted. Every day we wait is forgone economic activity that will never come back, and over time that will make the economy smaller than it would have been. That means job losses and smaller retirement savings accounts.

Now what if Congress pulls the plug and adjourns without doing anything?

The credit crunch will then resolve itself with a large wave of bankruptcies by banks and financial firms, large and small, around the world. This will most likely happen with breathtaking speed, far faster than any similar financial re-alignment in history. The Fannie/Freddie/Lehman/AIG/WaMu failures will be the tip of the iceberg.

Now, lost in this maelstrom will be a great many financial institutions that are basically solvent and could hold on otherwise. There will be a lot of wreckage out there, and a lot of damage to stock-market and commodities prices, which in turn will hurt the retirement savings of ordinary people.

Where will it end? That’s a good question. My guess is that it will work like a defibrillator applied to a stopped heart. It will take months to sort out, but new credit structures will arise quickly to replace the old ones.

And the Federal Reserve will step in to provide the additional liquidity needed to get over the hump. They may take steps like reducing interest rates to zero, and opening their discount window facilities even wider.

And significant co-operation will be required with foreign central banks, because this will be a global problem

This sounds bad, and it is. On the other hand, it's the steady wit and wisdom of North Carolina Libertarian candidate for Governor Dr Michael Munger that keeps things in perspective:

The situation is bad, but not so bad that a bunch of panicked politicians can’t make it worse.

Think of it this way: we invaded Iraq in 2003, and we've been repenting that decision ever since, to the cost of about $583 Billion to date.

Now, we're seriously contemplating allowing the same Presidential administration, dozens of the same Senators, and hundreds of the same Congressmen who thought that was a good idea at the time to commit to spending what might be TWICE THAT MUCH in a single week.

Even I--Libertarian that I am--have to ask the common-sense question: Assuming that the sell-out is inevitable, why are we bailing out the banks and not the people who stand to lose their homes?

And you wonder why we Libertarians don't trust the government.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The amazing shrinking Barr campaign....

... could best be found (or lost) in the Bobster's home state.

Insider Advantage had him at 7.6% in May.

Insider Advantage had him at 5.6% and Zogby had him at 8% in June.

Rasmussen had him at 5% in mid-July; Insider Advantage reported him at 5% by month's end.

Rasmussen had Barr dropping to 3% in August.

The highest Barr appears in any September polls is 3% in Strategic Vision and 1% in Public Opinion Strategies.

Rasmussen, Insider Advantage, American Research Group, and Survey USA all found that Barr had completely disappeared from the radar, polling at less than 1% where he show up at all.

This is clearly a Bob Barr collapse, and not a Libertarian collapse in Georgia, as the countervailing case of Libertarian Senate candidate Allen Buckley proves:

Buckley was not even included in polling questions until August, when Mellman Group showed him at 3%.

During the month of September (aided by a series of debate and forum appearances), Buckley has been placed at 2% (Rasmussen), 4% (both by Strategic Vision and Public Opinion Strategies), and--most recently--at 8% (Survey USA).

[All of these figures from the Georgia poll summary page at DC Political Report.]

The same fade can be seen in North Carolina.

There Barr was polling as high as 6% in May [Public Policy Polling], but in September has dropped to 5% [PPP], 2% [Opinion Research], 1% [TeleOpinion Research], and invisible [Rasmussen].

At the same time, however, Libertarian Gubernatorial candidate Michael Munger has risen from 2-3% in July/August to a solid 6% in September [PPP].

Libertarian Senatorial candidate Chris Cole started out at 1% in June, and is now polling a steady 6% [PPP, Civitas].

[Again: DC Political Report NC page.]

So why is Bob Barr disappearing, while other candidates are rising?

Here's a thought: maybe the other candidates really are Libertarians.

Or else it's that damn Angela Keaton again.

One of the consequences of the impending Government Sell-Out of the American people...

... is that it may cost the United States its AAA credit rating.

