Showing posts with label Commentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Commentary. Show all posts

Monday, January 4, 2016

Yeah, Elections Matter




Paul Krugman says what needs to be said:

[...] some widely predicted consequences of Mr. Obama’s re-election — predicted by his opponents — didn’t happen. Gasoline prices didn’t soar. Stocks didn’t plunge. The economy didn’t collapse — in fact, the U.S. economy has now added more than twice as many private-sector jobs under Mr. Obama as it did over the same period of the George W. Bush administration, and the unemployment rate is a full point lower than the rate Mr. Romney promised to achieve by the end of 2016.


In other words, the 2012 election didn’t just allow progressives to achieve some important goals. It also gave them an opportunity to show that achieving these goals is feasible. No, asking the rich to pay somewhat more in taxes while helping the less fortunate won’t destroy the economy.


So now we’re heading for another presidential election. And once again the stakes are high. Whoever the Republicans nominate will be committed to destroying Obamacare and slashing taxes on the wealthy — in fact, the current G.O.P. tax-cut plans make the Bush cuts look puny. Whoever the Democrats nominate will, first and foremost, be committed to defending the achievements of the past seven years.


The bottom line is that presidential elections matter, a lot, even if the people on the ballot aren’t as fiery as you might like. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


But...but...I didn't get the public option so now I'm not going to vote and that'll make the Democrats sorry they ever pissed me off. And then, something something, I'll get what I want and everything will be the way I want it.

Seriously, though--if you're disappointed in President Obama, I understand why. It's hard to live in a world where you don't get everything you want right now. But, if you're a functioning adult, I don't see how you can be unhappy that we're living in a country where gas is cheap, unemployment is down, and people have health insurance. I seem to remember times when this was just not the case and it sucked for a lot of people. Yes, things still suck. But they don't suck as bad as they could and they suck because people aren't voting for their economic self-interest. If you live in Kansas and Kentucky, I feel for you, but you brought it on yourselves.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

You Should be Able to Refinance Your Student Loan Debt




It took me a while to figure this out, so bear with me. Megan McArdle tries to pooh-pooh a very good question asked by Bernie Sanders:

The day after Christmas, Bernie Sanders asked a question on Twitter: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”


Finance types may snicker. But I’ve seen this question asked fairly often, and it seems worth answering, respectfully, for people whose expertise and interest lie outside the realm of economics.


The short answer is: “Loans are not priced in real life the way they are in Sunday School stories.” In a Sunday School story, the cheapest loans would go to the nicest people with the noblest use for the money: single mothers who need money to buy their kids a Christmas present, say.

That’s splendid for the recipient. But what about the lender? Let’s say you had $150 that you really needed to have at the end of the month, say to pay your rent. Would you want to lend it to the single mother whose income is stretched so tight that she needs to borrow money for Christmas presents, or would you want to lend it to some heartless leech of a securities litigator with an 800 credit rating who happens to have left his wallet at home? C’mon. You know the answer; you just don’t want to say it. If you really need the money -- if you cannot afford to turn your loan into a gift -- then you lend it to the better credit risk with the higher income, not the person who may find themselves too short to pay you when the loan comes due.


In aggregate, most of the money in your savings account is loaned out using this cold calculus, and unless you could afford to have that contents of that account suddenly vanish, you want it to be. That’s why poor people, on top of all the other unfairness heaped upon them, pay higher interest rates. And that is why secured loans, like mortgages, get lower interest rates than unsecured loans, like credit card balances and student loans.


Student loans are two-for-one in terms of risk: They are frequently made to people with no income, no credit history, and somewhat imperfect prospects; and they carry no guarantee of payment other than the borrower’s signature. If someone fails to pay their auto loan, you can take their car away. This ensures repayment in two ways: first, you can auction the car and recover some of the money that you lent out; and second, people need their car, and will scrimp on other things in order to keep it from losing it. The immediate personal costs of failing to pay your student loans, on the other hand, are pretty minimal, and people are going to take that into account when they decide whether to pay you or the auto finance company. That’s why the government has to guarantee these loans; the low-fixed-rate, take-any-course-of-study-you-want-at-any-accredited-institution, interest-deferred-in-school is probably not a financial product that would exist in the wild.


Secured loans have thus always carried lower interest rates than unsecured loans, and will do so until the heat death of the universe renders moot such questions.

