June 28, 2012

A Sigh of Relief, or Good on ya Chief!

SCOTUS rules...literally.

Amid the early circus - and at 8AM PDT we don't know the full impact of the decision - it is comforting to know that the Health Care Affordability Act was mostly left intact by the Supreme Court.  The individual mandate is ruled constitutional under Congresses authority to levy taxes, and most of the rest of the law is upheld.  What appears to be out is the ability of the Federal Government to punish - by withholding other funding - states that don't agree to expand Medicaid eligibility.  Most surprising to me is the breakdown of the justices' decisions.  In a 5-4 split decision it was Chief Justice Roberts, not Anthony Kennedy, that voted with Ginsberg's Gang to uphold the law.  Interesting.  I will have to take back some of my initial conceptions of C.J. Roberts.

More news is sure to come as the day goes on, but it has already been a fun morning watching CNN botch the coverage so badly and witness the definition of "nonplussed" in the form of Fox News.  And, I'm waiting with baited breath to see the angry screed Scalia pens in dissent of this one.  Is being bat-shit-crazy an asset or a hindrance on the SOCUTS bench?  Time will tell.  (Clarence Thomas has no comment.)

I have a lengthy post in the works on the fallacy of applying naked free market principles to health care, as well as my own recent experiences as a consumer of emergency medical care.  Stay tuned...

June 26, 2012

Link Hive #2, or A Lighthearted Post to Remind Us to Enjoy Living

Gather round for another installment of the Link Hive where we stop for a minute, turn off the outrage generator, and enjoy a sampling of the awesomeness that the world has to offer.  Besides, this blog's editor needs something more to do than just correct typos...
(get it?)
[We are working on creating a special graphic for the Link Hive, but we welcome submissions from the audience. -ed.]


The music section on the Recommended page needs filling, so here's a recap of the stroll down memory lane that I went on last Friday on my Google+ feed.  (By the way, go here to encircle me.  What? You're not on G+?  Then stop complaining about how much you hate Facebook.)

The free song of the day on Magnifier last Friday was "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League, so naturally I couldn't resist indulging in some bad 80's synth-pop nostalgia.  Now, this is not a good song, but if you heard it played enough times over the PA at your local ice rink during the endless hours of skating you did between the ages of 3 and 12, then you might have been brainwashed into having something like fond memories of this song.  (Unfortunately, I have a horror show of lousy pop music associated with the joyful memories of my youth spent in the rink.  Oh well.)

If I had to do it over again with the benefit of hindsight, the soundtrack to my youth would have been full of The ReplacementsHusker DuMinutemen, and Bad Brains.  Although, thanks to our local cable system being a early MTV adopter, I was exposed to Run DMC as a five-year-old.  So that was cool.  In fact, after seeing the video for "Walk This Way" I made my mom buy me some white low-top adidas sneakers, so that I could take the laces out.  This proved rather foolish when I tried to run in them on the playground at recess.  Being the hippest kid in Kindergarten had its downsides.


Flipboard for Android - this beautifully rendered, magazine-style feed aggregation app is all you need to keep up with news, Twitter, FB, G+, et. al.  You can customize what you see with your Google Reader's RSS feed.  It integrates brilliantly with the above social networks plus many more, and it will work with your favorite "read-it-later" services, like Instapaper.  Flipboard has been all the rage on iOS for some time, now the 99%* can enjoy it too.

*[We're just kidding about the iPhone/iPad crowd being wealthy elitists.  We've been known to be a bit snobby ourselves, but Apple is too restrictive for our likes. -ed.]

Louis C.K. is going on tour.  So?  So, he is selling tickets directly to his fans via his website bypassing the ridiculous markup that Ticketmaster charges.  As promised, this Link Hive is all about the happy, so there will be no rant about why Live Nation and Ticketmaster (or, should we say Ticket-bastard?) are doing the Devil's work.  That will just make us angry, and a little sad as we remember when a piece of our idealism died when Pearl Jam lost (actually, they just gave up when no one else joined the cause) their Quixotic war against Ticketmaster.

