Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Good Time To Review Why The Social Security Trust Fund Exists

And why conservatives have been, over the last decade, especially eager to privatize Social Security. If they manage to change the rules NOW, or within the next few years, it means they successfully thieved the lion's share of the money that was lent to them:
Starting in 1983, the payroll tax was deliberately set higher than it needed to be to cover payments to retirees. For the next 30 years, this extra money was sent to the Treasury, and this windfall allowed income tax rates to be lower than they otherwise would have been. For three decades, people who paid payroll taxes suffered from this arrangement, while people who paid income taxes benefited.

Now things have turned around. As the baby boomers have started to retire, payroll taxes are less than they need to be to cover payments to retirees. To make up this shortfall, the Treasury is paying back the money it got over the past 30 years, and this means that income taxes need to be higher than they otherwise would be. For the next few decades, people who pay payroll taxes will benefit from this arrangement, while people who pay income taxes will suffer.

...Long story short, for the past 30 years, the poor and the middle class overpaid and the rich benefited. For the next 30 years or so, the rich will overpay and the poor and the middle class will benefit.

...When wealthy pundits like Krauthammer claim that the trust fund is a fiction, they're trying to renege on a deal halfway through because they don't want to pay back the loans they got.

Trying To Interpolate What Is In The GOP Brain, When There Apparently Isn't Anything In The GOP Brain

Deer in the headlights time. If Obama compromises with these losers on Medicare he'll deserve to go to hell:
That’s left Republicans in a peculiar negotiating position: They know they want “Medicare reform” — indeed, they frequently identify Medicare reform as the key to their support for a deal — but aside from premium support, they don’t quite know what they mean by it, and they’re afraid to find out.

...Democrats find this flatly ridiculous: Given that the Obama administration would happily raise taxes without cutting Medicare but that Republicans will only raise taxes if we cut Medicare, it falls on the Republicans to name their price. But behind their negotiating posture is a troubling policy reality: They don’t know what that price is.

Unexpected Voice

Sybreed's "Emma-0"

The Tree Is Finally Free

For awhile now, I've been anxiously eyeing a big branch that died on my oak tree about four or five years. It partly broke away from the tree about three years ago, but it still hung on. One day, I knew, that branch would come down, and maybe take out the power line suspended over my back yard.

Today, it did. It landed right on top of the power line, which leads from the transformer to my house, and remained hung there. The line sagged under the stress.

Last year, I learned through trial-and-error that that power line was insulated, so as long as the insulation remained intact, it was OK to touch it. The trouble with a heavy dead branch lying on top of it was that the insulation might get damaged, so it was important to act quickly, before the oncoming storm would cause more damage. So, I quickly grabbed a ladder and tried to free it.

It was awkward, but I finally freed the branch from the power line. Yay!

Walldruggie Recommends "Dreamland"

Walldruggie" writes:
Did you ever see a tiny little indie film (IMDB says it grossed $4350 total!) called "Dreamland". Shot beautifully outside of Rio Rancho, I really enjoyed it (maybe I'm a teenage romantic at heart).

I got it on DVD from Netflix yesterday.

I reply:
No, haven’t seen Dreamland. Looks nice, though. I’m curious where they filmed it. There are all kinds of strange and alienating places to live in Rio Rancho, but there are very few, if any, trailer parks there.

I remember, back in high school, walking with a friend cross-country from Corrales to Rio Rancho, and passing very close to a house so new that the place didn’t even have a fence or a wall. To our surprise, a friendly but worried voice with a New-York accent challenged us and demanded to know why we were there. We tried to put him at ease. I felt sorry for him. He had probably been there less than a week. What a transition from NY!

Such a strange landscape! In recent decades, Rio Rancho has only gotten stranger, with a Napoleonic madman visionary as mayor over much of that time. They now have disorderly ranchettes, that they didn’t used to have when I lived there, that look perfect for isolated husbands, suicidal wives, and rebellious kids. Always on the bleeding edge of innovation over there in Rio Rancho!

