Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Gosh, Spotty, what was that?

Don’t be alarmed, grasshopper. That was just another liberal chest-thumping primate doing a Tarzan yell while getting ready to make sport of Captain Fishsticks and conservative economic theory. Apparently, you can hear this often of late.

[hysterical laughter] Sorry, Spotty, but it’s just so funny!

Yes, grasshopper, it is. You are excused for the outburst under the circumstances.

So, what’s Fishsticks’ problem, Spotty?

fishsticks Apparently, Fishsticks thinks that liberals are being so mean to the likes of Henry Hazlitt, Archduke Ludwig von Mises, and gasp, Captain Fishsticks himself because some people, after watching these drooling morons for eight years drive the economy into a ditch that will take years to get out of, suggest that there must be a better way. But according to Fishsticks:

Conservatives lose economic arguments, not because they are wrong, but because gorillas are cute.

You know, Sticks, that’s a hard argument to make these days, isn’t it? Actually, my fluttering little mylar balloon, the problem is that anything associated with “conservative” has such a big stink on it that the Republican Party of Minnesota is going to have to go back to calling itself the “Independent Republicans.”

Welcome to the wilderness, Sticks, where you and your brothers of the Bund are likely to stumble for generation. Spot hopes you like roasted scorpion.

The animated gif is from Tild.

Monday, March 30, 2009

“Transference” is the za word of za day

Ach, Liebschen, it is so good to zee you all. As you know, Siggy has been out of za country for a while. While he vas gone, ze issue of Sara Jane Olson and where she could server out her parole was debated endlessly by za wingers.Vy did ze do zis?

Za answer, to a great extent, is something ve call “transference.” Transference is wery common; you see it everyday. For example, za big brother and za little brother. Za big brother get balled out by Mama, and then za big brother takes it out on za little brother because he somehow tinks he is getting back at Mama. You even see it in za animal world. It’s wery, what’s za word? Ja, juvenile!

Do you mean, Dr. Siggy, zat, I mean that, right wingers subconsciously think Sara Jane Olson is their mother?

Ja, Herr Grasshopper, sometimes it is zat simple. You have to vunder vat kind of nuturing Mama some of zese clucks had! But more zan zis, there is another factor at vork.

It is important to transfer za hostility to a person who is unlikely to do the transferor, ve’ll call him, any harm. Zat’s why it is so much easier to pick on zomeone who is defenseless and harmless, as Sara Jane Olson is as zis point in her life. Like za little brother, she is unlikely to to hit back,  unlike za Mama, who might punish za big brother. Zo, it’s kind of a free shot.

But ve see transference at vork all za time in the right ving vorld. Poor people are to blame for za economic woes, sick people are to blame for za health care crisis, and za list goes on. If you are just za big bag of grievance and resentment, you must find zomeone to blame. If you don’t vent za gas, you explode!

Thanks, Dr. Siggy, that explains a lot!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Late notice about Drinking Liberally


Rep. Ellison won’t make the plane so that he can come to DL tonight. There is some prospect that Jack Nelson Pallmeyer, someone who is knowledgeable about the Israel/Palestine conflict, will come as a substitute guest, not to speak for Rep. Ellison, but to give us his own take on the situation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ayn, what do you think of the documentary “Stop the Re-Route?”

Fresh, apparently, from a Shriners’ Convention:

Now, I don't care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country. And you're a racist if you object, because it means you believe that certain men are entitled to something because of their race.  .  .  .  What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence; for their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched--to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it's great that some of them did. The racist Indians today--those who condemn America--do not respect individual rights.

Sigh. That’s about what Spot figured. Ayn is, of course, the darling of the Social Darwinist set.

Driftglass was just discussing this; a thump of the tail to him.

Bill Holm Memorial at the 331 Club

Here’s a video of the memorial for Bill Holm held at the 331 Club in Minneapolis earlier this month.

Bill Holm memorial at the 331 Club

Sorry for the delay in getting this up; it took a while to edit.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stop the Re-Route trailer


Remember: Keith Ellison at DL on Thursday

Rep. Keith Ellison will be at Drinking Liberally this Thursday, March 26th at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. The gathering starts at six; we expect Rep. Ellison around eight or so. One of the principal topics will be Israel and Palestine, but bring your questions for the Congressman.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Special Event for DLers: Stop the Re-Route

Jonathan Carlson, who comes to Drinking Liberally sometimes, is the maker of a documentary film of “a community’s opposition to the State of Minnesota’s plan to drive a road through its birthplace, land considered historic to some and sacred to others.”

