24 January 2012

Chris Dodd admits to bribery?

Allow me to stipulate that at one time I thought Chris Dodd was a pretty good senator, and might even make an acceptable presidential candidate (a sort of an unglamorous compromise figure, but anyway)...

Now, however, I think he's a totally unprincipled lobbyist who should be run outta town on a rail, figuratively speaking.

Still, the online petition to the White House calling for an investigation into Dodd for, in effect admitting to bribery, has me scratching my head a little. Investigating? A former senator? For Bribery? Might as well investigate all of 'em, because as near as I can figure out, this is just S.O.P. in D.C.

22 January 2012

Newt the faux populist

I think it's a little premature to conclude that Newton Gingrich is going to be the Rightican nomminy, but it's still worth noting that he's obviously adopting an anti-elite, pseudopopulist framing, in contrast to Romney's more reassuring, professional manager-is-what-we-need message. (Which is rich, considering he's an ultimate insider, who has lived in Washington since 1978). If Pres. Obama ends up running against Gingrich, he had better work up his pro-99% real populist creds and have them in line and ready to go for the general election.

20 January 2012

Wheelerdealer Romney losing to hypocrite Newt!?

I am more than a little skeptical about reports that Gingrich is "surging" and Romney is "collapsing" in polls. But if it does turn out to be true, it will be hard to escape the (admittedly anecdotal because based on one example) conclusion: voters, at least Rightist voters, care less about sexual peccadilloes and personal character than they do about the perception that someone is a Wall Streeter. It seems in the wake of the financial collapse, no one (other than themselves) likes Godon Gekko type Wall Street wheelerdealers (and for good reason).

17 January 2012

Press Senators and Congress to OPPOSE SOPA & PIPA now

Please see this (Electronic Frontier Foundation) in opposition to SOPA/PIPA (the alternative pending House and Senate Internet bills that have been vigorously denounced by Internet content providers as destructive of Internet independence and freedom of information).

Unfortunately, both of California's senators, and my Congressman, Howard Berman, have come out for these dreadful bills. We who care about freedom of internet information need to pressure them to change their stance immediately.  (See ProPublica here to find out how your representatives stand).

Here's an idea on capital gains

There was a time in this country, not so terribly long ago, when so-called capital gains were taxed the same as other income. The world didn't implode. In fact, it was a time of great prosperity, at least some of the time. (And when it wasn't it certainly didn't have anything to do with capital gains taxes).

The rationale for a low rate on capital gains has always struck me is phony and hypocritical. Low taxes on the income (primarily) of the very rich (obviously) mainly benefits the very rich, who don't need any benefits.

But for those who are swayed by the usual Rightist argument that little old ladies who live on investment income would be harmed, here's my retort (both):
  • A cap. Capital gains can be taxed at 15% up to a maximum of (say) $60,000 income; subject to...
  • An aged/disabled qualifier.To qualify for a reduced capital gains rate, (capped or otherwise), you'd have to prove, in the same manner as you have to prove to be eligible for SSI, either age (over 65) or disability (inability to work full time for medical reasons).
I can't think of a sensible rejoinder. These work together: i.e., you don't get capital gains reduction unless aged or disabled, and even if you do qualify, it's limited to $60,000 income (subject to adjustment for COLA or some other formula).

The argument that without capital gains taxed at low rates investors wouldn't "invest in America" is, I believe, provably ridiculous and false; it is merely a propaganda point for advocates of low taxes on the rich.

Romney 15% tax rate a political issue?

TPM today is talking about how Romney is admitting that, as a 1%er whose income is almost all capital gains, he pays an effective tax rate lower than most middle class people, on his millions and millions in annual income. I'd say this was a great issue for Democrats, but, unfortunately, unless framed very carefully and well, it probably won't be, because the level of sophistication acceptable in messaging directed to the electorate at large seems to have to be at about third grade level to have any effect, and things like "effective tax rates" are just too complicated. Sad, really.

16 January 2012

Not a diet, a (permanent) change of diet

Almost 8 months ago now, after reading Gary Taubes's quite detailed explanation of how so-called metabolic syndrome-X and the overconsumption of easily digestible carbohydrates (and especially sugar and refined flours) are the cause of most obesity and overweight, I decided I'd try to change my diet in accordance with the facts he outlined. (The book is Good Calories, Bad Calories, or there's an "airliner" version called Why We Get Fat and What to do about it). 

I had put on a good deal of extra weight by that time, and it had been a factor in a back injury I'd suffered picking up a laundry basket, that caused me to be in physical therapy for six weeks and even to have to walk with a cane for a short time.

What I (and my partner, for the same reasons) did was to change our diet (permanently), not go on a diet. It's simple, although it takes some determination, and you have to be willing to go against some conventional wisdom, that Taubes convinced me was just not true. I won't go into all that; if you're interested, read his book.

For me, the proof is that I've lost more than 45 pounds and it seems to be staying off; I feel better and get around more easily; I have been able to (or had to) cut my blood pressure medication more than in half, including eliminating one of the drugs entirely, and, although there are a few foods I somewhat miss eating, I do not have to starve myself and eat as much as I want every day. Just not of certain foods.

