Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Few Confessions of Failure in 2011 by The Dismal Political Economist

Hey, He Can’t Be Right All the Time

As much as he loathes the tradition, it is generally accepted that those who pontificate should, at the end of the year confess their sins.  The sins are those times when either through omission or commission, a pontificator was wrong.  The Dismal Political Economist has several of those, including a big one.

First up is the fact that we substantially overestimated the electoral abilities of Texas Governor Rick Perry.  After winning numerous gubernatorial races in Texas we assumed that Mr. Perry was a good and experienced and difficult to defeat campaigner.  The thinking was that he would be a formidable, even the favorite candidate because he could bring together fiscal and social conservatives.

He is in Texas, a strong and formidable campaigner.  But unlike fine wine, Mr. Perry does not travel or age well.  Once on the national scene his command of issues in Texas made him largely impervious to attack on that subject, but his lack of knowledge or even concern about national and international affairs made him seem weak, and ignorant and uncaring of basic U. S. and world economic issues.  He was not ready for prime time, and the Republican debates and subsequent close examination of Mr. Perry by voters and the press alike showed this.  When the history of the 2012 Presidential race is written Mr. Perry will be a non-event.

Another place where The Dismal Political Economist was wrong was in castigating the European Central Bank for not supporting the sovereign debt of nations like Spain and Italy.  These countries have a chance to recover economically, but only if the interest rates on their government debt are kept under control.  The ECB had repeatedly said they would not intervene in government debt markets to support debt of those countries.

It turns out the ECB has implement a work-around.  Instead of lending directly those countries the ECB is lending money to private banks to buy government debt.  In this way it is indirectly supporting the debt of those countries.  This is not the best way to do things, but it is better than what the announced policy was.  Interestingly the Germans who opposed direct intervention by the ECB in sovereign debt markets do not seem to object to the current ECB policy.

With respect to Groupon, The Dismal Political Economist condemned the greed of the owners for not taking a $6 billion offer from Google and instead taking their chances in the public markets.  The stock has dropped, and while the decline in value is large it may not have been a mistake to turn down the Google offer.  If the owners can get out while the getting out is good they will be fine.  If they wait and hold their stock, well, The Dismal Political Economist may turn out to have been right after all.

The really big error that The Dismal Political Economist made in 2011 was not taking Ron Paul seriously and not helping to expose him for what he is.  Because he was not and is not a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, we took him at face value, a seemingly misguided old man who longed for simple Libertarian ideas.  This is not Mr. Paul at all, and that should have been pointed out.

It turns out the Mr. Paul is a racist,  is homophobic and a likely anti-Semitic radical. The proof is in newsletters and fundraisers he authored, or at least went out under his name.  Mr. Paul has disavowed those missives, and even claimed he didn’t write them, read them or know of their existence, a claim which only his most dedicated followers can believe.  But a close former associate of Mr. Paul has told a scathing story. 

Eric Dondero is

Fmr. Senior Aide, US Cong. Ron Paul, 1997 – 2003
Campaign Coordinator, Ron Paul for Congress, 1995/96
National Organizer, Draft Ron Paul for President, 1991/92
Travel Aide/Personal Asst. Ron Paul, Libertarian for President

And the interesting thing is that he tries to write in support of his former boss with words and sentences that in actuality condemn Mr. Paul.  Here is Mr. Dondero on Mr. Paul’s attitude towards gay and lesbians.

“Bobby,” a well-known and rather flamboyant and well-liked gay man in Freeport came to the BBQ. Let me stress Ron likes Bobby personally, and Bobby was a hardcore campaign supporter. But after his speech, at the Surfside pavilion Bobby came up to Ron with his hand extended, and according to my fellow staffer, Ron literally swatted his hand away.

Again, let me stress. I would not categorize that as “homo-phobic,” but rather just unsettled by being around gays personally. Ron, like many folks his age, very much supports toleration, but chooses not to be around gays on a personal level. It’s a personal choice. And though, it may seem offensive to some, he has every right in my mind to feel and act that way.

Yep, if those two paragraphs don’t define homo-phobia, nothing does.  On racism Mr. Dondero tries to defend Mr. Paul by ignoring the newsletter stories where Mr. Paul castigated African Americans. As for being anti-Semitic, there is this

He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.

Now one can be a strong critic of Israel and Israeli policy, as The Dismal Political Economist is and not be anti-Semitic (The Dismal Political Economist is Jewish) but the above statement is not criticism, it is a call for the destruction of the Jewish state and of the Jews who inhabit it. 

So in the end Ron Paul is not the harmless grandfatherly anti-government gentleman he portrays, he is a bigoted man whose ideas do not belong in main stream politics.  The Republican party should be condemned for allowing him to rise to prominence, but The Dismal Political Economist cannot do that, because he too ignored Mr. Paul and did not investigate or publicize his views.  So the GOP gets a pass here, but Mr. Paul and the voters of his district who knew him well and still elected him, no pass.  And as for that group of Jewish Republicans, tell us once again why you want to belong to a political party that not only tolerates the bigotry of Mr. Paul, but in some ways promotes him as Presidential material.

