SocraticGadfly: 5/13/12 - 5/20/12

May 19, 2012

The real "secret" Obama

Per Mike the Mad Biologist, it's not the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but it's the degree to which Obama had already sold out iby 2008 to Chicago's rich whites with land and finance connections, and the upwardly mobile blacks working with them in the name of "urban renewal." (Mike forgets, on the white side, to mention the name of Tony Rezko.)

Anyway, that's the "community organizing" Obama was doing long before 2008.

Those of us who are true liberals knew that, at least in some degree, already back then, of course. The Rezko issue wasn't really whether or not he did Obama any financial favors; it was whether he was part of a larger group doing him political favors, including political finances.

That said, I do disagree with Mike about Mitt Romney. His "Seamus" incident goes to character, as does his modern reaction to it.

His post also tones down a bit the fire of the Robert Fitch original, more of which is contained here at Naked Capitalism. It's definitely worth a read.

The one outstanding question I have after all of this? Does Obama really believe the "Kumbaya" part of the Third Way crap, or is this just some shtick? Sadly, I think he at least 50 percent believes it, and at least 50 percent believes his Messianic Kumbaya old press clippings.

This is going to be one of the worst post-1900 presidential elections our country has had. Poppy Bush vs. Clinton and Shrub Bush vs. Gore were both better.

#NATO3 - terrorists, a set-up, or bits of both? #Occupy fallout?

Per the Chicago Sun-Times story, these three weren't choir boys, if a mortar was among items police found in the apartment of three men arrested on allegations they planned to attack Obama's Chicago headquarters as part of anti-NATA protests.

At the same time, exactly what they have have planned to do, both before their infiltration by Chicago undercover cops and afterward, is a matter that is certainly open to both conjecture and contention, and may never be solved for certain.

That said, ever since the Seattle G7 protest in the late 1990s, there's been a violence-based fringe element to such protests. Given that the anti-NATO protests have gotten wrapped up with the Occupy movement, it would probably behoove some Occupy spokespersons and leadership (and, yes, contra myth, there are Occupy leaders) to officially distance themselves from the violence to maintain some sort of credibility. That's especially since at least two of them claim connections with the Occupy movement.

My guess? Of the three arrestees, Betterly might have been considering something serious. Possibly Church, but not as a leader. (Interesting that his mom proclaims his innocence even though he allegedly burgled his parents' house in 2010.) Chase? He's the one I wouldn't trust ... he seems most likely, in a thumbnail sketch, to be interested in violence for violence's sake.

All three are surely guilty of non-criminal gross stupidity.

And, all of this is why skeptical left-liberals like me remain wary of the Occupy movement.

May 17, 2012

Warren Buffett is NOT always a genius

Proof? Buying 63 newspapers. More proof? (Which I had forgotten.) He still owns 20 percent of the Washington Kaplan Post.

That said, this leads to statement No. 2 about him.

Warren Buffett is not always  an enlightened business owner.

Proof? He's been in newspapers for some time, as owner of the Buffalo News. As its owner, he has acted like Mitt Romney, or Chainsaw Al Dunlap. I don't know what he's done in Omaha, but I'm sure it's not been totally enlightened in terms of labor/employment issues.

Beyond that, it sounds like he's an old-fashioned newspaper romantic.
“In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper,” said Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire, in a press release. “The many locales served by the newspapers we are acquiring fall firmly in this mold, and we are delighted they have found a permanent home with Berkshire Hathaway.” 
These types of people, even if they are also Chainsaw Als, are likely to get their hats handed to them in today's newspaper world. Even in smaller towns, there's no room for "romantic" newspaper owners today.

Somewhat more proof that here:
Buffett has often said that newspapers were an excellent business when the owner of a newspaper had “the only megaphone in town.” In 1992, before digital media arose, he said newspapers are “enormously valuable.” 

But in 2009 he said, “For most newspapers in the United States, we would not buy them at any price. They have the possibility of going to just unending losses.” 