The Good

On a sensible low-carb regime, you can eat bacon, nuts, meat, eggs, cheese (which I'm averse to, but no matter), dairy, butter, cream, (even ice cream if you go to the trouble to make it yourself and use low-glycemic natural sugar alcohols and sweet short fibers to sweeten it rather than sugar). Leafy and fibrous vegetables (but not starchy ones). Much as you want. No restriction. Your body regulates fat quite well as long as there isn't an insulin spike from sugar and starch every time you eat anything. Two important facts, contrary to most actually scientifically unwarranted belief, even in the medical community: dietary cholesterol does not correlate particularly with serum cholesterol, and it has no particular affect on incidence of heart disease and stroke. The research to prove that it does has been, at best, completely inconclusive. My personal story: I eat bacon all the time, and my blood serum cholesterol is unchanged. A little high, but not high enough to prescribe medication. The same as before I made these changes. The cause of most cholesterol "issues" is mostly genetic.

The Acceptable

You have to cut out sugar. This even means restricting sweet fruits, like bananas (I avoid them) and mangoes (ditto), although most berries, grapefruit, tart apples, an occasional orange, are fine. You have to cut out starchy foods. Potatoes (french fries are my greatest regret), pasta, rice, couscous, bread, cookies, crackers, etc. Really eliminate them from your diet (there are some pretty low carb sprouted grain breads and inulin-blocked pasta products which you can use occasionally and in small quantities, if you need to. You can have an occasional tortilla chip or something, but literally, just a couple. There are tortillas made that are mostly dietary fiber that you can use to make "wraps" to substitute for sandwiches. (This is my usual lunch). You have to look at labels and avoid salad dressings that are loaded with High Fructose Corn syrup. You have to avoid sweet beverages, including fruit juices. You can't eat cake, pastry, muffins, biscuits, waffles, pancakes, or anything that's mostly flour (although there are carb-blocked substitutes, if you must; but it's actually easier to just find other things to eat). Even tofu and other soy products are suspect. Obviously, this is not a regime suitable for vegetarians; although many people find that if they stick to whole grains and higher protein foods, they're fine. Some South Beachers avoid even pulses (legumes), but I eat them freely and continuously lost weight for months, having now more or less stabilized at what I consider an acceptable weight. A lot of people use a lot of artificial sweeteners to accomplish the starch and sugar elimination, but I have experimented with the aforementioned natural substitutes, and, mainly, you just learn to avoid starch and sweet foods. You really do get used to it.

The Bad

You have to explain to well intentioned people that no, you won't try their cookies. Cookies are poison. But most people don't insist.

I am a believer, because this has worked for me, and I'm almost never hungry and have no desire to return to eating starch or sugar.

Counterintuitive development on Iran?

In the last couple of weeks Ian Masters interviewed several Iran hands about the apparently increased tensions between the US and Iran, in the wake of the draconian financial sanctions enacted in December and a number of other factors. Some of them, like Robert Baer, were quite alarmist in their assessment of how precarious the situation was, as in, an inadvertent or deliberately falsified (by either side) misunderstanding in the Gulf could lead to a Tonkin Gulf like casus belli. He stressed how out of touch with reality the hardline regime in Tehran is, and how unworkable the sanctions regime is, etc.

But then he interviewed Gary Sick, whom I believe to be one of the most informed people around on the subject. (His blog here). Sick noted that SOS Clinton had strongly condemned the clandestine assassination last week of a nuclear scientist in Tehran (almost certainly committed by Israeli agents), and that her condemnation was obviously directed, with notable anger, mostly at Israel, not Iran. There had actually been some signals that the Iranians want to seek to get some kind of negotiation framework going, and talks were actually set up in Turkey before this happened. Clinton was clearly trying to signal the Iranians that the Israelis were acting rogue, and that the US really does want to find a way out of this crisis short of military engagement, as, apparently, the Iranians do as well.

Sick also mentioned that the sanctions, which were part of the already notorious (for other reasons too) Defense Authorization Act signed by Obama in late December, may be having an unintended consequence. That is, by creating a totally untenable situation for all concerned, they have destabilized a status quo that everyone was pretty much just living with for some time, and now, something's gotta give. And what's given, perhaps surprisingly, is that the Iranians want to talk. Let's just hope the saner minds in the Obama administration are able to quell whatever neocon thinking may still reside in the halls of power here, and restrain the nuts in the Netanyahu government, long and well enough to actually change the situation and get us on the road to a negotiated resolution of the whole Iranian nuclear question.

13 January 2012

Two NYT columns on the same subject: one right on, the other, as usual, off base

Two columns in NYT today on the same subject:
Krugman.   Brooks.
I suppose needless to say, in my view Krugman has it right. I think Brooks is, as usual for him, way off base in his dismissal of the callousness of Leveraged-Buyout capitalists,* and Romney in particular, and just how wrong for America right now someone like that actually is.
* I refuse to use the euphemism private equity, which was merely invented to deceive gullible people into thinking that quasi-criminal predation, which does no one but the raiders themselves any good, is benign.