Newt Gingrich Backed Romney Health Care Plan and Provides Confirmation Romney Wanted it for the Nation

Not That This Matters – Republican Voters Appear to be Beyond Requiring the Truth

The biggest issue with respect to Mitt Romney’s ascension to the Republican nomination has been his health care plan that he instituted in Massachusetts.  Recognizing that allowing persons to go without health care insurance resulted in higher costs for everyone else, and that health care insurance reform could not take place without everyone having health insurance, Mr. Romney championed a law requiring individuals in Massachusetts to have health insurance.

This does not sit well with Republicans, who put the freedom to not have health care coverage above the freedom to have affordable health care.  So Mr. Romney has taken the unsupportable position that this rule was ok for Massachusetts, but was not necessarily right for the rest of the nation.  This comes even though Mr. Romney touted his plan as a model for the nation earlier, that position now being politically inconvenient and so like other inconvenient positions Mr. Romney has held, he simply changed his position.

The good part of the Wall Street Journal, that is the investigative reporting part, has found a newsletter authored by Newt Gingrich which confirms that the Massachusetts model was to be the model for the nation.  But first of all note that Mr. Gingrich praised the Romney plan.

Newt Gingrich voiced enthusiasm for Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health-care law when it was passed five years ago, the same plan he has been denouncing over the past few months as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination.

"The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system," said an April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich's former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation.

Now Mr. Gingrich obviously finds these words to be a problem in his current campaign, and so they have been taken down from the web.  Note to Newt:  Do you really think your past statements disappear when they are not longer convenient?

But the important thing here is how Newt characterized the Romney plan as a goal for the rest of America, 100% insurance coverage.

The two-page "Newt Notes" analysis, found online by The Wall Street Journal even though it no longer appears on the center's website, continued: "We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans."

Now Mr. Romney’s credibility would be greatly enhanced if he could produce a statement made at that time disputing Mr. Gingrich’s interpretation of the Romney plan.  Because if the plan was was part of a goal to have 100% insurance coverage for all Americans that could only happen if the rest of America has the requirement for health insurance, or in short, the health care plan of Mr. Obama.  Of course, no such thing happened.

Mr. Gingrich’s credibility would be enhanced if he hadn’t recently denounced Mr. Romney’s plan.

Mr. Gingrich's rise to the top of the field has come in part from his bashing Mr. Romney for engineering a state health-care expansion that became a model for President Barack Obama's 2010 health law. "Your plan essentially is one more big-government, bureaucratic, high-cost system," Mr. Gingrich told Mr. Romney during an October debate in Las Vegas. He said Mr. Romney was trying to solve Massachusetts' health-care problems "from the top down."

But Mr. Gingrich does have a defense.

Mr. Hammond said the Newt Notes essay wasn't written by Mr. Gingrich himself.

meaning maybe his dog did it and signed Newt’s name, that sort of thing probably having happened before.  Of course this that contradicts Newt's claim not to have written what Newt says he wrote,

The 2006 essays aren't signed, but the Center for Health Transformation's inaugural newsletter said the updates would be "periodically sent to members of the [center] from Newt, providing an insider's view of key events and opportunities for transformation."

the term “contradicts” being a nice way of saying that either it is a lie that Newt didn’t write the newsletter or it was a lie in 2006 when the Center for Health Transformation said the comments would come from Newt.  Take your pick.

Here is the full newsletter issue, courtesy of Brad DeLong's wonderful web site.  Sure sounds like Mr. Gingrich was trying to take credit for writing it, but then that's what charlatans do.

Ok, there will be diehards out there who still believe that this is all a huge conspiracy, that Newt Gingrich really opposed an insurance mandate and that all the words he supposedly wrote in favor of it were by others designed to bring down Newt.  So here a video tape, thanks to Taegan Goddard

Oops, wait a minute, diehard Newt supporter will say that is a Newt imposter, (but they will admit, a very good one).

At the end of the day of course none of this matters.  Republican voters have long since given up any requirement that their candidates be consistent or logical or even take defensible positions.  Unfortunately though, the nation seems to be also moving in that direction.

Cornell University of Ithaca and Technion University of Israel Combine For Massive Project to Benefit Economy and Education

But Their Football Teams Still Don’t Play in a Bowl Game

Those who hate government, the “government never ever created a single job” crowd (usually said by people who work for government) do not want to know about the recent successful bid by a joint venture of Cornell University and Technion University of Haifa to construct a Graduate School of Applied Sciences in New York City.  See in Mayor Michael Bloomberg the city has a leader from the business community, who unlike, say that pretend business leader running for President, actually has created jobs and knows how to create jobs.

The Mayor through the city has offered $400 million in incentives to a college that will build and operate the Graduate School in the city.  The competition for the money just ended, with Cornell University and Technion winning.  The result, New York gets a spectacular campus.

The city asked for at least 250,000 square feet in the first phase, and a million over 25 years. Cornell-Technion proposed 400,000 and 2.1 million, with space for 2,500 students and 280 professors. Others said classes would start in September 2013; Cornell-Technion promised September 2012.

One key to the winning by Cornell and Technion, was a promise to provide $150 million in venture capital financing for participants at the school and a $350 million gift to the school.  Here’s how it was done.

Meanwhile, Dr. Skorton had been cultivating Cornell’s major benefactors, including Charles F. Feeney, the billionaire founder of Duty Free Shoppers who created the Atlantic Philanthropies to give away his fortune. They talked at length about the Roosevelt Island project several times, Dr. Skorton said, beginning in late spring or early summer. But it was not until after the proposals were submitted on Oct. 28 that Mr. Feeney revealed the scope of his generosity, a gift more than double the size of the largest in the university’s history.

