The way things look ...
cat on bed deer in cemetery slave cemetery Christmas lights on balcony Christmas bow and bells display

Presidential Job Approval
(Gallup, weekly)


Legal immigration has been around 1m a year for the past decade, and is edging down as a share of the population. Illegal immigration more or less came to a halt in 2007. Since then, the number of illegal immigrants freshly arrived in the country has been roughly balanced, or exceeded, by the number who have left, died or been deported.
The Economist ("How migrants help")

12/5/14 -- Christmas all over again!
Are you the Grinch this year, or are you George Bailey running through town without a hat or winter coat on? This year's Skelly Family Christmas Website will show you how your own emotional state tracks with everyone else's. Also, find out when your favorite Christmas carol comes from.

 12/5/14 -- How Long Time Before Republicans Embrace Global Warming? 

No doubt, when the moment becomes right, Republican politicians will make this cause their own.

The electoral cycle may smile on Republicans lately, but Mother Nature does not. Which is why it's only a matter of time before many of our red states start to seek federal help to pay for their property/casualty policies.

That will be when lawmakers in those states see the light and clutch Global Warming to their collective bosom. And stop insisting it's all a plot by sinister scientists out for financial gain. (Hey, at least they're capitalists.)

It won't be as hard for them to do an about-face as you might think. As has been pointed out before, most red states, rhetoric notwithstanding, already have a predisposition to rely on gobs of federal support.

A 2014 study done by Wallet Hub showed all states get back more per capita from the federal government than they pay in federal taxes, but red states consistently hover near the top of the pack.

It's a classic case of Do What I Say.

Yup, it's raining alright, and it ain't raining men. Or cats. Or dogs. Except, of course, where they're in drought. Or the landscape is on fire. Or the wind is blowing down the front door. Damn those scientists. Why do they have to be so scientific?

Top Ranking States for
Property Damage from Severe Weather:
Estimated property damage: $3.5 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 93
Extreme drought has plagued Arizona and much of the Southwest for several years now, resulting in record-breaking wildfires. In addition, a series of severe thunderstorms in 2010 produced numerous tornadoes and hail around Phoenix, causing an estimated $2 billion in damage.
Governor: Republican
Legislature: Republican
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 39.35%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $1.62
Estimated property damage: $3.7 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 70
In 2013, record rainfall led to significant flooding in several Colorado cities, but 2012 was the worst year for wildfires in the state. Meanwhile, winter weather is a threat every year.
Governor: Democratic
Legislature: Split
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 32.06%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $0.84

Estimated property damage: $3.9 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 66
Although Louisiana's costliest disaster, Hurricane Katrina (2005), came before the timeframe for this list, Louisiana still suffered significant flooding when Hurricane Isaac struck in 2012.
Governor: Republican
Legislature; Republican
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 44.26%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $3.35
Estimated property damage: $3.5 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 93
Several hurricanes, including Hurricane Isaac in 2012, caused extensive flooding in Mississippi, while thunderstorms resulting in costly tornadoes have plagued the state in recent years.
Governor: Republican
Legislature: Republican
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 45.84%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $3.07

Estimated property damage: $3.7 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 70
In 2013, record rainfall led to significant flooding in several Colorado cities, but 2012 was the worst year for wildfires in the state. Meanwhile, winter weather is a threat every year.
Governor: Democratic
Legislature: Split
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 32.06%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $0.84
Other posts on this page ...
Opposites don't always attract.
Jobs matter if the president wants to keep his.
Social Networking! Are you up to it?
Why Budget Fights are no fun anymore
Eighteenth Century Vocabulary Test
The definition of insanity.
The rising cost of speaking your mind.
Here come the Republicans.
Need a job? It's best if you already have one.
Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.
Living up to the hype.
Estimated property damage: $3.9 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 66
Although Louisiana's costliest disaster, Hurricane Katrina (2005), came before the timeframe for this list, Louisiana still suffered significant flooding when Hurricane Isaac struck in 2012.
Governor: Republican
Legislature; Republican
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 44.26%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $3.35

Estimated property damage: $5.0 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 346
The Joplin, MO tornado on May 22, 2011 was one of the deadliest in U.S. history (158 deaths) and generated $2.2 billion in insurance claims, according to an Insurance Information Institute analysis of data from ISO's Property Claims Service.
Governor: Democratic
Legislature: Republic
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 40.83%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $1.05
Estimated property damage: $5.1 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 224
Tennessee was one of several Southeast states hit by the tornado outbreak in April 2011. In addition, the state's largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, have suffered billions of dollars in damage due to flooding in recent years.
Governor: Republican
Legislature; Republican
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 41.27%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $1.64

Estimated property damage: $23.7 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 313
Unfortunately, being the second largest state in total area makes you a large target for severe weather. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are always common in Texas and often produce destructive hail, but Hurricane Ike in 2008 reminded Texans of the constant hurricane threat the state faces by being positioned along the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, wildfires - such as the 2011 Bastrop fire that destroyed more than 1,500 homes - are also common.
Governor: Republican
Legislature: Republican
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 35.13%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $1.43
Estimated property damage: $26.4 billion
Weather-related fatalities: 87
New Jersey tops the list mainly because of damages from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, which was the second-costliest storm in U.S. history. Another storm struck the state shortly after, bringing heavy snow that caused significant power outages and damage.
Governor: Republican
Legislature: Democratic
Fed Funds as % of State Rev.: 27.53%
Return on $1 in Taxes Pd to the Fed Gov't: $.88

Severe Weather Statistics from and the National Weather Service
Source: © 2012 Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety
States Most & Least Dependent on the Federal Government: WalletHub
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I don't think it's that conservatives are out of touch with their constituents and unwilling to listen to others, so much as as that they are in touch with a highly organized infrastructure of pressure groups dedicated to lobbying them to vote even more conservatively than their overall constituency might wish. Liberals have never been able to (or, more commonly, sought to) match the extent of state-by-state organizing and statehouse lobbying of conservative groups and causes ....
Garance Franke-Ruta,
The Atlantic
("Are Americans as Conservative as Their Elected Officials Think?")

 10/24/14 -- How Do You Like Me Now? 

Today's word is po-lar-i-za-tion, and even Sarah Palin doesn't get everything wrong.

The "lamestream media" breathlessly report how polarized our nation's electorate has become. Then, after inhaling, they marvel at how the president's approval ratings drop with each anguished Republican howl over the latest crisis of the day.

Mandy Patinkin (Inugo) to Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

The President is now so unpopular that Democratic Senate candidates are afraid to be seen in public with him, to invoke his name or even admit they voted for him. Holy cow! How did this guy ever get elected?

Of course he's unpopular, leastways with half the country. Why? Because his policies are a failure? Because nobody agrees with his values and goals? Because he's really a Kenyan or a Muslim? Mainly it's because he's a Democrat. That's what polarized means.

On This Week With George Stephanopoulos (not this week; last week), Peggy Noonan, former Bush Sr. speechwriter, was chortling good naturedly, as she does, about how the President made a tactical error reminding people his policies are on the ballot even if he isn't. Because Democrats seem secretly afraid his policies have actually been a disaster for the nation.

Only to you Peggy, only to you. See, you're a Republican. Democrats actually seem to like the president's policies. Which is why they consistently give him an 80% approval rating. Their main regret is that more of his policies haven't made it into law.

They didn't like the way Iraq was sold or the way Afghanistan was handled. They think birth control restrictions are unconstitutional. They believe voter ID is a cheap political ruse to keep Democrats from voting.

They think government shutdowns are stupid. They want most of Wall St. not just regulated but jailed. They think Benghazi was a tragedy, not a conspiracy. They're sure global warming is real.

They don't want Social Security privatized, and as far as they're concerned, Obamacare is working. That's how you can tell they're Democrats, Peggy.

Stephanopoulos just let her talk, nodding his head like a bobble-head doll. He was probably trying not to look polarized.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that presidents tend to be much more popular with their own party than with the opposition, and somewhat more so than with independents.

What has changed is the margin of difference. The situation used to be more genteel than it is today. You don't have to look back past your own lifetime. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were not uniformly despised by that part of the general public that weren't of their party. Only by the Senators and Congressmen who weren't of their party. And not even all of them.

Reagan used to enjoy after-hours cocktails with Tip O'Neil. Clinton and Newt Gingrich used to ride Air Force One together. Okay, there the example begins to break down.

One suspects there's not a Republican in America willing to be seen drinking in public with the current president.

Recess Slightly dorky video, but tuneful song and with admirable attitude. Noteworthy special touch: crotch-spanking cheerleaders.
Rel. 11/1/1999

A little wonky, perhaps, but the table below illuminates the trends of our daily dislikes and how they've grown over the years. It displays the divergence between recent presidents' average overall approval ratings and those ratings broken down along party lines. The two diverging values are then added together (ignoring + or - signs) to create a "polarization" index.

The combined divergence values per president, and therefore party polarization, have clearly grown since Reagan and have grown more significantly in the time of Bush 43 and Obama.

Overall Job Approval vs Approval by Party
  Job Approv. (avg) party diverg. (avg) oppo. diverg (avg) Polariz-ation Index
Reagan 51.5% +28.3 -20.3 48.6
Bush 41 63.0% +19.4 -16.0 35.4
Clinton 54.4% >+27.1 -29.1 56.1
Bush 43 50.3% +34.1 -27.8 61.9
Obama 48.4% +34.0 -33.3 67.3
Next, charting the presidents' approval ratings grouped by political category lends another layer of insightful specificity. Average overall approval ratings for Obama and Bush 43 are somewhat lower than those of their predecessors, but the declines can be readily traced to the progressively lower approval ratings awarded to each by their respective opposition parties.

Independent category ratings don't show pronounced movement, and the step down to Bush 43 and Obama is mostly a decline in the number of true independents. Nominally, the category has grown to over 20% of the electorate, but it's estimated that fully half are independents in name only who in reality lean heavily towards one party or the other.