09 January 2012

On the other hand, recovery may already be underway?

If my post (below) about the danger of an Iran war was too depressing, there's always this, a prediction that economic recovery may already be underway. Maybe if we can somehow avoid a war, we'll actually have a good year economically, which can only be good for defeating the Rightists at the polls.

Disconnect in the Media: ignoring the danger of war with Iran

Listening to Vali Nasr and Robert Baer being interviewed by Ian Masters on Background Briefing, (kpfk.org; ianmasters.com), I was struck by a major disconnect in the public discourse in this country. These guys are experts on Iran by any lights and they're saying the "pressure regime" of the Obama White House has failed, that the paranoid regime in Iran is on a hair trigger, and that inadvertent war is actually likely. Which would be terrible news for Obama's re-election, and could spin entirely out of control very quickly. Yet the news media, even the progressive blogosphere and the likes of Current and MSNBC (for the most part) are acting like the clown shows in Iowa and New Hampshire (and beyond) are the only things that matter.

06 January 2012

NYT news analysis says chance of economic uptick in 12 appears better



I recall reading that Pau Casals, although a cellist, would start each day by playing one of the Inventions or Preludes and Fugues of the Well Tempered Clavier. It's also a standard anecdote of music history (probably derived from the notoriously unreliable Carl Czerny) that Beethoven "cut his teeth" as a child by playing the "ne plus ultra of our art..." meaning, the same Well Tempered Clavier, although that story seems unlikely because the first publication them didn't occur until 1803, when Beethoven was in his 30s, and the likelihood that he had a manuscript copy seems a bit remote.

Anyway, I am not naturally gifted musically, at least not particularly so. I love music, and Bach in particular, and have over the years slogged away at playing his keyboard music to the point that I can manage... just... to negotiate some of the 48 preludes and fugues of the WTC. And I have to say that even that, pale reflection of the creativity that went into them in the first place or even the pleasure that must come from real mastery of them, is a privilege that I cherish.

02 January 2012

Why I am supporting President Obama's re-election

I think it no exaggeration to argue that this coming presidential election may be one of, if not the most important of my lifetime. My main reason for this belief is the Supreme Court. It is hardly an original idea — that, from a Progressive point of view (the actual issues-determined view of the majority of Americans), the danger of a Supreme Court irreversibly dominated by an un-American Rightist philosophy is the greatest threat to the American Republic of our lifetime. Yet it is quite clearly true. Our present court has four justices, the Gang of Four, whose identities are known to every thinking American, who do not believe in the essential constitutional principles of our country, and who fail completely to respect principles of law, instead deciding critical issues on the basis of right-wing ideology alone. If you doubt this, please peruse the so-called reasoning of the Citizens United case (I have done so). It’s unmistakable.

From this corporate personhood, plutocracy is good, money is speech judicial fiat, to the potential for grave damage on civil liberties (such as the recent defense authorization bill that purports to effectively eviscerate the 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments), to reproductive rights, to the right to be free from religion and to choose your own partners with equal treatment under law, to the right to fair elections… the list is long and frightening. If a Romney or other Rightist becomes president, the court will almost certainly be cemented in Rightist ideology for a long time to come.

I have been quite critical of President Obama on a number of issues of importance to me, as I have discussed on this blog at length. I regard Obama as no better than a corporatist-Centrist Democrat, whose policy intentions are well aligned with the moneyed interests that really run this country. But Democrats are different from Republicans. They at least believe in checks and balances, and in a system that is not entirely given over to exclusive interests of the rich and powerful. President Obama is no Progressive, but on a whole host of issues, his policy intent is clearly superior to that of any conceivable Republican opponent.

And for those reasons, I intend to support his re-election, both financially and with time and energy. Our political system is deeply dysfunctional, and one of its dysfunctions is its bipolarity; but this is simply a fact of life. We should work, long term, to change that, but we must also make the right choices for the future now, in the short term. We must, as thinking people, act in ways that we sincerely believe will result in the best outcome for the future. For me, the choice is clear, that we have to put our support on the side closer to our world view, while continuing to put what pressure we can on those whom we support to change their views to conform more closely to ours, while constructing in our advocacy the means to a better system, and working for that for the longer term. 

But the most salient point in this short-term calculus, for me, is the danger of generation-long domination of the Supreme Court by truly dangerous Rightist ideologues. We’re almost there already; if we don’t reverse the trend, our country will be benighted by Rightist jurisprudence for so long that real social progress will be hobbled no matter what changes in the Zeitgeist may bring in terms of electoral politics in the coming years. And this, alone, for me, is sufficient reason to eschew any thought of Progressive Third Party candidates, or of high-mindedly foregoing voting altogether (which I’ve seen advocated), and getting serious about making sure that the most Progressive Democrats we can find run to defeat Republicans, that Democrats in general are elected and re-elected to the House and Senate, and, above all, that President Obama is re-elected this year.