Then, when Berkshire bought The World-Herald for $200 million in December, he said, “I saw good financial performance,” plus the benefits of a good local economy in Omaha and a desire to continue local control of the community's newspaper. 

“I think newspapers . . . have a decent future,” he said at the time. “It won't be like the past. But there are still a lot of things newspapers can do better than any other media. They not only can be sustained, but are important.” 

At Berkshire's shareholders meeting May 5, Buffett was asked by a shareholder whether The World-Herald purchase involved “self-indulgence,” given the fact that Buffett loves newspapers and reads several each day. 

Buffett replied that while newspapers are no longer the only source for some types of news, such as stock prices and major league sports scores, they still deliver news and advertising information that people can't find elsewhere. He said he wanted to buy more newspapers in cities where people are interested in their communities.
The one good thing? He sounds like he favors paywalls.

Beyond that, Buffett could at least be honest about not being in it for the papers. He's in it for loan sharking:
Morton said Berkshire's loan, which carries 10.5 percent initial interest, “addresses Media General's long-term capital needs and provides the company with significant financial and operating flexibility.” 
It sounds like the interest rate assesses how much Buffett really things newspapers are worth. And that, he's hoping to play vulture capitalist with some Media General physical assets if loan payments are late. That said, MG does printing for outside newspapers, including regional issues of the WSJ.

I still think he's not a genius, though. The value of those outside print contracts is likely to keep declining. So is the value of MG reserves, etc., which means even a "repo" for a loan default might not garner that much.

That said, if he puts the whole group of newspapers on paywall, this will have the great advantage of being the first great "experiment" with this at the community newspaper level.

Update, June 6: He's now bought 3.2 percent of Lee, whose "flagship" is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I'm guessing that this is another financialization move, related to its recent emergence from Chapter 11. So again, I say, he's not bullish on papers. He's bullish on newspaper financing/money manipulation, or else he is an idiot. (He's still holding on to that Kaplan Post, after all.)

And, it looks like Columbia Journalism Review's Justin Peters is a bit bullish, naive, or both, about the value and profitability of community newspapers today (let's not forget that CNHI is still doing forced furloughs), and a newspaper romantic.

"Community" newspapers in general are fixing to slide more on ad revenue losses in the future. Why? At least basic level websites are getting easier and cheaper to build. Hell, more and more businesses may be doing DIY websites for free with Wordpress, or perhaps Blogger. Add that to a FB page, and (and I speak from some degree of experience), they can say, "no, we don't need to advertise as much."

May 16, 2012

The #Mercedes #Lakers, up next?

ESPN's online magazine, Grantland, has a great column wondering why American pro sports teams don’t have European-style advertising-laden jerseys. (The auto racing world is already there, of course, as is golf, both individual sports, of course.)

I’ve wondered that myself for some time, in the nation that claims not only to be the land of liberty but the home of free enterprise.

I think the Grantland story is right in that the NBA will be first, then the NHL. The ad style fits with the bling-and-Twitter image of the NBA. The NHL just will take money wherever.

The NFL and MLB will both claim “purity,” I’m sure. Also, in the NFL, more than MLB, revenue-sharing issues will raise a dogfight over this. So, contra Grantland, the Jerry Jones fear is nothing other than that of not wanting to share money off any Dallas Cowboys jersey ads.

The header? The Mercedes Lakers was Grantland’s idea,  not mine. But, the Goldman Sachs Yankees, per the story’s title?

Won’t work.

First, a company advertising on a team jersey, where space is limited, probably has to have a decent reputation of some sort. Even with the Steinbrenner kids at the helm, G. Sachs probably wouldn’t be its first choice. (And, of course, MLB won’t be the first adoptees.)

Second, you have to have a recognizable logo. Mercedes has that. Other than a dollar sign, or a hand holding a Ben Franklin, Goddam Sachs has no logo. That’s why the Nike swoosh works so well for players.