The community premiere of this film will be this coming Saturday night at the Roosevelt High School Auditorium, 4029 28th Avenue South in Minneapolis. From his conversations with the filmmaker, Spot thinks that it will be well worth it to come and see it. There is a group from DL in Minneapolis already planning to attend. Things get underway at seven. Here’s a handbill for the event; you can see a trailer for the film there:

stop the reroute.jpg

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why is the governor so afraid of this woman?

sara jane olson Well, it’s not only the governor, but all kinds of right wingers like Mitch Berg and Laura Brod. Not to mention the big, brave boys and girls in the St. Paul Police Department union. And now, the boys and girls in blue in LA have gotten into the act, too.

You’d think Mitch, at least, would feel safe living in his armory. It just too bad that his weapons don’t include a snow shovel.

There are deep psychological questions here; Spot is going to send a note to Sigmund Spot; he is currently attending a conference in Vienna but may be able to provide some insight soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lee Camp at Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis!

Well, in spirit, anyway. Lee Camp is a young stand-up comedian, popular on the college circuit. Spot has two DVDs of one of his routines that will be given away tomorrow night at DL. We’ll meet at the regular time, six to nine or so, and at the regular place, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. Here’s a clip from the DVD:

Comedian Lee Camp

And remember, if you haven’t been to DL, tomorrow night is your last chance to figure out where the 331 Club is before our session with Rep. Keith Ellison next week on Thursday the 26th.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Also sprach Zarathustra

Or maybe it was just King Banaian broadcasting direct from the penthouse suite in the Ivory Tower:

Team production doesn't mean equal pay; take a look at team sports, where the highest level of competition is between teams with greatly unequal pay. Surgical teams have a great deal of cooperation towards the production of health and unequal pay. (As the consumer, I barely see the doctor; the nurse and therapist are necessary for the surgery to be effective.)

It is arguable that the production of student success is joint; I don't think you can argue that it is inseparable, that you cannot measure individual contributions to the team product. (Not arguing that it's easy, just that it's doable. See basketball for a case where it's hard but done.) [italics are Spot’s]

I'll assume you are not arguing that teachers respond to merit pay by worse performance due to poor morale. That doesn't speak well for teachers, and I don't think they deserve that reputation.

First of all, Professor, Spot will let you do the assuming; it’s something your discipline is especially good at.

For the uninitiated, the professor’s comment above was part of a conversation about the merits of, well, merit pay for teachers. Banaian started it, and Spot followed up. Fevered commentary exists at both sites, the most recent of which is reproduced above.

You will note, boys and girls, in the paragraph that Spot has italicized, that the Professor admits that it would be difficult to design a system to measure the contributions of a teacher to a team product, but that it could be done and cites professional basketball as our beacon through the fog. Spot invites you, boys and girls, to go over to the NYT article that Banaian links to and ask yourself what a story about an overpaid basketball player tells us about a merit pay system that is supposed to measure the performance of hundreds, perhaps thousands of teachers.

In fact, you might note the public relations efforts that the player’s team, the Houston Rockets, had to make to show what a phenom Shane Battier was:

Last season, in a bid to draw some attention to Battier's defense, the Rockets' public-relations department would send a staff member to the opponent's locker room to ask leading questions of whichever superstar Battier had just hamstrung: "Why did you have so much trouble tonight?" "Did he do something to disrupt your game?" According to Battier: "They usually say they had an off night. They think of me as some chump."

Sigh. Professor, most teachers don’t have a public relations department. And it sounds an awful lot like the one-upmanship that Spot talked about, why, it was just yesterday, in Competition brings out the best in people! Does this sound like a good way to get people working together for a common purpose, boys and girls?

Jeepers no, Spotty!

But we’re going to indulge the professor here. The professors says that a system for the measurement of a teacher’s contribution is “doable.” Don’t you just love that term, boys and girls? So sunny. So optimistic.

So, Professor, design one for us. One that just doesn’t put the creationists or the assorted bug-eyed control freak parents in charge, unless that’s your goal. In that case, perhaps you’ll have the honesty to say so.

And from Spot’s perspective, it should avoid turning students into drill-and-repeat automatons suited mainly for high stakes tests. Again, unless that what you think is educational success. If it is, Spot can only turn to your students, Professor, and wish them Godspeed.

Or maybe we can just leave it up the judgment of the principal. Fine, unless you’ve got Principal Bligh or a couple of students with behavioral “issues”; they outweigh you by 75 pounds, and principal is Tired of Dealing with Them in his office.

As you say, Professor, it must be “doable.” In fact, Governor Pepsodent and Spooky Old Alice Seagren must have gotten it all ironed out after the guv threw a tamtrum to get Q-Comp enacted.

They didn’t, Spotty.


