Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cliff Slater was right

New price $500,000,200
Another post cockaroached from my commercial blog at

Honolulu rail transit is going to be a disaster. It is no surprise that the cost overrun is already estimated at $500 million.
Still worse, Honolulu is thinking of plundering TheBus to cover TheRail. Honolulu once had a good bus service. No longer. And raiding the modernization fund will just destroy what’s left of it.
Extending the excise tax surcharge to forever for Oahu is also under consideration.
Expect someone in the Legislature to propose extending it to the Neighbor Islands.
Note to Joe Souki: Do not allow it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mr. President, tear down that pipeline!

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post has a weekly feature on "Who Had the Worst Week in Washington." I don't think much of it; it's part of the inside-the-Beltway self-preening mechanism, and one of the numerous features that make the Post sound more childish than some of its competitors.

But even though I don't read it, as a subscriber to the Post, I know who Cillizza picks, the same way I know which Kardashian is in crisis this week: because I see the headline. Last week, in one of the more embarrassing journalistic pratfalls of 2014, Cillizza declared that Barack Obama had had the worst YEAR in Washington.

Obama then scored his penalty kick right in Putin's breadbasket, reveled in glowing economic reports and jiu-jitsu'ed the Republicans on appointments in the lame duck session of Congress. The opposition?

They managed to irritate the Latino voters, again (and they probably voted to repeal Obamacare though I didn't see that reported, but they do that an average of once a week, so they probably did).

However, I did not come here just to jeer at Chris Cilliza. I came to state what is obvious: The people who really had the worst week in Washington were the fascist lovers in the American rightwing. (Not all rightwingers are fascists but all fascists are rightwingers.)

Rachel Maddow also noted part of it. With her staff she was able to do what would have taken me days and days: Assemble a gallery of love-notes to the man she called "J. Alfred Putin" by various American fascists and fellow travelers. These ranged from Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani to various blowhards at Fox.

Maddow professes to find the love affair between American rightwingers and Putin puzzling, but she knows a lot of history and I suspect she really isn't all that surprised. After all, she included a photo of Putin with his shirt off, and I am sure she knows which other fascist who was the darling of the American right liked to take off his shirt for the masses.

No, I don't mean Clint Eastwood. This one:

(Digression: I had not thought of this before, but it is odd that that the man who introduced shirts into the vocabulary of politics was so eager to doff his.

(As Barbara Tuchman relates in a hilarious passage in "The Guns of August" about how the chief of staff of the Prussian Army died in his tutu (no, really), there is always a strong strain of suppressed homoeroticism and wishing to be dominated by a masterful, take-charge guy among rightwingers.)

(Query: We know Putin considers himself knowledgeable about history. Did he model his decamisadoismo on Mussolini or is it just a case of like minds thinking alike?)

It is amusing to note that -- as Maddow mentions in passing but does not highlight -- it was the rightwing hero Putin and not the leftwing demon Obama who canceled a pipeline last week. I swear, you can't make this stuff up.

In other news of American fascism, Obama stuck one in the eye of the Cuban fascists by threatening to normalize relations with Cuba. Younger Cuban Americans apparently thought, "About time" if they thought anything at all, but the older ones remained true to their anticommunism.

It is only restating the obvious to note that anyone who fled Cuba after Castro turned it left did not flee the equally antidemocratic but rightist despot Batista. Few -- perhaps none -- of the Cubans who flooded south Florida and poisoned its politics for the past half century were democrats.

They had no problems with fascism.

Curiously, the paladin who chose to snatch up the falling banner of Cuban-American fascism as it was falling toward the ground was Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the very, very few Cuban-Americans without the ancestral fascist taint.

Although Rubio's own version of his family history attempted to link it to the rest of the fascist diaspora, reporters have shown that his parents were apparently not political. They left Cuba during Batista's fascist regime but not to get away from him. They just thought it would be easier to grow rich in America and they were right. But not far right.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Legitimate rape' part deux

You know how they say that all publicity is good publicity (except maybe around Sony Pictures)? Missouri, then, must be in hog heaven, publicity-wise.