Shortly before my father died in 2009, the management of his trailer park in the North Valley (Green Acres) asked that he spend the day inside. They were filming a movie in the trailer park. The movie, “The War Boys” is a strange one. I’ve never seen it, but the transition from illegals-hunting to gauzy homoeroticism sounds awfully awkward:

In November 2012, Fairbanks, AK Particulate Air Pollution Has Been Staggering

There is simply no comparison between Fairbanks and other places in the country. Fairbanks stands alone.  The national 24-hr standard for PM2.5 is 35 microgram per meter cubed. Levels reaching 180 microgram per meter cubed at the North Pole station (east of town) are more than five times the standard.  Levels are high elsewhere in town too, but likely not as high as in North Pole.

Grand Canyon Snap

Via Wicked Thoughts, from the Daily Mail:

Rebecca Busch was already nervous about her daughter Samantha's trip to the Grand Canyon.

But her anxiety went through the roof when the 22-year-old texted a photograph of herself plunging into the enormous abyss.

The incredible image was actually an elaborate rouse designed to wind up her overprotective mother - in reality, Ms Busch was stood firmly on a ledge as her boyfriend took the snap.

On Mexico's Agony

John and I had a discussion regarding Mexico' slide. John starts:
To me this shows the utter hopelessness of trying to live a normal life in Mexico. The killers are worse than subhuman:
The woman mayor who was kidnapped and murdered by a Mexican drug gang pleaded with her attackers for her young daughter’s life, it emerged today.

Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who had already survived two assassination attempts, was driving the child to school at around 8.30am when she was ambushed by a car in the city of Morelia.

The 36-year-old was hauled from her vehicle and physically assaulted as horrified witnesses watched, according to newspaper El Universal.
I replied:
For a brief while I chose the city of Mazatlan (because my 2010 cruise stopped there), and tried to track the shootings there.

The northern Mexican Pacific coast has been affected less by the violence, probably since the Sinaloa cartel is headquartered there, runs everything, and faces no immediate challenges in its back yard. Still, there are problems. In Mazatlan, the shootings were occurring mostly in one specific neighborhood (on or near the road heading NNE out of the city) and aimed at specific people with a connection to the political structure (I recall a retired policeman was hit). So, even though the violence may appear random to outsiders, it probably isn’t. Cunning strategic and tactical thought is being employed. It’s like a civil war, in some senses.

It’s very, very dangerous being connected to the administration of Mexico right now, no matter how humble the job. If retired policemen are open targets, or small-town mayors, just about anyone with any official connection is in danger. Certain people, like prison wardens in the north of the country, are particularly endangered. It takes serious stones to be involved in government at any level in Mexico right now.
John replied:
There are pockets of relative safety and normalcy in any country but it seems to me that areas of Mexico bear strong similarities to failed states in sub-Saharan Africa with no real law or social stability.

I recently read a book called Blood River--an account of a trip made by an English journalist along the Congo River in 2004. The people in that country (Democratic Republic of Congo) are in constant fear of bands of any number of paramilitary groups who survive by stealing from villagers and are armed by various criminal operations. Such groups have no fear because there is no government so they know that can steal, rape and kill with abandon. That sort of situation either enables or creates psychopaths and there is no solution, in my opinion, short of a brutal and unrelenting military campaign against them. But in a state with limited to non-existent military power there is not much that can be done. Military operations by foreign powers are usually not too successful in such situations (although Vietnam moving against the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was a notable exception).

Blood River tells of how, from the early 1900's until the early 1960's, Congo was a successful (albeit colonial) nation with a large part of the population working at productive jobs in mining, agriculture and transportation and living comfortable lives (by African standards). Now the jungle has reclaimed the large network of paved roads and railways--the cities are in ruins with nothing resembling water or sewage systems or electricity. Diseases which were at least partially under control 60 years ago are now rampant. There are no significant exports aside from gold and diamonds which are mined with slave labor and whose profits go into Swiss bank accounts controlled by criminals.

There are differences of course, primarily because the proximity of the United States creates a chance for escape for the Mexican people in lawless areas. And even the poorest villagers in Mexico have more than the poor of Congo. But drug money and diamond money and the criminal enterprises that control them have the same effect on a region. The author of Blood River remarked that the upper Congo basin may be, because of the collapse of anything resembling civilized society, the only place in the world where grandparents are more familiar with technology than their grandchildren, Rural Mexico is not there yet. But with every passing year of such a horrible social situation, hope will fade. With every mayor or other government official brutally murdered the chance of change becomes more remote. Legalization of drugs in the US and other countries would remove the financial footing of the drug network--that might be a good first step. But the armies of the drug lords will still be there and they will have to be dealt with regardless--psychopaths do not blend well into stable societies It seems like a pretty hopeless situation to me.