From Newshoggers:

One of the fundamental assumptions in finance is that the United States government debt is functionally risk free and that its AAA rating really is AAA rating. We have built that reputation for being good debtors because the US government has never defaulted on its debt. Furthermore while the absolute size of the debt is huge, most of the fiscal analysis ratios are not significantly troubling even though recent trend lines on the current account deficit are worrying over the intermediate term.

However, the US government has engaged in a massive increase in its explicit liabilities in the past three weeks. We are now responsible for most of the US mortgage market, the largest insurer and bits and pieces of many other things that are bundled up in the MBS and ABS that we are bailing out. The AAA rating may be at risk....

Quoting the Globe and Mail:

Rating agency Standard & Poor's warned that the spending spree is beginning to endanger the prized “AAA” credit rating that allows the U.S. government to borrow at low rates from the rest of the world.

AAA Credit rating drops to AA or A and the interest on the national debt (which just got a trillion dollars bigger) goes through the roof.

Thanks, guys.

My children and my grandson really appreciate the hell out of this.

Civitas tracks Chris Cole surge in the polls...

...and also points out that negative campaigning is actually benefitting the Libertarian candidate for North Carolina's Senate seat:

“Despite relentless negative TV ads attacking her accomplishments in Washington, Senator Dole is able to hang onto a slim, two point lead. It appears that all of the negative attacks on Senator Dole have aided Libertarian Chris Cole not Senator Hagan” said Francis De Luca, Executive Director of the Civitas Institute.

This is critical: a Libertarian Senate candidate who is now both (a) outside the margin of error; and (b) being credited by a major polling organization as a factor in the race.

Cole's numbers:

May – Dole 45, Hagan 43
June – Dole 48, Hagan 38, Cole 1
July – Dole 47, Hagan 38, Cole 2
August – Dole 44, Hagan 41, Cole 4
September - Hagan 41, Dole 40, Cole 6

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taking an interesting plunge: The Boston Tea Party

I've probably spent a lot more time thinking about this than it probably deserves. Or maybe not.

I believe that the national Libertarian Party is day by day proving itself a hopelessly lost cause for those of us who believe that the cause of limited government, personal liberty, and individual freedom can be furthered at the ballot box.

I have been talking for several weeks about something like a Libertarian Alliance of state parties organizing from the bottom up. But while I think it's a great idea, I keep wondering whether or not it's viable, whether or not anybody will do the necessary legwork to create it.

At least for now, I'm thinking that the Boston Tea Party represents the best vehicle currently available.

Yes, I know the BTP has a checkered organizational past, and that this could be merely another incarnation for dreamers who are not necessarily doers.

The BTP has a simple platform:

The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.

I'll be brutally honest: the simplicity and absolutism of this platform put me off for awhile. That for any purpose clause is not one I could swear safely on a lie detector that I embrace.

Yet then I thought: but 95-98% of the time I'd be cool with what that means, and--this is critical--95-98% agreement is higher than my current level of agreement with the Libertarian Party platform.

When I look at this year's program, I'm considerably more comfortable:

1. The Boston Tea Party calls for a complete and unconditional withdrawal of US troops from, and a cessation of US military operations against or within, Iraq.

2. The Boston Tea Party supports repeal of the USA PATRIOT Act.

3. The Boston Tea Party calls for an end to the federal prohibition of marijuana and hemp.

4. The Boston Tea Party calls for the immediate repeal of the REAL ID Act and any and all National ID plans.

5. The Boston Tea Party calls for legislation adopting an annual, regularized increase in the personal exemption to the federal income tax of $1,000 or more, and the additional application of said personal exemption to all FICA/Social Security taxes paid by employees and employers.

I can live with all that.

So while I am not severing my ties with the Libertarian Party, and certainly not with the Libertarian Party of Delaware, I have decided to join friends like Jason Gatties and Tom Knapp in taking out a membership in the Boston Tea Party.

I've always wanted to Party Like It's 1773.

Besides, I'm in early enough that if this thing really does take off, I'll have a membership number lower than 350.

OK, I waited a full day, but I couldn't resist stealing this

... from A Secondhand Conjecture:

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had a crisis that has caused the need for a large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Franklin Raines, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. You may know him as the Chief Economic Advisor for Senator Obama’s presidential campaign, and the former head of Fannie Mae from 1999 to 2006.

