Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Minor earthquake in L.A., 5.6 ...

Right near my home town of Pomona, apparently -- about 70 miles away from where I am now. In any event, before I get the usual dozen emails asking how everyone is, as far as I know, everyone's fine. Can't reach some people yet -- cell service is flaky -- but I have internet, obviously.


Monday, July 28, 2008

The Sheep (don't) Look Up

U.S. Deficit to Reach Record $490 Billion in 2009 (Update3)

By Roger Runningen

July 28 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. budget deficit will widen to a record of about $490 billion next year, an administration official said, leaving a deep budget hole that will constrain the next president's tax and spending plans.
The projected deficit for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 is higher than the $407 billion forecast by President George W. Bush in February. The bigger shortfall reflects dwindling tax receipts because of the U.S. economic slowdown, the cost of a $168 billion economic stimulus package and spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More here.


I listened to Rush Limbaugh on my way in this morning. I like Rush -- not as a human being, I have some skepticism about him at that level -- but as an entertainer. He's witty, though you have to listen to him for a while before you get that, and if you're a liberal the stuff he's witty about is liable to annoy you. But at one point he had a voiceover "tribute to Rush" -- from a guy who said that the core of conservatism was freedom and limited government....

I won't argue freedom; it means different things to different people, though if you're a gay couple who wants to marry the conservative idea of freedom probably looks a lot like bigotry. But escaping that --

I believe in limited government. It's one of the things that, back in the day, used to draw me toward conservative candidates. (I used to describe myself, back then, as a conservative Democrat ... by the time we got into the scorched-earth 90s, "conservative Democrat" parsed as "liberal" for all practical purposes. So I adopted "liberal" without too much difficulty; liberals are the people who disagree with conservatives, and there I am.)

"You're not a liberal," some of my conservative friends write me, "because you believe in X, Y, and Z! And so do we!"

No. Ronald Reagan started this; back in 1979 he campaigned on the idea that deficit spending was a moral evil. I agreed with him then and agree with him now. But the Reagan Administration presided over an astonishing growth in the federal deficit: the Reagan Administration's borrowing took the United States from the world's largest creditor nation to the world's largest debtor, in eight years.

Bill Clinton, with an assist from George Bush Senior, helped put this country back on the road toward sane fiscal policy. And, to be fair, with a little help from the conservative-run House and Senate Clinton had to deal with in 1994, though if you look at the deficit figures, they'd begun a substantial decline before Republicans took the House. But one really interesting stat from the boom boom 90s was the growth in state budgets. Which states had the least growth in spending during that time? In order, it went:

1. States with Democratic governors and Republican legislatures
2. States with Republican governors and Democratic legislatures
3. States with Democratic governors and Democratic legislatures
4. States with Republican governors and Republican legislatures

See #4? That's what happened when Bush and the Republican House and Republican Senate took over this country in 2000 ...

As recently as 2000 Republicans could argue, with a straight face, that they were more fiscally responsible than Democrats. (I disagreed with them, but it wasn't a ludicrous argument on the face.) But the Bush Administration set out to destroy this country's financial security, and succeeded.

In November of 2000, the Euro was worth .85 dollars. As of today it's worth 1.57 dollars.

In 2000, a barrel of crude averaged $28 per barrel. Today people are thrilled that crude's dropped to $125 a barrel; it was close to $150 earlier this year. Oil companies have enjoyed the greatest profits in the history of the world....and how are you doing, bunky?

The budget surplus in 2000 was 236 billion dollars. When George Bush leaves office it'll be a 490 billion dollar deficit: a swing of 725 billion dollars a year.

There was a run at IndyMac -- a local bank, where I live. People were lined up a few short miles from my house, panicked that they wouldn't get their money back. And IndyMac wasn't even on the FDIC watch list.

Seven banks have failed this year. Seven. In July. Washington Mutual -- where I banked, until recently -- lost 3.3 billion dollars -- in the second quarter of this year.

In 2000, if you'd tried to sell an SF story with all these various disasters occurring by 2008, people would have laughed at you.

Latest Gallup tracking poll had Obama up on McCain by 9 points -- a short bump; I assume things will tighten up down the stretch. But I'm amazed that it's even that close.