Job approval scores from each president's own party stay resiliently high, headwinds be damned. At the nadir of George W. Bush's presidency, after he'd been hammered by Hurricane Katrina, Alberto Gonzales, Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, Tom DeLay, Valery Plame, Interior staffers sleeping with oil and gas representatives, not to mention the financial meltdown, Republicans were still giving him approval ratings in the mid-70s.

But opposition approval ratings are what make the telling difference. Two things quickly become very clear. One, George Bush Sr. was a really likable guy, no matter what your political loyalties. And two, that was then. Nobody likes the other party's guy anymore. Oppo approval ratings have tanked since Reagan to the point where Bush 43 and Obama are down to the single digits.

When Reagan's job approval rating was at its all-time low in 1982, Democrats still scored him at 43% of what his own party did. If Obama could collect 43% of his Democratic rating from today's Republicans, his overall job rating would be mid-50s rather than the low-40s, and the fourth estate would need something else to talk about. Bill Clinton was getting approval ratings in the 30s from Republicans even as the House of Representatives was impeaching him.

But if Democrats like Obama so much, what's the problem? Why are his own party's Senate candidates treating him with the deference reserved for an untouchable? That's probably a good question, but the thinking is, those guys are running in states where the electorate has turned Republican. Being a Democrat or being seen with one could be a liability.

A third of the Senate's seats are in play each election cycle, and by random chance this time the bulk of closely contested races are in red-leaning states.

The states most likely to cost Democrats control of the Senate (because they're moved to the right or because the incumbent is a retiring Democrat) are Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, Iowa, South Dakota and West Virginia (which now votes red in national elections but blue in local elections.) Democrats are probably just getting outraced in Colorado.

There still are Democrats in those states (and they still like Obama), but not as many as there used to be. So the strategy appears to be to hope the voters will overlook the fact that you're a Democrat. There was a time when that could, and did, work. People would vote for the person rather than the party. But by and large, those days are gone (QED).

So if you're a Democrat running in one of those red states, what, indeed, is the point of pretending? Might there not be a better chance in wooing your natural constituency? Embrace their values—Obama's values—and try to win on turnout?

North Carolina is a state that will be decided purely on turnout. Could Kay Hagan help her cause more by saying, "Hell yes, I support Obama, and Republicans are cheating you to death on Medicaid out of pure spite, so get out and vote." (Right now she's winning, so maybe not.)

But if you're a Democrat in Georgia or Arkansas or Alaska (or North Carolina) and you can't win as a Democrat, chances are you won't win by implying you're really a Republican. They've already got one of those.

Republicans, enjoy your moment if a moment it be. And Democrats, seek solace in the future. In the 2016 Senate race, the tables will be turned. A majority of battleground races should be in blue states then. Geography is destiny.

Of course, that will probably be too late to save Obama from impeachment. Elections have consequences.

Our response to pandemics—whether SARS, avian influenza, MERS, or Ebola—has become predictable. First, there is the panic. Then, as the pandemic ebbs, we forget.
Michael Specter,
The New Yorker
("The Fear Equation")

 10/8/14 -- "That was a lovely summer nigh-yi-yi-yight" 

Don Henley was right. Nobody on the road. Nobody on the beach. The boardwalk is empty. There's a chill in the air.

But summer is never really out of reach; you'll always have your memories. And there are no bad memories of summer. Or at least in time there won't be. Just be patient

Here was this summer's top-15 playlist on the Summer Song Jukebox. Feel free to reminisce.

Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences.
Long ago it must be, I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you.
Paul Simon, "Old Friends/Bookends"

Summer of 2014 Top 10 Playlist:

 1) Here Comes Summer Jerry Keller (1959)

 2) Sealed with a Kiss Brian Hyland (1962)

 3) Boys of Summer Don Henley (1984)

 4) The Lonely Surfer Jack Nitzsche (1963)

 5) See You in September The Happenings (1966)

 6) Harbor Lights Francis Langford (1937)

 7) Theme from A Summer Place Percy Faith And His Orchestra (1959)

 8) Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer Nat King Cole (1963)

 9) Wipeout The Safaris (1963)

10) Love Letters in the Sand Pat Boone (1957)

11) All Summer Long The Beach Boys (1964)

12) Summer Rain Johnny Rivers (1967)

13) Pipeline The Chantays (1963)

14) Girls on the Beach The Beach Boys (1964)

15) Summer Song Chad and Jeremy (1964)

Go to Summer Song Jukebox

You probably heard: Paul Revere Dick died Oct 4 in Garden Valley, Idaho, at age 76. Founder, front man and organist of the eponymous band, Paul Revere and the Raiders. Irrepressible showman, nicknamed the "madman of rock and roll." (What did they know back then, eh Ozzie?) Promoted by Dick Clark, who knew a good thing when he heard it. Not a cutting-edge group, more a high-energy pop-rocking teen band jumping and hopping on stage in Revolutionary War costumes. (CNN headlined Revere's passing: "60s rocker dies at 76," and then dropped it into their second deck within 12 hours.) But the group's style importantly marked a clear demarcation between wholesome pop music and creeping psychedelia. Music in the late 60s turned dark, cold, sexually explicit and psychopharmacologically twisted. Then disco came along, and that was that. Revere was not the lead singer. That was the strongly piped Mark Lindsay, who in time plied a brief solo career and then a wide variety of gigs in various facets of the music industry encompassing writing, producing, engineering, movie scores and commercials. The group's hits included "Kicks" (Billboard Pop Chart No. 4), "Hungry" (For the Good Things, Baby) (No. 6), "Good Thing" (No. 4) and "Indian Reservation" (No. 1). "Kicks" was probably the first popular song to chart with an anti-drug theme. Perhaps the message didn't get through, but The Raiders were surely a band for the end of the era. Just ask Dick Clark.

 10/1/14 -- You Like Me, You Really Like Me! 

What does it take to be popular? Generations of high schoolers have dreamt of finding the elusive code to that coveted status. In vain. Most of us never did figure it out.

But when you're the President, all you have to do to be popular is get the unemployment rate down below 5.5%. So much easier than being a teenager.

The converse is also true. If employment doesn't come down, you will surely be unpopular. And what if you happen to inherit unusually high unemployment? Won't you get some credit for bringing the rate down even if you don't get it to 5.5%? Not really. Why not? Because people are cruel. Didn't you learn that in high school?

After Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, he watched his approval rating sink steadily to 35% as unemployment climbed, to 10.8%, in the recession of 1982. Nothing helped.

Almost nothing. Obviously other things move the needle, too. Reagan's approval rating spiked to 68% after he was shot by John Hinckley, Jr in 1981. Although it almost immediately reversed itself and resumed its steady slide. A 2010 Pew Research Report on presidential approval entitled "It's All About Jobs, Except When It's Not" probably got pretty close to the mark.

George H.W. Bush ("the first one, the good one," as John Pinette liked to say) racked up an 89% approval rating during the 1991 Gulf War. But he was at 29% in 1992 as unemployment jumped in a declining economy.

The early 1990s recession technically lasted just eight months. But it came along just in time for the election and helped make the man with then the highest average approval rating in modern times a one-term President. He had climbed back up to 56% by the time he vacated the office, even though employment had barely budged. Voters' remorse? Probably, but the damage was done.

Unemployment and approval scores don't always move in lockstep, but the 5-6 percent range does look like what technical stock analysts call a resistance level. Once unemployment crosses through there, moving either one way or the other, a President's approval rate starts to accelerate inversely.

People forget, but Reagan—a feel-good kind of guy if ever there was one—found himself bedeviled by sliding approval ratings during both terms in office. In his first term, he didn't get much over 50%, and stayed there only tenuously, until the unemployment rate finally got down to 7% in 1984. (Unemployment would drop to 5.3% by the end of his second term.)

Reagan was reelected resoundingly and enjoyed high approval ratings in '85 and 86.' He would drop back into the mid-40s after Iran Contra broke, but unemployment moved steadily downward during the remainder of his second term, which helped to right his ship.

He climbed again towards the end of his tenure as unemployment fell below the 5.5% mark. (He got a nuclear arms deal with Gorbachev in 1989, which might have also helped.) Reagan went out on a high note (63%) even though he averaged only a 52.8% approval rating over his full time in office.

Bill Clinton, a different sort of feel-good kind of guy, saw a steady if unspectacular gain in his approval scores, apparently no matter what he did, including getting himself impeached. (Granted, a little hit from that one.) But one thing Clinton did have going for him was the continuous drop in unemployment throughout his White House occupancy. He didn't seem to get too much boost from it until it crossed 6%, but from then on it was smooth sailing in a following sea. An opposition-controlled Congress that insisted on making fools of themselves didn't hurt.

Based just on unemployment numbers, George W. Bush should have garnered good approval ratings. After 9/11 he enjoyed an approval rate (90%) that exceeded even his father's. Following the recession he inherited from Clinton (who essentially "got" both Bushes with recessions), unemployment on Bush 43's watch dropped steadily through both his terms, until it suddenly stopped dropping and blew up in the 2008 financial meltdown.

Click here to enlarge.

But Bush stumbled over a variety of issues in some high-profile ways, which contributed to a steady decline in his approval numbers. Issues like No WMDs, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," mismanagement of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, trying to privatize social security, torture, warrantless wiretapping and rampant politicization at federal agencies.

George W. Bush's approval scores bounced down into the 40% range by early 2006, but he would drop even further, to 28%, once the "Great Recession" took hold and unemployment spiked to 7.4% (from 5.4%) in just six months.

Barak Obama's first major miscalculation took shape before he even took office. In its first month his new administration issued a report predicting unemployment would peak at 8% with the President's proposed $800 billion stimulus package, versus 9% without it.