Speaking of, that could be problem No. 3. Remember the 1992 Olympic basketball “dream team” and Michael Jordan using the U.S. flag to hide non-Nike logos? Now, Mercedes doesn’t make hightops, but … what if Adidas, for example, wants to buy on a team’s uniforms? Or Nike wants to do more than the inconspicuous swooshes it already does. (Let’s not forget it does this on NCAA unis, too, but that’s a whole nother subject.

Since, in all professional sports, some teams are more popular than others, how do leagues handle the revenue sharing issue? On either this or individual vs team logo conflicts, does “old Europe” have wisdom?

And also, as a sports fan, would this make you even less loyal to what was your favorite team? For me, it could. It would depend on the number and garishness of ads, how they were handled, etc.

As for my predictions on timetables? I'd say the NBA could start it by 2015, as either the departing gift of David Stern or else the incoming bold move of his successor. 

Caro hits another home run on vol. 4 of LBJ series

From my Goodreads review:

In “Passage of Power,” the fourth volume of his ever-expanding, five-volume-to-be biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Robert Caro maintains the same standards of excellence of the first three volumes and more.

The book covers the era from late 1958, when, despite his denials, LBJ first looked at running for president, through Jan. 8, 1964 and his first State of the Union address, with brief glances past that to passage of the 1964 civil rights bill, the first moves in Vietnam, and the Warren Commission. The bulk of LBJ as President, though, will be in volume five.

The title refers, of course, to the passage of power from LBJ to JFK, as Johnson, after having vastly expanded the power of Senate Majority Leader, along with effectiveness of the Senate, finds that this power won’t transfer to the vice presidency.

Not even in the Veep’s constitutional role as presiding officer of the Senate. Caro details how LBJ tried to get himself allowed to sit on the Senate Democratic Caucus, make committee assignments, etc., and how he hand-picked Mike Mansfield to be his successor as majority leader because he surmised, rightly, that Mansfield would go along.

Others, even the by-now often-flaccid Hubert Humphrey, would not, though, and did not.

LBJ met equal success at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Caro details how he sent JFK a memo of attempts to expand his duties that became known as the most blatant attempt at a power grab since Secretary of State William Seward sent a somewhat similar letter to President Lincoln early in his administration.

Like Lincoln, Kennedy basically ignored the letter, rather than either embarrass or enflame LBJ by firing back.

So, why ws Johnson on the ticket? Caro speculates two reasons.

One, even before the 1960 Democratic convention, he guesses that, without telling Bobby, he was already counting electoral votes and knew he needed Johnson. (Bobby, of course, tried three times to talk LBJ back out of the position, and Caro well documents how this was an “unauthorized” try.)

Second, Caro speculates JFK figured it was better having LBJ inside the tent pissing out rather than holding his legislative priorities hostage in the Senate.

I’m not going to give away much else, but I will add that Caro has a few new insights about the LBJ-RFK feud following on Jeff Shesol’s “Mutual Contempt.” In fact, I now find myself wondering if part of the reason Bobby hated Lyndon so much as a liar is that, unconsciously, Bobby knew how much of a liar he was himself.

#JamesHansen overdoes it on Texas drought claims

This New York Times column is the second time I've read the eminent climate scientist claim that the 2011 Texas drought was due to global warming/climate change.

And, he's wrong.

Now, global warming and climate, in all likelihood, exacerbated a drought that was going to happen anyway. And, yes, this was the worst one-year drought in state history.

But, that drought was going to happen anyway, due to La Niña. Which Hansen ignores. (As he does the fact that the multi-year drought of the 1950s, so far, remains the worst on record.)

If he had said "exacerbates," I wouldn't be venting. Because his concerns in the column, such as about tar sands oil, are good and valid. But, you've got to have sound science to make sound scientific arguments.

And, in this case he doesn't.

Update: In this Time story, Hansen says why he makes his claim. That said, a three-sigma, as the story notes, is only about an 80 percent probability. That's why I'd prefer that he had said global warming exacerbated a La Niña, rather than it did his alone.