Water runs downhill. I don't know if it's reached the bottom yetl; I doubt it. Another Great Depression wouldn't surprise me: this country isn't just broke, it's deep, deep in the hole. We owe everyone. We owe Europe, we owe Saudi Arabia, we owe China, we owe Russia -- the whole world is holding American notes. Buddy, they own us.

And yeah; a few of the sheep have looked up. But only a few.

I have a hard time believing this was an accident. Leave George Bush out of it, you all know what I think about the guy; but the people surrounding him are not this incompetent. You have to operate out of the assumption that this was the intended result: that these people, with malice aforethought, set out to weaken this country and strengthen the multionational corporations from whom Bush and Cheney have always taken their marching orders.

There's a Mission Accomplished for you.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


"Here are the things that fly," said Connor. "Bugs, bats, birds, blimps, and balloons."

"And airplanes," said FatSam.

"Yes," agreed Connor, "they should have named it Bearplane. To be con-sist...ent."

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

My kids didn't get to see Batman Begins three summers ago -- I went to see it without them, and then took just my old kids (who were 14 and 15 at the time) to see it. My 3 sons, then 9, 6, and 3, I kept home, despite their bitching. They did get to see the movie eventually, but only after it came out on DVD and we could fast forward through some of the rougher scenes.

The Dark Knight is much scarier than Batman Begins. My boys are all three years older ... and they still can't go see this. The Joker is a living nightmare, folks. Take that PG-13 very, very seriously.

Amy and I went and saw it last night at a 12:45 A.M. showing. As we were walking from our car to the theater, Amy said, "I usually feel pretty sensible. Right now I feel like a geek."

I said, "I was just thinking, I usually feel middle-aged. Right now I feel young."

"Same thing," she said. "Nicer phrasing."

The word "masterpiece" has been tossed about casually this summer. Wall-E got it, and The Dark Knight got it. Both are very good movies, and neither are masterpieces. (Though Wall-E comes closer than Dark Knight.) But Wall-E's second half is merely first-rate slapstick, and The Dark Knight is a good half hour too long. Masterpieces don't have you looking at your phone to see how close you are to the end, and I did that a couple times as we crept past the 120 minute mark with Dark Knight. Is it the best superhero movie ever? Possibly, though that's very faint praise. The list of really first-rate superhero movies is still awfully short -- in roughly chronological order it goes: Superman, Superman 2 (the Donner cut), Batman, Batman Returns, Spiderman 2, X-Men 2, Superman Returns, and Iron Man ... and I start going blank. Maybe you could throw The Incredibles in there, too, and possibly The Matrix. (Superman Returns is my favorite of the bunch, though maybe not the best -- I saw SR three times in theaters, and I almost never see anything twice in theaters, these days -- I'm not going to go see Dark Knight again.)

In any event it's not a big list. The comparisons to The Godfather I've heard thrown about are ludicrous. Dark Knight, as good as it is, is getting the overpraise lavished on movies that do something unexpected. (It's not how well the bear dances...) If Christopher Nolan had made a movie about Gotham without Batman in it, with a freaky clown character not named the Joker as the villain, the word "masterpiece" wouldn't have flown off one tenth as many keyboards.

Don't get me wrong: it's a first rate movie, and Heath Ledger is every bit as brilliant as advertised. But it's not yet the superhero movie that stacks up with the best of regular cinema. I don't doubt that movie's coming, but this isn't it, not yet.

Probable Oscar for Ledger.


I owe a bunch of people e-mail. Should get to it this weekend.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Courtesy, Miracles, and Very Cool Art

This is pretty much an open subject blog. I'm talking about whatever I want to talk about, but if you want to make posts on any given subject, feel free to post a comment and go wherever you want to with it. My one request -- and this is me being nice, since really by "request" I mean I'll delete your posts if you repeatedly ignore it -- my one request is that you be polite to the other posters. There really is a difference between "That's a fascist idea" and "You're a fascist," between "That's a dreadful idea" and "You're a bad human being for suggesting it."


A news headline this morning: "Man shot in Miracle area." I clicked through and it turned out that a guy had been shot in the "Miracle Mile" area of Los Angeles. I e-mailed the headline to myself, though. There's a bit in one of the later stories where James Camber gets shot -- he's holding his hands out in a reflex action and the bullet passes through his hands and strikes him in the ribs. I have to be able to use that headline somewhere.