Few economists grasped in late 2008 how severe the recession really was. Fourth qtr. '08 annualized GDP would decline by 8.9%, a fact not known to Obama's chief financial advisers, Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein when formulating the report's projections. The Bureau of Economic Analysis had estimated the decline would be 3.8%.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been credited with a real GDP boost of between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent, as well as an additional 2 million to 4.8 million jobs. (Republicans! Stop hyperventilating. See "How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End" by Alan S. Blinder and Mark Zandii.) But it was not remotely large enough to counter the country's massive output gap.

It's inconceivable Obama could have pushed a larger package through Congress. Ask any Republican. The three GOP moderates who supported the Stimulus, thus breaking the Republican filibuster, insisted the package not exceed $800 billion. So did a number of centrist Democrats, including Mark Begich (AK) and Mary Landrieu (LA) who are about to close out their Senate careers in November as final atonement for their support of Obama.

It's just as inconceivable ANY response could have been enough to keep unemployment under 9 (much less 8) percent. (It was over 8% by the time the Stimulus passed in Feb. '09.) To this day, Republicans insist the Stimulus was a total failure because it missed its baseline unemployment projection.

A year after Obama signed the bill, the percentage of the public that believed it had created jobs was lower than the percentage that believed Elvis was alive. (Michael Grunwald, Washington Post)

Unemployment reached 10% in November 2009 and then began trending downward from there. Obama's approval rating continued sliding until Feb. 2011. His numbers now hover in the mid-40s, and he continues to be excoriated in some quarters for his disastrous economic policies that are ruining the country.

And yet, the Dow hovers at record highs, the federal deficit has shrunk by half, GDP (4.6% in 2Q14) has been trending positive, if not stellarly so, since 2009, running ahead of almost all other developed economies, and the ranks of the employed (if not the quality of their jobs) have finally surpassed their 2007 peak.

It's worth noting that unemployment remains above 6%. But it is now approaching that magical resistance level. And it will be interesting to see, should it fall below 5.5%, whether regression to the mean will at last trump blind, seething hatred (or rank, unconscionable opportunism, take your pick). Might the President's approval rate actually start climbing? OH, MY GAWD!

And if it doesn't, maybe Obama can take solace in the advice his mother at one time or other surely must have imparted to him, maybe in high school: "Popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be."

A young George H. W. Bush might well have heard that same advice from his own mother but would probably take issue with the sentiment. Maybe not at the time, but soon and for the rest of his life.

 9/28/14 -- Cruz Wins, but Carson a Rising Star, at Values Voter Summit 

2014 Values Voter Summit, Sept. 26-28, Washington, DC
Presidential Straw Poll Results
candidate vote
Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN)
Vice Pres. Joe Biden
former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)
Dr. Ben Carson
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Gov. Mary Fallin (OK)
former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Sen. Mike Lee (UT)
Gov. Susana Martinez (NM)
former Gov. Sarah Palin (AK)
Rep. Rand Paul (KY)
Gov. Mike Pence (IN)
Gov. Rick Perry (TX)
Sen. Rob Portman (OH)
former Gov. Mitt Romney (MA)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Rep. Paul Ryan (WI)
former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
Write-In Cand.

Sen. Ted. Cruz (R-TX) won the Values Voter Summit Presidential Straw Poll for the second year running but by a smaller margin this time. His chief competition and second-place finisher was Dr. Ben Carson, former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and current Conservative media darling. The 2014 Values Voter Summit also featured a Vice Presidential Straw Poll, which Carson Won. (Cruz came in second.) Other top finishers in both polls were Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul. The Values Voter event, which is sponsored by The Family Research Council, attracts primarily social conservatives, who this year listed as their chief national concerns Protecting Religious Liberty (39%), Pro-life/Abortion (19%), National Security (14%) and Repealing Obamacare (6%). The three-day event, first held in 2008, attracted 2,000 registrants, and 901 took part in the straw polls. More than 25,000 viewers watched the event online. (PR Newswire)

 9/23/14 -- 1,000 Words: Whither Thou Goest. (Future trends in Medicare spending) 

He is evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the crisis.
American Orator Edward Everett on Abraham Lincoln ...
... following the latter's election as President. By inaguration, Lincoln's "approval rating" can be estimated [from various sources] at about 25%—roughly equivalent to the lowest approval ratings recorded by modern-day polling. Things would not get better soon. The Emancipation Proclamation was widely considered a joke in both North and South. Rep. Henry Winter Davis called Lincoln's reelection "the subordination of disgust to the necessities of a crisis." Only with his death did Lincoln's popularity soar. (Excerpted from "Evidence for the Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The People at the Polls 1860-1864" by Larry Tagg; Hallowed Ground, Spring '09)

Thought for the Day ...
It's a Mean Old Man's World
CBS News/NYTimes/YouGov Poll: US Senate Race, NC
Aug 18 - Sep 2

Kay Hagan* (D) 39%
Thom Tillis (R) 41%

  gender age ideology
male female 18-29 30-44 45-64 65+ lib mod cons
Hagan (D) 38% 43% 46% 47% 38% 32% 81% 54% 10%
Tillis (R) 50% 31% 17% 34% 40% 58%  4% 22% 73% rel. Sep 7, 2014
Listen: "It's a Mean Old Man's World" by Dinah Washington, Back to the Blues, Roulette, 1963. Arr by Fred Norman.

 9/2/14 -- I Heard It Through the Grapevine  

Social Networking! Your "engagement" in which has become the modern metric for calibrating your "cool" quotient. It measures how close you get to what Cole Porter called in his day, "The last thing in speed." Daddio.

You think you've outgrown such childish stuff. But nobody else has, especially not your kids. Among adult Americans, 87% are online, and 74% of them are active on social networking sites. Women more likely than men. Younger more likely than older. But even 49% of those 65+ are social networkers. So try to keep up.

You say it's hard for you because, well for the most part, you're not even sure what they're talking about with Social Networking. And you don't have a high degree of confidence in your ability to compose meaningful sentiments within some 142-character limit. What is this, haiku?

Social Networking Explained in This Brief Video Tutorial.

Well, fuggedaboutit. Remember when social commentators were bemoaning the younger generation's sorrowful lack of verbal skills? Now everybody's a writer. And a social commentator. Even a photographer.

What matter if it's all banal trash, faster forgotten even than produced? People who create real genius are always long gone before anyone figures out their stuff was any good.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died convinced he was a failure, a flash in the pan. He was the only one buying his books at the end of his life. Vincent Van Gogh died destitute and crazy, and he never sold a painting in his lifetime. Not even to himself. By 1947 It's a Wonderful Life had already been permanently assigned to the dust bin of history. It didn't even earn back its production cost and was shut out at the Academy Awards. Producer Frank Capra was written off by the studios, another washed up has-been.

How democratizing. With no standards, everyone is free to unleash his inner muse. The order of the day is shameless exhibitionism, and the Internet is the modern-day version of Macy's window.

Herewith what is pretty much the au courant definition of social networking: It's a computer system that allows for the creation of distinct user accounts or profiles and lets those accounts communicate with one another.

Just like what The Eagles said about freedom: it's just some people talking. (And you're still a prisoner walking through this world all alone.)

Why do people reach out to each other? It's not really so much about the content. It's more to find or build some kind of commonality. Commonality of interests, of beliefs, or even just a shared past. Sometimes folks are just coming together to "ooh and ah" collectively over a picture someone put up with a purple haze over it.

The Big Three social networks today are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Know what the original unifying social concept behind Facebook was? Which Ivy League college you went to. Sigh. Smart kids and preppies: they still rule the world.

Facebook feeds morbid curiosity. It's a way to keep in touch, or just keep an eye on, that girl you had a crush on in junior year who was so far out of your league that it was never going to happen. It's still not, by the way. She married way above you, and even if she is divorced now she's probably not looking to you to help her put the pieces of her life back together.

1.23 billion monthly active users
757 million daily users
945 million mobile users

Twitter is premised on topical visual commonality. Its trick is that whatever you want to say, or hear, it has to be epigrammatic. And let's face it, you don't really have anything penetratingly deep to say about anything anyway, do you? Not judging by Facebook you don't.

Twitter sentiments, or Tweets, whatever their content, are limited to 140 characters. (A standard established when cybernetic real estate was more valuable than it is today. It endures as a charming quirk. They extend it to accommodate links, and even publish photos now.) It's a proven way for staying in touch with your fan base. Assuming you have one. Donald Trump has 2.67 million Twitter followers.

271 million monthly active users
500 million Tweets sent a day
78% of active users are on mobile

Instagram is limited to posting, filtering and commenting on photos taken with your iPhone or Android. The wonder of you captured in an experiential image offered up to others for their reactions. Enhanced with any of a number of available graphic aftereffects.

200 million users
60 million photos a day

So, each a little different. But the important, the common, the bonding thing is the social intersection. Joined at the hip to your fellow (wo)man, congealed by this social bond. And thus congealed, you may become more than the sum of your parts. In commitatus, you approach the ideal of meaningful human existence.

A Little Product Test.

A select number of random souls who claim to be readers of this website have been asked to participate in a focus-group test of Twitter's (relatively) new feature, direct messaging. The equivalent of the phone industry's introduction of person-to-person calling. Or the invention of email. Why does the world need another way to communicate one person to another in private? That's what this test hopes to find out. The results will be reported, publicly, in a follow-up article. The rest of you won't need to join Twitter. I have nothing to hide.

For a moment (or several) you touch, intimately, another or even several others, like Rita and Phil and Doris the waitress did in Groundhog Day.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) to Rita (Andie McDowell) in Groundhog Day:
"I'm just trying to talk like normal people talk. Isn't this how they talk?"

Rita (who like Penny in Big Bang Theory seems to have no last name:

Doris the waitress (Robin Duke):
"I can come back."

Social Networking premised on a shared place and time.

There were others; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not the first. The rudiments of today's social networking services were around far earlier than most people realize.