Let me assure you that this transaction is 100% safe. Mr. Raines is completely trustworthy with your money. His record speaks for itself.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of friend so the funds can be transferred. Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully

Henry “Hank” Paulson

Minister of Treasury

All of a sudden I am thinking more seriously about responding to all those emails I keep getting from Nigeria.

One for kavips--and my bid for my own science Kavipsian

The news today in science is the discovery of a dark flow of energy in the universe unrelated to the general inflationary expansion:

Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon "dark flow."

The key to this is not the description of the flow or how it was found, but this:

The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude.

When scientists talk about the observable universe, they don't just mean as far out as the eye, or even the most powerful telescope, can see. In fact there's a fundamental limit to how much of the universe we could ever observe, no matter how advanced our visual instruments. The universe is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago. So even if light started travelling toward us immediately after the Big Bang, the farthest it could ever get is 13.7 billion light-years in distance. There may be parts of the universe that are farther away (we can't know how big the whole universe is), but we can't see farther than light could travel over the entire age of the universe.

This is literally earth-shattering, for one particular reason.

The inflationary theory suggests that our observable universe is only one infinitesimal part of the larger whole: we exist essentially in a bubble universe within the larger multiverse.

Foundational to this theory is an assumption I have never liked: that we can never exchange information or actually directly observe anything about those areas beyond the observable universe. Sure, we can hypothesize, but we can never even really theorize in a scientific sense, because real theories have to be falsifiable. That means that a real theory has to include a mechanism for proving it's not true. If you don't have any way to test it, it's a conjecture or a hypothesis, but not a theory.

This possibility that we can see the indirect impact of a force external to the observable universe plays hell with that idea.

If we can deduce that a flow of dark matter is being caused by forces external to the known universe, we will eventually begin to be able to deduce the parameters of that force--and then we will have what we have long been told we could never have: direct, testable information about a part of the universe apparently separated from us by the light-speed barrier.

And--this is the critical piece--if we can get one piece of information from there, there is no effective barrier to getting other descriptive information from that region, even if only by finding other more subtle impacts of that external region.

In other words, if this proves out, it is a breakthrough of momentous proportions, because it holds out the hope that the light-speed barrier is not--at least for the purposes of passing information--an ultimate barrier.

Warp Seven in that direction, Mr. Data. Let's find out what's out there.

In praise of real specialists and small town doctors

Dr. David Bell is the town doctor for the small community of Lyndonville NY, up near Lake Ontario. He set up his practice there in 1977. In 1985 there was a viral outbreak followed by an upsurge in cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which led him into what became his life's work. Or, I should say, his second life's work, as he continues to be the small town doc decades later.

Along with Dr Peter Rowe at Johns Hopkins University, Dr Bell has become the foremost authority on Chronic Fatigue in the nation (he advises the CDCP).

He is the specialist we drove to visit on Monday.

The experience was amazing.

In three hours, using no equipment more sophisticated than a blood pressure cuff and a reflex hammer, Dr. Bell managed to make my son's body demonstrate virtually every symptom we had seen at home over the past two years.

He shared with us the technical names for all the phenomena we had observed (but could never find written down anywhere), and talked us through all the ongoing research. I won't take you through it all (although if it is germane to you personally, let me know and I'll be glad to share), but will summarize thus:

1. We know now exactly what sort of illness the CFS actually is, and how (to the extent that the research has been done) it affects our son's body. [The effect begins with an abnormal cortikyne response to a virus and leads to a dynamic abnormality in the cellular mitochondria in ATP processing; see, I told you it was complicated--but I understand it now.)

2. We understand how his symptoms related to his illness, and what his prognosis is. (Even if not treated, we can expect an 80% chance of a complete recovery within two years.)

3. We understand the limited treatment options available.

Only if you have ever had a loved one with a serious illness will you understand this: part of the news was not good, but knowing is always better than not knowing. The mind can create hells more profound than nature even attempts.

I'm exhausted, as you may have concluded by the light and limited nature of my posting for the past couple of days.