“I’m just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you’re going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed,” Brattin says. “That’s just common sense.”
Brattin later said his use of the phrase "legitimate rape" was in a different sense than one-time Missouri senate candidate Todd Akin's use.

Who knew that the Show-me State was full of such subtle thinkers?

(Also, isn't capitalism the greatest? You cannot push around an American capitalist, even if you are just a shadowy generator of digital pathways. No sirree!)

Safety v. risk

Sometimes I worry that RtO is repetitive. I have put up something over 2,000 posts since early in 2008, and I don't have 2,000 ideas, nor do I know about 2,000 things.

When I was a reporter, I didn't worry about redoing stories, because our readership churned so much (what with people moving in and out, dying and growing up) that I figured that any story more than four years old couldn't have been seen by half my current readers. And -- let's be frank -- most of the other half had forgotten it.

Blogging is, or may be, different. I don't know. But I do worry about driving off readers by too much repetition.

But perhaps I worry too much. In the early days of RtO, I wrote a number of posts trying to explain the difference between a "risk" bank and a "safe" bank. The idea is not complicated or deep, but as we learned in October 2008, most bankers don't understand it. (Readers of RtO learned it even earlier, as I had been hammering the idea all summer and predicting the crash. Roubini got famous, I didn't. Readers who heeded my mantra in the summer of 2008 -- conserve cash -- probably saved themselves a lot of grief.)

It has been years since I've written about risk banks and safe banks. (I had actually been lobbying local investors on the subject back before there was an RtO -- even before there was an Internet -- as a method of driving local economic development. But no one with money took it seriously.)

It turns out that the lesson of 2008 was not learned by bankers and not learned by rightwing politicians. Imagine my surprise.

I recommend Dave Hellings' piece in the Kansas City Star. I'll even say his explanation of the difference between a risk bank and a safe bank is clearer than any of my attempts ever were.

A swap is often compared to insurance — or, critics say, a bet. A lender pays a premium to a third party, who must pay the lender back if a loan goes sour.
If that third party misjudges too many loans, though, and too many loans default, he loses the bet and the money runs out, leaving the lender unprotected. In 2008, many swaps designed to insure risky loans collapsed, and lending banks turned to the government for help.

Read more here:
And remember: unregulated markets crash.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Soft power works


From time to time I copy a post from my Kamaaina Loan blog here. Like now. And mainly just to needle the rightwing dimwits who were sure weak-kneed Obama was not warlike enough to earn respect in the rest of the world like, say, Dick Cheney.

Dick Cheney, who around the world doesn't respect him?

It seems pretty obvious from here that Obama's policy of using sanctions -- which never work, right? -- is working. Whether that is an unblemished good thing is an open question but it's a lot cheaper than starting wars and losing them. Now to copy myself:
When asked about the direction gold will take, Big Rich always says, “It will go up, or it will go down, or it will stay the same.” Seldom does it do both so enthusiastically during one 24-hour period than it did Monday and today, however. As Bloomberg News reports:
Gold rebounded from yesterday’s biggest drop this year as investors sought a haven amid turmoil in emerging market economies and falling commodities.
Russia’s ruble plunged to a record low after the country’s largest interest-rate increase in 16 years failed to revive confidence in the currency. The Turkish lira also tumbled to an all-time low.
Your Christmas (or Hanukkah) present is you don’t have many Turkish lira. Lucky you.
(Silver did not get the same kind of love. When nervous people with money look for comfort, they don’t look to silver — usually.)
The New York Times has much more about why gold did the big turnaround. It’s the ruble. It was less than 20 years ago that Russia defaulted, bringing down Long-term Capital Management and its two Nobel prize-winning advisers who didn’t understand that things can change on a dime — or 10 kopecks.
The economic news had another victim not mentioned in the news reports: Obama haters. Remember how they were sure that Obama’s “soft power” tactics were making the United States a pitiful has-been? Well, the five countries that are subject to US (and to some extent international) economic sanctions are all on the verge of economic collapse: Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba.
It might not be a great idea to collapse countries with nuclear weapons, but the sanctions were meant to have an effect and they are having it.
As always, Kamaaina Loan is ready to buy or sell gold for you at whatever the day’s price is. We don’t care about the ruble.
#mauipawn #mauiretail
UPDATE Wednesday