The first social networking website,, debuted 15 years ago. Five years later, a site called is credited with spawning the social networking craze that led to MySpace and Facebook.

But even before that, people used computers to communicate and socialize. AOL was a pioneering version of today's social networking sites. It featured member-created communities with searchable member profiles. For a lot of us, AOL was the Internet before there was an Internet.

AOL's instant messaging service (AIM) enabled you to talk with any member of your community who happened to be online, a feature Facebook still maintains. Kids used to carry on chats with 15-20 friends at a time. Granted they were conversations one level up from grunting. "U up?" "Yup, U?" "LOL!"

Actually, social networking is centuries older than computers. Think jungle drums. Think church bells. Religious pilgrimages. Scouting jamborees. Wife-swapping parties. Community bulletin boards, the real kind that used to be in the front of grocery stores and were where you found a baby sitter when you were new in town.

In the eighteenth century, Russian aristocracy would actually send their foot servants running all over town all day long delivering whimsical messages and gossip penned by jaded counts and countesses. The original sneaker network.

With the invention of the postal service, you didn't even have to be rich to join in the fun. By 1900 free mail delivery was the norm in almost 800 US cities. Carriers walked as many as 22 miles a day carrying 50 lb. sacks of local mail. They made twice-a-day deliveries to private residences and as many as four times a day to businesses.

Message: "Nice place to sleep. This hotel destroyed by the fire." (The Hotel Rockwell was among 75 buildings in Monticello, NY burned to the ground in a fire which devastated the village in August 1909.)
Message: "Got your letter this morning. Will write soon. Now do you know what a gridiron is? Sonny"
Message: "Hello goody old soul. You're a long time coming to kill me. Mrs. A. Quinn"

Message: "I hope you still have something to do. I haven't found anything. Yes, will be home about 16th or 16th [sic]. Will write you when I get home."

In the pre-telephone era, People regularly used penny post-cards as a short-form messaging system, for anything from setting up a rendezvous or a reunion to commenting on the weather. Most missives were probably fewer than 140 characters in length.

Certainly they didn't confuse them with sending a letter. They often used post cards to promise they'd write.

So if you've been holding back, relax. You can handle this. Your great-grandma was doing Social Networking long before you were born. And if you're descended from Russian servants, it goes back longer than that.

Today's ruling is also further proof that President Obama's health care law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed.
House Speaker John Boehner ...
... reacting to a DC Court of Appeals ruling that due to unintentionally poor wording the Affordable Care Act, as written, seems to say tax subsidies can be allowed for health insurance bought through state-run exchanges but not the federal exchange, thus confirming he has little future as a rewrite editor.

 7/25/14 -- 1,000 Words: "I'm a giant among lesser men." (Linus to Lucy in Peanuts

Curiouser and Curiouser
"I been down so long it looks like up to me."
Just 23% Think Unemployment Rate Will Be Lower Next Year
A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 23% of American Adults think, a year from today, unemployment will be lower than it is today. That's the lowest level of optimism since December 2011. Thirty-two percent think unemployment will be higher in a year, a new high for the 2014 (sic). Just as many (35%) think it will stay about the same. Ten percent are not sure.

Rasmussen Reports
July 03, 2014

Employment Situation Summary, June 2014
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 288,000 in June, and the unemployment rate declined to 6.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains were widespread, led by employment growth in professional and business services, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and health care. The number of unemployed persons decreased by 325,000 to 9.5 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons have declined by 1.4 percentage points and 2.3 million.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
July 3, 2014

Wages and salaries as a share of GDP.
Credit Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

 6/12/14 -- Bad Fight to Pick. Wrong Time to Pick It.  

You won't have Eric Cantor to kick around anymore. The House Majority Leader lost his primary race to an unknown upstart named Dave Brat, who raised less than $300,000 to mount his challenge.

Brat is an economics professor at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, VA. He ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility. He wants to control the "ballooning" federal deficit. Apparently he was working with last year's PowerPoint presentation.

Remember when House Speaker John Boehner let a clean debt ceiling bill through the House a while back? And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put his own neck on the line to get the same bill past Ted Cruz's filibuster threat (designed to embarrass Senate Republicans)? Did you think the Republican leadership had suddenly undergone sensitivity training?

McConnell said sometimes his job just required him to do the right thing for the country. But let's face it, coming out of Washington that's just crazy talk.

Partly, smart political observers just figured it was good jiu jitsu for Republicans to keep the airways clear so that things like Obamacare and Benghazi could monopolize the stage without distraction.

There was also concern that The People have grown unfond of callow brinksmanship rooted in hostage-taking, especially when engineered by their own government.

But it was also partly this: it's less fashionable to pillory the Obama administration for reckless spending because such attacks are not really buttressed by the facts. Republicans, except for Mr. Brat, have come to recognize that more and more people are catching on.

Obama is in his fifth year as President, and spending, revenue and deficit trajectories are now pretty obvious to all but those with their hands over their eyes. Spending attacks have impact now only if they're quick hits—what Sarah Palin would call the "drive-by" variety.

Mr. Brat may discover in the general election that sustained debate over the budget won't make him much hay. In a recent CNN/ORC Poll, 15% of respondents rated the deficit their top concern.

Not that it's not still an issue—we've still got a deficit—it's just that it's burned out. But it's clear now Obama has actually done a reasonably good job of reversing the trends he inherited. The deficit is down, not up, and he obviously didn't "balloon" spending by any measure imaginable.

What are Republicans like Mr. Brat to do? They'd rather die than give Obama credit for anything. Must they now, at the very least, credit him for not really breaking anything after all? Oh my Gawd, what a fockin' nightmah," as Mona Lisa Vito exclaims in My Cousin Vinny.

Here's another option. Why not just take credit for the improvement? There are people who'd listen. Like Democrats. Who have long contended that it was congress all along, and not the president, that actually controlled spending. That's what legislation does. (And why it's hypocritical to refuse to raise the debt ceiling to pay the unfunded bills you've run up.)

Republicans actually did pass legislation that helped lower spending. Maybe they didn't realize what they were doing. Some of it, to be sure, was bad legislation. The sequester(s), which until recently some Republicans were still defending (for it after they were against it), really was a bad idea and never seriously intended to be implemented. Still, who can deny that, in a ham-fisted way, the sequester(s) did lower spending?

Moreover, the budget deals that ended or avoided government shutdowns also resulted in reduced spending, in however poor fashion those deals were arrived at.

So with a clear conscience, Congress can step up to the microphone and say, "You're welcome." Certainly no bigger a lie than "Obama is an alien."

The real reason the budget looks better, of course, has not much to do with the President or Congress. Spending's only gone down by about 1%. The improved federal financial picture, as is almost always the case, is the result of increased revenues, up over 6% last year.

Congress and the President, working together, did little beyond waiting around long enough for things to get better on their own. Why do they call them downturns? Because they never stay down forever, or they'd just be called "downs."

The financial meltdown and concomitant recession are now receding back into the corners of our mind. We only think we remember them. But the "structural" problems are still around, the things that were wrong before things even went wrong.

The social safety net: how much is just the right thing to do, and how much is just waste? "What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty, working class." (Henry F. Potter)

Health care spending per person has outpaced GDP growth per capita by about 1.5% per year since 1985. Net federal spending for healthcare programs can be expected to grow from 4.6% of GDP in 2013 to 8.0% by 2038. (Why do you think politicians wanted health care reform in the first place?)

Not as much to work with as you think

You don't like the Affordable Care Act? Well we can't go back to the way we were because that was bankrupting us. You want to suggest improvements, fine. Just keep in mind the federal government is always going to be the healthcare payer of last resort, no matter how expensive it gets, unless you can accept the sight of people dropping dead on the street.

The social security retirement trust is going broke. (Well, in 30 years.) The disability trust fund is going broke as we speak. The only reason not to sit down and do something about that is if you're philosophically opposed to the whole idea of these programs and harbor a secret hope, which you dare not confess, to do away with them. But that is not the way most Americans feel. (By the way, it's an insurance fund, not an investment fund. Read up on the difference.)

Military spending was getting out of control even before 9/11 and two wars. It needs to readjust to today's world. Only politicians with military installations in their districts don't think so. Along with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Unless of course we're going to go to war with Russia.

And we already have an annual deficit. Admittedly it's been coming down, but it's still over $600 billion, which is over 20% more than we collect in tax revenues. How much tax is the right amount? For the record, taxes have been running about 18.5% of GDP over the past 40 years and have contributed to average deficits of 2.6% of GDP. Is that paying too much historically or too little now (16.7%)? In any event, who's going to make up the difference?

Come. It's time to reason together.

Our political leaders think they're engaged in this discussion even now. But they're really only in the warm-up phase where they simply trade insults. At some point an earnest give-and-take has to commence.

How much social safety net does the country require and can we afford? What is the best government response to rising medical costs? What is the right size military to support our national ambitions and pocketbook? Just address those three things, and that would be a good start.

In today's politics everything is a weapon with which to club the opposition. Why should facts be different?
The Economist

Will this be an ideological debate? Of course. Only instead of taking place in snippets of disjointed jargon on campaign posters and billboards and 3rd party TV ads, let it be done at length and in the open and with real honesty.

No cryptic code words, artful obfuscation, false equivalencies, exaggeration or over-simplification. Terms like "train wreck," "terrorist," socialist," "tyrant" and the like should not be allowed.

"No new taxes" should not be a valid response to anything, merely one of several possible conclusions. Where you end up, maybe, but not where you start. (A more rational and fairer corporate tax code, written by legislators rather than lobbyists, is needed, but we'll talk about that next time.)

This conversation should involve slow talk and small words, and everyone should understand what's really involved and what's really at stake.

Really too much to expect from politicians whose only really pressing need is to get reelected, the devil take the hindmost. Just ask Eric Cantor.