But I am also strangely elated: we're not crazy; our son has a recognizable illness; there are decisions we can make to improve both how he feels today and his long-term prognosis. These are--as the credit card commercial says--priceless gifts.

Oh, and there is one thing more.

Dr Bell hangs out his shingle in a tiny community health clinic. We paid a very large consulting fee for three hours of his time, a fee I don't begrudge, and a fee unlikely to be covered by insurance.

What I suspect that Dr Bell does with that fee is use it to provide free or reduced cost medical treatment to the families in his town who don't have insurance or cannot pay. He's that kind of man, and it's that kind of town.

There's no government involved in that transaction, just an old-fashioned country doctor who has become a national expert.

We don't see much of that any more, which says an awful lot about what's wrong with America.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I never thought I'd be happy for Senator Chris Dodd...

... but if he sticks by his guns on this one ...

This from Al Jazeera:

US congressional leaders have condemned the Bush administration's $700bn financial bail-out plan aimed at ending more than a week of turmoil on global financial markets.

Chris Dodd, the Democrat chair of the senate banking committee, said on Tuesday: "What they have sent us is not acceptable. This is not going to work."

Richard Shelby, the most senior Republican on the committee, said "We have got to look at some alternatives."

This is clearly becoming an issue beyond party and beyond ideology.

Thank God.

Another reason Michael Munger is too sane to become Governor of North Carolina...

... he doesn't allow the bureaucrats and the politicos to buffalo him into believing we're on the brink of the New Great Depression:

When you hear someone say “The government bailout of Wall Street,” make a mental substitution: “The taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street.” And then remember that we have a federal debt bigger than Jupiter.

Deficits are future taxes. The bailout is simply a way of allowing irresponsible lenders to escape unharmed. If you have a mortgage, and can't pay, then you are responsible. If AIG has debts and can't pay, our leaders want to soak taxpayers for the bill.

The point is that you can't take money away from taxpayers who earned it, give it to the financiers who squandered it, and call that a good policy. There is no danger of another Depression, which was caused by a deflationary monetary policy. We are facing a temporary credit crunch, and it will sort itself out if we leave it alone. Things aren't so bad that a panicked bunch of politicians can't make it much, much worse.

Thirty-two words that will kill our Republic

“Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

If the US Congress so abdicates its duty under the US Constitution, and we stand by as it happens....

....then we deserve everything that follows.

George Phillies proves that comparison shopping almost always makes sense

George Phillies provides the following list of upcoming campaign events for Ralph Nader:

Sept. 24th, 2pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Morgantown, WV
West Virginia University, “Gluck Theater”, Mountain Lair Student Union
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(312) 208-4687 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 24th, 7:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Pittsburgh, PA
University of Pittsburgh, David Lawrence Hall, Room # 120
Suggested Contribution:$10/ $5 students
(504) 319-9312 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 26th, 2pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Los Angeles, CA
USC, Embassy Room- Davidson Building
3415 S. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90089
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(714) 803-9676 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 26th, 9:30pm
Bill Maher Show/ Debate After Party with Ralph Nader
Hollywood, CA
Social Hollywood Club
6525 West Sunset Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90028
Contribution: $25-$100
Contact Rob: (202)471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 27th, 3pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
San Diego, CA
UCSD, “The Great Hall”, Eleanor Roosevelt College
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(858) 633-0490 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 27th, 7:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Encinitas, CA
La Paloma Theater
471 South Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(760) 436-8984 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 28th, 11am
Intimate Brunch with Ralph Nader
Los Angeles, CA
Contribution: $500 per couple
RSVP: (202) 471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 28th, 3:00pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Santa Barbra, CA
UCSB Corwin Pavilion
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(805) 455-1088 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 28th, 7:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
San Luis Obispo, CA
Cal Ploy Performing Arts Center, Alex & Faye Spanos Theater, Bldg. 44
1 Grand Ave. San Luis Obispo, CA 93410
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(916) 834-9606 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 29th, 12:30pm
Intimate Lunch with Ralph Nader
Carmel, CA
Contribution: $50-$100
RSVP: (202) 471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 29th, 3:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Monterey, CA
Monterey Peninsula College, “Lecture Forum”, Room # 103
980 Fremont St. Monterey, CA 93940
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(202) 471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 29th, 7:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Santa Cruz, CA
Civic Auditorium
307 Church St. Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Suggested Contribution: $5
(415) 902-9250 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 30th, 12pm
Intimate Lunch with Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez
San Francisco, CA
Contribution: $200
RSVP (202) 471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 30th, 2:30pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
San Francisco, CA
SF State, McKenna Theater/ Fine Arts Bldg.
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(202) 471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Sept. 30th, 8pm
Nader/Gonzalez Rally
Oakland, CA
Grandlake Theater
3200 Grand Ave. Oakland, CA 94610
Suggested Contribution: $10/ $5 students
(202) 471-5833 or events@votenader.org

