26 November 2010

The High Cost of Being Glen Beck

Glen Beck is LDS. As a Mormon, he's expected to tithe 10% to his church. As tea party enthusiast, he believes that federal taxes equal to 14% of GDP is too high.

The federal government funds
- retirement
- health care
- war & occupation
- defense of borders
- unemployment
- interstate highways
- housing
- environmental protection
- science research
- arts
- etc.
- etc.
- etc.

What does the church fund?
- potlucks
- a church building
- some missions (although from what little I know about it, much of this is actually funded by the family of the young (or old) person going on a mission, not the church).

Now I am sure that the list for what the church funds could be longer - but so could the list of what NASA funds. Seems to me that the federal government is doing much more with its 14% than Glen's church is doing with its 10%. Maybe, if Glen is really that sore about taxes, he should just join a cheaper church.

Just a thought.

25 November 2010

Stop Smoking & Gain Weight

Here are four curious facts.

In 1960, 42% of Americans smoked and 13% were obese.
In 2009, 20% of Americans smoked and 35% were obese.

I wonder if we could conclude that 22% of Americans stopped smoking and began overeating. And I wonder which of the two - smoking or overeating - do the most to reduce life expectancy. 

Pope - "Make Love Not War" (well, sort of)

Vatican: Condom use less evil than spreading HIV
Wow. And it only took the Vatican decades to figure out which of these was worse. 

22 November 2010

Ask Not What Your Media Can Do For You (Parallels Between JFK and Obama)

Today at the 6th Floor Museum, I couldn't help but think about some parallels between John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

Kennedy was a candidate whose charisma helped him to win in spite of the fact that many questioned his youth and status as a minority. (Kennedy being Catholic was probably a bigger obstacle to becoming president in 1960 than was Obama’s being black in 2008.)

JFK angered many by supporting Civil Rights. LBJ predicted that this would cause Democrats to lose the south for a generation or two, as good old boys switched affiliation from the Democratic to Republican Party. (The working class used to more predictably vote Democratic in the south.) 

Curiously, in spite of the backlash of anger in reaction to desegregation in many conservative circles, no conservatives today argue for a return to segregation.

Obama angered many by signing legislation to ensure health care for all Americans. Today respectable conservatives argue that Americans who haven’t money enough for their own coverage or medical care ought to face the prospect of death or bankruptcy. I predict that in 50 years, universal health care will be more like desegregation in that no normal conservative will argue for its reversal. 

Like Obama, JFK seemed to be more loved and adored abroad than at home.

But the parallel that is perhaps most unsettling was the kind of hatred felt towards JFK and Obama by mainstream conservative groups. The day that JFK came to Dallas, business leaders there had taken out an ad in the daily paper making a series of outrageous accusations against Kennedy. About 5,000 flyers were passed out in Dallas accusing Kennedy of treason; like the newspaper ad, these flyers accused Kennedy not just of bad policy but of actually betraying the constitution. Some of JFK’s people advised him against visiting this, the most hostile city in the US. And in this milieu of hatred, a lone assassin acted.

Looking at the arguments against Kennedy by conservative groups, one sees how little has changed in their tactics over a period of 50 years. They don’t resort to reason but instead try to inspire fear. They conflate a willingness to negotiate with a capitulation to the forces of evil (communism for Kennedy, terrorism for Obama.)

While Oswald may have acted alone, it is worth noting that he acted in Dallas, not Boston or New York. Alligators do better in swamps than pastures; some environments are more conducive to certain kinds of people.

The most important thing is to create a culture that feeds a dialogue about what kind of country we’re creating. We can’t afford to create a culture that is hospitable to alligators. You can do something about this.

Ask not what your media can do for you. Ask what you can do for your media. It’s time to turn the channel whenever you hear nonsense reported as if it were fact, or cancel subscriptions when you read an article that can’t distinguish between reporting conflicting (even if absurd) opinions and actual investigative reporting. And, most importantly, demand that your media sources distinguish between really bad policies and evil people. Anyone should work to kill legislation they don't agree with; no one should work to kill people they disagree with.

Today is the 47th anniversary of JFK's assassination. It's worth thinking about.

17 November 2010

Tweet October

Follow at http://twitter.com/#!/iamrondavison
(And yes, some of these tweets were elaborated on beyond the 140 characters when I brought them over.)