 6/3/14 -- When every single word makes sense, then it's easier to have those songs around 

Take out a sheet of paper. Vocabulary test today.

We know that anyone who claims to speak for the Founding Fathers speaks with larceny in his heart because the true miracle of the US Constitution is that we have one at all. Those guys were contentious.

The Founding Fathers were not of one mind on anything: not law, philosophy, governance, their present situation or their vision for the future. They argued constantly, couldn't agree on anything, and yet they agreed on a Constitution. Probably a lesson in that for the current Congress

What they did hold in common was a bunch of words and phrases that nobody really knows the meaning of anymore. How can we really pretend to understand what they were trying to say if we don't understand the words they were using?

(Technical note: the Founding Fathers and the "Framers" were actually two distinct groups, even though the two terms are commonly used interchangeably. The former produced the Declaration of Independence; the latter crafted the constitution. There were some (notably Washington and Franklin) who participated in both groups.)

"Big Tony" Scalia doesn't need to understand. Scalia's enough of an "originalist" that he can look back 300 years' into the Framers' hearts to see what they were feeling. (Calls to mind "Big Julie" of Chicago and his spotless dice in Guys and Dolls. "I had the spots removed for luck, but I can remember where they formerly was."

Here's a chance to prove you're as smart as a majority of Supreme Court justices. The Heller v District of Columbia decision suggests they too lacked a nuanced working knowledge of either the vocabulary or the grammar and syntax of the authors of the Second Amendment. Or stranger still, what was really on their minds.

We won't get into grammar and syntax today. Whew, right? For one thing we got into that two years ago. (Gluttons for punishment click here.) And two, let's face it, you don't know what an ablative absolute is either.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

“It cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect.
Chief Justice John Marshall (Marbury v. Madison, 1803)

Deep water. Strong currents. Swim at your own risk.

Justice Antonin Scalia's landmark District of Columbia v. Heller opinion rambles on for some 35,000 words. Some parts of it make more sense than others.

At least one part is fairly humorous. Scalia undertakes to parse the 2nd Amendment according to sentence parts of his own invention, invoking a nineteenth century British legal text having nothing to do with grammar or syntax. (He was indirectly assisted in this exercise by fellow law school alum Judge Laurence Silberman, who penned the DC Appeals Court's opinion on the same case.). It's easy to conjure up a mental picture of a collegiate comedy sketch involving a couple of aging Harvard-trained lawyers flunking English Composition 101.

What Scalia never gets close to and what he surely knows, as one so deeply into what was on the framers' minds, is what the 2nd Amendment was really all about: to wit a standing army. As Justice Steven Breyer opined in a companion case, "the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense. There has been, and is, no consensus that the right is, or was, 'fundamental.'"

Anti-federalists were America's 18th-century version of the loud, terrified and small minority certain of the danger embodied in an expanding central government. Anti-federalists didn't like the constitution in general but saw the creation of a professional army, which the new constitution allowed (albeit for limited periods), as a prelude to disarming the citizenry and establishing a dictatorship or, worse, a monarchy.

Who would do this? Why George Washington, of course.

There were precedents to such concerns, to be seen throughout Europe, but the fear seemed to most -- and proved at length to be -- wildly exaggerated in the new world. (Yet that fear lingers to this day, kept alive in the corridors of the NRA and on the sets over at Fox News.)

And indeed Washington, along with his federalist mouthpiece Alexander Hamilton, had big plans for the new country empowered by its new constitution. Hamilton had dreams of a robust national treasury function to match his vision of America as an economic force on the world stage.

Washington wanted to make sure his Revolutionary War soldiers could finally get paid, roads would get funded and built, and a host of other things that weren't getting done by the states under the Articles of Confederation might at last move forward.

What the 2nd Amendment did, above all else, was install the militias as a counterbalance to the "threat" of a national military. (Ironic, no?) The federalists, initially opposed to the Bill of Rights, eventually came around, hoping their compromise would facilitate the constitution's adoption by the states. At which point, the anti-federalists naturally began to oppose.

When the Bill of Rights came to the floor in the House of Representatives in 1789, the 2nd Amendment was reputedly the one discussed the least, according to author Michael Waldman in The Second Amendment: A Biography. "Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia." Virtually every reference to the right of the people to keep and bear Arms was set in terms military defense, he writes.

The People weren't concerned about guns. They didn't question whether you had the right to own one. As far as they knew, in their time and place it was inconceivable to try to live without one. Outlawing guns would be the same as outlawing hammers. To what end? At the very least, they'd have to then outlaw indians.

The 2nd Amendment says nothing about guns; it speaks only about the right to keep and bear arms, whatever that entails, and then all it says is you can't "infringe" it, whatever that means. Even then, the restriction has force only to the extent that a militia is necessary for national security,

Whatever "infringe" does mean, Scalia acknowledges the right can be regulated in any event. Justice Samuel Alito, in his McDonald v Chicago opinion (another gun case, 2010) affirmed that restrictions might include prohibiting possession by felons or the mentally ill, forbidding firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings, or imposing conditions on commercial sales.

So, infringed. What was all the fuss about?

Thought for the Day ...
Odd priorities
global annual deaths from
malnutrition* genetically
modified food
3,100,000 0
*among children under five
(2013 estimate)
sources The Lancet,
The Economist
From The Economist, May 10-16, 2014: Vermont v science

 5/26/14 -- "The water's warm and children swim. And we frolicked about in our summer skin" 

Memorial Day has snuck up on us again. The one day of the year when global warming is an issue to no one, at least not to anyone who's chosen to welcome in the summer with a pilgrimage to the shore. Or to the lake. Or to the woods. Or just out to the back yard.

True to another tradition, we open this "slow down and live" season with a review of the memories visitors were warming up to this spring listening to the Summer Song Jukebox. Herewith, springtime's top-10 summer song playlist.

Time to go out now and make some new memories. Check back after Labor Day, and we'll help you figure out if they're going to be any good. Even if they're not, you can always stick with your old ones and you've got plenty of those. The Jukebox will help you remember them all summer long as time ticks slowly away.

Spring 2014 Top 10 Playlist:

1) See You in September The Happenings (1966)

2) Suddenly Last Summer The Motels (1983)

3) Hot Fun in the Summertime Sly & the Family Stone (1969)

4) Fire Lake Bob Seger (1980)

5) Summer in the City The Lovin' Spoonful (1966)

6) Girls on the Beach The Beach Boys (1964)

7) All Summer Long The Beach Boys (1964)

8) Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer Nat King Cole (1963)

9) Oh, Baby Doll Chuck Berry (1957)

10) Summer Song Chad and Jeremy (1964)

Go to Summer Song Jukebox

 5/11/14 -- Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object. 

In the fourth quarter of 2013, tax revenue was up in 38 states compared to a year earlier. Most states are at last recovering from the recession. Some states, though, are headed in the opposite direction, and their plight is self-inflicted.

Blame it on the tax-cut panacea, a traditionally axiomatic piece of right-wing orthodoxy. To many conservative politicians, there is no economic scenario for which a tax cut is the wrong prescription.

Red-state majorities have been subjecting this belief to a test by fire with unprecedented messianic fervor. It seems no Republican gets elected these days who has any say at all over taxes who doesn't think cutting them is the first order of business. With not a thought given to whether this might be a solution that is at least a little situation-specific.

It's said an Eastern potentate once charged his wise men to conjure up something he could say that would be true and appropriate in all times and situations. And so they created the adage: "And this, too, shall pass away."

That bromide actually seems to work as intended. But the exigencies of economic reality are nowhere near so accommodating to "tax cuts," and in a lot of states that got enthusiastic new Republican governors or legislations or both in the last few years they are starting to find that out.

You'd really have to suspend your common sense a little to think that cutting taxes to raise taxes is a universal general rule. Certainly, there are circumstances where tax cuts can be just the right thing. (It worked okay for JFK in 1960.) But every time? The idea will always get a welcome reception, but life's not like that.

Whatever happened to fiscal conservatism? The father of the Laffer Curve, Arthur Laffer (who readily concedes it preceded him), points out that he popularized the device to show that, in some circumstances (emphasis added), a reduction in tax rates will actually increase government revenue without the need for decreased government spending or increased borrowing.

The Laffer Curve gained popularity in DC at an afternoon meeting between Laffer and Ford Administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1974. He reportedly sketched the curve for them on a napkin to illustrate his argument.

The Laffer postulate: the tax rate that maximizes revenue is lower than you think. E.g., cutting taxes from 80% to 50% could actually increase revenue. Any wonder Dick Cheney would go for this?

Laffer has always acknowledged that the curve should not be the sole basis for raising or lowering taxes. Paul Simon, a good student of human nature like most songwriters, responded to this (unbecoming, for a Republican) timorousness with these lines in The Boxer: "Still a man hears / What he wants to hear / And disregards the rest. / La-la-lai-lai-lai-la-lai-la-la-lai-lia-lai." Besides, it's such a good campaign theme.

The following instructive tale from Bloomberg. The logic for keeping the '01 and '03 federal tax cuts was that small business owners would return their personal tax cuts to the economy by investing in their businesses. The thinking is hard to refute, the authors observe, but it doesn't seem ever to have happened.

The Congressional Research Service, an analysis group run by the Library of Congress, looked at 60 years of economic growth and changes to the top marginal tax rates both for personal income and capital gains. "The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment and productivity growth," the analysts concluded.

Similarly, Martin Feldstein, Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser, co-wrote a paper in 1989 that concluded the 1983-84 economic recovery had been caused mainly by an expansionary monetary policy rather than the administration's personal income tax reductions.

Business tax reductions, as well, are probably overrated as economic stimuli—because they're so low on the expense totem pole.

For most businesses, the cost of labor is probably 15 times the cost of all state and local taxes, said Timothy J. Bartik, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Just the same, state corporate income taxes, which were nearly 10% of all state tax revenue in the late '70s, accounted for only 5.4% as of 2010.

