Tuesday, July 17, 2018

We He Goes Dumb, We Go Dumber


I've always found Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high," amusing. I guess accusing Mitt Romney of murder and Paul Ryan of pushing old people off the cliff were grandfathered in.

The slogan of the Trump opponents is, "When he goes dumb, we go dumber." Given all the dumb things Trump says there is a constant race to the dumbest. The latest dumb Trump statements about Russia and hacking Clinton, the DNC and DCCC were mind-numbing idiocy and infuriating as well.

Not to be outdone: Former CIA head John Brennan:

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

A Democratic representative from Tennessee I've never heard of (the congressman, not the state) said this:

Where are our military folks ? The Commander in Chief is in the hands of our enemy!
He then claimed he wasn't calling for a military coup. OK sport.

I didn't vote in the 2016 election because I found both candidates foul and loathsome. And I thought maybe the Dems would try to put up a reasonable alternatives for the midterms and for 2020, but it doesn't look that way. Instead it looks like Gresham's Law being applied to the political markets.

Very depressing.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Idiot In Chief


I've been a missing partner in our ongoing conversation for a long time and I offer my apologies. Like many Americans of my political sensibility, I've witnessed the last year and a half with increasing dismay, and have had to work hard to overcome that dismay and continue to oppose the policies  I disagree with.  Much of what has occurred (deregulation, tax reduction, half hearted and unsuccessful attempts to reduce the size of the welfare state, repeated attempts to inject Christian religious preference into public policy etc) would be expected of any contemporary Republican administration, so I may not like it, but can I can hardly be surprised it or view it as something novel. And I can continue to take the long view that the much of the nativism and bigotry on display is also nothing new; from the Chinese Exclusion Act (in force for 60 years)  to the Immigration Law of 1924 (not repealed until 1965) to the general disdain and prejudice exhibited against your ancestors and mine, resistance to the arrival of new Americans is bred into the country's DNA.

What I can't absorb(along with every major economist and the Chamber of Commerce)  is the raw stupidity of so much of what passes for policy coming from the White House. So much of what is touted as economic wisdom seems to violate every principle of how to grow an economy. A trade war looms. Trumps coal obsession is the ultimate picking winners and losers.

Meanwhile, while the longest expansion in modern US economic history continues, storm clouds are gathering. I don't think this ends well. And when the consequence of Administration policy finally unfold, the Idiot-in-Chief will blame everyone else but himself.


Dueling Know Nothings


This article, "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Ambitious Plan to Save the Planet," on the new darling of the Left,  had this rather typical ambition for many of Malthus/Tarbell/Ehrlich/Hansen/Gore/Mann crowd:

... she has proposed implementing what she calls a “Green New Deal,” a Franklin Delano Roosevelt–like plan to spur “the investment of trillions of dollars and the creation of millions of high-wage jobs,” according to her official website. “The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan,” she told HuffPost last week. “We must again invest in the development, manufacturing, deployment, and distribution of energy, but this time green energy.”

Riddle me this: How is it Trump, for instance, is a buffoon for wanting to use the power of government to tip the market in coal's favor but Cortez is sage beyond her years for wanting to use the power of government to tip the market in wind and solar's favor? From my perspective they are both economic know-nothings.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Descent Into Darkness


The death of Anthony Bourdain has led to an unexpected chain of emotions from your faithful correspondent, some welcome, some not. I just read Kitchen Confidential. It's an extraordinary memoir, filled with wet-your-pants humor, masterful showmanship and searing honesty. It's dirty and soaring and sobering. He writes with a clarity and punch that I can only envy. You feel like you are sitting across the table (eating great food of course) as he recounts outrageous anecdote after anecdote, all connected to his deep love of cooking and his unblinking self awareness of the chaos and failed chances within his own life. He never imagined that Kitchen Confidential would transform his life that it did, catapulting him into the inner circle of the cooking world and turning him into an international celebrity. Despite his success and fame, he never lost his humility. He never reneged on his acceptance of responsibility for the crap he did and the people he harmed. He gave himself minimal credit for his deep respect for his comrades-in-arms in the kitchen, especially the mostly Black and Brown line cooks, dishwashers, busboys, and night porters. He never made himself out to be more than the journeyman chef he was, and he accepted that as the inevitable consequence of the choices that he alone made . Reading the book in the aftermath of his suicide, one could see hints of  despair lurking underneath the machismo. He tells a chilling story of an incompetent cook who hangs himself a week after being fired that feels clairvoyant. His excellence as a writer and his lust for life that shines throughout the book makes his own irreversible descent into darkness all the more incomprehensible.

But that is not true. Not for this writer. In the fall of 2015, as the buzzing in my  head grew  louder and more intolerable, I begin planning. The 7th floor of the parking lot looked inviting. But that would make a mess, and a spectacle, and I might end up alive but paralyzed, so perhaps a long swim out into the cove from our summer home would work, and might be constructed as an accident,. In that case I figured, the harm, the irreversible across-the-generations  damage to my family that I knew death would cause would somehow be lessened. Finally I settled on the garage. I would sit in my car with the door closed and wonder how long it would take, who would find me in cold and still in my improvised  gas chamber. I was sure I was done for. I was certain I couldn't function with the tinnitus for which there was no cure or relief . I was diminished, hopeless. and angry. I sought help from a psychologist and then a psychiatrist, both of whom turned out to be blaming and inept. After a particularly bad weekend I drove into work knowing that if I returned home alone I would kill myself. I paged the liaison psychiatrist and told him so.