Nope. In fact, Dave Mindeman — you know the guy will probably be the end of Captain Fishsticks — noted just recently that, in spite of Governor Pepsodent’s bragging, the Q-Comp is so ill-conceived that it’s virtually adrift, and nobody has any idea if it is doing any good:

"We don't know that it hasn't had an effect on student achievement, we just don't know either way," according to Judy Randall, a manager in the Legislative Auditor's office who helped write the report.

If the Deparment of Education in the Pepsodent administration has no goddam clue, how is a school district or the Minnesota Education Association supposed to know to make it work?

Do you think they should hire Profession Banaian to come in and tell them about basketball, Spotty?

Maybe, grasshopper. It appears to be the most promising idea afoot. Spot looks on in continued amazement at the confidence men, carnival barkers, and the other assorted looters, flim-flam men and character defectives who seem to think life will improve if we just set everyone up against everyone else.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Competition brings out the best in people!

At least that’s what commenter “Wow” said in response to Spot’s post about King Banaian’s paean to rockem sockem merit pay for teachers:

You sound like someone who never could compete in anything and thus despise anyone who thinks that competition brings out the best in people. What an angry, little man you must be.

He forgot old, didn’t he, boys and girls?

Anyway, Spot had never heard that before, so he decided to ask some people if it was true.

Alex Rodriguez, did competition bring out the best in you?

Yes, it did. I’ve got several baseball records, and I only had to besmirch my own name and turn the Major League record book into an odiferous pile of offal to do it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. You could ask Barry Bonds, too; he’d give you the same answer.

Maybe “Wow” is right. Let’s ask somebody else.

Tonya Harding, did competition bring out the best in you?

Absolutely, it did. It made me a much more caring person; I was able to reach out to my ex-husband and my bodyguard so intensely that they decided they had to hurt a major rival, Nancy Kerrigan, on my behalf. If competition had not instilled in me such single mindedness, that never would have happened.

Well, “Wow,” Spot is nearly convinced. Let’s ask one more person to be sure.

Mike Tyson, did competition bring out the best in you?




Mr. Tyson appears to be talking with his mouth full, but Spot thinks he said “Absolutely!”

That’s pretty conclusive, don’t you think, boys and girls? We can say that competition, pitting one person against another, always brings out the best in people, and it is especially helpful in developing character. Thanks to “Wow!”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Earmarks? We ain’t got no stinkin’ earmarks!

Well, Senator McConnell, yes you do. In fact, a lot of your Republican colleagues who squealed so loudly about the omnibus spending bill and voted against cloture, do, too. Twenty eight out of thirty five.

Dane Ryan, a student at the University of Minnesota and an intern in Keith Ellison’s office, has the whole list at his blog Popular Dissent. [With this post, Dane earns his way on to the Cucking Stool blogroll.]

The use of earmarks exploded under Republican control of the Congress; Spot guesses they’re just having trouble giving them up. Someone should have mentioned that it was Lent.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Merit’s no fun if somebody else has it, too

This must absolutely frost King Banaian:

If you want to know why St. Cloud has been tossed out of the Q-Comp program that Governor Pawlenty touted to increase teacher performance through, inter alia, pay for performance, you need only read these two paragraphs:

About 96 percent of the district’s 750-800 teachers participate in Q-Comp. A teacher in the program receives about $2,000 and teachers who accept leadership roles in the program earn a stipend.
...The decision is also significant for the district because of dollars tied to two staff development days agreed to in the district’s contract with teachers.

Last year those days were paid for with Q-Comp money. Now the district will have to find money in next school year’s budget to pay for the days.

no As the StarTribune pointed out last month, it ain't merit pay if 99% of teachers get it. And it ain't merit pay if you're using the money to pay for a staff development day for everyone. H/T for the STrib link to Kevin McNellis at Growth and Justice, who says Pawlenty "must mandate the use of quantified measures of teacher merit" to make this program go. The suspension of St. Cloud from the program is actually a good first step, since it was the inability of the district and the local union to agree on revising the teacher contract to include merit pay that was why Q-Comp was in trouble here. (The school superintendent up here, who has taken up blogging, acknowledges this.) Maybe the district and the teachers union can now come to an agreement on providing for real merit pay where not everybody is above average.

You see, boys and girls, Banaian has his arse clenched so tight and is so invested in the competition model of human interaction that he cannot understand that K-12 teachers, including by and large the demonstrably superior ones, aren’t interested in competing with each other. They cooperate with one another every day in dealing with students and their academic and behavioral issues. It would seem odd and immoral to most teachers to withhold a tip or teaching materials for the purpose of looking a little better in comparison. That’s partly why they’re teachers. If they wanted to make their bones by slitting the throats of their co-workers, why, they’d leave K-12 and become department heads at colleges somewhere. [Joke, attributed to Henry Kissinger: Why are academic politics (in higher ed) so vicious? Because so little is at stake.]