Supply-Side Economics

So then, are the chickens coming home to roost? Well, yes, that does sound like clucking.

New Jersey's credit rating was recently lowered one step to A+ by Fitch due to an $807 million revenue shortfall and the governor's likely use of one-time measures to plug the gap. Most of the shortfall is attributed to a $700 million drop in income-tax collections.

In Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is dealing with a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. Critics say tax cuts the governor pushed through the Republican-dominated legislature are to blame.
(Washington Post.)

North Carolina faces a $445 million revenue shortfall when the fiscal year ends June 30, state budget analysts estimate. Analysts downgraded collections by $191 million compared to what was predicted when the legislature assembled a two-year budget last summer.
(Charlotte News and Observer)

Wisconsin: 2014 revenues slipping BEFORE new tax cuts
Income taxes- DOWN 6.9%
Sales taxes- UP 1.8%
Corporate taxes- DOWN 8.4%
Excise taxes- UP 1.5%
(Jake Hasa blog)
Note: Wisconsin has a healthy reserve.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback secured sizable individual and small business tax cuts in 2012, which conservatives nationally hailed as a model for economic policy. The forecast now is Kansas will collect $700 million less in revenue in fiscal year 2014 than in '13. Legislative staff foresee a $295 million shortfall even after using up all of a $470 million 2013 reserve. (April revenue collections were $92 million short, earning a downgrade by Moody's.)
Pew Charitable Trusts

Missouri's Legislature, with an anti-tax Republican super majority, has overruled Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a $620 million income tax cut. The lawmakers made clear that similar cuts by Kansas were a motivating factor in dropping Missouri's rates. Critics are howling (including Nixon), and outside observers are in full snicker, figuring it's only a matter of time before the "Show Me" state gets shown that sometimes a rising tide swamps all boats.
Citizens for Tax Justice

Not everyone was on board.

 4/21/14 -- Free  Speech ! 

Classical economists, who it seems know more about this than chief justices, tell us money serves three purposes: a medium of exchange, a measure of value and a store of value. None of those equates to speech.

You may as well say money equals sex. Or money equals food. It will buy you either. It will buy you just about anything, including fame, privilege or power. Or even more money.

It actually won't buy you speech. But it will buy you something better: an audience. Someone to convey a message to, or if you don't have one, to drown out someone else's message.

Because the audience is more important than the speech, that's what politicians are really buying when they spend the campaign money supporters contribute to them: an audience.

We call this advertising. And a lot of pretty humdrum politicians, with no original thoughts and nothing much to say beyond some static, shallow, predictable cant, have gotten elected on their ability to buy an audience while simultaneously drowning out the opposition. Talking louder, longer and more emotively.

It was an inevitable progression. From long before the age of advertising, people have shown themselves inordinately disposed to yielding to emotion, believing nonsense and getting confused over what passes for governance.

John Roberts may have a long future ahead of him as a judge, but probably not much of one as a linguist. The Supreme Court's recent McCutcheon v. FEC decision follows in the logical footsteps of Citizens United (2010), which introduced the then-novel notion that money is speech, and no doubt it precurses decisions yet to come framed along the same line of reasoning.

But all this is just idle philosophical musing, no? Mere prattle. The stuff that preoccupies pointy-headed intellectuals. What do changing contribution limitations in the political arena really mean in practical terms? In the long run? Does McCutcheon push us closer to the day when a handful of rich men can buy the presidency? That's what we want to know.

Well, first of all, by whatever tortuous logic it was arrived at, McCutcheon v. FEC basically removes only one rather specific restriction on the monetary largesse one donor can shower on candidates for federal office.

The maximum an individual can give to a single candidate remains at $5,200, for the moment ($2,600 for the primary, $2,600 for the general election). But the aggregate limit an individual can spend on all candidates in a federal election cycle, which was $122,600 ($48,600 to federal candidates, $74,000 to political party committees and "connected" PACs), is now the opposite of a bottomless pit.

Just 591 donors reached the aggregate limit on giving to federal candidates in the 2012 election, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Will McCutcheon goad their enthusiasms?

During oral arguments Justice Kagan estimated that individuals would be able to contribute as much as $3.5 million if they supported every possible federal candidate and cause.

Justice Scalia observed as how that didn't seem like so much money. He may have a point. Or he may be playing fast and loose with other people's money. As the kleptocratically rich super-villain Ivan Tretiak complains to a different bureaucrat in Val Kilmer's The Saint, "Do you think it comes so easy?"

Congressional Campaign Financing

PACs Self-
House Dem 9% 47% 38% 3% 3%
House Rep 14% 48% 24% 12% 3%
12% 53% 15% 12% 8%
18% 42% 12% 20% 8%
2012 spending: approx $1.82 billion

2012 Presidential Election

Obama Campaign Romney Campaign
RAISED: $715,677,692
Sm Indiv Contrib.
Lg Indiv. Contrib.
PAC contributions
Federal Funds
RAISED: $433,281,516
Sm Indiv. Contrib.
Lg Indiv. Contrib.
PAC contributions
Federal Funds
Democrats: Spending Breakdown
Candidate - $683,546,548
National Party - $292,264,802
Outside - $131,303,114
Total Spending - $1,107,114,464

Republicans: Spending Breakdown
Candidate - $433,281,516
National Party - $386,180,565
Outside - $418,635,080
Total Spending - $1,238,097,161

A second consideration: which rich men? Not all Republicans are rich and even more important, not all rich people are Republicans.

Who Can Give What to Whom
Federal Direct Contribution Limits
Individual $2,600 $30,800 $10,000 $5,000 None
Nat'l Party $5,000 No Limit No Limit $5,000 $43,100 to Sen cand per campgn.
State, Dist, Loc Party Cmte. $5,000 No Limit No Limit $5,000 none
PAC (multi-cand.) $2,500 $15,000 $5,000 $5,000 none
PAC (not multi-cand.) $2,500 $30,800 $10,000 $5,000 none
Auth Campaign Cmte. $2,000 No limit No limit $5,000 none

Going back several election cycles, Republican did hold an advantage over Democrats in raising hard-money contributions. Due in part to a sophisticated direct mail network that gave them gave them a superior network of (small, not large) donors.

"Money isn't everwything. I know because I have money, and I also have evewything."
(Gussie Mausheimer: An American Tale)

Barack Obama countered that advantage with his own sophisticated web-based fund-raising in the 2007-08 election cycle. Obama outraised McCain (again by tapping into a bigger universe of smaller donors).

In the 2012 election cycle Republicans took in $807 million in campaign contributions for Federal contests while the Democrats raised $806 million. (And admittedly, big money carried the day.)

Finally, there is the law of unintended consequences, because God does have a sense of humor.

In 1912, with William McKinley, an avowed big-business Republican, running for reelection, party leaders thought it would be a good idea to give him Teddy Roosevelt, for a running mate. Party bosses were beginning to regard Roosevelt, a reform-minded, trust-busting kind of guy and then New York's Governor, nervously.

The office of vice president would serve to quarantine him and any reform schemes he might dream up that might derail the sustained boom the business sector had been enjoying. The vice president really didn't do anything back then, and the office didn't put you in line for anything either. But then McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt assumed the presidency for the next eight years. Roosevelt's reform ideas soon enough got loose, to his party's chagrin.

As Fats Waller observed, "One never knows, do one?" All we know about the future is that it probably isn't going to be what we expect.

McCutcheon could have the effect of buttressing the influence of direct individual donations. But will it be new money, or will donors be inclined to scale back their other donation options? And which party will be more motivated? And which one will come up with the better ideas for using their new options?

Over the last several election cycles direct individual donations were being eclipsed by other options, like bundlers, interest groups, issue PACs and Super PACs. That $5,200 direct individual donation limit? It is to laugh. Sheldon Adelson and his wife pumped $30 million into the Romney campaign through Super PAC contributions. And that after they burned through $20 million for a Super PAC promoting Newt Gingich's primary campaign.

Super PAC donations are supposed to be strategically independent of the candidate's campaign, but that's turning into little more than a kabuki dance. No one in the press gave even a thought to the distinction between the two forms of contributing, and nobody believed for a moment the Adelsons' money wasn't identical in effect and direction to the spending efforts of the Romney campaign itself.

The principal Super PAC behind Romney's 2012 effort, Restore Our Future, was founded in 2010 by Romney aides. Charles Spies, the group's treasurer, was former general counsel for Romney's 2008 Presidential campaign.

PAC Primer

Connected PACs
Of 4,600 registered PACs, most are "connected" PACs established by businesses, labor unions, trade groups, or health organizations. They raise money from managers and shareholders (corporate) or members (unions, interest groups). There are 1,598 corporate, 272 labor union and 995 trade organization PACs. They must disclose donors.

Non-connected PACs
Groups with an ideological mission, single-issue groups, and members of Congress and other political leaders may form "non-connected PACs." This is the fastest-growing PAC category, Numbering 1,594 organizations . They can accept funds from individuals, connected PACs, or other organizations. They must disclose donors./div>
- Leadership PACs
Elected officials and political parties cannot give more than the federal limit directly to candidates but can set up Leadership PACs to make unlimited contributions to candidates, but expenditures can not coordinated with a candidate's campaign. They must disclose donors.
- Super PACs
Super PACs can engage in unlimited political spending on behalf of a candidate, but spending must be done independently of the candidate's campaign. Super PACs can't contribute directly to candidates or parties. Unlike traditional PACs, they can raise money from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups with no limit on donation size. They must disclose donors.
- 501(c)4s
Are not actually PACs, but organizations that promote "social welfare" issues. They are the latest darlings of political fundraisers because the federal tax code permits 501(c)4s to both accept donations in pre-tax dollars and participate in political campaigns and elections as long as their primary activity remains the promotion of social welfare. The identity and specific contributions of donors need not be disclosed.
(All numbers as of Jan. '09.)

