Sunday, May 30, 2010

Housekeeping Note

I just updated the blog here a bit. The good news is all my posts have been labeled. On the right here you'll find a handy-dandy list of everything I've written about. I tend to write about anything that interest me. Now you can find my thoughts on whatever interests you.

The bad news is that, for reasons unknown, blogspot decided to update the time-stamp on the 'You Lie!' and 'Tea and Nazis' posts. Those were written last Fall. They are not new. But maybe they are new to you...

I've also added my email to my little profile box. So, that's another way to reach me with a question or comment.

You Lie!

You do lie, of course. I lie. All of us human beings do a fair bit of lying. We should not find it surprising or outrageous that politicians also lie. If you won't vote for politicians who lie, then you won't vote. President Obama is both a person and a politician, so yes, he lies. Anyone can be painted with that brush, and most people have been. It's surprising there is any bristle left on it.

Everyone lies, but we lie to varying degrees, frequencies, and for various nefarious and not-so-nefarious purposes. Among human beings, and certainly among politicians that have ascended to the office of the presidency, Barak Obama strikes me as one of the more honest ones. He has not been in politics, and certainly not been president, long enough to abandon his aspirations. He has not kept all his campaign promises. But he's been busy. He deserves some time and space to determine which promises and priorities he'll continue to pursue. We should not be appalled by inevitable compromise. Some commitments will go unfulfilled. Circumstances will change. He'll change his mind. Some dreams will die.

We still honor honesty, and should continue to ask for it. When the president was speaking to the congress last Wednesday he was articulating his principles. President Obama was describing his desires and expectations from the bills that congress is authoring. When the president said his plan would not use public money to pay for the health insurance of illegal immigrants, that was a statement of principle. The facts, the text of the bills, are still subject to amendment and change.

Congressman Wilson, and many of his more courteous colleagues, presumably agree that taxpayers should not purchase insurance for the undocumented. They may suspect that Obama's agreement is insincere, or that the current text is inadequate. Rather than assault him, why not just hold him to his word? Congress is authoring the bill. Joe Wilson is a Congressman. Why not work to insure the bill contains the principles that both Wilson and Obama say they support?

Obama wants the public option to be funded, not by taxpayers, but by subscriber premiums. He speaks of fair competition between the public and private insurers. Obama says he doesn't want a single payer plan and offers a market-based approach. He says, constantly, that he intends to (mostly) leave private employer-provided plans alone. Obama says he wants the plan to be fully funded, to reduce medical costs in the long run, and not add a dime to deficit.

Congressional Republicans don't argue that these are bad ideas. Instead, they argue, that Obama's health care reforms must be stopped because Democrats can't be trusted! So, don't trust them. Laws are written with words and those words have meaning. The GOP should be negotiating to insure their shared principles are signed into law.

Republicans, including New Hampshire's own Senator Gregg and that forgettable gentleman that spoke after Obama's speech, all claim they recognize the real and urgent need for health care reform. When described, the Republican plans sound a lot like what Obama is proposing. But when it comes to negotiating in good faith, the GOP is just yelling from the sidelines.

Of course, when Republicans say they support health care reform, they may be lying.

Tea and Nazis

There was a big teabagger march in DC yesterday, with lots folks carrying creative signs.

One particular sign and sign-holder merit a bit of deconstruction:

Let us pause to admire the unnecessary quotes, and then proceed to consider the message and the messenger.

Does he look like he wants to serve in a Nazi Youth Militia? Yes. He does. He looks like precisely the sort that has conviction without reason and a pack mentality. He jumps right to the persecution of the vile, alien, other and throws out indiscriminate accusations. In a Nazi Youth Militia, he would fit right in.

He's calling for new era of McCarthyism? McCarthyism was a good thing?

I don't know if we're meant to take these people seriously. Presumably, they don't consider themselves to be outrageous fools. Did the people around this kid chastise him for making them all look like extremist idiots? Or did they applaud his creativity and audacity?

Have these people no shame?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Secrets of Lost Revealed!

I was big fan of Lost during it's first season. Before that I had been into X-Files and Twin Peaks. I was ready to sign up for more mind games. The central pleasure of the show was always trying to sort out what the heck the was going on. What is this show about?

They piled mystery on top of mystery. The crash, the island, the numbers, the polar bear, the hatch, the smoke monster, the "others", the flashbacks... The show had riddles within riddles. Enigmas came from so many different directions it was hard to imagine what was at the root of it all? What could be the tie the binds? What is really going on in this world? What are the rules?

By this middle of season 3 the show was a hit, but answers were no where in sight. More and more imponderables appeared. The episodes didn't illuminate the plot. The creators were just digging themselves a deeper hole. Tantalizing turned into tedious. I stopped watching. As the seasons went on, I stopped caring.