But the professor can’t be happy if some little part of the world doesn’t run according to the Social Darwinist construct envisioned by the blighted “science” of economics. Compete, damn you, bellows the professor. Teacher bargaining units all over the state look at Banaian, give a sad little smile, and say, It really doesn’t work that way.

And let Spot ask you this, Professor: how do you quantify what a good teacher is? Do the parents of the students get to vote? That would just give the sociopaths and malcontents — like some people Spot might mention — even more incentive to jerk teachers around. Test scores? What about the teacher who gets assigned (or volunteers for) a bigger share of students with academic and/or behavioral problems, perhaps caused by parents who are sociopaths or malcontents? Or parents who are just too poor, or badly educated themselves, or too busy putting food on the table to help their kids?

It’s the social conditions that kids bring to school that is the biggest determinant of how they do. But it is just so much more politically convenient to blame the “achievement gap” on the schools than look at real causes: segregated housing patterns, poverty, inadequate health care, the list goes one.

But look at some of the successful charters, Banaian (or Katie, may she rest in opinionated peace) may say? Charter school students are a self-selecting bunch, put there by parents with the energy and ambition for their children to get them into a different school.

When you take inner-city kids and put them in suburban districts, though, as the “It’s Your Choice” program does, a recent study showed that the inner-city transfers still performed more like their still-in-the-inner-city counterparts than the suburban resident students of the district. It’s late, and Spot doesn’t have a link right now, but he recalls that the study was published by the University of Minnesota last fall.

In spite of what the Professor would have you think, teachers are not stupid. They’ve surveyed this scene and recognize that “merit pay,” if implemented the way Governor Pepsodent and King Banaian would like, is just an excellent way to get beat up in a system stacked against them. That’s why unions were created in the first place and the unions are wary about “merit pay.”

Spot says it’s too bad, Professor, but he doesn’t see teachers turning themselves into the little cannibal fish that you would like. But Spot tells you what: there must some junior faculty members you can jerk around about their publishing or the fact they gave too many good grades last semester. It’ll make you feel much better.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beware the Snides of March!

Spot has taken great — and almost illicit — pleasure in watching Dave Mindeman provoke Captain Ahab/Captain Fishsticks/Craig Westover into a purple, foaming rage over the economic effects of laying off government workers. The Captain’s posts on the subject have waxed and waned between clipped seething contempt and outright volcanic wrath. Even on his best day, Spot has never been able to, er, stimulate the Captain the way Mindeman has.

And then, just as it appeared that the Captain had delivered his final, cathartic post, Charlie steps in and points out that the Captain’s parable in that valediction contained some legendary arithmetic:
To illustrate his point, he then lurches through an hilarious parable about a well-to-do family foregoing a $10,000 addition to their home because their taxes were about to spike by a similar amount.
Do the math. A family, let us postulate that they are well-to-do, is sitting at the kitchen table about to sign a contract with a home remodeler to build an addition on its home for $10,000. But just before they sign a newspaper article catches their eyes. It relates how the state of Minnesota will raise taxes in their bracket by $10,000 a year. This sobering news makes the prudent family reconsider, and it does not hire the remodeler to build the addition on its home.
Sobering news, indeed. But to swallow such a concoction, the family must read his newspaper columns to the exclusion of all else. Clearly, Westover must have learned the economics of the remodeling trade from his boss, who operates from a similarly theoretical grasp of taxes and small businesses. 
Do the math, says Westover. Oh, I want to, but it is so hard with the tears running down my cheeks! 
Nevertheless, here it is, based on the 2008 Minnesota tax tables. 
The family in Mindeman's post with an adjusted taxable income of $200,000 might normally pay $14,145 in state income tax. To render a $10,000 increase for this family, Caesar would have to increase the rate for the current top marginal tax bracket from 7.85% to 32.88%!
This is getting to be kind of a long set up, Spot; you better come up with the punch line soon!

Patience, grasshopper; good drama or comedy requires development. No cheap laughs from Spot!

Anyway, Charlie’s pixels were barely fixed in the firmament, and Ahab comes roaring back with a comment that put Charlie in his place:
Of course the "parable" -- an extended metaphor, if you will -- is not a one-to-one transfer, which is why the income tax is so insidious. Were it as simple as my illustration, the economic fallacy of collectivism would easily be exposed. The example intends to expose the underlying fallacy of the logic.
In reality, Captain, your example exposed you for the fumbling economic idiot you are. One-to-one transfers are how you silk screen a shirt: think Che Guevera, Captain. A parable or metaphor is supposed to reveal an essential truth; the Captain’s parable reveals how little he understands what he is talking about.