Dr. Skorton saved that information for just the right moment. After Thanksgiving, the city invited five contenders to make detailed presentations. Cornell and Technion went last, on Dec. 3.

“President Skorton ended it by saying ‘I want to tell you all that we have a $350 million gift,’ ” Mr. Fuchs recalled. “You could have heard a pin drop in that room.”

Mr. Steel said, “It’s pretty breathtaking when other schools are talking about the challenges of fund-raising, and one of your strongest competitors says on the first phase financing: done.”

So at the end of the day, this is how a successful economic development – job creation – higher education project can be done in America.  It took a partnership: government, an elite private university, an international relationship, and private money.  Would anybody have expected such a project if Mitt Romney had been running things, really, anybody?

The Dismal Political Economist does not know who Mr. Feeney is, but it is safe to assume that he is probably one of those persons cast in the mold of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, you know, people who feel that after they have amassed great fortunes they should do some public good with them.  Sort of like the anti-Koch brothers, or those other billionaires who fund political activities designed to allow them to acquire even greater wealth.

And as for the issue of government standing in the way of economic activity and job creation.  Well in a couple of years there will be hundreds of companies funded by the venture fund and thousands of employees trained by the graduate school who will be evidence of the fallacy of that position.  Not that it will make any difference to those who hold those views, they are not swayed by factual evidence like this project.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Beginning of the Anointment of Mitt Romney Continues – Nate Silver Talks About the Inevitability

And the New York Times Tries Mightily to have Its Puff Piece on What a Nice Guy Mitt Is

Nate Silver is the preeminent practitioner of quantitative analysis of political issues and elections, and several years ago the New York Times acquired publication rights to his Forum, Five Thirty Eight.  Mr. Silver is probably the most objective and accurate of any one who prognosticates and comments on electoral matters.

As the inevitability of the nomination of Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for President in 2012 continues, Mr. Silver weighs in with an essay whose title goes to the very heart of the matter.  That title, How Can Romney Lose?

In the span of just two weeks, Mitt Romney has gone from seeming quite vulnerable to the near-inevitable Republican nominee. The odds attributed to Mr. Romney winning the nomination at the betting marketIntrade, which closed at a low of 42 percent on Dec. 13, had shot up to 72 percent as of Monday night.

I don’t know that Mr. Romney’s stock is mispriced — if anything, it might be a little cheap. It’s not that Mr. Romney is all that strong a candidate. But for him to fail to win the nomination, someone else has to, and it’s hard to see who that is.

He goes on to quote a Romney aide who in an unexpected moment of candor states the position of the Romney campaign, and correctly so.

Meanwhile, expectations seem to have gotten a little ahead of themselves. “I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee,” one of Mr. Romney’s strategists told New York magazine’s John Heilemann.

Now Mr. Silver does go on to qualify his conclusions and talk about how Mr. Romney could lose, in part by not meeting expectations and in part through an unexpected upset by one candidate.

But looking at Mr. Romney’s campaign through Iowa this time as opposed to 2008, where he has learned that in some cases less is more, it seems clear that the main thing Mr. Romney has going for him are the lessons learned from 2008, something no other candidate can bring to the party.

Further evidence of the inevitability of Mr. Romney’s elevation to the nomination is the traditional puff piece in a major newspaper describing what a regular person, what a nice guy and what a wonderful personality a candidate has.  The New York Times now has published this type of article.

Mr. Romney has plenty of moments when he wins positive reactions and some when he seems to make a genuine link, undercutting his caricature as robotic. And he is hardly giving up on mastering the art of the soft sell: he personally insisted on spending more hours talking to voters this election and fewer sequestered in his Boston headquarters. The calculation may prove crucial in a year when a procession of rivals — Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich — has roused the Republican base with colorful personalities and dynamic speaking styles.

The informal, humanizing interactions are so essential to the campaign’s image that Mr. Romney has scheduled back-to-back bus tours in New Hampshire and Iowa, the latest of which began here in Davenport on Tuesday, crammed with events like Coffee with Mitt, Pizza with Mitt and Spaghetti with Mitt.  [Editor’s note:  Frequently to be followed by Vomiting with Mitt.]

But note the undercurrent in the comments.  It is clear that the article is suggesting that far from being a sincere and natural effort, this new congenial Romney is just another planned political move.  Treating his candidacy like selling soap, Mr. Romney has adopted a persona that is not him, but one that he feels will help connect him with voters.

Mr. Romney’s bid for president this year is a carefully crafted do-over, a chance to revise and retool a campaign that quickly fizzled out four years ago. He has lost the tie, overhauled his stump speech and hired far fewer campaign consultants.

So who is the real Romney?  No one knows.  Like the character Gollum in the Lord of the Rings saga, whose obsession with the ring completely obliterated whatever was the original person, so has Mr. Romney’s obsession with becoming President completely obliterated whatever was the original person.  The U. S. may find out what that was if Mr. Romney is elected, and if so it may not be a particularly pleasant unveiling.  Your grandparents can always remember the “New Nixon”, which was in many ways a baser version of the old Nixon.