MIT Technology Review - extremely smart people writing about the latest in science and technology.  For free.  Go add it to your Flipboard feed now.  They even write in a tone and style that is relatively accessible to the layman.  At least I assume it's accessible...

Science in a bullet list

That's all for this edition of Link Hive.  Ciao.

June 25, 2012

Paying Attention to a Nobel Laureate in Economics, or A Krugman By Any Other Name is Just as Smart

In case you are not a regular viewer1 or you just happened to miss the June 18th edition of The Colbert Report, Paul Krugman was the guest.

Colbert outing Krugman as a member of The 1%, now can openly drive his Bentley to the yacht club2

[We think you really need to know who Paul Krugman is if you are at all interested in public affairs, but in case you don't, here's his Wikipedia page.  He won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2008.  It's kind of a big deal. -ed.]

While Krugman's appearance on Colbert was nominally to pimp his new book, End This Depression Now!, the by-proxy focus of the interview was on the Presidential race and how it pertains to the world economy.  Colbert takes his usual satiric, arch-conservative stance to draw an analogy between Obama and the European Union, but Krugman astutely points out how the ruined nations in the Euro Zone are more akin to the Romney economic platform.  And, he also notes that one of the most socially generous nation in Europe, Sweden, is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.  The punchline here happens at the 5:45 mark where he explains how Republican pet policies line up best with one of the biggest disasters in Europe: Ireland. 

As should surprise no one, the Democrats are failing to fully utilize someone like Paul Krugman to hammer the Modern Republican Economic Message.  You see, Paul is highly educated with a Ph.D. from MIT, and a professor at a prestigious Ivy League University, and a columnist with The New York Times, and the author of a book and blog entitled The Conscience of a Liberal.  Heaven forfend.  So, naturally he is pushed to the periphery of election-year discourse.

The shame of it is Paul Krugman is just the type of person that best disarms the Republican's misinformation machine piloted by Karl Rove and his band of neck-less-old-white-men.  The failure of the Democrats to effectively counteract the Fiction-Based Truth from the far right has been their biggest weakness of late.  The Dems have to be the most frustrating, self-destructive political parties in history, but that is a different blog post entirely...

1We can assure you, dear reader, that your intrepid blogger is a regular viewer

2We can assure you, dear reader, that Paul Krugman doesn't drive a Bentley and probably doesn't belong to a yacht club

June 21, 2012

Wealth Destruction, or If You Don't Fix the Door the Burglars Will Be Back to Steal Everything Else

As you, dear reader, may have already heard reported elsewhere the Federal Reserve recently released its Survey of Consumer Finances for 2007 - 2010.  No doubt you were camped out in front of your closest Fed regional office for weeks in anticipation for the release of the report, but in case you weren't here's the shocking conclusion: US median net worth is down 38.8% since 2007. The median net worth for US households in 2010 fell back to the same level as it was in 1992.  That was when this was #1 on the Billboard singles chart.*

18 years of financial gains evaporated as fast as Right Said Fred's popularity.

Not surprisingly, most of that wealth destruction was concentrated in the decline of real estate valuation, which is what most middle-class household wealth is dependent upon.  Some more wealth evaporated when the stock market decline in 2008-2009 eviscerated most people's retirement saving, which are now most likely to be in at-risk 401(k) accounts rather than defined-benefit pension plans.  And still more wealth was surely wiped away by stagnant wages and high unemployment.

Naturally, there is plenty of blame to spread around, and we can quibble about the how legitimate the wealth gains through real estate appreciation were in the middle part of the last decade.  But, I defy anyone to deny that reckless Wall Street speculation - speculation that was bound to go bust - was not a large part of the wealth destruction we have all experienced.  So, we should learn from this catastrophic reduction in national prosperity and repair the systems that ran amok, right?  We need to reign in the excesses that caused the mess, right?

I think only a madman would differ.