They took my belt and shoes, and after they let me call my wife, my cell phone  The doctor came in and took a long and careful history of the progression of my tinnitus and depression and then left. The emergency room physician couldn't quite believe that there was nothing with the brain of this 60 something year old physician with no history of mental illness, and so ordered a useless )and expensive) MRI. Finally they loaded me into an ambulance and brought me to a locked unit  75 miles away. Golden Valley we can call it. I spent the next five days in oversized sweat pants in the company of the 15 most disconnected human beings I've ever encountered. Disconnected from each other, from themselves, and often from reality. I read books and wondered whether how the hell any of this would make any difference

Like any savvy inmate I learned the rules. No complaining to or about the sadistic bitch of an aide, not if you wanted to get out and not be sent back once you were. No razor, no nail clipper, no dental floss? No problem! Even though the possibility was still quite real I knew had to promise I wouldn't harm myself  before they would let me go, and so I did. In the entire time I spent there I saw 2 different bored looking shrinks for exactly five minutes apiece. For those five days they kept me alive. I'll give them credit for that. I'll also give them credit for making it so unpleasant that I would never, ever go back. 

A different, better psychologist there told me story about a famous Napa restaurant called the French Laundry. Despite the bizarre cost of a meal (think 4 figures for 2) it's impossible to get in as my wife and I learned during a trip through wine country some years back. But this guy had lived there and had buddies and so got a res with no trouble . Something came up, he had to cancel but his pals told him not to worry, the res would remain available any time he wanted. Suicidal ideation is like that. Something about your life sucks; your marriage or your kids, your job, your financial situation, your health. It doesn'1t matter what the particular suck is. Suicide is a solution, and as long as you keep that reservation open it's available, waiting  for you. So you after cancel that reservation. That story was the beginning of the journey out.

My daughter, my wife, my ex-wife,  and one gifted psychiatric social worker saved my life. "I need you Dad" my daughter said to me during her visit to Golden Valley, and that settled that. If she needed me to be around I would goddamn be around, buzz in my head or no. After discharge I entered an old fashioned psychotherapeutically oriented day program. There you create the most intimate relationships you will ever have with folks you have never met before and will never see again. You listen to and tell each other stuff you would never tell anyone else. And you root for each other get well. 

During one particularly bad morning with the tinnitus at full blast. the social worker said to me. "You  know Eli. you don't sound like someone who can't think straight. You sound  like yourself" So the buzzing was unpleasant for sure, but not disabling. It wouldn't kill me. Only I could do that.  An old fashioned no nonsense master-of-psychiatry took me on. I left the day program went back to work. Everybody acted liked I'd never left. Lots of meds off and on with wonderful side effects like night sweats and anorgasmia.  Lots of trips to Brooklyn to see a 90 year old ENT doc who for some reason has spent his life treating a problem  that affects 50 million American and that almost no one  is interested in. My wife was scared shitless through the whole thing but (almost) never showed it. We learned to meditate together (the biggest thing)  I returned to a lot of undeserved love and a life worth living.

I don't think much about my trip through the dark side. But I don't forget about it either. I have a little scout up in the front of my brain peering through the twilight for trouble, and a firmly honed commitment to snuff it out. And if I had some cosmic power for a do over, I would say to Anthony Bourdain, or anyone else, Give someone who cares about you a day. 1 day, And then another day after that, and another. Until you can look out of your hole and see the light that will surely come.  


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lesley Stahl Uncovers the Russian Plot to Steal America


This article is hilarious:

I love this exchange:

Brad Parscale: Yeah, Facebook employees would show up for work every day in our offices.

Lesley Stahl: Whoa, wait a minute. Facebook employees showed up at the Trump headquarters --

Brad Parscale: Google employees, and Twitter employees.

Lesley Stahl: They were embedded in your campaign?

Brad Parscale: I mean, like, they were there multiple days a week, three, four days a week, two days week, five days a week --

Lesley Stahl: What were they doing inside? I mean --

Brad Parscale: Helping teach us how to use their platform. I wanna get --

Lesley Stahl: Helping him get elected?

Brad Parscale: I asked each one of them by email, I wanna know every, single secret button, click, technology you have. "I wanna know everything you would tell Hillary's campaign plus some. And I want your people here to teach me how to use it."

Lesley Stahl: Inside?

Brad Parscale: Yeah, I want 'em sittin' right next to us --

Lesley Stahl: How do you know they weren't Trojan Horses?

Brad Parscale: 'Cause I'd ask 'em to be Republicans, and I'd -- we'd talk to 'em.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, you only wanted Republicans?

Brad Parscale: I wanted people who support Donald Trump from their companies.