Rick Perry Changes His Mind on Abortion and Federal Interference with States

The Signs of Desperation Just Keep Coming

With the Iowa Caucuses coming soon the desperation of some candidates is beginning to drive their campaigns.  Newt Gingrich has abandoned his “be nice” strategy in part because that only works if one is the front runner and in larger part because that is just not Newt. 

The most desperate of the candidates appears to be Texas Gov. Rick Perry.  Mr. Perry was once the presumed front runner, based on his alleged ability to unite fiscal and social conservatives.  But it turned out that Mr. Perry knew little or nothing about national issues, and his stance on immigration, that he would not imprison and torture children who were in the country illegally, ran afoul the strident stand of many Republicans.

Like all desperate politicians, Mr. Perry has decided to become even more extreme in his views.  He has decided, for example, that he would ban all abortions, even those that women might want when they had been the victim of rape or incest.

Assuredly, the Texas governor has never been a moderate on the issue. But until recently, he had said an abortion might be justifiable in cases of rape or incest or if the mother’s life was in danger.

Tuesday, in the last leg of a four-stop bus trip across southwestern Iowa, Perry was asked a question by a local pastor about his abortion views, noting that the candidate had recently signed a pledge to oppose abortion in every situation and asking whether he had changed his mind.

Perry replied that he had. “You’re seeing a transformation,” he said. Recently watching an antiabortion film had persuaded him to alter his view, he said.

 As far as the numbers are concerned, this is not a major issues as the number of abortions resulting from rape or incest must be very small.  But it does say a lot about Mr. Perry.  First of all the change is very convenient (has any transformation of any politician, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative ever happened when it did not benefit the politician's electoral chances?)

The transformation, such as it is, comes at a particularly opportune time. With a week to go until the Jan. 3 caucuses, Perry is trying to court the social conservatives here who have yet to coalesce around a single candidate as they did for Mike Huckabee four years ago. And Perry has watched as Rick Santorum, an unyielding opponent of abortion rights, has picked up endorsements in the last week from key evangelical leaders in the state.

Which just says that Mr. Perry, having seen the lack of consistency not hurt Mr. Romney has decided that he too can jettison his beliefs when he thinks that will help him politically.

But more important is what this says about Mr. Perry.  Consider the implications of this for a rape victim.  The woman has suffered an agonizingly horrific experience, one that no male can ever understand.  Now with Mr. Perry’s position the victim is again victimized.  She must carry the rapist’s child to full term.  She must endure 9 months of the reminder of the attack.  And after the child is born she may have to endure sharing the custody of the child with the rapist, after all Conservatives are strong believers in parental rights and some surely believe that after the rapist has left prison he has the right to his parental rights including visitation and maybe even joint custody.

That any person could contemplate putting a woman through such an experience for purely political gain says much about that person.  It certainly says he or she is not enough of a decent human being to be considered for public office.

On a second issue, state’s rights Mr. Perry has been a long time advocate of a limited role for the Federal government.  In his view the Feds should defer to the states, and not interfere with state’s activities where states have been given the authority to act under the Constitution.

So it is a little surprising, (but not much given the hypocrisy of politicians) that Mr. Perry has now decided to enlist the Federal government to fight the state of Virginia, whose ballot rules prevented Mr. Perry from getting on the Republican primary ballot.

And while Perry was touring Iowa, his campaign filed suit in federal court in Virginia challenging that state’s decision to keep him off its primary ballot for failing to comply with the strict requirements for signatures. Newt Gingrich also failed to make the ballot.

"We believe that the Virginia provisions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of candidates and voters by severely restricting access to the ballot, and we hope to have those provisions overturned or modified to provide greater ballot access to Virginia voters and the candidates seeking to earn their support," Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, said in a statement.

Mr. Perry has apparently learned what almost everyone else has, particularly minorities and others who have had their rights denied by state and local governments.  This is that the Federal government’s role in part is as protector of rights and the sometimes states can abrogate those rights. 

Welcome to reality, Mr. Perry.  We know it took you a long time to get here, but still, glad you finally made it.  And just a word of advice, next time think before you take a position, you will find it a new and rewarding experience.

A New and Growing Threat to Israel

Arabs – Ultra Orthodox Jews May Be Israel’s Greatest Threat

[Editor’s Note:  The Dismal Political Economist is Jewish.  However, unlike Conservative Jews he believes that criticism of Israel is correct and proper when that criticism is called for.  Like most American Jews he does not blindly support the policies of the state of Israel when he thinks they are wrong, and like most American Jews he does not he support politicians of any party who do so.]

It is well known that radical Palestinians would like to destroy the state of Israel and to kill every Jewish person who inhabits that country.  The men and women who espouse that view are enemies of Israel, and it is right and proper that the U. S. and every other nation aid and support Israel in its fight for survival.  But Israel itself must reject internal policies which operate against rather than in favor of its survival.

One of the policies is the special place and special role given to ultra Orthodox Jews.  These men and women live in Israel and are free to practice their version of Judaism.  In fact the laws of Israel give them special protection, as it should.  Ultra Orthodox Jews should have the basic right that every human should have, the right to practice their religion in dignity and freedom.

But like most fundamentalist of every religion, Orthodox Jews seek not only seek to practice their religion as they see fit, they also seek to impose their version of religion on others.   One irony here is that their freedom to worship and live as they please is protected by the men and women in the Israeli Defense Forces, who live and operate in a way that violates the principles of these radicals.  Another irony is that their fundamentalism and desire to impose it on others put them far more in common with the radical Arab Islamists than with other Jews.