And so on, and so forth. McArdle tries to demonstrate competence and knowledge here, but let's go back to the question that kicked off this discussion:

Bernie Sanders asked a question on Twitter: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”


Let's ignore McArdle and really answer the question. Let's say a family, who refinances their home, takes a look at their student debt and makes an honest effort to refinance that debt. They can't! And that's why the question needs to be answered from the viewpoint of a family with student loan debt as opposed to a recently graduated student with student loan debt.





McArdle is basically right about why a student who just gets out of college is charged a higher interest rate--they're a riskier proposition. But the family, with their home as an asset, is a much lower risk. Why wouldn't you allow them to use their home as collateral so that they could refinance their existing student loan debt?





That's the part that makes no sense. You have two people who are married and, if they're at a point where they own a home and refinance it, let's say they're also ten years into the thirty year process of paying back their student loans. They've been making ten years of payments on that debt at 7 or 8 percent while their home is financed at 3 percent. You could say that the only reason why they own their own home is because of the degrees they earned. 





As a condition of refinancing their student loan debt, you could minimize the risk and reduce the interest rate on their student loan debt by using the equity in their home as collateral. You're telling me that someone who has paid off a third of their mortgage is the same risk as a kid just out of college? Hell, no. They're a damned good risk and they deserve an interest rate cut. That would mean huge savings for the family and bring them greater financial stability in the long run, making it more likely that not only would they pay back their mortgage but that they would pay back their student loan debt.





And wouldn't that help bring down interest rates? Or am I being an idiot on purpose?





These are the kinds of scenarios that Sanders is really pushing--common sense changes to how we do things so that Americans can get out from under crushing levels of debt. And no one currently self-identifying as a Republican would even dream of such a thing--it runs against the economic self-interest of their primary voters as well as their donors.

Tell the Libtards that Obama Still Sucks




Jobs? What jobs?

Look, here's how the modern American economy works. If a Republican is in office, the deficit doesn't matter.

If a Democrat is in office, the deficit is the ONLY thing that matters.

Here's proof, via Paul Krugman, that Obama has been a far better president than we're being told.





It's hard to argue with the proof at hand, but that's all they have--an argument. The fact that it doesn't hold water is a feature, not a bug.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cheap Oil




A barrel of oil goes for about $39 right now:

Oil fell below $37 a barrel on Thursday, after new data showed OPEC is still pumping like there is no tomorrow.


The mighty oil cartel produced 31.7 million barrels a day in November, its latest monthly report shows. That is the highest output in over three years and 1.7 million barrels a day over its former production ceiling.

Oil hasn't been this cheap in a long time. About a year and a half ago, it was $108 a barrel.

The implications of this probably aren't well understood. There are a number of countries--Iran, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia that face unique circumstances at home. They have restive, unhappy populations that are trying to live in struggling economies. The governments of those nations (only Mexico is a non-OPEC state) are forced to chase revenue and produce oil in abundance, working against their common interests in the name of maintaining a revenue stream that is drying up.

If those countries come apart at the seams because of cheap oil, we'll have interruptions in supply and the possible intervention on the US military as a result. Sure, I like paying less than $2 for a gallon of gas, and I laugh about it all the time because what else could be more hilarious, but there are some really difficult choices here. Do we continue to live like this and hope the oil producing states can remain stable or do we welcome a modest price hike? It would seem to me that someone has to figure out how to cut production, bring the price up, and do this quietly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Combat Gum




I found this old piece on the New Yorker website:

Hale predicts that combat gum could save the military a hundred million dollars annually. Dental emergencies account for ten per cent of all injuries that cause soldiers to be evacuated from the battlefield (not counting battle itself, of course). There are forty-seven types of dental emergencies, ranging from the mildly uncomfortable (gingivitis, say), moderately painful (pericoronitis), and severe (totally avulsed tooth). When it gets that bad, a soldier might need to be helicoptered into a dental theatre on another continent. The cost of transportation, plus that of the treatment itself, on top of the unit’s lost manpower, adds up to tens of millions of dollars each year. According to Hale, forty per cent of recruits have at least three cavities. “They have developed a decay pattern,” he said. “We diagnose, pull their teeth, and fill them. This is a constant thing for us, because we have tremendous turnover.”

This is the sort of thing that would have automatically prompted me to write a post, had I seen it back in March of 2014. I had occasion to see dentists in the Army, and I can't remember any bad experiences. I even had my wisdom teeth taken out while stationed in San Antonio, Texas. I was regular Army, and I was referred to the Air Force hospital for removal.