But it gets better.

The Captain puts ANOTHER post on the subject, this time about, inter alia, what a charlatan Charlie is. This is the final paragraph of the post:
Faced with the genesis of an economic principle, Mr. Quimby evolves an argument based on the Minnesota tax tables to prove that my scenario would never occur under Minnesota tax law. SCSU Scholars King Banaian provides the economist's response to the tax table argument.
How many of you boys and girls remember proofs in geometry class? The idea was to prove a geometric theorem, right? What the Captain did here was take a theorem — his “economic principle” — and disprove it with impressive skill.

But it still gets better.

Oh, Spotty! That’s hard to believe!

But true.

Note the economist’s response that the Captain refers to above. It’s a comment from King Banaian to Charlie’s post:
Charlie, why would you assume the addition is paid for in one year? The addition provides a stream of income (imputed, rental) that is supposed to have a net present value greater than $10k (or else you don't invest in the addition.) All we would need is a tax increase that decreases after tax income enough to give up the flow of imputed income. So if your couples were to face a $1000 PER YEAR extra tax it may be enough to get it to give up a $10,000 ONE TIME expenditure on a remodel.
Why would he assume it, Professor? Maybe because the Captain’s parable does. It was kind of you to step into the home improvement breach with your own brand of wallpaper though. The Captain obviously appreciates it.
Daddy, can we put an addition on the house with a room for Amy and me to sleep in? The dog house is really cold in the winter. 
Why no, Susie, we can’t do that. 
Why, Daddy? 
The net present value of an addition is less than the amount we’d have to pay. 
Even when the payments are discounted to present value, too? 
Well, that depends on your interest rate and housing market assumptions, Susie. I’m not willing to risk it. 
You aren’t sleeping in the doghouse, either, Daddy.
 That’s true, Susie, but you’ll understand these things when you get older.
You mean after I’ve taken economics? 
Exactly, Susie. Now it’s time for bed; don’t forget that extra blanket!
John Ralston Saul would know exactly what to call the Captain and the Professor: Voltaire’s Bastards.

They live in a world of fantasy and “assumptions.” But nobody really lives there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What the world needs now is trust, sweet trust

Sing along now with the late Karen Carpenter and our own King Banaian:

Several weeks ago I noted that [the] one thing the stimulus package (or any of the proposals that so far have come from the Obama Administration) would [not] generate is trust.

Spot is pretty sure that’s what the professor meant to say, anyway. Professor Banaian apparently stopped his newspaper subscriptions and quit reading on the Web, or he might have seen articles like this:

After devoting money and time in search of a rescue for the ailing banking sector, President Barack Obama on Wednesday demanded tough new regulations to keep financial institutions in check and avoid future Wall Street meltdowns.

Obama pressed key lawmakers to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory scheme to restore "accountability, transparency and trust in our financial markets." He specifically called for a system that would monitor the risks that institutions can take.

"We can no longer sustain 21st century markets with 20th century regulation," Obama said after meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the chairmen and top Republicans of the two House and Senate committees charged with writing new regulatory legislation.

Or maybe this:

Just a week after his inauguration, Barack Obama's plans to regulate the financial industry are starting to take shape.

Nothing definite has been put together yet and whatever does evolve must get through Congress and possibly hostile Republican opposition. But it is clear that an entirely new level of regulation seems likely.

The efforts are coming from several fronts. One proponent is former Fed Chief Paul A. Volcker, who is a senior member of Obama's economic team and leader of an international team to recommend new finance rules. Another is led by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, head of the House Financial Services Committee. Yet another comes from staffers at the Federal Reserve. Holding things up is the appointment of Treasury Secretary designate Timothy F. Geithner who finally may be approved today.

Here are some chief areas of possible new regulation:

    * Credit ratings agencies. New rules are possible to eliminate conflicts whereby ratings agencies such as Moody's and Standard & Poor's have helped companies structure financial instruments and then rated them.
    * New standards for mortgage brokers. The SEC may become more involved in supervising underwriting standards.
    * Trading credit default swaps. This would be done through several exchanges which are now being created and the new transparency would allow easier regulation.
    * Forcing companies to back their exotic derivatives. One problem with deeply-troubled American International Group was that it was never required to put up any money to cover the derivatives it created. Firms would be required to do so.
    * Rethinking sky-high leverage. It used to be that the SEC kept banks' leverage rates in a reasonable 12 to 1 range. In 2004, the agency let banks go to 33 to 1 which was toying with danger. More leverage could be required. [Spot thinks they mean less leverage or more capital could be required.]
    * More extensive registration and regulation of hedge funds. Registration has been voluntary and the Bush Administration shunned hedge fund regulation. That is likely to change.