The need of Orthodox Jews to impose their will on others has been brought to the center in one of the uglier incidents in Israeli history.

In a scene that could have been lifted from Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s, a public bus was halted in Israel on Friday when an ultra-Orthodox man boarded and demanded that Tanya Rosenblit, commuting to Jerusalem for work, get up and move to the rear.

She refused, at which point the offending man told the bus driver that “it was his right to have her sit in the back and that he had paid to be able to do so.” He then pried open the doors, refusing to allow the bus to continue, at which point the driver called police.

The incident has risen to a “cause” in Israel, and hopefully will invigorate the drive for equal rights under the law, a goal that all Americans can identify with.

Now this incident is far more offensive to Americans than others, given the history of racial bigotry in the United States and the role that Rosa Parks and other played in ending it, in part by refusing the sit in the back of the bus.  And while this incident is being played up in Israel, as well it should, it is far less a threat than the action by ultra radical settlers who have attacked IDF members of their illegal occupation of Arab lands.

A logical solution would be for the ultra Orthodox to create and settle a part of Israel by themselves, where they could practice their religion their way without imposing their beliefs on anyone else.  But they cannot do this, for the members of the Orthodox sect are unwilling to defend themselves from outside attack; they depend upon those whom they condemn to do that for them.  In fact, were the entire state of Israel to become the nirvana (ok, not a Jewish word but you get the picture) that the Orthodox would have, its life would be measured in hours.  The Orthodox may think that their Deity would protect them, but the Deity does not work in mysterious ways.  The Deity that has preserved Judaism and Israel works through the IDF.

Incredible But True – Federal Judges Change Mind, Rule for Justice - Usually Being a Federal Judge Means Never, Ever Having to Admit You Were Wrong

Even When You Were

The late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter was controversial and many disagree with his positions and opinions.  But with respect to getting justice right, even after one has gotten it wrong, his words are not controversial.

Some judges like to quote Justice Felix Frankfurter, as Judge Harry T. Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit did when he changed his mind in 1994 in a libel suit against this newspaper.

“Wisdom too often never comes,” Justice Frankfurter wrote, “and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”

(“this newspaper” being the New York Time).

The words of Justice Frankfurter became relevant when a Federal Appeals Court changed its mind in an employment discrimination case.  Here is the setting.

Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, ruled that there were no racial overtones when a white manager at a Tyson chicken plant in Gadsden, Ala., called adult black men working there “boy.”

“The usages were conversational” and “nonracial in context,” the majority wrote in a 2-to-1 decision that overturned a jury verdict of about $1.4 million in an employment discrimination case brought by a black Tyson employee, John Hithon.

Now anyone who has grown up in the South or last lived in the South knows that is simply not the case.  The term “boy” when addressed to an African-American has a specific meaning, and we all know what the meaning is.  This is a position upheld by the Supreme Court, overturning an earlier egregious decision.

In 2005, for instance, the appeals court said the meaning of “boy” depended on whether there was an adjective attached.

“The use of ‘boy’ when modified by a racial classification like ‘black’ or ‘white’ is evidence of discriminatory intent,” the court said. But “the use of ‘boy ’alone is not evidence of discrimination.”

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the 2005 decision the following year. “The speaker’s meaning may depend on various factors including context, inflection, tone of voice, local custom and historical usage,” the justices said in an unsigned opinion.

So after the appeals courts was asked to reconsider, they the almost unthinkable, the did.  And when they did they reached a different conclusion after former Federal Judge U. W. Clemons and others filed briefs asking the court to do so.

On Dec. 16, more than a year after the initial decision, the appeals court reversed course. The new ruling was opaque and grudging, but Mr. Clemon said he welcomed it, particularly since it is very unusual for a federal appeals court panel simply to change its mind. “I don’t recall it ever happening,” said Mr. Clemon, who graduated from law school in 1968.

No, it doesn’t happen often.  And it did not happen in this case with good grace, or maybe even with good intentions.

The new decision followed unflattering press coverage of the earlier one and might have been prompted by the possibility of a rebuke from the full 11th Circuit.

But that’s okay, given the Conservative nature of the courts one takes decisions like this and expresses gratitude, not bitterness.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Coming State Takeover of Detroit – An Experiment to Be on the Impact of a Powerful Czar in Ruling a Once Great American City

Can Conservative Business Management Save a Struggling Metropolis?  - The Nation May Find Out in Detroit

The letters on an overpass used to spell “Motor City.”
 Until a recent report, talk about Detroit’s economy had been hopeful.

The economic situation in Michigan in general and in Detroit in particular is well known, and the New York Times takes another look at things with an eye on what might happen in the future. In its largest city voters finally got disgusted the tossed out professional politicians in favor of giving the mayorality of Detroit to Mr. Dave Bing, a former basketball star and successful businessman.  So far things are not better.  The dire economic circumstances of the city are this.

Detroit is poised to run out of money by April and fall deep into debt by June. Now a place that had seemed to be finding its balance is reeling once more. . .

This fall, Mr. Bing warned that Detroit would run out of cash without major cuts, particularly layoffs and deep salary reductions.

