moldybluecheesecurds 2

Monday, January 30, 2006

This is not a liberal post

In honor of my Ferret Friend, and at risk of driving traffic to a site filled with misinformation, I present to you a selection from the "Liberal Dictionary." A preview for those who prefer not to click through:
  • Public Interest- A liberal cause.
  • Special Interest- A conservative cause
  • The Poor- Anyone who will vote for liberals but can't make a donation to the DNC
  • Campaign Finance Reform- What needs to happen when Republicans find legitimate ways to raise more money than Democrats
  • Right-wing Extremist-
    1. Any Appellate or Supreme Court nomination by a conservative President.
  • Loophole- Giving a conservative a special tax break
  • Target Tax Cut- Giving a liberal a special tax break

And proving that in every partisan screed, there is at least one nugget of truth:
  • Media Bias- The right-wing slant of The Washington Times, National Review, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News Channel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A few more facts on this economic analysis

My ferret friend recently noted that President Bush is "a failure as a President and a person." While this sounded like a great preamble, Mr. Business went on to tout the President's record on the economy. An analysis follows:
In 3rd Quarter 2005 GDP grew 3.8%...But actually, that's the tenth consecutive quarter of growth over 3%. To put that in perspective, it's the longest streak of consistent growth since World War II.

I almost hate to point it out, but according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the so-called "Clinton expansion" recorded 37 straight quarters of GDP growth (inflation adjusted). According to my eyeball analysis, 13 of those quarters had a higher percentage growth in GDP than all but one quarter under Mr. Bush's tenure. So maybe it's not quite time for the champagne.
Other indexes are equally good. 4.2 million jobs have been created since May 2003.

The main issue I have with this stat is that it's an example of "any statistic looks good if you pick the right window." A look at employment statistics shows (naturally) that May 2003 was the last month of the recession. Slick, let's count jobs since then! Of course, one could also point out that this job growth is not (comparatively) so great. During two consecutive comparable timeframes in the 1990s, we added 7.0m and 6.6m jobs.
The current unemployment average of 5% is lower than averages in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s,

So, this unemployment statistic compares a one-month figure against a decade-long figure...Anyway, I should point out that average unemployment was below 5% for five consecutive years from 1997-2001, not just one month. As for decades, how about comparing the 2000s to these prior decades instead of just January 2006?
and inflation has remained tame.

Inflation always pisses me off, because policy wonks like to study "core inflation" which leaves out "volatile" items like food and energy (you know, things you can't do without). Anyway, according to some more government sources, inflation is running at its highest two-year average in at least the past 10 years. I got too lazy to look back further since the Census Bureau notes that median household income is unchanged after inflation from 2002-2004. Now that's stagflation.
But we have to wait and see if Congress will extend the 2003 tax cuts which expire in 2008. These cuts are pro-investment, and failure to extend them is equivalent to a 33% tax hike on capital gains, and a 133% bump on dividends. The market won't like that. However, if Congress extends them, the Dow could go over 12,000.

Since the Bush economy is going so great, how about balancing the federal budget again? The Congressional Budget Office shows that these "pro-investment" tax cuts have driven the deficit consistently above 300 billion until 2012 (above 500 billion if we're honest and don't count the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund), when many of the tax provisions expire. Oh, and let's not forget that these tax cuts are all about the rich, with an increasing share going to the wealthiest 1%.

I'd go so far as to say that the economy is going good, but I don't think it's time to celebrate. Especially when the President has authorized illegal spying on Americans. After all, this is a post-9/11 world and we have to be wary of those who hate what America stands for. Like our President.

Politics is the opiate of the partisan

A new study by Emory University has confirmed what conventional wisdom had been saying for years: strong partisans ignore the facts. In other words, those bleeding-heart liberals will catch every contradiction in President Bush's statements, but explain away all the gaffes or inconsistencies of their own candidate's positions. Same goes for Republicans.

Apparently, the catching of contradictions in an opposing candidate or the smoothing of your own is quite satisfying. Researchers on the project described this reaction as "similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix."

There will be some happy folks around town next Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Less purity, more spunk

Minnesota Democrats, called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party for the past 60 years have finally figured out that winning is more important than purity. For years, candidates have been damned by the party for running in the primary after the endorsement process. This year, the floodgates have opened and candidates in state races across the board are planning to take their case to the general public in the fall.

Basically, the promise to abide by the endorsement was just a stupid purity test. If the endorsement is really worth something, then it should carry a candidate through the primary. It hasn't, nor has it helped the DFL do well in general elections. There hasn't been a DFL governor in Minnesota since 1990. It's time for a little less purity.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Earn some extra credit

I'm finishing my master's in public policy this semester, and this excerpt from a course on energy use and the environment should explain why I'm not suffering from an abudance of free time:
The relative importance of land plants (versus uptake by the ocean) is also indicated by a latitudinal gradient in the isotopic ratio of atmospheric CO2, which is fractionated by photosynthesis, but not by dissolution in seawater.

(Reproduced without permission).

5 points if you can identify the source of this obscure quote.
15 points if you can post a comment explaining what it actually means.

Friday, January 20, 2006

NBC News, fair and balanced

I caught the NBC Nightly News last night over dinner and noticed something fascinating. All in a tizzy over the new bin Laden tape, the news analyst described for us again how Osama has managed to stay at large for so long. According to the correspondent,
In 2000, when caught on tape in Afghanistan by a CIA Predator drone, the Clinton administration failed to pull the trigger. Then, three months after 9/11, bin Laden was reportedly wounded in the battle of Tora Bora but still managed to escape.