How will this engender trust, Spotty?

It will cut way back on the amount of blue sky and worthless paper that all the would-be grifters out there can sell.

But won’t that cut into economic growth, Spotty?

You’re being ironic, aren’t you, grasshopper? Very good.

Thanks, Spotty.

But no less a light than Alan Greenspan – the engineer of our choo-choo to oblivion – said just recently that we have to be careful about regulating financial services:

However, the appropriate policy response is not to bridle financial intermediation with heavy regulation. That would stifle important advances in finance that enhance standards of living. Remember, prior to the crisis, the U.S. economy exhibited an impressive degree of productivity advance. To achieve that with a modest level of combined domestic and borrowed foreign savings (our current account deficit) was a measure of our financial system's precrisis success. The solutions for the financial-market failures revealed by the crisis are higher capital requirements and a wider prosecution of fraud -- not increased micromanagement by government entities.

Now, here’s a guy who’s going to be mentioned on the same breath as Herbert Hoover and Smoot and Hawley telling us to go easy on all the fakirs and confidence men, or their magic show may be somehow impaired. It apparently hasn’t dawned on Uncle Alan yet that it is the “important advances in finance” that got us into this mess in the first place.

The Securities Act of 1933 and the Exchange Act of 1934, and the Glass Steagall Act (which divided commercial and investment banking, the repeal of which is one of the lasting legacies of Dick Armey, John McCain’s senior economic advisor; Jesus we dodged a bullet there) all grew out of the same impulse to make financial services more transparent, and more, well, real.

So, the professor’s concern is a real one, but in the professor’s case, how genuine?

You knew the answer to that one, didn’t you boys and girls? He ridicules the Treasury Secretary for being interviewed on a national news program to try to explain what is going on. He reads an ancient religious text (while whistling “Under the Double Eagle,” no doubt) that tells him that the government is doomed to fail. This is the same guy who gave a thumbs up to the TARP program when W was the president and Hank Paulsen was the Treasury Secretary.

Spot can almost hear Banaian, like El Rushbo, rooting for failure.

Drinking Liberally tomorrow night

stylized 331 Club - DL Drinking Liberally will occur at its usual place and time on Thursday the 12th of March, that is, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis from six to nine or so.

Word has it that Two Putt Tommy, who blogs at MN Progressive Project, will be there. Spot will probably interview Tommy for the blog.

Also remember, boys and girls, that in two weeks, on March 26th, Keith Ellison will be our guest at DL. If you want to come that night, and you’ve never been to Drinking Liberally before, Spot suggests that you come tomorrow night and next week, too, so you are sure you can find the 331 Club.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We thought his name was Captain Fishsticks?

Spot had decided, grasshopper, that he’s really Captain Ahab. Here’s a man with a whale of an obsession. An obsession that has destroyed his humanity, his reasoning, and his coherence. He’s a man like your crazy uncle: the one your Mom told you not to say certain words in front of at Thanksgiving dinner: government, taxes, and well, you know the list. Words that, if uttered, would set off an unhinged spittle-flecked rant that would ruin dinner. Really, it would ruin dinner: nobody would want to eat the stuff with your uncle’s spittle on it.

Captain Ahab believes, deeply believes, that a dollar paid in taxes is just thrown away; it’s down a rat hole; Raptured to Liberal Heaven. Here’s just a little part of Ahab’s catechism, as quoted by Charlie:

The benefits to government workers of collecting a salary is what is seen. The benefits to the economy that result from their spending is also what is seen. Mr. Mindeman cannot be accused of ignoring the obvious. But the great burden weighing on the taxpayer like a sodden cotton coat is what is not seen. The salary the government worker spends on himself is money the taxpayer does not have to spend on himself; the money the government worker spends in support of those who supply him is money not spent by the taxpayer with people who supply him.

For the boys and girls who have been paying attention, “Mr. Minderman” will come as a key phrase in the passage; Dave Minderman is you uttering the wrong words at Thanksgiving, and Captain Ahab is, well, we all know who. Dave has been shameless in provoking Ahab into an choking, apoplectic fit. Ahab even had a post entitled Mindeman: The Final Word, or something like that, but of course it wasn’t.

Here’s where Charlie comes in. In his post at the link, Charlie pulls on his So’wester, heads into the gale, and does a little math on the Captain:

To illustrate his point, he then lurches through an hilarious parable about a well-to-do family foregoing a $10,000 addition to their home because their taxes were about to spike by a similar amount.