Now compare this to the rest of the month for that party animal Bob Barr:

Sep 23
1714 SW 34th Street, Gainseville, FL 32607
Fundraiser Hilton Gainesville, FL
5:00 pm

Reitz Student Union Amphitheatre
Speech University of Florida
7:00 pm

Sep 24 Orlando, FL
Speech IAPP Privacy Academy
12:15 pm

UCF Student Union, Cape Florida Ball Room, 316 A/B
Speech University of Central Florida
5:00 pm

Sep 30 Physicians Auditorium
Speech College of Charleston
2:30 pm

69 Hagood Avenue, Charleston, SC
Speech Rotary Club of Charleston
12:30 pm

Wachovia Auditorium
Speech The Citadel
l1:00 am

One of these guys is actually running a campaign.

The other one is simply taking your money so he can travel around the country talking to a few like-minded friends.

There will be a test on this later.

Blogging withdrawal

Twenty-four hours or slightly more since my last post....

A visit to Dr David Bell, the renowned Adolescent Chronic Fatigue specialists, which was awe-inspiring and comforting in more ways that you can imagine (I'll blog about it tonight)....

Eight hours of driving, arriving home around midnight (I'm not as young and capable of shrugging it off as I used to be)....

Ron Paul endorses Chuck Baldwin, not Bob Barr....

The White House announces an imminent threat to America, asks Congress for hundreds of billions of dollars and a free hand to invade Iraq--no, wait, Dubya just wants to nationalize the entire mortgage banking system without any oversight--well, of course we'll pay attention to him when he says we don't have time to think or debate--just act stupidly now and depend on a surge in two or three years to get us out of trouble....

Oh, and the legislative death of free speech in America is proposed by Tom Tancredo (who has a full-scale spin machine out there to defend it)....

I'm back. That and more in the next 24-48 hours.

Plus about 12 hours of well-earned unconsciousness.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Best Critique of the Great Bailout is by Dave Burris and Delaware Politics....

.... as evidenced by the fact that both his friends and his enemies agree with him.

Particularly read the administration's demand that the SecTreas be given carte blanche with NO oversight.

As Dave points out, that's exactly how we got into this mess in the first place.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Curiously, the General Election still promises to be a near-run thing

I keep remembering, when one side or the other tries to tell me, "It's over," that neither Senator John McCain nor Senator Barack Obama was supposed to be his party's nominee this year.

Now, it's the economy and the expected collapse of the Palin bubble that's going to sink McCain.

Except that I don't think--as momentous as the economic news is--that the election is going to turn on the bailout.


Three reasons:

1) Most Americans don't understand what's happening, and the tax bill for all this will not hit until well after November.

2) Both candidates are now living on borrowed time, because both of them know that the major decisions will be made by Dubya before either gets into office, but that the resulting recession is going to tar the President who is actually in office when it really hits. So within the next two weeks you are going to see both McCain and Obama looking to bring other issues back to the forefront--because neither of them can make a meaningful promise about fixing this situation after January. McCain will bring back the culture wars as hard as he can; Obama will concentrate on his middle-class tax cut agenda. How either of these issues plays nationwide is far less important than how they play in 8 key battleground states.