Nice. When it was a Democratic president, the president failed. When Bush was in power, bin Laden "managed to escape." Thank you, NBC, for your "fair and balanced" coverage.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Black Friday

Today, I shelled out $150 to injustice. Not to some greedy corporation, or even a mafia don. No, I shelled out $150 in a mercy plea to my state university.

If this had been a private corporation, I could have contested the collections notice without even having a mark on my credit report. At the University, however, you have to contest under duress, because they do the following:
a) put a hold on your student account that freezes financial aid, prevents course registration, and even stops you from graduating.
b) threaten to forward your debt to the state department of revenue, whereby it will be garnished in full from your income and property tax returns.

This is similar to when the United States enters into trade negotiations with Ethiopia.

The whole business was over a bus pass that I was supposed to cancel, but didn't, and that the University failed to cancel when I contacted them two months later. So instead of a cancelled bus pass and a two month bill, I got billed for nine months of a bus pass I didn't even have anymore. Of course, I have no records of my cancellation, since I did it over the phone and the U claims to have contacted me by phone and mail on several occasions after my March phone call (though I received none of these communiques).

The irony is that the bus pass in question was discarded the day I quit my job, so it had long been incinerated or landfilled. I only wish it could have been picked out of the dumpster by some welfare mom and used for those nine months, so I could have heard about it as some scandalous news story instead of feeling like I just paid for a nine-month old piece of trash.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Science - always learning new things

Most folks understand that sleep deprivation can increasestress and anxiety and decrease physical performance. But apparently, so can sleeping. In the minutes just after waking up, even from eight hours of rest, volunteers on a sleep study "have more impaired thinking and memory skills than someone kept awake for 24 hours -- equivalent to being drunk."

While I can't say I'm surprised, having earned a fair share of bruised shins moving from bedroom to bathroom in the morning, I guess it's nice to have scientists quantifying all of this. Plus, now you have something to tell the officer when you get pulled over. "I'm sorry, officer, I just woke up. Just give me a few miles and it'll wear off."

In other news, scientists have also discovered how bees fly. Ahh, science. Always learning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Touching convenience

The Cub Foods I frequent has recently introduced a Pay-By-Touch system. Attached to each credit card swiper at the checkout is a little pad right out of a Bond movie. You place your finger on the pad and *voila*, your checking account can be debited without writing out "eighty-five and 00/---------". Slick system, but I can't help but wonder about security.

To apply, you need a voided check and a photo ID. So I guess that's a fairly standard measure. It's as much as a credit card company requires to set up automatic payment. But what about the touch scanner? A CNN affiliate (KOIN - nice consumer reporting!) looked at the system, but didn't ask much about the security of it. In fact, they were more interested in asking whether Joe Blow thought it was safe than asking a security expert.

And where does Pay-By-Touch store all that personal information? I've received a couple of those "your information may have been compromised" notices in the past few months from my bank and mortgage company, so how do I know these guys are any good? It's just one more place personal information can be leaked.

The convenience, of course, is the sales pitch. No cards, signatures, or checks, no wallets or pockets. Just a fingerprint and a receipt. Of course, nothing can save you from the customer in front of you who grabbed the wrong coupon item and wants to wait for the largest and slowest employee in Cub history to go fetch it from the far corner of the store. And with Pay-By-Touch, you don't even have a credit card with which to open a vein...

Monday, January 09, 2006

A new year survey

It's 2006 and time to resume writing things for my faithful one or two readers. I've been on vacation and there's nothing more fun than staying as far away from one's place of work (the laptop in my study) unless it's to play Roller Coaster Tycoon. They've now reached the third iteration of this fun game, and managed to reduce all the fun of designing coasters and making a good theme park into a mish-mash of cutesy graphics. Congrats.

Anyway, here's a survey of interesting things in the world since I last touched the keyboard:
1. Courtesy of 28th Avenue, Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean stuffs Wolf Blitzer's attempt to be a Republican pretty boy. No, Wolf, Jack Abrahamoff gave money to Republicans for votes. No Democrat received any money from Abrahamoff. None.

2. In the spirit of the New Year, former state finance commissioner John Gunyou tells the Minnesota Legislature how to govern. My favorite? Focus on what matters. Here's a hint: The future of our state is not inextricably linked to guns, gays, gambling or gametes. And for those who may have forgotten, Change that silly law that pretends inflation doesn't exist. That's the law that says we don't calculate inflation for expenses, just for income. And we thought Enron played cheap.

3. Eminent domain. Whereas previously eminent domain was reserved for public goods like highways or urban "renewal," there was a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court last year allowing cities to use eminent domain for private economic development. In other words, if the city thinks your plot of land is worth more as a Target than the Johnson family residence - goodbye! While Supreme Court justices might call it constitutional, legislators are realizing it may be hard to win re-election if the government grabs constituent land for private use. One bill in Congress threatens to withhold federal economic development funds from municipalities that use eminent domain in this new fashion. However, that might not be threat enough if the potential tax windfall is greater.

4. The peace process in Israel is in as frail a condition as its prime minister. Ariel Sharon's bold strategy to unilaterally withdraw from Palestinian territories represents a badly needed move in the peace process and its unclear if this strategy will long outlive the ailing PM. By pulling many hawks on the right into a centrist coalition, he had a rare chance to solidify support for setting permanent borders. The Christian Science Monitor examines some of the potential consequences if Sharon is unable to return.