Product idea. Pasta for special occasions. Small, colorful, and easier to eat than spaghetti: confetti & meatballs. If everyone wears plastic, it could even be served in a Times Square ticker tape parade kind of way.

Wonder when a football team will adopt a SuperHero costume - capes, painted on abs, etc. Maybe the previous yrs' national champions could wear one.

Proposed word: dyspunctual. Someone chronically late or ridiculously early.

Saw on t-shirt: "people who think they know everything annoy those of us who do."

Way cool - Thomas Kuhn sold me my sandwich. Nearly as cool: I got to tell this Thomas about that Thomas. Paradigm shift indeed

Ben Roethlisberger returns after suspension for sexual assault; Steelers' center confesses to feeling a little skittish.

Wonder how many BTUs the country would save each year if restaurants just served a reasonable amount of ice in drinks.

Christine O'Donnell would like to clarify that what she meant by "dabbling in witchcraft" is that she's read all the Harry Potter books.

"How'd your twitter account get shut down, dude?" "Total Rick Sanchez move: I said nerds are behind the internet. Next thing I knew ..."

"Did you know you can twitter more than 140 characters?" "Yeah. It's called blogging."

Product idea: self inflating tires. "Those wheels suck." "Yes they do." Be great for maintenance and car chases, depending on your lifestyle.

Ran-dam-plification: as the head cold gradually loosens its grip on the sinuses, volumes quickly and reversibly go from sedate to jarring.

People rarely hear what you're actually saying as clearly as they hear what they think you are saying.

Sad day for happy meals: the FDA now requires McDonald's to list actual emotional impact of their happy meals along with nutritional info.

As near as she could tell, his only real commitment to the environment was his habit of recycling jokes.

Odd: a plane can taxi but a taxi cannot.

Saw a dog in the audience of the Old Globe Playhouse this evening. He seemed really happy to be there.

I still have not figured out why base runners need helmets. And if they have to, why not something more lightweight, like bike helmets?

Recession forcing you to cut back? Student on tight budget? Try the new mobius strip bagels and donuts - the new, infinite food supply.

I am nearly certain I drove by Aryan Hair Salon this evening. I wonder if they make all their clients look like skinheads.

I love the idea of cutting NPR's funding because it stupidly fired Juan Williams. In a perfect world all the news would come from for-profits like Fox & MSNBC. Sigh.

This is news? Americans split on healthcare repeal? What would be news is if Americans were suddenly unanimous on the topic.

I wonder if you'd wake up twice as rested if you were dreaming that you were sleeping.

Alternate scoring: get points & runs for both plays AND replays. Spectacular, replay-worthy plays would then be worth more, counted as many times as they were replayed.

I think that women's gymnastics balance beam could be much more interesting with a three-drink minimum.

"Everything comes with fries," he tells me. "Even the fries?" He pauses. Stares at me. Finally, "Yeah. Even the fries."

Leadership is not just getting people to follow you. It's having somewhere new to take them. Nowhere new and you're just popular.

Does cheering work? Wouldn't the subconscious of visiting teams be likely to misconstrue the cheers as meant for them? Same w/ boos undermining the confidence of the home team?

The mis-application of patience? The country gave dubya 6 yrs to wreak havoc and obama only 2 to repair?

77. Sunny. Coronado looking like an opening scene in a fairy tale. Gorgeous day. I do love being home.

Perfect costume for tomorrow's Halloween party: ghost. Sadly, the costume is so realistic that everyone there will just think I didn't come.

CA is about to legalize pot but smoking has already been made illegal everywhere. Today's investment tip: buy brownies futures.

Must be Halloween weekend. I am sure at Balboa Park tonight I saw 2 ghosts texting on an Ouija Board.

Broadcast idea: alternatives to typical play by play for baseball games. Why not Abbott & Costello? Bert & Ernie? Bogart & Bacall?

The Tea Party - A Time Machine to the late 1800s

Put simply, the tea party stands for a reversal of the gains of the last century. If wanting to slow or stop social change makes one a conservative, then the tea party is made up of reactionaries. They actually want to reverse social change.

During the last century, popular opinion in the US changed in terms of attitudes towards consumer credit and consumption in general, government intervention into the economy, management of the economy and organizations, and government programs that lessened capitalism’s tendency to extremes – extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

It is worth remembering that life was worse when the absence of a welfare state made poverty a death sentence. And it is not true that when the stakes were higher - when people died for want rather than were merely destitute - that unemployment or poverty were lower. 