It took a week for me to feel normal after that because I had waited until I was about 30 to do the wisdom tooth extractions. I had all four of them out at once. No fun.

What is referenced in the article gets to the heart of a problem for deploying soldiers. We had categories for everyone, and I seem to recall that they ran from Cat I to Cat IV. If you were a one or a two, you could be deployed. That meant that you had seen a dentist and didn't have any issues. If you were a Cat III or IV, you couldn't deploy. Typically that meant that you hadn't been to the dentist in a while or that you had outstanding issues, like root canal work that needed to be done.

I always went to the dentist. It was free and it wasn't that bad. If they can give you a gum that will keep your teeth in your head, sell it to the civilian world and make money. Precious few innovations come to soldiers nowadays. The last big innovation was the Camelback drinking system. Gum that kills bacteria and prevents tooth loss? We should give that to everyone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Lesson in Ethics by Ruth Marcus




I'm not making any of this up--Ruth Marcus questions whether we should have gone after FIFA and Denny Hastert:

For different reasons, I find both indictments unsettling — not necessarily wrong, but worth thinking through whether they ought to have been brought.

Holy Mother of God:

Instead, Hastert was tripped up by bank reporting requirements intended to catch drug kingpins and organized crime bosses. His alleged crime is that he structured his hush money withdrawals to avoid triggering reporting rules and then — seemingly on a single occasion — lied to FBI agents about why he was making the withdrawals. Lying is bad. Lying to FBI agents is even worse.

But, really, wouldn’t that have been your first instinct, too? I’d feel differently if Hastert had stuck with the lie, in a second interview after he’d had time to think it over, or before a grand jury. (And, yes, I’m thinking about President Clinton’s impeachment here.)

Hastert did, it seems, a terrible thing. He is, or was, paying for it — literally. He shelled out $1.7 million “to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct,” the indictment says. He is at once alleged perpetrator and victim of a shake-down scheme; his alleged victim is both prey and blackmailer.

Yes, the first place anyone reasonable or serious would go in trying to excuse Denny Hastert's hush money payout to a victim of underage sex abuse is to the Clinton impeachment because, hell, they're the same damned thing, aren't they?

Good God.

Just so we're clear--we shouldn't prosecute FIFA (hundreds and hundreds of men have died building stadiums for FIFA World Cup host countries, who used bribes to secure the games) or Denny Hastert (sexually abusing someone is far, far worse than paying to keep it quiet).

Speechless.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

America Will Never Be Rid of the Palins




When things like this happen, all you can do is wish the best for the lucky couple and imagine what the next few years are like, what with the death of irony and the elimination of self-respect from American political discourse.

The Palins are forever and you're just living in their world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snow White is a Nerd?




A great idea and a great piece of pop art (if I'm allowed to call it that).

I would put a little bit of white tape on the glasses, though. But, remember. I have next to no talent.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Heather Cho is Going Away For a Year




I think people are forgetting something here:

A former executive of South Korea's national airline has been jailed for one year for obstructing aviation safety during a row over nuts.


Heather Cho forced a plane to return to the gate in New York last December and offload a steward because she did not like the way she had been served nuts.


Judge Oh Sung-woo said it was a case where "human dignity" had been "trampled upon".


Ms Cho has apologised and quit Korean Air, which is run by her father. 


Her plane was taxiing at New York's JFK Airport on 5 December when witnesses say she became angry after being served macadamia nuts she did not ask for, and which were still in a bag and not in a bowl.


It wasn't entirely about macadamia nuts. It was about an ethical approach to a simple customer service complaint, one that Cho failed badly. She committed an abuse of power, she was on an aircraft and hitting people with objects. She was using a position of authority to terrorize and intimidate employees of the airline. We can project our values on this and come up with a lot of different scenarios, but, the bottom line is, she interfered with a plane that was "in flight" and could have faced stiff penalties if this was handled in America.





This incident reminds me of "who moved my cheese" and not in a good way.

Friday, February 6, 2015

We're All Eleventh Cousins With Somebody




Jane Austen

This is a little ridiculous:

Jane Austen wrote the ultimate fairy tales, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is living one herself. But that's not all these two women have in common. 


The famed romance author (1775-1817) and the newly-minted royal, 29, have family ties, according to findings from Ancestry.com


The ladies are eleventh cousins, six times removed, according to the site, and they are linked through Henry Percy, the second Earl of Northumberland, who was born in 1392. 