3) The debates are not going to allow either campaign to score a knock-out, not McCain-Obama or Biden-Palin. Joe Biden will hit her, but he will overtalk himself right back out of it. Obama is simply not a good debater, and the millions tuning in will be primarily those people just now starting to pay serious attention. Both candidates will lie their asses off and get called on it.

Here are the things I look to see in the next six weeks:

1) The Democrats rolling over regarding the Libertarian ballot challenge in Texas, because the Dems weren't going to win the Lone Star State under any conditions (20% chance).

2) McCain moves in to try and make the typical useless GOP play to put California in play by sending Palin there to unite with the anti-gay marriage folks (20% chance).

3) Obama announcing cabinet level appointments, to include Bill Clinton as UN Ambassador, and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (40% chance).

4) McCain making a similar move to shore up his libertarian and fiscal conservative base by suggesting he'd make Ron Paul Secretary of the Treasury (30% chance).

My point: you haven't seen the last surprise in this campaign by a long shot.

And nobody knows just how many people will actually go into a voting booth and, when nobody's watching, not find it within themselves to vote for an African-American.

For awhile I thought we were ready for a post-racial election. Now I'm no longer sure.

Using lunacy to prevent the spread of Sharia law...

... is pretty much what Tom Tancredo's new Anti-Jihad legislation is about.

Yes, it is absolutely chilling [as you can find digested in Fausta's Blog] that Sharia Courts are now operating in the UK with full judicial sanction to handle everything from financial disputes to divorces to domestic abuse.

Tancredo wants to prevent that by making the advocacy of Sharia law in the US a deportable offense for non-citizen Muslims.

What a great idea, Tom! We'll fight a radical Islamic idea that would strike at the very foundations of our Republic with the designation of certain political ideas as being so unsuitable for political discourse that we will use the power of the State to deport those who don't think correctly.

That will certainly save a country founded on the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights.

I am not going to steal either the picture or the caption....

...but you owe it to yourself to visit Coyote Blog for the ten seconds it will take to sink in.

NOTA gaining ground? Dana Nelson and why we don't want or need a strong Presidency

Vanderbilt U. Professor Dana Nelson makes the case i nher new book, Bad for Democracy, that the imperial presidency is neither intended under the US Constitution nor good for democracy.

Caught in an interview with Utne Reader, she explains

The American Revolution was fought so that the people could have sovereignty. Imagining that our president will be our savior makes us reimagine democracy in opposite terms. The president has all the power and we get our power as a people from him, which is the way of a monarchy. It’s something that’s developed over a couple hundred years, but it takes us back to exactly the place that we as a nation tried to reject.

She points out that part of this yearning for participatory democracy is Senator Barack Obama's appeal:

Obama is interesting in big ways. He speaks the language of open systems. He’s talking about a coproduced democracy; he’s talking about citizen access, citizen input, and universal volunteerism. I think what people, especially young people, are excited about is that he talks like a leader who would reopen democracy for citizens to be coproducers and not just consumers of government services.

But that yearning usually gets suborned by the realities of centralized government power [pay particular attention to the last sentence]:

I don’t want to be unfair to Senator Obama, but I think there’s a good chance that there will be more rhetoric than action. When people step into that office, the power is centripetal—it sucks them into what they will then argue are the demands of that office. The presidents who first served in Congress—Lincoln, Truman, Johnson—were all initially against executive power. They went out and battled it and they said smart, principled things about why it’s dangerous to give the president more power than the people. Then, the minute they were in the office, they started backpedaling, and quite arrogantly so.

My argument is that no one leader will deliver democracy back to the people; the fact that people ardently believe that an Obama-like candidate is needed to effect that change is exactly where we go wrong.

And finally, these thoughts:

I’m willing to admit that maybe federal government needs an executive office. But I don’t think the office was the greatest idea. And we definitely don’t need a president for a democracy. That’s for the citizenry....

The first thing we have to do is articulate our sense that democracy should be something more than whatever the current president says it’s going to be for us, and that democracy doesn’t have to be about strong national unity but can be about a productive, highly functioning disunity.