Extremely cool post over on Steve Perry's blog. For some reason it reminded me of my friend Milda de Voe, I'm not sure why. :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I'm not voting Republican again any time soon.

I used to. I've never voted Republican in a Presidential election -- though I'd have voted for Reagan in 1980, had I been old enough to vote; I missed it by 3 weeks. (I'd probably still vote for Reagan over Carter, and I'm not a huge fan of Reagan. Carter is a nice man, had absolutely no business running a country.) But I've voted for Republicans for governor, for Senate, for various city and state-level posts, over the years. Overall I voted 2 or 3 to 1 Democratic:Republican -- I've been a registered Democrat my entire life -- but I did cross when I felt the Republican candidate was sufficiently better than the Democratic canddiate.

All else being equal, I voted Democratic, to put it another way.

This changed during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I don't suppose anyone who's read me over the years doesn't already know what I think about Clinton -- he's a scumbag of an individual, in the real short form -- but the Republican embrace of impeachment as a tool of politics, in an attempt to remove a man they couldn't beat at the ballot box, disgusted me at the time and disgusted me more as Republicans, en masse, thoroughly embraced the lawlessness of the Bush years.

The last 7 years have been appalling. Virtually everything I value in good government has been slagged by this administration. (For years I've avoided posting about Bush at length, because I despise him as an individual so much -- a mama's boy, probable closted homosexual who got his chuckles over killing Karla Faye Tucker, a full-blown sociopath who blew up frogs as a kid and branded people with hot wires when he was in college ... half the populations of our prisons are better people than George Bush. I liked the guy's Dad -- how a reasonably decent man could end up with a sociopathic son like that will be forever a mystery to me.)

But Bush could have been a nice guy along the lines of Jimmy Carter and I'd still despise what his administration has done to this country.

Bush took over a country in 2000 (we'll skip lightly over how he managed it, with a "victory" in a state that Al Gore won when the votes there were finally all counted) ... took over a country with a budget surplus over 236 billion dollars. I had an argument recently with a guy who asserted that the Clinton surplus was the result of cuts in defense spending. It ain't so.


This is the 2009 budget. Let's go back and compare by year (I'm using Table 1.3, central columns -- constant dollars adjusted for inflation -- for the deficit figures, and Table 6.1, Composition of Outlays, constant FY 2000 dollars, for the defense figures):

Year: -- Deficit -- Defense Spending
1990: -280B deficit -- 382.7B
1991: -327B deficit -- 333.7B
1992: -341B deficit -- 354.3B
Clinton Presidency:
1993: -292B deficit -- 340.3B
1994: -228B deficit -- 322.8B
1995: -179B deficit -- 305.9b
1996: -115B deficit -- 299.2B
1997: - 23B deficit -- 298.4B
1998: + 72B SURPLUS -- 292.4B
1999: +129B SURPLUS -- 293.6B
2000: +236B SURPLUS -- 294.4B
Bush Presidency
2001: +125B SURPLUS -- 297.2B
2002: -151B deficit -- 329.3B
2003: -352B deficit -- 364.4B
2004: -374B deficit -- 394.3B
2005: -279B deficit -- 407.3B
2006: -210B deficit -- 412.4B
2007: -134B deficit -- 426.4B
2008 (est): -330B deficit -- 463.9B

In 1992 the deficit was 341 billion dollars and defense spending was 354 billion.

In 2000 the SURPLUS was 236 billion dollars. Defense spending was 294 billion -- 60 billion less than in 1992, while the deficit/surplus was 577 billion dollars to the good. Take 60 out of that: that's 517 billion dollars in budget improvement that had nothing to do with defense spending ...

Within four years of taking office, George Bush had taken a 236 billion dollar surplus and turned it into a 374 billion dollar deficit -- through tax cuts for the rich, increased military spending, and increased social spending. (When Ronald Reagan took office the United States was the world's largest creditor. When he left office, it was the world's largest debtor. If you want to tax the unborn, vote Repbulican.)