Do the math. A family, let us postulate that they are well-to-do, is sitting at the kitchen table about to sign a contract with a home remodeler to build an addition on its home for $10,000. But just before they sign a newspaper article catches their eyes. It relates how the state of Minnesota will raise taxes in their bracket by $10,000 a year. This sobering news makes the prudent family reconsider, and it does not hire the remodeler to build the addition on its home.

Sobering news, indeed. But to swallow such a concoction, the family must read his newspaper columns to the exclusion of all else. Clearly, Westover must have learned the economics of the remodeling trade from his boss, who operates from a similarly theoretical grasp of taxes and small businesses.

Do the math, says Westover. Oh, I want to, but it is so hard with the tears running down my cheeks!

Nevertheless, here it is, based on the 2008 Minnesota tax tables.

The family in Mindeman's post with an adjusted taxable income of $200,000 might normally pay $14,145 in state income tax. To render a $10,000 increase for this family, Caesar would have to increase the rate for the current top marginal tax bracket from 7.85% to 32.88%!

You really do have to wonder if Captain Ahab does his own taxes.

Please be sure to read Charlie’s entire post: Doing the Math on Westover’s Parables. Charlie even brings out Ahab and fellow bagpipe King Banaian in the comments.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The pitter patter III

Of rats' feet over broken glass.


Welcome back, Spotty!

Thank you grasshopper, although Spot has to say that he drove though a hair-raising (or should that be hackle-raising?) snowstorm in Wisconsin on the way home. Not much of a post tonight, other than to respond to a couple of comments to The pitter patter II, a series which, in just two episodes so far, has proven a gold mine for discussion.

One commenter asks where does it say in the Constitution that “Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency – starting with food, shelter and clothing, employment, health care, and education?”

Well, it says it in Articles 25 and 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Granted, conservatives, this is a declaration by the dumbass General Assembly of the dumbass United Nations, but nevertheless, the United States is a member of the UN — a local boy, Harold Stassen, helped negotiate and draft the original charter of the UN, and he signed it on behalf of the US. Spot says that by virtue of Article VI, paragraph 2, the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (which provides that Treaties are the law of the land), although not self executing, the pronouncement of an international institution that we have voluntarily joined is at least entitled to some consideration by domestic law makers.

Frankly, the idea that the answer to every public policy question is found in the Constitution, is well, puerile. There are some questions that come up that just aren’t answerable by an examination of the entrails of the Founders. Or if they are, the answers are found in the broad grants of power in the General Welfare Clause, the Interstate Commerce Clause, and so on.

If we democratically decide that as a half-way-enlightened country that everyone ought to have health care, that’s the end of it, the spittle-flecked rantings of the Captains Fishsticks notwithstanding.

Another commenter says that private parties are just much more efficient at distributing aid, relief, whatever. A word that the commenter may be searching for is subsidiarity, a word rejected by even Spot’s spell checker:

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority.

Subsidiarity lays aside the whole question of whether the smaller unit will get off its arse and do what is required, which, as history has often shown us, it won’t. This is true perhaps especially in the realm of charity. Maybe the key word is “competent,” or perhaps willing.

And on the issue of health care in particular, the idea flies in the face of the fact that Medicare and the VA are orders of magnitude more efficient than the private market in delivering services to end users, that is patients.

More later.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The pitter patter II

Of rats' feet over broken glass.


This series didn’t start out to be a discussion of the Christian religion nor musings about the temporal obligations it imposes on adherents. But it veered that way in the first post in the series. Sometimes you go with the flow.

A couple of commenters leapt to the defense of Governor Pepsodent. One email correspondent — who Spot will cheerfully admit he taunted by sending a copy of the post to said correspondent — said that Spot had gotten faith and acts all bollixed up and that’s what the Reformation was about.

In other words, a surfeit of material.

It is probably unfair and inaccurate to lay the entire controversy of whether the justification of believers is through acts or through faith at the feet of the Reformation. But that was hardly Spot’s point. It was just to note the hypocrisy involved in calling yourself a Christian while describing the robbing of nearly a billion dollars from the cookie jar of money for health care for the poor as “belt tightening.”

One commenter scolded Spot for trying to bring religion into the public sphere and raised the parade of horribles (a lawyers’ term of art) that might flow from doing so: polygamy, a jihad against Christians, or the imposition of dietary laws. Now, aside from the fact that the comment’s “horribles” all happened to be — imagine — Muslim, it is really rich for conservatives to whine about religion in the public square.

Live the sword, die by the sword, pal.