How far will it go now? The pace is already quickening, whether due to McCutcheon or no. (The acceleration had started before the decision was handed down.)

Through March, the two parties, PACs and outside groups have already spent close to a billion dollars on political advertising. That counts only organizations required to make disclosure (not Super PACs or 510(c)4s).

Washington Week reports big donors on both sides are lining up to write seven-figure checks to Super PACs. The Senate Majority PAC has raised $11 million this year, spending most of it bashing the Koch brothers and their Super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, which in turn is spending to bash Congressional and Senate Democrats up for election.

American Crossroads, Karl Rove's Super PAC, which had been on the fundraising sidelines following a big 2012, collected $5 million in March alone. Overall spending on the 2014 mid-terms has already reached $55 million, versus $15 million at this same point in 2010.

Whoever you are, the truth really might set you free ... eventually ... but money most probably won't. Just take a look around at rich men anywhere, abstractedly counting their pocket change and worried about which way the vote will go next time. And wondering, could they really change it?

However it turns out, it will be interesting to see what they decide it's worth, this time, to try.

Dept. of You Don't Know, Jack
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
Oklahoma Earthquakes: Ongoing Swarm Produces State's Strongest Quakes of 2014

"A study confirmed that Oklahoma's strongest recent earthquake, a damaging magnitude-5.7 quake in 2011 near Prague, was caused by wastewater injection related to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a method of gas and oil extraction."
The Weather Channel (citing a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.)
March 30, 2014
Shale Energy: 10 Points Everyone Should Know

"No. 9 - Hydraulic fracturing does not cause earthquakes. As seismologists and geologists across the country have already determined, the activity that occurs during the hydraulic fracturing process does not produce vibrations of noticeable size, and there is no evidence it causes earthquakes. Wells are lined with sophisticated monitoring instruments that closely monitor underground pressure."
American Petrolium Institute website
October 2013

 3/8/14 -- Paul Laps CPAC Straw Poll Field. Twice. 

2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Wash DC, Mar. 6-8
GOP Presidential Straw Poll
candidate vote
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH)
Gov. Sam Brownbac (FL)
Dr. Ben Carson (Neurosurgeon)
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Fmr. Gov. Mitch Daniels (IN)
Gov. Nikki Haley (SC)
Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Gov. John Kasich (OH)
Gov. Susana Martinez (NM)
Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK)
Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
Gov. Mike Pence (IN)
Gov. Rick Perry (TX)
Sen. Rob Portman (OH)
Fmr. Sec. of State Cond. Rice
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Rep. Paul Ryan (WI)
Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
Sen. Tim Scott (SC)
Donald Trump (Businessman)
Sen. John Thune (SD)
Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
Fmr. Rep. Allen West (FL)
Voting by 2,459 CPAC attendees,
Last year's winner: Rand Paul, 25%, over Rubio (23%) and Other (14%).

 3/6/14 -- CPAC! It's Alive! Again! 

The 41st anuual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is officially off and running at National Harbor, a convention center on the Potomac River in Prince George's County, MD, just south of D.C. It concludes Saturday night with its annual highlight, its GOP presidential Straw Poll.

This year's ballot, the first of an endless stream between now and Nov. 2016, lists 26 candidates and will likely include the following potential candidates, whether they think they're running or not.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
  • Gov. Rick Perry (TX)
  • Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
  • Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
  • Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK)
  • Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
  • Gov. Nikki Haley (SC)
  • Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
  • Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
  • Donald Trump
  • Dr. Ben Carson
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH)
  • Rep. Paul Ryan (WI)
  • Sen. Tim Scott (SC)
  • Sen. John Thune (SD)
  • Gov. Susana Martinez (NM)
  • Fmr. Gov. Bob McDonnell (VA)
  • Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
  • Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)

A matchup worth keeping an eye on will be Paul v. Cruz for the (with no intended irony) extremest vote. The group conducted its own independent poll among CPAC attendees in advance of the official straw poll. Yes, a pre-poll.

Paul (29%) won the first-day's results, followed by Cruz (17%), Ben Carson (10%), Marco Rubio (10%) and Chris Christie (10%). Jindal and Palin nowhere in sight.

Chairman Richard A. Viguerie characterized his poll's top votegetters as "boat-rockers": all young, limited-government, constitutional conservatives. "The establishment Republican contenders are all at the bottom of the list," he said.

Another highlight at this year's CPAC? The appearance by Chris Christie, the—temporarily beleaguered—Governor of New Jersey who carelessly burned some of his bridges recently.

Christie, who used to just be called pragmatic, has never been popular with the GOP's conservative base and was not invited to last year's confab. Detractors felt some of his positions were just not conservative enough.

But this year all is forgiven. Evidently controversy still sells. (Also worth noting: Christie is one Republican who polls competitively against Hillary Clinton.)

CPAC's official Straw Poll results will be posted here Sat. night as soon as available. According to, since the straw poll began in 1976 it has been conducted four times in midterm-election years when an incumbent Republican president was not seeking re-election.

The winners of those straw polls were Jack Kemp in 1986, Steve Forbes in 1998, George Allen in 2006 and Ron Paul in 2010. None of them was a serious threat to win the GOP nomination two years later, and Allen did not even run.

A lot of the people you always thought were funny will be less so without Harold Ramis. He died Feb. 24 at age 69 after a long, debilitating illness. You know who he was even if you didn't know you knew. He co-wrote Animal House, both Ghostbusters movies (with Dan Akroyd) and Stripes, and wrote, or co-wrote, and directed Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. He was the original head writer for the television series SCTV. He had starring roles in both Ghostbusters films (as Egon Spengler) and Stripes. He had a bit part in Groundhog Day as the doctor who tells Phil Conners (Bill Murray) he may need a psychiatrist (which could have been a straight line). Murray is godfather to Ramis's daughter, but the two men stopped speaking after Groundhog Day. Murray thought Ramis was sacrificing the artistic quality of the film to go after cheap laughs. (Murray went on to make The Life Aquatic and Lost in Translation without Ramis, and also took a flier on The Razor's Edge. Ramis credited working in a mental institution with preparing him to work in Hollywood. He wasn't joking. "It's knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that's connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage ... if I were a businessman, I'd probably be applying those same principles to that line of work."

 2/14/14 -- 16,002 Words: Job Growth '08-'14 ... It's Complicated 

Select a Sector

data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, figures in 000s

 2/9/14 -- War! Good God, Y'all, What is it Good For? 

Mark Twain said there never was a good war: An easy statement to take issue with. Mark Twain never met the Nazis.

Without a war we never would have gotten a Union, and without another we never would have kept it.

Yet Ben Franklin's sentiments matched Twain's exactly, even though he spent his time as Ambassador to France promoting (successfully so) the American Revolution (when not chasing la creme of French womanhood through the salons of Paris).

Barak Obama made it a point to emphasize the necessity of war in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Which had to be, at best, a little unsettling for the Awards Committee to listen to. But in his private moments, Obama would probably agree, one suspects, with Twain and Franklin. (Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham certainly think so.)

Conflicting Emotions

The famous newspaper sportswriter Charles Dryden famously characterized our nation's capital as "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." The great seal of the United States features an American Eagle clutching a bundle of arrows in its left talon and a laurel branch in its right. And the eagle is gazing to its right. (In heraldry, its "dexter" side as opposed to its left, or "sinister," side.)

The Presidential seal features a similar display, only in 1916 President Wilson changed the design so that the eagle's head faced left, towards the arrows. President Truman turned it back in 1945. The man who dropped two atomic bombs on Japan favored imagery favoring peace. Life is complex.

Twain and Franklin were most likely directionally correct, but for America war has always been like that: a touchy subject, subject to intellectual conflicts and periodic about-faces.

Just about no one in America (except McCain and Graham) has a good word for war these days. Even those who are just dying to kill generally are put off by the expense. Not to mention the cost in human lives.

But obviously the United States has, over its history, decided from time to time that the time was right to go to war. And for the most part its citizens have gone. And for the most part been honored for their sacrifice by those who stayed home.

The list of American wars is suprisingly long, but most people think in terms of 12 major conflicts and couldn't name most of the others on the list. Almost a million Americans have given their lives in those 12 conflicts.

The Complete List of US Wars
Military Factory
American Revolutionary War 1775-1783
Northwest Indian War 1785-1795
Quasi-War 1798-1800
War of 1812 1812-1815
1st Seminole War 1817-1818
Black Hawk War 1832
2nd Seminole War 1835-1842
Mexican-American War 1846-1848
3rd Seminole War 1855-1858
Civil War 1861-1865
Indian Wars 1865-1898
Great Sioux War 1875-1877
Spanish-America War 1898
Philippine-American War 1898-1913
Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901
Mexican Revolution 1914-1919
Haiti Occupation 1915-1934
World War I 1917-1918
North Russia Campaign 1918-1920
American Exped. Force Siberia 1918-1920
Nicaragua Occupation 1927-1933
World War II 1941-1945
Korean War 1950-1953
Vietnam War 1955-1975
El Salvador Civil War 1980-1992
Beirut 1982-1984
Grenada 1983
Panama 1989
Persian Gulf War 1990-1991
Operation Provide Comfort 1991-1996
Somalia Intervention 1992-1995
Bosnia 1995-2004
NATO Air Campaign Yugoslavia 1999
Afghanistan 2001-2014
Iraq 2003-2012

America's costliest war measured in casualties was the one we fought against ourselves. Figures, huh? We saved our best for friends and family.

When we do get in a foreign war, we share the burden admirably. In Afghanistan we've suffered 1,760 casualties to date, which is a little less than half of all coalition losses. Plus, an estimated 18,000-19,000 Afghans have also paid the ultimate price for our presence in their country.

In Iraq we suffered almost 4,500 combat fatalities, while 150,000 Iraqis lost their lives. But Iraq was a free-for-all; a great many of the Iraqi dead were dispatched by their fellow citizens. We just more or less set the tone.