For a moment there, I thought I had found a source ready to credit Obama's foreign policy for its success.  Matt O'Brian's lede was promising:

A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia's economy imploded.

But then he went off to write about something else. That something is worth reading: Russia is caught in a classic liquidity trap.

Individuals, firms and even sectors can get caught that way, but when it happens to a whole national economy (at least under modern conditions), it is almost always the result of national government policy. The Republicans did it to America in the 1920s and again in the 2000s, and as we learned -- or, some of us, didn't learn -- both times, a deflationary spiral is almost impossible to deal with.

That's why you want to accept plenty of perhaps otherwise suboptimal conditions to avoid one.


Paul Krugman has cogent comments (all from an interior Russian perspective, nothing about US policy), but being a city boy he leaves out Russia's intractable problem: food.

Putin, also a city boy, has done nothing about it and perhaps nothing can be done (although I think something could). The tsars couldn't do it, the peasants on their own couldn't and the Bolsheviks couldn't. All at least tried.

The USSR did not fall because Reagan scolded Gorbachev. It failed because it could never devise a workable agricultural policy. It increased grain production enormously -- faster even than its very rapidly growing population -- but it was very costly grain. Eventually, the uncovered costs emptied the Russian fisc.

To some extent Putin did the same with oil. Some years ago, it was freely predicted that Russian petroleum production was going to contract. It did not. But its costs were uneconomic compared with efficient producers.

Oil is a funny thing. For longish periods even inefficient producers can appear to be getting rich. But not indefinitely.

(In a peculiarly Russian wrinkle, too much of the grain was used to make vodka with terrible social consequences. Lucky for Russians, you cannot drink oil.)

A very, very bad week for gun nuts

It was a very, very bad week for America’s gun nuts. And since it was the anniversary of the Newtown slaughter of the innocents, decent Americans were often thinking about gun nuttery.

The gun nuts did not disappoint.

Working backward, I was having a late lunch in a redneck joint (pulled pork, cole slaw, dirty rice and a Diet Dr Pepper, can’t get more redneck than that) yesterday, and the teevee over my head was tuned, of course, to Fox. I couldn’t hear but the screen text read: Hostage Standoff Raises Questions about Australia’s Gun Laws.

Well, actually, no, among decent people the Sydney kidnapping did not raise any questions about Australia’s gun laws, which have resulted in 0 -- that’s zero, nil, nada, not any -- slaughters of innocent children since their passage about 15 years ago -- in response to Australia’s version of Newtown.

It will come as a surprise to no decent person that although three towns near Philadelphia were being searched for a gun nut who had slaughtered six members of his ex-wife’s family, Fox was NOT suggesting: Pennsylvania Manhunt Raises Questions about America’s Gun Laws.

You will not be surprised either to learn that the National Rifle Association had no comment on its website about Pennsylvania Manhunt, only an ad for it “exciting new brand,” NRA Tactical. I can imagine who is going to be excited about that:

Kory Watkins, leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, who this week called for overthrowing the gummint (this was his response to news that a member of his group had murdered her husband and his daughter):

“On Saturday the president of a Texas open-carry group called for like-minded followers to join him in marching on Washington to “arrest the bankers, crooked politicians and restore liberty here in our country” at gunpoint.
“Saying that voting ‘is not working,’ Kory Watkins, president of the Open Carry Tarrant County, wrote on his Facebook page: ‘Have you ever thought we might just need to organize a very large group of our own people. Like 200 from each state so we can march armed to DC take over the city, arrest the bankers, crooked politicians and restore liberty here in our country? I’m not scared. I mean really… and waiting is not working!’ ”
Watkins is sorta famous for dragging his young daughter away from a Sonic because it was “not safe” because Kory Watkins was asked not to carry his semiautomatic penis substitute in.