Lesley Stahl: And that's what you got?

Brad Parscale: Yeah. They already have divisions set up that way.

Lesley Stahl: What do you mean?

Brad Parscale: They already have groups of people in their political divisions that are Republican and Democrat.

Lesley Stahl: You're kidding?

Brad Parscale: Yeah, they're businesses, they are publicly traded companies with stock price.

Lesley Stahl: Did Hillary's campaign have someone embedded --

Brad Parscale: I had heard that they didn't accept any of their offers.

Lesley Stahl: So you're saying Facebook and the others offered an embed, and they said no.

Brad Parscale: That's what I've heard.

People in the Clinton campaign confirmed that the offer was made and turned down. 

Someday, the Dems will be just as embarrassed by this Russian nonsense as Republicans are embarrassed by the Obama is a Kenyan nonsense, meaning never.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Net Neutrality


I'm reading Thomas Hazlett's "The Political Spectrum." So far Hazlett has chronicled the FCC's opposition to FM radio, broadcast TV, local TV, low power FM, cable TV, opposition that retarded the growth of those industries for decades. Now I'm up to the Mayflower and Fairness Doctrines.

During the New Deal, FDR was angry newspaper owners who also controlled radio stations were opposing his program. Hazlett writes:

...opposition to an outright ban on newspaper ownership of radio stations still ran high in Congress. The Commission sharpened its focus. If it could not force anti—New Deal publishers to sell their stations, perhaps it could mute their editorializing. It did so via the “Mayflower Doctrine,” establishing that information delivered via radio, including news, must be presented “fairly” and “objectively.”

The policy was targeted at the unabashedly right-wing Yankee Network, owner of three radio stations in New England, including WAAB in Boston. The network ran commentary from the likes of Father Charles Coughlin, an outspokenly anti-Semitic cleric suspected of pro-Nazi sympathies, whose ideology had drifted from the radical left to the extreme right. By the late 19305 he had found his voice as a staunch critic of “Franklin Double-crossing Roosevelt.” [16] In 1939, when WAAB’s license came up for renewal, Mayflower Broadcasting filed a competing application. The challenge was dismissed for factual misrepresentations, but Fly’s FCC took the opportunity to send a warning to the Yankee Network by scheduling a renewal hearing. While the Commission elected not to withdraw the station’s license, it issued an ominous nonendorsement:

Radio can serve as an instrument of democracy only when devoted to the communication of information and the exchange of ideas fairly and objectively presented. Indeed, as one licensed to operate in the public domain the licensee has assumed the obligation of presenting all sides of important public questions, fairly, objectively and without bias. The public interest-not the private—is paramount. [17]

Yankee got the message and promised to stop editorializing. Enshrined as policy, the Mayflower Doctrine implicitly forbade all other broadcast licensees to editorialize. Anti—New Deal station owners were silenced. Mission accomplished.
 I suppose some still think it's a good idea for the government to determine what should and shouldn't be said on radio and TV, but I'm not one of them.

What confuses me, particularly with our current President is why some still think we should allow such power to reside in the hands of appointed bodies like the FCC. After all, if Trump is indeed a fascist or totalitarian or whatever he is being called today, why in God's name would you want to give him more power.

I rephrase the question,  why would you want to give anyone that power. I certainly don't want LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama or Trump with control over what can be said, nor where. Counting on a philosopher king to wisely pass laws is foolish. Besides, if I remember my Plato correctly, the philosopher king he envisioned was a totalitarian.

As I read this book I keep asking myself why the demand by many for the FCC to impose net neutrality regulations that would allow the FCC to filter fake news, or pass judgement on new products and services and even impose price regulation. In the Hazlett telling, we've been there, done that, and it sucked.

Our penchant for nostalgia results in romanticizing an era when only three broadcasters  fed us news and entertainment. I much prefer the cacophony of today even though there are loud voices that are sometimes/often/mostly idiotic. (I'm lumping Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity,  Bill O'Reilly, and many others in the loud dumb bucket).

Even if the President were wise and beneficent and even if his/her FCC were the same, why would you want the FCC to have that kind of power when there's a pretty strong likelihood at some point the President and commissioners won't be as wise.


Friday, March 9, 2018

A True Steel Story


Recently I listened to a CEO of a company that uses steel as an input for a product that is sold globally. The company has two facilities, one in the US, the other in Europe. The CEO was asked about the impact of the steel tariffs on his business. He wasn't sure. On the one hand, steel prices would rise, so he would have to increase the price of his end product. But, he has two facilities. So maybe, he said, he would bid projects with his European facility and avoid the tariffs.

Perfect. Trump increases tariffs to "save" the US steel industry. In this example, however, not only does the consumer NOT buy US steel, but it moves manufacturing to a different country in order to avoid the higher steel prices.

When government interferes with the price mechanism it creates all sorts of perverse outcomes. Like when it artificially increases the price of labor with minimum wages or mandatory paid maternity leave the result is a decrease in demand for the very labor it is "protecting."

Economic ignorance is a true bipartisan accomplishment.