We all have family ties with royalty or the historically famous or both. I don't think this is newsworthy at all.


The very nature of modern life dictates that we all come from common ancestors and a bloodline that traces back to someone notable in history, and this is true for all of the cultures of the Earth as well. This is not a white European fact; it's true for people from all over. The fact that they had to go back to 1392 to find a common ancestor is enough for a good laugh. And I don't know what's funnier--going back 619 years or expecting useful information out of People magazine.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Supplements Made From Nothing




Health supplements are made out of nothing?

And they don't benefit the health and well being of anyone?

What the hell?

You would think that, in a just society, the outright quackery and for-profit bullshit of supplement companies--Herbalife, I am staring right at you, you sons of bitches--would lead to regulation and common sense rules protecting consumers.

Guess again.

We need real reform for consumer protection in this country, and as long as we're stuck in the politics of stupid, we'll never get it. We have grown men leading state governments and men who hold elected office who are unafraid to tell us their expert opinions on how vaccines are dangerous, but we can't get anything done about snake oil salesmen who prey on consumers and sell them garbage.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Burying the Heart of the Last of the Hapsburgs




This is the end of a historical epoch--and they're sticking with medieval tradition and they're burying his heart in a separate place. This is the sort of thing that wouldn't have raised any eyebrows a hundred years ago. Today, you wonder if someone isn't going to file a lawsuit to reunite the man and his internal organ.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ethics Matter More Than College Degrees




I would put a candidate's ethical track record ahead of their possession of an advanced degree:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has buzz. He has impressed conservative activists in Des Moines and is the front-runner for likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers, according to a Bloomberg Politics-Des Moines Register poll published this weekend.


Supporters say the 47-year-old has more diverse qualifications than the other Republicans: A non-Washington Republican who has won tough contests in a blue state, taken on labor unions and has appeal to the conservative faith community and the business constituency.






Scott Walker having no degree is worse than him having a pair of bought-and-paid for degrees from Harvard or Yale? I'm not following that logic, since many of our privileged elites cheat their way through college anyway.





Walker is inherently an unethical governor, one who has been under investigation for years. That alone should make him unfit for higher office.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tri-State Munchie Run


Technically, it's not brazen if you're not smiling on security camera footage.
An 18-year-old Kentucky man and his 13-year-old girlfriend who have been missing for 12 days are believed to have taken off on a crime spree across the South, authorities said Thursday, during which they're suspected of having stolen at least two vehicles — one of which had guns in it.
"It is imperative that these two be located and apprehended as their behavior is becoming increasingly brazen and dangerous," the Grayson County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
The sheriff's office identified the pair as Dalton Hayes, 18, and his girlfriend, Cheyenne Phillips, 13, whom Cheyenne's father reported missing on Jan. 3. They're accused of stealing a neighbor's red Toyota pickup truck, which was spotted on security video nine days later outside a Walmart store in Manning, South Carolina. The couple themselves were captured on video entering the store.
Someone needs to calm down. Americans have more guns than anyone else, and leaving guns in a car is as stupid as it gets.

Have they shot anyone? Nope.

Are they on a run for munchies? Probably.

Which parent thought it was okay for an eighteen year old male to consort with a thirteen year-old girl? Hopefully none of them.

Is this going to lead to a couple of completely innocent people being shot by paranoid idiots? That's a distinct possibility.

Alert me when they're only eight days ahead of the law, okay?

Oh, and South Carolina's age of consent is 14, by the way. Yes, as crazy as that is, this is the law:
The legal age of consent in South Carolina is 16. However, individuals as young as 14 years old are able to consent to have sex with a partner who is 18 years old or younger. Submitting to coercion, especially of an aggravated nature, is not consent.
Something tells me that they're just waiting for a berf-day.

In any event, that's some excellent parenting.

Monday, January 12, 2015

America is Ready For Romneyshambles


He's running! It's Romneyshambles all over again! Yay!

Romneyshambles, Romneyshambles, Romneyshambles!

I can't wait to recycle all of that great stuff I had to blog about in 2012. Corporations are people, my friends! And none of those boys are in the military, either.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

William Donohue Joins Forces With the Muslims Against Satire


You knew this was coming from Bill Donohue, he of the cheap suit Catholicism that drives the Pope crazy.

If there's a wrong side of an argument, and if there's an even more wrong side of it that no one is making, William Donohue and his Catholic League will jump on it with both feet and beat it into the ground, finding a way to be even nastier than conceivably possible.