We've tried the world that the tea party promises. You can read it about it in history books that document life 100+ years ago. You can experience it by going to foreign countries where poverty is widespread and where the social safety net and regulations are largely nonexistent. 

Next time you are reading about the tea party or talking with a friend who admires them, ask how what they're proposing - from doing away with unions and the Federal Reserve and banking regulations to privatizing education and eradicating welfare - is any different than the world we had in, say, 1890. And then ask them to list all the ways in which life was better 100 years ago when their policies ruled. It could make for an interesting conversation. 

10 November 2010

The Big Question About Obama

The big question about Obama is simply this: is he as good a president as Bush was bad?

Bush left the country two difficult to extract from occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a structural deficit that is the largest in history (meaning, even running at full employment, the government budget is structured to be in deficit), and cut long-term investments in infrastructure. He was the first president in history to start two major wars while cutting taxes. While I don't think that Bush is to blame for 9-11 or the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, he obviously was unable to detect and stop these threats in time. Additionally, the man undermined progress on fighting climate change and attacked rights to privacy and due process. How bad was he? It would take any president years to undo the damage he'd done.

So now in order to be considered good, Obama has to reverse Bush's atrocious fiscal policies AND environmental policies AND extract American troops from two occupations. This just to get to zero.

Just to preempt his critics. yes, Obama did run for office fully aware of these challenges. JFK was quoted as saying that what most surprised him was that when he got into office he learned that things were, indeed, as bad as he had been saying while campaigning.

Obama can't just stand atop his own achievements at the bottom of the hole that Bush has dug. He has to be good enough to fill Bush's hole AND build something more atop that. Personally, I think that Obama is a good president. It is not yet obvious, though, that he's as good as Bush was bad.

04 November 2010

About the Only Thing We Know for Sure

This matter of job creation is not trivial. I believe that we've hit an inflection point, a point of transition from one economy to the next akin to the transition from agricultural to industrial, or industrial to information economy. Making this transition will require shifts in how corporations, schools, universities, and governments are managed and how policy is formulated.

There are many questions that have to do with the issues of how to create jobs, reverse wage stagnation, and lower unemployment. (These are related but separate issues.)

But in the midst of the uncertainty about how best to lower unemployment we do know at least one thing. Fiscal austerity - deficit reductions - that would result in massive layoffs of government workers and government contractors won't lower unemployment. This is one of the few certainties we have in the midst of so many questions.

And yet, sadly, the Republicans who've just won office seem convinced of only one thing: fiscal austerity - deficit reductions - that would result in massive layoffs of government workers and government contractors is the one thing that will make this country better.

I guess it is just the height of optimism to wish that after the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld promises we'd have learned that there is a big difference between conviction and actually being right.

About the only thing we know for sure is that slashing government spending would cause this economy to stall. And yet, this seems about the only thing the Republicans are convinced of.

02 November 2010

Policy (not political) Reasons The Republicans Will Win So Big Today

One of the reasons that Obama's democrats will lose so many seats in today's election is unavoidable. Obama's recovery from the Great Recession is in the road building phase of recovery. By that I mean when traffic is bad and the crews come in to widen lanes, the initial approach simply worsens things. The construction crews make traffic even worse before their work makes things better. Obama is trying to stimulate the economy and while that has done little to (visibly) reduce unemployment, it has quite visibly raised the deficit. Given his approach, it seemed unavoidable that he'd lose seats in this election.

But I don't think that he had to lose so many seats. Part of the problem, I think, is that when he bailed out the banks, no one paid for that. Some banks did engage in unsafe practices. The system did need to be protected from collapse. (The equilibrium point for a cash only economy is considerably lower than current levels of GDP.) Obama (as Bush before him) had no choice but to rescue banks to keep the financial system working. He did have a choice about how to do it.

I'm not sure the best policy on this. I would propose that the net worth of executives in rescued banks be taxed at 80%. Or that bonuses that can be positive in good years can be negative in bad. Or any of a number of things that would have made the little guy who was not rescued feel as though the rich guys who were had not been subsidized by their taxes. Obama never quite seemed to appreciate the visceral reaction people had to the bank rescue. Bush got this and - while it was a complete non sequitur - he gave the people a war after 9-11. Obama did not even try to sate Americans' desire for some kind of retribution and now, the Tea Party has made him the one who pays.