That is why I can't countenance people like Edward Conrad.  "Who?" you might ask.  He used to be a big shot at a little company called Bain Capital, and he has a new book out arguing that risk taking by investors isn't being rewarded enough.

(I'll let that little gem sink in as you consider what your bonus was last year in relation to the size of bonuses paid out at firms like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.)

(Angry yet?  No?  Ok, Gov. Romney you can put on your jodhpurs and click here now.  The rest of my enraged bretheren can continue reading.  Don't worry we're almost done.)

Now, I admit I haven't read Mr. Conrad's book, nor do I intend to.  I only have so much free time and I'd rather spend quality time with my son than read some overwrought fairy tale of the benefits of speculation.  (We've been over my views of finance before, so go read that before you fire up the angry email writing machine.)  Besides, we have this interview of Conrad by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show from 6/7/12 where Jon skewered Conrad's less than cogent arguments from the book.

One does not have to do too much sleuthing to connect the dots from Conrad to Romney's economic platform.  I for one am hoping that the remaining 60% of my net worth is spared a Romney administration.

[Next time we will discuss Paul Krugman and Ireland...probably. - ed.]

*Number 1 by measuring revulsion to bare midriffs, we're guessing.

June 15, 2012

A Frivolous Friday, or Random Issuance from a Sleep-deprived Mind

It's Friday, so the combination of late night Beer League Hockey games, infant care, and general world-weariness has piled up making coherent thought a struggle.  So, here's a stream of consciousness...

Have been seeing some interesting debate around the size of the national debt and under which presidents' administrations it grew the most.  There is a lot of specious data flying around, but the NYT has a pretty good digest of the numbers based on actual data from the Department of Treasury et.al.  The aggregate message is clear, but I question whether they adjust the figures into present dollars.  Then, there is the problem of adjusting the figures to a per GDP basis.  Anyway, setting those quibbles aside, guess who contributed the most to the debt?

Check out The Colbert Report from 6/12 for a hilarious send-up of Romney's equine predilections.  Jodhpurs are mentioned.  Stephen also petitions to takeover Sweden's Twitter account.

Lastly, many of you are coming here from G+, so please leave a comment if you would rather just get this content in the G+ stream.  If you don't mind being redirected to the blog, say so, too.


June 13, 2012

Link Hive #1, or Editing Is Easier Than Creating Original Content

(The first in an occasional series of curated links.  The name of this series was intentionally designed to twist your tongue.  Now who says this post is content free?)
Contain your excitement, it's a Link Hive!
Let's see what's in the 'ol link hive this week...

Volume #1

From the blogodome - blogs that are worth your time
  • Fare and Fowl - These are the political essays of Leonard "Red" Balaban.  I highly recommend checking out his well reasoned and insightful essays.
  • Lifehacker - Hopefully, dear reader, you have already discovered the cornucopia of awesomeness that is Lifehacker.  If not, go there now and learn how to do more with less.
Interesting articles
  • "Don't Feed the Trolls" from Stubornella - Nicole Sullivan's talk from the 2012 O'Rielly Fluent conference explaining why you should just ignore flame bait and concentrate on the more reasonable comments/posts/tweets.  It will make for better online relationships and communities.  The primo soundbite: "If you respond only to ass-hats, your life will soon be full of ass-hats."  This lesson is largely ignored in the real world, too.  I'm looking at you, Congress.
  • From MIT's Technology Review - "A Peek Behind China's 'Great Firewall'" Finding out that the main purpose of all the internet censorship by the ruling party is to preempt "collective action."  Underscoring for the umpteenth time why you should donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • From Science magazine: Hubble shows imminent (in only a few billion years, time is running out!) collision between our Milky Way galaxy and its two nearest neighbors, Andromeda and Triangulum.
Hydrogen bridge? Smells more like methane to me.
Naked Self Promotion - posts you may have missed because our posting schedule is haphazard at best...

That's all for now.  Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of...LINK HIVE!