The official US Department of Defense figure for Vietnam is 950,765 communist forces killed from 1965 to 1974.

Still, We remain pikers in the great scheme of wars. We may blunder into things, but America's reputation as warmonger is richly undeserved. Our record as a warrior state pales when measured against the cavalcade of world history., a fun site if you're statistically inclined (or just want to wallow in war—or myriad other subjects; if you have an interest, they have a list) says the high estimate of World War II casualties reached 84.6 million. The winner and still war champion by the way. But the Mongol Conquests in the 13th and 14th centuries claimed 60 million lives. About 11.5 million died in the Thirty Year's War (1618-48). That's even more than the 3 million who died in the Hundred Years' War 300 years earlier.

Ten million died in the Era of Warring States (China, 480-221 BCE). Yeah, it lasted 254 years. The history of China is awash with million-casualty wars. Robert Malthus's economically-driven population theories may have fallen out of favor (he couldn't foresee we'd turn food production into a Fortune 500-type business), but one can only imagine how large the Chinese population would be today if they hadn't stopped to decimate each other every so often.

Against this carnage, the US has not yet given up 1,000,000 war dead in 238 years? Pshaw.

Of course, wars are rarely just a matter of blood and guts and victors and vanquished. Lots of people beyond the agressors and defenders sooner or later try to get their hand in, and some do quite well, sometimes no matter who wins. But in war you never know, and there are no sure things. As Harry tells Marv about robbing candy stores in Home Alone2, there's no guarantees.

A case in point is Matthew Brady, who found fame pointing a camera at the Civil War. Today he is acknowledged as the father of photo-journalism. He employed some 23 photographers and invested over $100,000 of his own money creating more than 10,000 photographic plates documenting the people and places of the war. (He couldn't shoot battles; the early camera was too slow.)

But Brady wasn't aiming for fame, he was aiming for fortune. He had hoped the U.S. government would buy his stock when the war ended, but it demurred. And a war-weary public quickly lost interest in war photos.

Brady eventually sold his studio and was forced into bankruptcy. (Congress ultimately granted Brady $25,000 for his archives.) He died penniless in a New York hospital charity ward. His funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry.

Good war or bad, we'll probably always have them with us. Still just enough champions. Still just enough reasons, good and bad.

Too bad. Wars get started for the most noble—or at least high-sounding—of reasons. But the thing is, no matter how they turn out, wars rarely do what it was thought they'd do back at the start, and at the end of the day, for far too many, they're too hard to survive.

Major US Wars, Durations and Losses   = 2,000 lives.
American Revolution - began 1775, lasted 8 yrs., 6,824 casualties[1], deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 385
War of 1812 - began 1812, lasted 3 yrs., 2,260 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 3,636
Mexican War - began 1846, lasted 2 yrs., 13,283 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 1,6475
Civil War - began 1861, lasted 5 yrs., 625,000 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 52
Spanish-American War - began 1898, lasted 4 yrs., 2,446 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 30,054
World War I - began 1917, lasted 2 yrs., 116,708 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 890
World War II began 1941, lasted 4 yrs., 405,399 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 392
Korean War - began 1950, lasted 3 yrs., 36,914 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 4,451
Vietnam War - began 1964[2], lasted 12 yrs., 58,169 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 3,092
Gulf War - began 1990, lasted <1 yr., 269 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 959,380
Afghanistan - began 2001, lasted 13 yrs., 1,760 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 172,966
Iraq - began 2003, lasted 8 yrs., 4,486 casualties, deaths-to-pop. ratio ~1 :: 66,077

[1] Many war treatises use the term "casualties" to include wounded as well as dead. This one does not.

[2] Vietnam war is dated here from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964) to the fall of Saigon (1975), the period when most combat casualties occurred. In fact, American military activity in Vietnam dates back to 1955. Some resources therefore report that the war lasted 20 years.

 1/9/14 -- Painting by Numbers 

This year's College Football Championship (the last under the BCS format) went from a thrilling romp to a heart-breaking loss for a storybook team that wasn't used to being on the wrong side of late-game theatrics.

The game winner

No. 2 Auburn fell to top-ranked Florida State as was predicted, but not in the way most expected. In the second quarter it was looking like a small cadre of fanatical SEC boosters had been right after all and the Seminoles were finally playing out of their league. Seven straight SEC national champions going back to 2006; not for nothing, eh?

Auburn looked superior early in every aspect of the game, on both sides of the ball. Stronger, faster, more creative, more aggressive and more points on the board. Florida State looked mostly just confused. Supposedly TV viewership tanked as the game progressed.

ESPN announcers Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit grew so excited they spent the first half fairly shouting at the viewers remaining. Some savvy assistant producer eventually spiked their water bottles with enough valium so that by halftime the boys had pretty much calmed down, and it was again possible to turn off the mute feature.

Musburger (a Medill Graduate—Northwestern's J school), was clearly in thrall of the War Eagles' mojo, but he handled the outcome with equanimity. He's a professional and can do an about-face in a timeframe so short it would give ordinary people whiplash. And, well, the valium probably helped.

When, exactly, did it turn around?

Football is not the statistics-driven game that, say, baseball is, and the stat sheet doesn't always inform, and can even misinform, those in search of first causes. Stats are important all right, in football as in any sport. Unlike in investing, past performance in sports IS an indicator of future results. Just ask Nate Silver who left the New York Times, and politics, for ESPN recently. Or any coach at the college and pro level.

But statistics don't always provide the right picture when it comes to spotting momentum changes inside a football game. Kind of like watching the tide turn. It's going out, even if your stopwatch doesn't think so.

How can they mislead? Kickoff returns aren't recorded as rushing or passing yards, so the causal stat sheet observer might think that Auburn had accumulated more yardage in the fourth quarter than Florida State, which scored on a 100 yard kick-off return to take the lead for the first time following an Auburn field goal. Of course knowledge could help overcome on that one.

But first downs, another highly regarded indicator of trending offensive primacy, wouldn't necessarily provide a clear view of what was happening on the field either. First downs, too, in the BCS final went to Auburn, even in the fourth quarter.

Time of possession? Auburn led in the game and the 4th quarter. But that can happen if one team is moving faster than the other. FSU's kickoff return burned 0 seconds off the clock (inexplicably: it should have started when the receiver touched the ball) before ending up in the end zone. Auburn then chewed up 3:12 retaking the lead, capping their drive with a 37-yard run by Heisman candidate Tre Mason, with 1:19 left in the game.

That score surely took the heart out of Seminole fans everywhere. But not the team itself. Florida State's game-winning riposte took only 58 seconds more. It culminated in a patented sky-high pass from Jameis Winston to the 6' 5," 234 lb. Kelvin Benjamin. Who went up and got it while Auburn's defender could only do what everyone else in the Rose Bowl was doing. A 21-point exchange: For Florida State, game set and match, but Auburn handily won the time-of-possession contest.

Some insight into the game's shifting tide (sorry, Alabama) could be gleaned from the third-quarter. Auburn's offense ground essentially to a halt, and the Seminoles won the numbers game in all three of the above categories: total yards, first downs and time of posession.

But, in truth, those third quarter stats were merely echoing what the score was already telling us. Florida St. was taking control. The last, lead-changing Auburn gallop surely had to be a blow. But the Seminoles just lined up and picked up right where they'd left off.

To their credit, Auburn rose to the challenge in the fourth quarter, but by then Florida St. had the momentum. It may be they had grabbed it before the third quarter started, before the disastrous second had even ended. And once theirs it never stopped building for them. The numbers that most reflected the turnaround were clear to be seen at the top of the stadium, on the scoreboard.

1 2 3 4 T
FSU 3 7 3 21 34
AUB 7 14 0 10 31

Musburger and Herbstreit remarked several times at the top of their telecast that Auburn fans "wanted" Florida State in the fourth quarter. The idea being Seminole regulars had never had to play deep into the last quarter during the season.

And Auburn is a team that wears opponents down, even teams from the powerhouse SEC, with speed, a punishing ground game, dizzying offensive and defensive looks, and an uptempo game that doesn't give opponents time to adjust, make substitutions or even breathe.

No one else reported on that Auburn invocation, either before or after the game, so one cannot be sure where your announcers got hold of it.

No matter. There are lots of reasons why what did happen, could happen. It's true Florida St. didn't play an SEC schedule, but they pretty much toyed with their regular season opposition, winning by an average 42.3 point margin while giving up only 12.1 points per game.

In the few instances where the team did lose its direction or poise during the season, the coaching staff had showed itself marvelously deft in restoring equilibrium and adapting their game plan on the fly to the situation on the field.

Against Boston College and Duke (don't laugh; the latter gave Johnny Manziel and the Aggies fits in the Chick-fil-A Bowl), the Seminoles had some anxious moments, but they settled down and systematically dismantled both teams, according to their custom.

And, it may play in the pantywaist ACC, but Florida State fields some really big, really fast, really athletic, really well-coached guys at just about every position. They weren't very likely to wear out. (BCS game sleeper stat. Field goals: FSU 2-2; AU 1-2.)

Finally, no team good enough to get into the national championship game, with the possible exception of Notre Dame, could play as badly as Florida State did in the first half forever.

Still, divine intervention in the BCS cannot be entirely ruled out. Posssibly that Auburn prayer, if it really was uttered, didn't fall on deaf ears. The football gods may have been listening. But when you get in the prayer business, it's important to have a very clear idea what you're praying for.

Perhaps the football gods are imbued with that same cruel and perverse humor so evident in the gods of Greek mythology. They received the prayer of the Auburn faithful ... and then answered it by granting them exactly what they had prayed for.

They should have asked for Florida State in the second quarter. That fourth quarter just killed them.

How the winds are laughing
They laugh with all their might
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
And half the summer's night

(Yiddish theater tune)