The Iraq war was a mistake. A war entered into more for domestic political reasons than for anything to do with foreign policy, a tool for bashing Democrats and for funneling money to Bush supporters at the cost of American lives. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Hussein had no operational relationship with Al Qaeda. Tthe WMD the Bush administration claimed to know the actual locations of ... didn't exist. The one argument that ever had a lick of credibility to me, the moral one that we were removing a dictator and freeing the Iraqi people, was offered up by the architects of the Iraq war in an act of epic cynicism: "We came to free the Iraqi people. And fight al Qaeda in their neighborhood, so we don't have to fight them here. Enjoy your freedom. Try to avoid the crossfire. Sorry about your kids." And five long years have passed ...

The war in Afghanistan, which was a just war, accepted by the entire world as such, got back burnered and has cost us as a result. This war should have been won, the resistance flattened, rebuilding well under way -- but we took our eye off the ball and we're paying for it today. Whoever becomes President in '08 is going to have a war in Afghanistan that still needs to be won, because it hasn't been won after seven long years.

We didn't get Osama. There's no excuse for this. No excuse. None. It's been seven years since the towers went down, killing three thousand Americans, men, women, children, babies ... and the architect of that war has never been brought to justice. "Dead or Alive" turned into "I really am not that concerned about him."

When the two oilmen took office in 2000, gasoline was hovering around $1.50 a gallon, nationwide. It's nearly tripled since. Oil companies are reporting profits that exceed the GDP of most nations ... but taxing their profits is unAmerican, and Bush won't do it. You had your taxes lowered by George Bush? Man, unless you're richer than I am, you didn't; you had it raised by a lot. Except that instead of paying it to the American government, you're paying it to the multinational oil corporations that employ Bush and Cheney.

When I was a kid, corporations paid 35% of the taxes the government ran on. Today it's 7%. You and I are paying the difference.

The housing market soared on "free money" -- except it turned out that the free money wasn't free, and home ownership is going to be lower when Bush leaves office than it was when he entered office. (The free money was a pure side effect of the Bush Administration's need to keep interest rates low because they wanted to borrow our children into bankruptcy ...)

They deny global warming. Hell: three of the Republican candidates for President said they didn't believe in evolution.

For years I've been listening to various wise liberals -- William Saletan at Slate is a great example -- argue that Republicans don't really want to outlaw abortion, that the focus on abortion has been a tactic, that outlawing all abortions was not something they sincerely intended to enact if they ever possibly could. William Saletan is an idiot. They do and always did intend to outlaw abortion. If women have to die in back alley abortions, this is a price social conservatives are willing to pay. (To be fair to conservatives, if you believe a fetus is a human being, you can't really take a different position. But this same crowd, with again minor exceptions, is OK with fertility treatments that result in the waste of huge numbers of fertilized embryos. This is every bit as much murder as early abortions ... but I've only ever once heard a conservative speak out about it.)

The truth is that conservatives, again with rare exceptions, don't really believe that abortion is murder. Seriously: if you knew there was a place in your town where parents were taking children they didn't want and killing them, wouldn't you do something about it? I would. Sure, they'd jail me for the rest of my life ... small price to pay for the safety of all those children, though.

But with rare, rare exceptions, social conservatives don't do this. The guys blowing up clinics? They're merely taking the argument about abortion and applying it consistently to the facts on the ground. Look ... either all conservatives who believe abortion is murder should be taking the necessary steps to stop it ... or they're all cowards ... or they don't really believe their own rhetoric.

I don't think they're cowards at that level. I don't think many humans are.

Our next President will replace two liberal Supreme Court justices. If Roe v Wade matters to you, you'd damn well better not vote for the Republican candidate this time, because if you do, Roe v Wade is gone. Gone. Done. Period. One more Republican justice and it's all over.

Barrack Obama wasn't my preferred candidate this year; Hillary Clinton was. (And yeah, I know what I said about her husband, but I'm not going to get into the business of blaming people for their marriages.) But this country can't survive another four years of this, and there's no indication John McCain can or will change things in any meaningful way. I won't presume to tell people whom to vote for ... but I'll tell you who I'm voting for ... and phone banking for, and if I lived in a swing state, I'd be out organizing and driving people to the polls. Fiscal sanity, a lowering or reduction of the deficit, a return to habeus corpus and the rule of the Constitution, the preservation of safe abortion, the end of torture, the end of the Iraq war and the return of our soldiers, the winning of the Afghan war and the capture of Osama bin Ladin ...

Obama won't accomplish all that. But he'll get closer than any conceivable Republican administration, hampered by the ideology and the very same people who got us into this mess in the first place.