June 10, 2012

Summer Reading List, Part 1; or Books, Check 'em Out

The first part in an occasional series of book recommendations:

Does anyone remember this PSA from circa 1991 featuring those claymation darlings, The California Raisins?
"Check out" those sweet dance moves and killer graphic design.  Totally rad.

This is the textbook example of well-intentioned, earnest adults trying to connect with youth on their level, and then utterly failing.  Remember that basic theme for later on in this post.  And by the way, how does this clip still exist?  Did someone save it on Betamax and then digitize it 20 years later?  Hilarious!

In that spirit, here is a book that I recommend "checking out": Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.

June 9, 2012

Labels? Who Needs 'Em?; or Stop Shouting, I'm Standing Right Next To You

After yesterday's post about the partisan divide I started thinking about my own viewpoints, and whether my personal experience matched what the Pew Research Center's report claimed.  Now, I will be the first to admit that my political mindset and view of society has evolved in my maturation from teen to thirtysomething, but I am certain that I am just as independent-minded as the day I first registered to vote, a disaffect suburban teen rejecting the Big Two and "declining to state."  Right?

The reason that notion has been thrown into some doubt was my rediscovery of another excellent Pew Research study, the American Political Typology survey.  I recall back in the heady days of 1999 when I was a collegian - hopeful, innocent, long-haired, and tolerant of low-quality keg beer - and the third installment of the Typology survey was pointed out to me by one of my more politically-active friends.  So, we fired up Netscape and www'ed our way over to the Pew website and took the survey.  It turned out that, based on my responses to a series of either/or questions I was a "New Prosperity Independent".  I "supported Clinton", was "cyber savvy", "young", believed in "prosperity" and "the status quo."  Apparently, that was bad new for Al Gore.  Who knew?  All we cared about were tasty waves, cool bud and we were fine.
1999: The Year of Living Spicoli-ly

Remember, this was 1999 and we were partying like it was, because the stock market was skyrocketing, the internet was spitting out new millionaires by the gross, and Bill Clinton looked like he might actually solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem.  I actually had friends who traded stocks on E-Trade between classes.  No Doubt and the young, skinny Ms. Spears had replaced the dour, brooding, nihilistic Kobains and Vedders on heavy rotation on MTV.  (Yes, dear reader, they used to play music videos on Music Television.)  Who wouldn't be optimistic that good times would keep on rolling?  Well, we all know how that ended.

Fast forward to the present, when I was poking around the Pew Research Center's website and stumbled across the current iteration of the Political Typology survey.  So, again with the pointing and the clicking and the compiling of responses, and presto1:
Okay, so I probably have modified my stance on some macro-economic and societal issues since 1999, but a Solid Liberal?  Hmm.  Here's how Pew breaks down this voting block2:
What They Believe
  • Strongly pro-government and very liberal on a broad range of issues
  • Very supportive of regulation, environmental protection and government assistance to the poor
  • One of the most secular groups; 59% say that religion is not that important to them
  • Supportive of the country's growing racial and ethnic diversity
  • Two-thirds disagree with the Tea Party
Who They Are
  • Highly politically engaged
  • 75% are Democrats
  • Concentrated in the Northeast and West
  • 57% are female
  • Best educated of the groups: 49% hold at least a bachelor's degree and 27% have post-graduate experience
  • A third regularly listen to NPR, about two-in-ten regularly watch The Daily Show and read The New York Times
  • 59% have a passport
  • 42% regularly buy organic foods
  • 21% are first or second generation Americans

Shit, that is me.  I do listen to NPR, watch Jon Stewart, support diversity and tolerance, support an effective regulatory regime and social safety net, buy organic, have a passport, have a post-graduate degree, and am concentrated in the West.

But, here is where I depart from this categorization.  I am not a Democrat, nor female, nor a recent immigrant, and while I do think the Tea Party is a group of ignorant ass-hats that are dangerous to the body politic, I can't say that I wholly disagree with keeping the federal budget in reasonable check. (We still need to raise revenue, especially on the upper tax brackets.)  In fact, I even think that government is too complex and internecine to effectively carry out it's mission.  (What is the mission?  Well, that's another, even longer post.)  Now what do you think of this Solid Liberal?