Within days of Mr. Bing’s announcement, state officials said they were starting a preliminary review of the city’s finances, which concluded this week with the announcement of a deeper state look at the books and an alarming snapshot of Detroit: more than $12 billion in long-term debt, an estimated general fund deficit of $196 million and no sufficient plan for dealing with the shortfall.

Ok, so what is to be done?  Michigan elected a Conservative Governor last year and handed control of the state legislature to Republicans.  Anticipating this problem they enacted a law that allows the state to take over the city if economic conditions warrant it.

For Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican and businessman elected in the wave of Republican statehouse victories in 2010, Detroit’s crisis comes at a complicated moment. Earlier this year, Mr. Snyder and the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a law adding vast powers to the emergency managers sent to troubled Michigan cities, including the ability to throw out union contracts.

And while the law is controversial, it is there.

Critics said the law was an attack on democratic principles and an assault on labor unions. A lawsuit is pending. A campaign to repeal the law is under way, raising the possibility that the current emergency manager law could be suspended until the vote — even as the state’s most significant city may be on the verge of being assigned one.

Detroiters don’t want a state takeover, but the Governor clearly wants to do so, as evidenced by his strong denial that a takeover is not what he wants

State officials insist that the steps taken do not mean that an outside manager will necessarily be appointed in Detroit. For his part, Mr. Snyder, who had never held political office before, seems put off at suggestions that he hopes to step in.

“Why would I want an emergency manager?” Mr. Snyder said in an interview. “I’ve got plenty to do as it is. It’s best if we’re a supporting resource and they resolve their own issues with support.”

In politics, particularly where a position is unpopular the statements that a person does not want to do something is likely an indication that they do want to do it.  Mr. Snyder clearly pushed through the greater state powers specifically to deal with Detroit, and if he does exercise the option to take over the city, he can abrogate union contracts and possibly destroy public employee unions in the city, which is certainly one of his goals.

So looking ahead to 2012 the odds are more likely than not that the state of Michigan will take over control of the city of Detroit.  It will terminate almost all union contracts, cut spending, and attempt to impose Conservative principles of governance on the city.  It may also bring in sound management concepts, ones that will improve productivity and efficiency in city government. 

Politics and good management have almost always been at odds with each other. In 2012 everyone will likely see if they can co-exist in bringing Detroit back from financial ruin, whether it is by a state takeover or by Detroit managing to succeed by itself.  But politics are the driving force for 2012, and politics, regardless of the particular nature of the the political philosophy, almost always trump good management practices.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Proves a Point

Just Like Family Value Conservatives Often Do Not Have Family Values:  Fiscal Value Conservatives Do Not Have Fiscal Values

Conservatives Republicans like to tout their family values, even though in many cases they don’t really have any.  See the recent Masterpiece Theatre Presentation, the Three (and counting) Wives of Newt Gingrich or the fact that Congressional Republicans want to remove all funding from Planned Parenthood, thus denying millions of women basic health care just because another, non-government funded part of Planned Parenthood provides family planning and abortion related services.

One of the great fiscal conservatives in the Republican race for the Presidential nomination of that once great party is Texas Gov. Rick Perry.  Mr. Perry often touts his fiscal conservatism, and when confronted with a huge budget deficit this year he cut spending on education, health services and the like (there’s that irksome family values hypocrisy again) rather than raise taxes or use the state’s reserves.

But when it comes to spending on Mr. Perry, Mr. Perry has no qualms.  He is taking a retirement pension from the state, even though he is not retiring and is still earning a state paycheck (feeding at the public trough we think is the proper term here).  And now it turns out that Mr. Perry has required the state of Texas to pay for his security while he goes around the country campaigning for President, which at the last glance was not part of the job description for being Governor of Texas.

This is a lot of money, although getting some of the details from Texas is not easy to do.

The public safety department said last week that the governor’s security for out-of-state trips cost $486,904 in fiscal year 2011. A department spreadsheet shows that the agency spent more than $397,000 to protect the governor on trips in a single month, between Sept. 5 and Sept. 28 this year.

That included $161,786 for airfare, $8,140 for baggage fees, $50,648.84 for food, $6,442.24 for fuel, $112,111.81 for lodging, $54,356.65 for rentals, $2,990.26 for parking and $1,238.57 in an unspecified “other” category.

This is quite a haul for Mr. Perry.  And it’s not like he doesn’t have the campaign funds to pay for his own security

State Representative Jessica Farrar of Houston, leader of the House Democrats, said Mr. Perry’s travels have been more of a black eye for Texas than a benefit. She said the governor deserves to have state-provided security, but said he should use some of the $17 million he has reported raising for his campaign to help defray the costs.

As for getting the details, the Republicans who control Texas voted a law that keeps much of the spending secret.  It seems they don’t want the details out there on where Mr. Perry has been and what it cost, using the guise of security.  It is hard to see how would be mischief makers or even people bent of harm to the Governor can benefit from know where he stayed last week, it’s where he is staying this week that matters.  But where he stayed last week and how much it cost might embarrass Mr. Perry, so the info has to be kept from the public.

Mr. Perry is carrying on a tradition of having citizens of Texas pay for personal campaign security costs.  George W. Bush, extremely wealthy in his own right and with plenty of campaign cash used the state coffers for his security.