And To Think That I Saw It on Mullberry Street - Urthboy (We Get Around)

Also via Skynoise

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cumbia Cosmonauts - Our Journey To The Moon (And Back)

In recent years, there has been an international explosion of people who really love Mexican music. Via Skynoise, from Australia, here are the Cumbia Cosmonauts:
The Cumbia Cosmonauts are a Melbourne band who are celebrated around the world with their take on Mexico’s cumbia music, and so fittingly, they release their new album, Tropical Bass Station, on the Berlin label, Chusma records, on Nov 23, 2012. The track ‘Our Journey To The Moon (And Back)’ comes from that album.

"The Secret" - The Murder Of Michael Snyder

It's hard work going through the Zumba class experience, so, after dinner, I nodded off asleep in front of the TV.

When I woke up, there was one of those murder cases that often haunt TV. This one was called: "The Secret", on Dateline ID TV. I joined the show in progress. But, as I watched the show, I realized from the various scenes that this murder happened in Albuquerque, NM. And it was an interesting murder too!

Absorbing stuff! It even occurred near a Breaking Bad film site too!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Restless State Worker And Her Quixotic Crusade

I don't think Ms. Noujaim fully calculates the benefits of having the crossing guards and the parking lot security guards there. Working in concert with the Sacramento Police Dept., they act as extra eyes, who shield the employees' vehicles and possessions from crime while they work. And they prevent injuries too. Maybe the crossing guards aren't cost-effective in some green eyeshade vision of reality, but in the real world they do a lot of good!

(I know how important these guards are. Inadvertently, by their mere presence, they safeguard my possessions. If it wasn't for these guards I might have to work at home, because of the ever-present danger of home burglary while at work.):
State employee Mariam Noujaim said the tussle with her union started with a question: Why does the state pay for crossing guards to work on a lightly traveled street between two DMV buildings connected by a tunnel?

"I really believe we can help solve our crisis by spending our money on monitoring the waste rather than bribing political and special interest (groups)," Noujaim wrote in an indelicate April 2010 email to her Service Employees International Union Local 1000 representative.

Dissatisfied with the response, she began pushing to find out what the union is spending its money on if it isn't working to ferret out waste.

Noujaim since has spent $18,000 of her own money in a fight to see the union's books, an effort she believes will pay off when she examines detailed business records on Tuesday.
Ha! Two years ago, I took a picture of someone who looks very much like this lady (a Sac Bee commenter confirms it's her), leading what appeared to be a union rally past my house.

The Conservative Economist Who Realized He Was Backing The Wrong Horse

Via Paul Krugman, Bruce Bartlett:
After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion.

...I finished the book just as the economy was collapsing in the fall of 2008. This created another intellectual crisis for me. Having just finished a careful study of the 1930s, it was immediately obvious to me that the economy was suffering from the very same problem, a lack of aggregate demand.

...Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

...The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right.

At this point, I lost every last friend I had on the right. Some have been known to pass me in silence at the supermarket or even to cross the street when they see me coming. People who were as close to me as brothers and sisters have disowned me.

I think they believe they are just disciplining me, hoping I will admit error and ask for forgiveness. They clearly don’t know me very well. My attitude is that anyone who puts politics above friendship is not someone I care to have in my life.

...If Republicans can’t bring blacks into their coalition, they are finished at the presidential level, given the rapid rise of the Latino population. Perhaps after 2016, they may be willing to put my strategy into operation.

The economy continues to conform to textbook Keynesianism. We still need more aggregate demand, and the Republican idea that tax cuts for the rich will save us becomes more ridiculous by the day. People will long remember Mitt Romney’s politically tone-deaf attack on half the nation’s population for being losers, leeches, and moochers because he accurately articulated the right-wing worldview.

At least a few conservatives now recognize that Republicans suffer for epistemic closure. They were genuinely shocked at Romney’s loss because they ignored every poll not produced by a right-wing pollster such as Rasmussen or approved by right-wing pundits such as the perpetually wrong Dick Morris. Living in the Fox News cocoon, most Republicans had no clue that they were losing or that their ideas were both stupid and politically unpopular.

I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward.

...I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.