I think the real source of the growing political divide is the onslaught of bad journalism (Roger Ailes, GFY!.  You too MSNBC.) on cable, people pigeon-holing themselves and others into falsely discrete categories.  Let's do a little gedanken experiment.  In the continuum of opinion, picture the two people exactly abutting the centerline.  They should be in agreement on nearly everything.  Let's assume then, that the person immediately to the right of the exact center of politics only watches Fox News and listens to fat, blowhards on the radio.  Now, the converse to his nearest left-hand neighbor.  She only watches MSNBC (and surprisingly hasn't committed hari kari) and listens to Air America.  Do you think they could have a civil public policy conversation?  I suspect they would be at each other's throats in ten minutes flat.

If we don't like the current state of politics, it's our fault.  We should rebel against the false tyranny of labels, stop patronizing toxic infotainment sources, and start talking to each other.  We will find out that most of us have way more in common with each other than Sean Hannity and Kieth Olbermann would let you believe.

1Source: http://www.people-press.org/typology/quiz/?result


June 7, 2012

The Dependence on Independents, or Switching Between Coke and Pepsi Won't Prevent Tooth Decay

This should not come as a surprise to anyone, but your intrepid blogger was watching PBS Newshour last evening.  There was a story about the results of the latest American Values survey from the Pew Research Center.  The study has been tracking social and political attitudes over the past 25 years, and as should surprise no one, the partisan divide has widened significantly over the past ten years. But, what might be surprising are some of the reasons that Pew sites for the widening gulf.

It may not be that the population on the whole is getting more partisan, but rather that the Big Two parties are concentrating.  According to the survey there are now more Americans who identify as independent than Democrats or Republicans.  We'll come back to that in a second.  (Probably, a big part of the polarization is the rise to prominence of the Rupert Murdoch/Roger Ailes-effect on journalism.)

Pew Director, Andrew Kohut went on to describe the typical independent voter (see if this sounds familiar?): he/she values substance over rhetoric, doesn't see social issues as significant, and is most concerned about jobs and education.  Yep, that sounds about right.  Perhaps, the widening divide between Republicans and Democrats is due to the more reasonable people leaving.  Or, perhaps the Big Two have gotten so silly that the rational middle is being driven out in a desperate move of self-preservation.  Chicken or egg.

Wouldn't it be nice if the rational middle stopped voting for D's or R's? Stopped just being the swing that decides elections and have something tangible to vote for?  It'd be nice to be able to avoid the Sophie's choice for once, and break up the toxic morass that is the Either/Or problem we have when choosing representatives.  Maybe, even Fox News would go off the air...but, alas, I have no great alternatives to suggest.  Looks like for the foreseeable future we are stuck with the same old problem of deciding between a turd sandwich and a giant douche.  What are you going to do, vote for Gary Johnson?

"I've been on Jon Steward as many times as Obama."

June 4, 2012

Did an Acorn Just Hit Me on the Head?, or Further Evidence That No One Can Afford to Deny Climate Change

As some of my audience may already know, my main gig is in the Sports Industrial Complex1, and as such I get a weekly email newsletter called Sporting Goods Intelligence with reporting2 on general business interest from around the industry.  Normally, it is filled with the type of dry profit and revenue data that could put even the most ardent econ-geek to sleep in no time.  Occasionally, there will be something juicy, like a CEO getting ousted by his3 board, or accounting irregularities causing massive restatements of P&L.  But, usually I just skim it for the general mood and hit the <Del> key after sixty seconds.

June 1, 2012

Art Imitates Life, or Lorne Michaels and Emily Spivey, Please Stop Spying on Our Lives

Most of you have not seen the TV series "Up All Night" airing on NBC.  I know this because only 3.11 million people in the United States watched the last episode of season one.  Thankfully, that is but a tiny fraction of the population.  Thankfully?