Beyond that, as I have noted elsewhere, we only have about 100 years of scientific weather measurement in much of the U.S., so we don't really have much precision yet on talking about "100-year evertns" on climate.

Update 2: Per Andrew Revkin, I see that some climate change professionals also worry Hansen may be overstating his case, though they seem to be making overstatements themselves. For example, contra Martin Hoerling, I, like Hansen, have heard about the possible rainfall decrease in the southern Great Plains and the Southwest. That said, until Hansen can get to the four-sigma level, he's overstating things.

May 14, 2012

How much can Obama fellate Dimon?

After JPMorgan's $2 billion fiasco (and who knows, it may wind up being more than that), and after financial reform and consumer protection architect Elizabeth Warren said JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has no business serving on the New York Federal Reserve, Dear Leader, President Obama, has shown where his heart campaign finance wallet lies, when he says JPMorgan is so well managed.

I said last week this is a test of how much Obama is in thrall to the banksters. If Dimon won't, out of embarrassment if nothing else, resign his NY Fed seat, then, will Obama lean on him?

And, we have our answer. It's not just "no," it's a resounding "no."

Expanding support of gay rights is all well and good, but continuing to support a Big Five bankster when the top five banks, since 2007, have upped their share of the banking monetary pie from 43 to 56 percent is in another category altogether.

In fact, if Dear Leader REALLY wanted to stop being in thrall to the banksters, this would be a perfect opportunity to propose reforms of the entire Federal Reserve system so that, especially in New York, but with all the regional Feds, there was more government control and less banksterism.

But, that's what we're not going to get.

And, that's another reason why, to punish Democrats who won't find a few more ideals as well as to support other ideals, you should vote Green.

Especially since we know Obama has $500K reasons to like Jamie Dimon.

Punishment: The non-idealistic reason to vote #Green

A lot of people are familiar with the classic psychological game theory game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. In multi-round versions of the game, people who are knowledgeable that the logical response is for both persons to cooperate.

Of course, that would theoretically be the logical response with two political parties, too. But, evolutionary biology, as well as human social psychology, point out  that there are incentives for “cheaters” to abound in a game like Prisoner’s Dilemma.

That said, there’s a simple response to “cheaters” in a multi-round version of something like Prisoner’s Dilemma. It’s the old childhood action of “tit for tat.”

Sadly, somewhat with Slick Willie Clinton, and even more with President Kumbaya, modern (neo)liberalism in the U.S. is invested in the idea of “cooperation.” Period.

Or, as Dylan Otto Krider puts it on ScienceProgress, we currently have tit without tat.

Basically, this is why today’s Democrats, overall are political idiots (another reason to vote Green), politics is irrational today and why centrism (since the Democrats ARE centrists, in many ways) won't work in today's USofA (Apologies to my centrist sister; none to the idiotic Teapot Tommy Friedman.

Neither blind cooperation nor blind stonewalling is best, actually:
(A)fter a few cycles of mutual recrimination, it eventually becomes clear both sides are better off cooperating within the system.

Axelrod’s computer tournaments showed that Tit-for-Tat eventually rooted out the defectors, making it possible for everyone to default for cooperation. …

However, the computer competitions showed this arrangement was unstable, too. Once everyone defaulted to cooperation, the system became too trusting and open to exploitation by defectors.
And, that, Krider says, is where Democrats, abetted by, or abetting for, mainstream media types like Teapot Tommy, blew it:
It’s easy to point fingers at the GOP, but the blind ideology of the Democrats and the media are equally to blame for its steady drift to extremism. Democrats never tatted. And the media let the former boundaries of acceptable politics and discourse slide by defaulting to narratives of “both sides do it.”
So, if Democrats won’t punish Republicans for “cheating,” shouldn’t Democrats be punished for being weak-kneed, or whatever you want to call it?


Beyond idealism, per the story, voting Green is an obvious way to "punish" Democrats for cooperating too much with the GOP as it shifts the Overton window. 