Mr. Perry is not the only Texas governor to run up big bills — and receive criticism — for security provided on out-of-state trips. When George W. Bush was governor and ran for president in 2000, the state spent at least $400,000 a month in the first quarter of that year — more than four times the amount spent in all of 1999, the public safety department revealed at the time.

All told, taxpayers were on the hook for $3.9 million in security costs for Mr. Bush and his family from January 1999 to March 2000, when the Secret Service took over the job, the public safety department said.

So everyone should be clear here, when Conservatives talk about keeping spending under control they mean cutting spending for education, child care, health care, public safety, transportation and the like.  After all if the state is spending money in those areas there might not be enough to fund both tax cuts for the wealthy and personal campaign costs of the Governor. 

Remember those Barbarians in the Capital One Credit Car Commercials – They Are Trying To Collect Debts Already Discharged

Illegal Yes – But Apparently That Doesn’t Matter; These are Bankers We're Talking About

Going through bankruptcy is not a pleasant experience, sort of like bowel surgery without anesthetic.  But at the end of the process a person’s debts are settled.  Some creditors get paid in full, some get paid partially, some remain as obligations of the debtor and some do not get paid at all.  But whatever the outcome, whatever certain debts that are not paid in full are discharged.  The debtor no longer owes the money and can move on with his or her life.

Unless of course, the lender is Capital One.  Capital One has decided to go after people whose debts are no longer owed.  They may do this because their records are so shoddy that they cannot determine the debt is already discharged, or they may do it because they don’t care as long as they can get the money.  It would be nice to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume incompetence over malfeasance if the problem wasn’t so large.

A court-appointed auditor concluded earlier this year that Capital One pursued 15,500 "erroneous claims" seeking money previously erased by a bankruptcy-court judge.

The reason there is a court appointed auditor is that one judge has had enough.

Separately, David W. Houston III, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Aberdeen, Miss., said he plans to demand that Capital One show up in his courtroom to explain its debt-collection practices.

In October, the judge rejected the company's request to throw out a lawsuit that alleged Capital One tried to collect $43,396.59 that was legally erased in an earlier bankruptcy case filed by the same person.

"I want some proof from the company that this was a legitimate error and not a conscious, malevolent effort to go out and collect a debt that's been discharged," Judge Houston said in an interview.

And there is evidence of bad behavior in the past

In 2008, a U.S. bankruptcy trustee in Massachusetts accused Capital One of illegally trying 5,600 times to collect debts already wiped out by a bankruptcy judge.

The trustee concluded that Capital One was guilty of incompetence, and did not maintain adequate records on which of its debtors had debts discharged, but then, it would not be in Capital One’s best interests to do so, would it.  The good news here is that victims are fighting back, and there is at least one judge on the side of justice.  That alone is enough to give The Dismal Political Economist a slight boost here in the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Does Anybody Whine Any Better Than Newt Gingrich?

Even The Dismal Political Economist Would Vote for Newt if He Were Running for Whiner-In-Chief

For some reason pundits that watched the Republican debates came away with the impression that Newt Gingrich had performed well in the debates.  What everyone else came away with was the Newt Gingrich was just a whiner.  It seems like in almost every debate he was complaining about the format, complaining about the lack of response time and complaining about how the moderators were trying to get Republicans to criticize other Republicans, (in other words, debate). 

Because perception becomes reality, the favorable press coverage is one of the factors that has pushed Mr. Gingrich into contention.  But being in contention, and being competitive in some polls does not a campaign make.  It takes organization, money and dedication to the details of running a national campaign.  Mr. Gingrich has none of these, in fact his entire staff quit early this year because of Mr. Gingrich’s inattentive nature.

So now that Mr. Gingrich is leading in one poll in Virginia, it turns out that he has failed to even get on the ballot.  The requirements were not excessive, 10,000 signatures on nominating petitions, including 400 from each Congressional District.  But Mr. Gingrich failed this simple test, apparently too busy making up things (like saying Federal employees are forbidden by law to say Merry Christmas).

And being the consummate whiner that he is, instead of acknowledging his mistake and moving on Mr. Gingrich, like all Conservatives who espouse the morality of personal responsibility, refuses to take the blame.

The Gingrich campaign responded that "only a failed system" would disqualify Gingrich and other candidates. It said Gingrich would pursue an aggressive write-in campaign in Virginia.

See, Gingrich is not to blame, it’s the system.  So the Gingrich campaign will attempt a write in campaign.  Of course, by the time of the Virginia election it won’t matter very much. 

All of this contrasts with Mr. Romney, who as the AP acknowledges has been running for President for five years, contrary to Mr. Romney's contention otherwise.

It also illustrates the advantage held by Romney. He's essentially been running for president for five years, and his team, smaller than in 2008 but larger than those of most of his 2012 opponents, has paid close attention to filing requirements in each state. He will appear on the Virginia ballot, along with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who also has run a national campaign before.

Will Mr. Gingrich learn anything from this?  No, if Mr. Gingrich were capable of learning from his mistakes he wouldn’t be in the race, would he?  But not to worry, the media will continue to call Mr. Gingrich an intellectual, a man of ideas, a creative force in the Republican Party.  After all, if one ignores all of his idiotic ideas which the press does, that’s the conclusion one is left with.

Oh, and that write in campaign?  Apparently that is not allowed under Virginia rules.  An intelligent and experienced politician, one with a reputed intellect and one with "big ideas" would know that.  Which explains why Mr. Gingrich does not.