This is the same crew that’s been yammering for years about abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and rights, ad nauseum, claiming very noisily that religion should be the basis for public policy. Tell you what, conservatives: show a little compassion for existing sentient human beings, and then maybe your other braying wouldn’t at least sound so hollow.

Then, the commenter also says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” [hysterical laughter] Sorry, this is irony almost too rich for an old dog to digest. They can sure dish it out, but they can’t take it, as Spot’s dad might have said. Really, what’s needed is a little liberal judgmentalism to confront some of these bozos on their own terms.

Another commenter wants to compare Spot’s charitable giving with the governor’s. That’s a silly “my dad can beat your dad” kind of a taunt, but Spot says it raises an issue that the commenter never thought about. Conservatives like to brag about how charitable they are, but in truth a lot of their giving is to churches, and a lot of that goes to staff and maintain the clubhouse and for marketing to prospective members. The percentage dedicated to actual relief is an entirely, and much smaller, figure.

There are exceptions such as UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief – which spends every nickel it gets on humanitarian relief, getting its funds for administration from the national church organization.

But you can’t say that just because someone gives a bunch of money to say, The First Church of Getting out of Jail Free, that they’re really generous and charitable; it might be just the opposite.

And now, boys and girls, Spot will be gone for a few days. Family matter.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The pitter patter

Of rats’ feet over broken glass.


Tim Pawlenty, our dear Governor Pepsodent: “We must tighten our belts.” One of the ways Governor Pepsodent wants to tighten his belt is around the necks of people insured under Minnesota Care – or ought to be. In six years of Pepsodent-era budget solutions (the last biennium, the current one that ends June 30th, and the next one) nearly a billion dollars will have been raided from the health care access fund. As Spot’s post at the link recounts, the state’s Medicaid recipients won’t see a similar decrease in funding because we’ll be getting some extra Medicaid money from the feds with strings attached that restrict the ability of the state to reduce Medicaid coverage. But that’s the only reason.

And don’t say that the budgets are the Legislature’s fault. Unless you mean the part led by Marty “the comb over” Seifert:

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, vowed that his House GOP caucus would uphold any gubernatorial vetoes on tax increases, with no reprise of the override DFLers pulled off last year on the gasoline tax.

Yes, the apostates have been purged. Oh, and speaking of apostates.

Spot has never questioned – on the blog, anyway – the sincerity of anybody’s religious belief. Until now. If Pepsodent’s a Christian, Spot is the Sun King. Oh, we’re not talking about whether Pepsodent believes that Jesus will save his quivering, puckered arse when he dies. His is the faith of the Get Out of Jail Free, Rapture Ready crowd. Never mind the social gospel of Jesus: the Beatitudes or attending to the hungry, thirsty and the imprisoned as though they were Jesus himself. And never mind Jesus’ instructions to Peter in the Gospel of John: “If you love me, feed my sheep.” In other words, don’t just say it: do something about it.

It is also written in James, another book of the New Testament, “Faith without works is dead.” That’s not a passage that’s very popular with the Good News tribes of Christians like dear Pepsodent. But it’s high time that some of the members of the other tribes began to rub the noses of sanctimonious moral ciphers like Pepsodent and his fellow travelers in the temporal obligations of Christians.

Governor Pawlenty, Spot’s calling you out for the cardboard Christian you are. Want to debate it? Spot says anywhere, anytime.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

J.S. Bach: F# Minor Toccata

A little poem by Bill Holm that seems elegiac under the circumstances:

The music weeps, not for sin
but rather for the black fact
that we all must die, but not one
of us knows what comes after.
This music leaps from key to key
as if it has no clear place to arrive,
making up its life, one bar at a time.
But when you come at last to the real theme,
strict, inexorable, and bleak,
you must play it slow and sad,
with melancholy dignity, or you miss
all its grim wisdom.
In three pages, it says, the universe collapses,
and you — still only halfway home.

From Playing the Black Piano, Milkweed Editions 2004.

Thanks to Milkweed Editions for permission to reprint this poem.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Drinking Liberally Thursday 2/5

stylized 331 Club - DL We’ll meet starting at six on Thursday evening at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. Around seven or so, Spot expects, we start a conversation with our guest for the evening, Dave Thune the Second Ward Councilman in St. Paul.

Dave may offer a few remarks; we’ll have some Q & A, and, of course, some skillful cross examination by Spot.dave thune

Monday, March 02, 2009

Spoliation redux

Pardon me for recycling this, but with today's revelation that the Bush Administration's Torture Gods destroyed ninety-two tapes of terror interrogations, I thought it might be time to revisit the issue of what in the heck lawyers mean by spoliation.