Do any of the gun nuts who read RtO want to argue that Kory Watkins is the kind of centered, stable personality who should be allowed to go anywhere with his loaded gun? (There are gun nuts reading; you will meet one shortly.)

Well, if Kory Watkins is NOT a raving lunatic, then there should be no safer place in the country than a gun store in Tarrant County. Thus it is hard to explain this news from Ft. Worth:

“Fort Worth police are looking for the person who shot and killed a clerk at a gun store.
“Police say the man was shot multiple times Saturday evening at the Military Gun Supply store and was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Police are trying to identify a person of interest seen in video footage from the store.”

Whenever I call gun nuts gun nuts, one (or more) of them whine. They resent being classed with other crazy people. So let’s finish with a couple of examples (in addition to Kory Watkins) of ammosexuals being NOT CRAZY. First, G. Baker, writing a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle:

“Regarding ‘Want to know what grand jury will decide in Ferguson? Look to Harris County,’. . . the author is implying that a police officer should give thugs of this world th benefit of the doubt. Having police officers in my family, I can tell you that is not how I feel. The suspect doesn’t do exactly as you ask? Shoot.”

And then there is Colin, a reader of RtO, who is also sane and reasonable, as you will quickly see  from reading this paragraph from a longer e-mail:

“Oh and your rants about gun owners, come on. Your so tough the way you talk. I mean living on Maui is such a dangerous place and you do it with out a firearm, how do you manage? How do you think you would fare in Fergusson. They would eat you alive! You would wish you had a gun for protection, I wish you wouldnt so there would be one less of you to spew your word vommit. Hey do you know that more people are bludgeoned to death each year than shot with rifles? Do you know that your government just put out a report that they estimate that between 500,000 and 2,000,000 people have been saved by firearms?? NO you libtards dont want that fact known, it destrpys your narrative. Maybe before you go popping off in your little bubble you realize that their is a real world out there that people are trying to survive in and enjoy the security of having a firearm and that includes police, fire, doctors, lawyers, etc. No your just a big fat stupid libtard popping off his mouth on  a little tiny island of la la land!

“Hey Mele Kalikimaka and go Fuck yourself!!”

As Wayne Lapierre says, an armed society is a polite society.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Malaria is still the king of diseases

From The New York Times:

The World Health Organization reported steep declines in malaria cases and deaths compared with 2000 in a report released early Tuesday, saying the progress was particularly notable in Africa, where the disease is most prevalent. But the W.H.O. coupled the news on malaria with a warning that it could worsen again in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries worst hit by the Ebola virus, which has overwhelmed their public health systems. In its World Malaria Report 2014, the W.H.O. said the malaria mortality rate fell by 47 percent worldwide and by 54 percent in the Africa region between 2000 and 2013. It attributed the improvement largely to advances in diagnostic tests as well as increases in the use of insecticide-treated bed nets and effective drug therapies. Malaria was responsible for about 584,000 deaths worldwide last year. While the scope of Ebola pales in comparison, it is far deadlier. In the W.H.O.’s latest Ebola update, on Monday, it reported 17,800 cases, including 6,331 deaths, since the outbreak began early this year.
Still 100 times more deadly than Ebola fever, even with the improvements. It is  noteworthy, also, that the new, lowered death count is higher than the lower bound of the generally accepted estimates of 500,000-1,000,000.

Most of the dead are babies and infants in areas without doctors, clinics or modern medicine.