Finding Good News in a Story of Greed, Wealth and Excess in New York City Real Estate

And Documentation That Excessive Wealth Accumulation is Not Just a U. S. Phenomena

In New York City real estate transactions frequently make the news because the cost of real estate is so great.  In fact, the real news story would be where to the regular people of Manhattan find a place to live, but that story would not fill the desire of many people to read about the lives of the rich and famous.

Recently the City received news of an apartment sale for the highest amount ever.

In any other week, in any other city, in any other building, the sale of a three-bedroom apartment for $24 million — the most expensive transaction of the week, according to city records — would not go unnoticed.

But in the same week, in this city, the reported sale of a penthouse in the same building, 15 Central Park West, for a record-shattering $88 million, to the 22-year-old daughter of a Russian oligarch, dwarfed the first deal and made all others seem rather ho-hum.

So how does a 22 year old get enough wealth to buy such an apartment, and what does she want with it?  Well she got the money like almost all mega-wealthy 22 year olds do, her daddy is very rich.  As for the need of the apartment

“Ms. Rybolovleva is currently studying at a U.S. university,” the statement read. “She plans to stay in the apartment when visiting New York. Ms. Rybolovleva was born in Russia, is a resident of Monaco, and has resided in Monaco and Switzerland for the past 15 years.”

Sources said Ms. Rybolovleva bought the apartment because no on informed her she could get a nice dorm room at NYU for a couple of thou a semester.

As for the good news, there really is some.

Representatives for Mr. Weill declined to comment on his sale. But when he first put the property on the market, he said he planned to donate sale proceeds to charity. No word yet on who the recipient is, but it seems this will be a very nice holiday for at least one lucky daughter of a Russian billionaire and whatever charity gets the nod from Mr. Weill.

So all is well, a young lady has a place to live in New York City, some charity will get a nice check, and the homeless people of the city can take quiet satisfaction that their ranks will not be joined by another 22 year old student.

Conservatives to Troy, Michigan: Here’s Some Nice Higher Unemployment for the Holidays, Courtesy of the Tea Party

No Need to Thank Them – Your Misery is Thanks Enough

It is not a secret that the communities in the state of Michigan are in difficult economic shape (It’s not a secret because nobody is trying to keep it a secret).  So as part of the plan to help the economy and help the people severely affected by the weak economy, the Federal government had enacted a stimulus program that in part consisted of supporting construction in communities where the construction was needed and where the project itself would help the local economy.

In Troy, Michigan this resulted in the Federal government approving a $8.5 million project to upgrade the local rail terminal, a project that would create construction jobs and further the economy of the local area by improving services it could provide on the Detroit to Chicago rail link.  But this project was an affront to the radical political philosophy of the Troy Tea Party major and her colleagues on the city council.

The terminal, which would help Troy become a transportation node on an upgraded Detroit-to-Chicago Amtrak line, was hailed by supporters as a way to create jobs and to spur economic development. But federal money is federal money, so with the urging of the new mayor, who helped found the local Tea Party chapter, the City Council cast a 4-to-3 vote this week against granting a crucial contract, sending the project into limbo.

“There’s nothing free about government money,” Mayor Janice Daniels said in an interview. “It’s never free, and it’s crippling our way of life.”

The major did not detail exactly how improving a rail terminal would be a loss of freedom and cripple the way of life, although to be fair the fact that the British wanted to build a rail terminal and improve the economic lifes of the colonists was a major factor in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  Presumably she meant the project would reduce the freedom of the citizens of her community to be poor and unemployed, and destroy a way of life that has resulted in destitution for many.

Michigan now has a Conservative Governor, but even he and the typically conservative Chamber of Commerce objected to what the city was doing.

Taking Tea Party reasoning to the local level has outraged supporters of the transit center, which has been in the works for a decade. Michele Hodges, the president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which supports the transit project, said that her organization “will be a pit bull for what’s best for this community.” . . .

Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, a Republican, said through a spokeswoman that he was “disappointed” in the city’s decision and would be “reviewing our options for utilizing the grant, including the potential transfer of the grant to another applicant.” Mr. Snyder had sent a letter to Mayor Daniels before the vote saying that the project would have “significant, positive economic development on your community and the state.”

The report does not say so, but one can reasonably assume that neither the Mayor nor the Council members who voted against the project will affected directly or indirectly by the loss of the jobs and the negative economic impact.  After all, it is a lot easier to be ideologically pure when someone else is suffering from the imposition of your beliefs.  And besides, to these Conservatives the poor and unemployed are (take your pick), lazy, indolent, leeches, stupid, or parasites. 
And before anyone suggests that characterizing the Mayor as a mean, partisan, bigoted person is unfair, there is this to consider

The transit fight is not Mayor Daniels’s first brush with controversy. Earlier this month, it was revealed that she posted a message to her Facebook page last June, after New York State approved same-sex marriage, stating, “I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.”

And while Mayor Daniels later said she regretted that comment, the expression in the comment is far more telling than her expression of regret.

There are countries in the world where ideological purity is imposed at great cost to the citizenry.  North Korea comes to mind.  Maybe now that there is an opening in the leadership in that country Mayor Daniels and her allies on the city council might want to consider re-locating there and running for public office in that nation.  Their attitudes towards governing would fit right in.