I got caught up in the cultural moment and curious about how they would wrap it all up. I returned for the Lost finale on Sunday. It was not impressive.

As a TV consumer, I would be perfectly happy to be the blind man groping at a misleading portion of the elephant. I want the misdirection. But there has to be greater whole. There needs to be an elephant. The creators need to know it's contours. The audience can be left guessing, but the clues need to be clues to something (however preposterous). But if you're the creator of a mystery that you're teasing and stretching out over years (which, come to think of it, I am) then you, the author, better know what is going on in your story.

I'll call bullshit on Lost. There was no plan. There were no reasons. They just threw one thing after another on the screen. Once in a while, they made some sort of ad hoc, after-the-fact attempt to explain some portion of what had come before.

That's not a mystery. It's a waste of time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You Balance the Budget

Back in my Federal Budget Blueprint series I took a look at how we should deal with our trillion dollar budget deficit. This was a useful exercise and something everyone should consider. What do you want? How do you want to pay for it?

Everyone should consider this. And thanks to a spiffy new website created by The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget now everyone can!

On their site you can punch in your priorities. Choose your spending and tax policy. Steer a grateful nation towards a path of fiscal sanity or financial ruin. You decide!

I was able to plug in a version of my plan and was pleased to see that my preferred path led to a sustainable place with debt at 48% of GDP, well below the suggested 60% target. But then, I call for spending cuts and tax increases. Because, you know, trillion dollar deficit...

If an all-powerful genie granted me one wish -- and if that genie made it clear that I could only use my wish to influence election policy -- then here's my wish: Every politician running for any federal office would have to take this budget calculator for a spin and publish the results.

Think about it. Instead of inane platitudes and vacuous campaign slogans (Ok, in addition to inane platitudes and vacuous campaign slogans. I only got the one wish.) we would have an actual breakdown of a real plan. We could learn their actual priorities before we voted for them.

And anyone who says they are going to "cut taxes and reduce the deficit" could explain how the hell we're supposed to do that.

My choices...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bomb Squad

Yesterday I stepped out of my office for my noon constitutional. At the end of the block I was surprised to find a substantial crowd, a number of emergency vehicles blocking the roads, and a large, heavily armed police presence.

These were the early minutes in an unfolding drama. The police were surrounding a Greyhound bus parked in downtown Portsmouth. They believed the bus contained 17 people and a bomb.

I joined the gawkers for a minute and then continued on my run. It was pretty much the same scene when I returned. I went up to my office, in a building just outside the evacuation area, and went back to work- keeping tabs on the drama outside via the internet.

During the afternoon 16 of the bus occupants were able to leave, one at a time. When I passed back through on my way home, around 6pm, the standoff was still ongoing. The number of responders on the scene had increased to dozens of officers, officials, sharpshooters, firemen, and SWAT teams with all manner of weaponry and gear.

Local police were joined throughout the day by officers from Exeter, Seabrook, Epping, Hampton, Stratham, Rockingham County Sheriff's Department, Seacoast Emergency Response Team (SERT), a K-9 unit from Dover, the N.H. State Police bomb disposal unit, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, immigration and customs officials and the FBI. Even the Portsmouth animal control officer's truck was parked in the area.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. an armored vehicle known as a “Bearcat” was called in from Rye. Exeter Police Chief Richard Kane and Hampton Chief Brian Page stood by, while SWAT officers combed the area wearing riot gear and with rifles drawn. Exeter police sent a Special Operations Vehicle and Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young arrived early afternoon...
And they had a robot.

One person remained on the bus.

After a 9 hour standoff, the last man on the bus was convinced to get off and surrendered himself to police.

A few details have emerged. There was no bomb. There have been no reports of a gun, other weapon, or of threats made against any of the bus passengers. The entire incident seems to have been based on an erroneous report. A big misunderstanding. The last man to leave the bus is from Burundi and speaks Swahili.

Two of the other passengers were arrested for failing to cooperate with police. One of them was shot with a taser.

Portsmouth Police Chief David “Lou” Ferland said late Thursday night during a brief press conference that investigators “do not believe this to be a terrorist event”.

This may not have been a terrorist event. But it was initially, indistinguishable from one. It's tempting to accuse the authorities of overreaction. But we can be grateful that that these resources are available, that the incident was treated with patience, and that nobody was seriously hurt.

Even in little ol' Portsmouth, New Hampshire there is, apparently, quite an army that can be brought to bear should the threat of terrorism rear it's ugly head. Our forces of law enforcement are ready for any emergency and eager to leap to our defense.

Maybe a little too eager. Next time the animal control officer can probably stay home. Bring back the robot though.