Those last five words are perhaps the best definition of the productive chaos that our democracy ought to be that I have seen recently.

Another reason to be ashamed of the Barr candidacy...

... is that he believes in the right of the State to kill prisoners, as long as the State is careful about it.

According to the AP, Bob Barr wrote recently to the Clemency Board in Georgia on behalf of convicted killer Troy Davis:

Barr wrote the board Wednesday saying he is "a strong believer in the death penalty as an appropriate and just punishment" but said the proper level of fairness and accuracy required for the ultimate punishment has not been met in Davis' case.

Maybe part of this non-Libertarian belief in the State's right to execute prisoners is part of the reason that Bob Barr is polling at 2% in North Carolina, whereas Dr Michael Munger--a death penalty opponent--is garnering 6%.

Food for thought, eh?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Listening to the man who is "too sane" to become Governor of North Carolina

Here [courtesy Last Free Voice] are excerpts from Dr Michael Munger's education commentary after he was again excluded from a major gubernatorial debate in North Carolina.

First, on the debate itself:

The Democratic and Republican candidates held another alleged debate today, sponsored by a supposedly non-partisan group, which excluded the third candidate in the race. Predictably, their answers focused on how they are going to fix the problem by using government power.

The event was ironically held under the banner: “Education: Everybody’s Business.” Everybody, that is, except those who challenge the status quo, including a professor with nearly 25 years as an educator. Compounding the irony was the fact this “public” forum was held on private property and attendance was by invitation only. The program was recorded by the NC Telecommunications Association, another supposedly non-partisan group, and will be aired by WUNC on cable systems across the state.

News14 Carolina aired the debate live, but to their credit they interviewed me afterward. I hope that the follow-up interview will be distributed along with the main debate.

Public Forum for North Carolina Education President John Dornan opened the event by saying this was the third time his group has sponsored this event. He failed to mention, of course, that it is also the third time they have excluded the Libertarian Party candidate.

And on his opponents' positions:

Lt. Governor Perdue said there shouldn’t be only one paradigm for education. Mayor McCrory claimed he wanted to change the “culture of education.” Yet both talked only about one paradigm and one culture — that of having bureaucrats in Raleigh choose the curriculum, restrict the selection of teachers, and dictate the process of licensing.

The truth is that nothing will change if either of these folks are elected. Perdue believes the “responsibility of education rests with the governor,” a statement that shows her contempt for the parents and teachers of our state.

McCrory said he’d put more business leaders on the state Board of Education. Take away the political sloganeering, and both are telling the insulated and hidebound education establishment: “Vote for me, and I will give you other people’s money.”

Followed by his own vision for North Carolina public education:

My platform calls for a real paradigm shift, and a truly new culture. I believe the responsibility for each child’s education rests with two groups: the parents of that child, and the highly motivated teachers that the parent chooses. And I’ll let you keep more of your own money, money you yourself have earned. I would offer each parent in the state an education voucher, financed by lottery proceeds, of $1,250 per child in their household. This voucher could only be spent at a state-accredited school, or be credited to the household in the case of home-schooling.

And by the way, vouchers don’t “cost” anything, as Perdue claims, because it’s your money, not the government’s. If anything, vouchers would save money in the long run, as the average costs of education would fall.

Competition and school choice will be the central premise of the Munger Administration’s education policy, to give parents more control over their children’s education. I would streamline and simpilfy the accreditation process, lift the cap on charter schools, and foster the growth of charter schools, religious or theme schools, or any other kind of innovative educational program that can attract the children of parents who want to exercise their choices as parents.

And a promise to those who support traditional public education:

I would put a floor on public school spending at its existing level, for a five year adjustment period. Our schools need basic infrastructure work, from physical plant improvements to textbooks. So those of you worried about my voucher program should rest assured: the money will come from the payments already owed to education, by statute, but taken by the General Assembly for pet projects. No program cannot work by starving the traditional public schools of revenue. And I don’t want the General Assembly to be tempted to cut education dollars and use them for pork barrel spending in their districts, hoping lottery money will make up the difference.

So tell me again why those whacko Libertarians can't get access to public debates?