Note: This is also a good argument for parliamentary government or, at the minimum, some proportional representation seats off of a "national list" in the U.S. House, never mind reforming the U.S. Senate. Third parties having an easier foothold make it easier to force cheaters to be punished.

Americans. even #teaparty, want to be #Sweden

Just don't call it Sweden if it is.

Americans, by a good margin, say they want the same relatively low level of economic inequality as Sweden has today.  But, to  riff on an old conservative pot-boiler, “None dare call it Sweden.”

Behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely takes a close look at the cognitive dissonance and disconnects behind this. 

And, how bad is the disconnect? This bad ... even Tea Partiers must want to live in Sweden, given overall percentages:
In Dan Ariely’s study (with Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School), 92 percent of us Americans want to live Swedish-style instead. Women (93 percent in favor of the Swedish model) are a ever so slightly more egalitarian than men (90 percent for Sweden). But the results come out very nearly the same — Republicans and Democrats, richer and poorer, NPR listeners and readers of Forbes Magazine.
There it is. But, in today's Tea Party-toxic America, “None dare call it Sweden.”
He also takes close look at the huge ignorance of many Americans, who don’t know that not only are we not the most economically equal country in the world, but we’re not even close; we’re near Tunisia, in fact, a country that had a revolution based in part on that.

Ariely doesn’t speculate on the cause of that, but I will — American exceptionalism. We can’t be that unequal, especially if God has shed his grace on we, to boot.

Ariely does, though, speculate on how long it will take such attitudes to change in America, though. And his answer is sobering at best, horrifically sad at worst. He says, riffing on Moses and Israel in the desert, that it’s going to take a full generation, and for the same reason as in that legend — we need a bunch of people to die before these economic exceptionalism myths also die.

Part of me that is both skeptical and cynical is thinking that Ariely's estimate is generous: a generation might not be long enough, instead of the 40 years taken literally. 

What if newspapers had "sweeps weeks"?

Ahh, May. Besides spring heading toward summer, or, in much of Texas, already entering it, it reminds me of one of the more objectionable facets of television: May is one of the four "sweeps" months, in which Nielsen ratings get extra advertising scrutiny.

Could you imagine what newspapers would be like with that? In New York, the Post would probably borrow from its Murdoch cousins across the pond and start the custom of Page 3 girls. Bristol Palin first, then Meghan McCain, eh?

Smaller communities with multiple papers, or metros with a daily plus an alt-weekly, would probably be weirder yet, staking out local government officials and agencies on a "corruption beat." The alt-weeklies might try to out-Craig Craigslist on their classifieds.

Chemicals in local groundwater would be overhyped by people knowing bupkis about science.

And, in the smaller towns of red state America, editors and publishers would open their op-ed pages to ever more "birther" letters to the editor, etc.

Wait a minute. Except the page 3 girls, a fair amount of that happens a fair amount of the time in today's newspapers anyway. And will probably only get worse.

May 13, 2012

Why is Dimon (still) on the NY Fed?

Elizabeth Warren is right. After JPMorgan's $2 billion fiasco (and who knows, it may wind up being more than that), its CEO, Jamie Dimon, has no business serving on the New York Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. John Thune is now making the loony arguments that this means we DON"T need more financial regulation.

No, what this really means is this is a test of how much Obama is in thrall to the banksters. If Dimon won't, out of embarrassment if nothing else, resign his NY Fed seat, then, will Obama lean on him?

Expanding support of gay rights is all well and good, but continuing to support a Big Five bankster when the top five banks, since 2007, have upped their share of the banking monetary pie from 43 to 56 percent is in another category altogether.

In fact, if Dear Leader REALLY wanted to stop being in thrall to the banksters, this would be a perfect opportunity to propose reforms of the entire Federal Reserve system so that, especially in New York, but with all the regional Feds, there was more government control and less banksterism.

But, now, it's clear that Dear Leader wants to be in thrall, when he says JPMorgan is so well managed. My ass.