Do you know what makes America a great country? The fact that Donohue can thrive here and practice his hate and not face criminal prosecution. He has to deal with crappy bloggers, and that's about it.

Seeing a Dentist in the Army




I found this old piece on the New Yorker website:

Hale predicts that combat gum could save the military a hundred million dollars annually. Dental emergencies account for ten per cent of all injuries that cause soldiers to be evacuated from the battlefield (not counting battle itself, of course). There are forty-seven types of dental emergencies, ranging from the mildly uncomfortable (gingivitis, say), moderately painful (pericoronitis), and severe (totally avulsed tooth). When it gets that bad, a soldier might need to be helicoptered into a dental theatre on another continent. The cost of transportation, plus that of the treatment itself, on top of the unit’s lost manpower, adds up to tens of millions of dollars each year. According to Hale, forty per cent of recruits have at least three cavities. “They have developed a decay pattern,” he said. “We diagnose, pull their teeth, and fill them. This is a constant thing for us, because we have tremendous turnover.”

This is the sort of thing that would have automatically prompted me to write a post, had I seen it back in March of 2014. I had occasion to see dentists in the Army, and I can't remember any bad experiences. I even had my wisdom teeth taken out while stationed in San Antonio, Texas. I was regular Army, and I was referred to the Air Force hospital for removal.

It took a week for me to feel normal after that because I had waited until I was about 30 to do the wisdom tooth extractions. I had all four of them out at once. No fun.

What is referenced in the article gets to the heart of a problem for deploying soldiers. We had categories for everyone, and I seem to recall that they ran from Cat I to Cat IV. If you were a one or a two, you could be deployed. That meant that you had seen a dentist and didn't have any issues. If you were a Cat III or IV, you couldn't deploy. Typically that meant that you hadn't been to the dentist in a while or that you had outstanding issues, like root canal work that needed to be done.

I always went to the dentist. It was free and it wasn't that bad. If they can give you a gum that will keep your teeth in your head, sell it to the civilian world and make money. Precious few innovations come to soldiers nowadays. The last big innovation was the Camelback drinking system. Gum that kills bacteria and prevents tooth loss? We should give that to everyone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How Can You Stop Capitalism?


I do not live in fancy digs, nor do I use Uber or Airbnb, but I cannot understand why there is a growing backlash against basic capitalism:
A woman has been “profiteering” from her government-subsidized, rent-controlled Central Park duplex by renting out bedrooms through Airbnb, a Manhattan judge said, ordering her to stop immediately.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead issued a temporary injunction against Noelle Penraat, who, as The Post reported in October, was sued by her landlord.
In her ruling made public Tuesday, Edmead said records show Penraat made $61,000 off her rent-controlled Central Park duplex in just nine months. Penraat’s “own records indicate that she has been profiteering from a rent-controlled apartment partially subsidized by another government program,” Edmead wrote.
The apartment is hers, right? And all she is doing is a form of subletting, which used to be legal. And it's not even subletting. It's called renting out a room, which was done extensively during the Depression. The fear-mongering against the "traffic" in and out of the building is absurd and elitist.
The landlord claimed Penraat has had 135 rentals since February 2012, with guests logging three- to 21-night stays.

The landlord estimated that Penraat could make up to $118,300 a year if she rented the apartment on a nightly, year-round basis.
Penraat advertised her “Gorgeous master bed/bath on the park,” a “Lovely small bedroom in a huge apartment” and a “Sunny bedroom, Central Park view” for between $75 and $150 a night until the case was filed.


Honestly, where's the crime here?  If this was Colorado or Georgia, she'd be unable to charge that much and no one would want to stay in her apartment (emphasis on her apartment). She's using the marketplace to make money. She isn't forcing anyone to overpay her. She's charging what people want to pay. Someone has found a way to undercut the profit margins of the people who are really ripping people off. Imagine that.

Making money by giving people something they want to pay for is illegal now?

Monday, December 22, 2014

None of These Clowns Are Worth the Attention




At some point, the trolling has to stop:

North Korea threatens to 'blow up' the White House after claiming to find 'clear evidence' that the GOVERNMENT was behind controversial Sony film The Interview

It now looks more like an inside job at Sony Pictures than it does anything else. And it looks to me like the extra attention granted to all three parties--Kim Jong Un, James Franco, and Seth Rogen--is about as shopworn as using a ticking time bomb as a plot device.

In a world...where things actually mattered...nobody would be talking about any of them. Ever.