Newt Gingrich On Sean Hannity's Radio Show

More schadenfreude tonight, listening to a chastened and thoughtful Newt Gingrich wondering aloud where all these young people came from - the ones who are proud to announce to the world that they will NEVER vote for Republicans. It's bewildering! And their number is growing!

Republicans are too slow, Gingrich mused, and are easily maneuvered by the Democrats into unpopular positions. The controversy over Big Bird, for example. Mitt Romney never should have said he wanted to end Big Bird's employment. What he should have said that was he wanted to liberate Big Bird from government's heavy hand over there at PBS.

Sean Hannity laughed. What a clever and brilliant response! That Newt is sure a treasure!

Of course, it never dawned on either fellow that Big Bird is not just a beloved and iconic figure that is instantly recognized all over the world. Big Bird comes from the creative community of Sesame Street, a venture that could NEVER have survived the dog-eat-dog world of commercial television. Had it not been for PBS we'd never know Big Bird. And even today, Big Bird without his Sesame Street pals would be a pathetically lonely creature.

And nationwide, angry six-year-olds got the very first political experiences of their lives, by instantly-grasping what clearly escaped their foolish elders, and writing letters to whoever would listen in support of Big Bird.

Does it never occur to Republicans that no Democratic maneuvering is necessary to annihilate the GOP? All you have to do is report what the Republicans say in order to alienate another crucial batch of young people.

The GOP - chumps all!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mr. 47% Got 47% Of The Vote

They've been watching this as final pro-Obama election results trickle in. Apparently, Romney's total is now 47.49%, which rounds down to 47%.

Ha ha!

With Calm Demeanor, Tom Ricks Kicks FOX News In The Teeth

It's funny how a little bit of truth goes a long way:
Fox: When you have four people dead including the first US ambassador in more than 30 years, how do you call that hype?

Ricks: How many security contractors died in Iraq, do you know?

Fox: I don't.

Ricks: No, nobody does, because nobody cared. We know that several hundred died, but there was never an official count done, of security contractors dead in Iraq. So when I see this focus on what was essentially a small fire fight, I think number one, I've covered a lot of fire fights, it's impossible to figure out what happens in them sometimes. And second, I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political partly because Fox was operating as a wing of the Republican party.

Fox: All right. Tom Ricks, thanks very much for joining us today.

Ricks: You're welcome.

Wow! Noah's Ark Time In Sacramento!

I haven't seen a forecast like this in years!

Four storms, in quick succession. The opening storm, starting on Wednesday morning. Then three powerful storms - one each on Thursday morning, Friday evening, and Saturday evening.

Yes, we are going to wash away into the sea.

The Sacramento Bee calls it an 'atmospheric river':
The change is expected to Wednesday afternoon with what will amount to a "warmup" storm that should deliver 0.5 to about 1 inch.

That system, Van Cleave said, should be brief. By late Thursday, that "atmospheric river" will be headed to the area. The term - atmospheric river - tells the story: Van Cleave describes it as a "garden hose ... focused right in our area."

Forecast models show the Sacramento region "getting very wet with this into the weekend - in the neighborhood of 3 inches (of rain) or more for the Valley."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Joy Formidable - A Heavy Abacus (Qulinez Remix)

Most thoughtful song rendered into a dance tune in a long time. Could listen to this for ages. Might be a theme song to this blog!

Here we are bending feet
In the dark before dreamless sleep
Cloaks that spot, that shiver, that breeze
Throws you in the dark

Happiness it won't last long
And this child behind stores it all
The failed man's curse and the cost
Of noncholance

Thank you sly watchful gene
A plastic life up my sleeve
If you've followed this far you've realised nothing

Now your world is here
Watch it disappear

Abacus haunting me
Abacus watching me

And it all plays out
And it always comes around
The message fades but the mess prevails
You reckless thing leaving you in our hands

Abacus haunting me
Abacus watching me

All we have is this chance called memory

Here's a video of Kaskade in performance, at the Marquee Nightclub in Las Vegas, just ten days ago.

Kaskade Feat Skylar Grey - Room For Happiness [Above & Beyond Remix]

Big Rains Forecast, Starting Wednesday, But Especially Thursday

Next week looks interesting here in the Sacramento area.

Better Tread Than Dead

Another Fine Meth

Breaking Bad's true pilot episode (Image by PedroHin at