Who got the political spending?

Politicians spent some $4 billion trying to get elected, which comes to about $43 per vote. But who ended up with all that money? Mainly television stations and other media outlets. The Washington Post Company reported a 7% jump in revenue for the third quarter, which it credits to political advertising on its television stations, as well as its for-profit Kaplan University.

This article talks about other businesses that benefited–including pollsters, advertisers, and small town restaurants–to the point of calling the election “the midterm stimulus program.”

The homeless commute

In our nation’s capital, the homeless shelters are on the outskirts of town, but all of the good panhandling spots are downtown.  So the District of Columbia runs 10 buses, at the cost of $1.8 million, so that homeless people can commute.

Each morning, the District government operates a kind of free mini-Metro for the homeless, connecting the city’s increasingly outlying network of shelters with soup kitchens, social service bureaus and preferred panhandling blocks closer to downtown.

Then, each evening, the homeless commuters join the outbound flow. With the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on G Street NW serving as a depot, 10 scheduled buses load up to take the homeless back to shelters on the outskirts of town. The city spends about $1.8 million a year on transportation for the homeless, including the daily buses and a hypothermia van that patrols the streets on wintry nights.

“This just fits into an overall notion that being homeless doesn’t eliminate your need to get to and from places to conduct your life,” said Clarence H. Carter, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, which funds the bus system through a subcontractor. “Everybody’s got to commute.”

via For homeless, too, a daily commute in rush-hour traffic.

If this rubs you the wrong way, are you being insensitive to the plight of the poor? Or is it this program that is insensitive to the plight of the poor by, in effect, subsidizing and thus perpetuating homelessness?

Presidential pomp and grandeur HOAX

UPDATE: The following story going around is not true. I believe there is a car like “The Beast” and some of the details about the security arrangements may be true, but the $200 million-per-day expense and the squadron of ships and probably other examples of wretched excess are not. Thanks to Webmonk and Kirk for digging up the facts. I apologize to the President for this error.

A British account of our President’s travel arrangements during his trip to Asia:

Probably not since the days of the Pharaohs or the more ludicrous Roman Emperors has a head of state travelled in such pomp and expensive grandeur as the President of the United States of America.

While lesser mortals – the Pope, Queen Elizabeth and so on – are usually happy to let their hosts handle most of the security and transport arrangements when they venture beyond their home shores, the United States creates a mini-America on the move to ensure that nothing is left to chance.

At the heart of the White House caravan is ‘The Beast’, a gigantic, ‘pimped-up’ General Motors Cadillac which security experts say is, short of an actual battle tank, probably the safest road vehicle on the planet.

But an outlandish car is only the start. Mr Obama will fly, of course, on Air Force One, the presidential private jumbo jet, which, boasting double beds and suites, is fitted out more like a luxury yacht. Some reports suggest it costs around $50,000 (£31,000) an hour to operate.

Of course threats can come from any direction, so a squadron of U.S. naval ships will patrol offshore. Some reports have claimed that 34 ships, including two aircraft carriers, will be involved (not far off the size of the Royal Navy’s entire Surface Fleet) but the White House has denied this.

On land, as well as The Beast, Mr Obama’s entourage will travel in a fleet of 45 U.S.-built armoured limousines, half of which will be decoys. He will also travel with 30 elite sniffer dogs, mostly German Shepherds.

The White House has, according to some reports, booked the entire Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, the city’s most luxurious. It is not uncommon for the grander heads of state to reserve a floor or two, but a whole hotel is unprecedented. This hotel was the main target of the 2008 attacks by Pakistani militants which left 166 dead.

As to the cost of all this, the White House will not reveal details – which has allowed Mr Obama’s political foes to bandy about sums including a widely-quoted $200million (£123million) a day. Whatever the figure, it makes the costs associated with the Royal Train and the late Royal Yacht Britannia seem like small change.

It is also reported that a bomb-proof tunnel will be erected for Mr Obama ahead of his visit to Mani Bhavan – the Gandhi museum – on Saturday.

via Obama’s India visit security erect a bomb proof tunnel at the Gandhi museum | Mail Online.

The British are masters of pomp and grandeur, so it takes a lot  to get them indignant.  I don’t begrudge the security measures, but it still looks like the American empire is #1 in wretched excess.

The origin of "OK"

Where did that odd but omnipresent word “OK” come from?  The word has even gone beyond the English language and has become commonplace in languages around the world?  I’ve heard various theories.  But a new book about the expression cites what it calls definitive proof about its etymology.  The book is OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word
Here is a summary of the word’s origins from a review by Jonathan Yardley, who begins by quoting the author, Allan Metcalf:

“Thanks to the published work of Allen Walker Read, who documented the emergence and spread of OK in 1839 and 1840 with literally hundreds of contemporary citations, it is absolutely clear that OK began as a joke in a Boston newspaper and was transformed by politics and a hoax into the expression we still use today. The trail of written evidence from that day to the present is thick and clear. No other origin is plausible. Yet throughout the history of OK there have been doubts. If it weren’t for the overwhelming evidence, the true history of OK would indeed be hard to believe.”

The joke that got it all started is considerably less than funny today. You had to be there, there being Boston in March 1839. A minor controversy had arisen between certain citizens of that city and its neighbor to the southwest, Providence, the details of which are too trivial to merit elaboration in this limited space. Suffice it to say that the editor of the Boston Post was inspired to invent the phrase “o.k.,” which he defined as “all correct.” As Metcalf says, “The joke that o.k. would be an abbreviation for all correct, when neither o nor k was the correct spelling, was such a stretch that it required the explanation ‘o.k. – all correct’ to follow immediately.”

Whether readers of the Post were left rolling in the aisles has not been reported, but the newspaper’s editor, Charles Gordon Greene, was so enamored of his witticism that he employed it again three days later, and he got it on the road to immortality by elevating it to O.K. This was confirmed in October of the same year when the Evening Transcript, the newspaper of Boston’s elite, proclaimed that “the suspension of the U.S. Bank and its dependencies . . . is O.K. (all correct) in this quarter,” but by then OK had even made its way to New York, and the rest is history.

But history rarely if ever is tidy, and the march of OK into the heart of the language was neither rapid nor sure-footed. Metcalf argues that, in addition to “the fad for joking abbreviations in Boston newspapers of the late 1830s,” the process was nudged along by three other factors: the presidential candidacy of Martin Van Buren in 1840, the presidency of Andrew Jackson and the invention of the telegraph. The first was important because Van Buren acquired the nickname “Old Kinderhook” after his home town in Upstate New York: “OK now could have a double meaning: Old Kinderhook was all correct.” Then as the log-cabin legend of Jackson gained steam, it was claimed – falsely – that in his rough frontier style he had declared a friend “Ole Kurrek (all correct) and no mistake.” Finally, the invention of the telegraph made the use of OK as shorthand for “all right” commonplace. After that, it was clear sailing.

via Linguistically, America is A-OK.

A dance of death

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a statesman of the old school.  The Senator from New York was a Democrat, but he also served loyally in Republican administrations.  He was liberal politically, but he articulated positions that would now be called socially conservative (such as the horrific consequences of having children out of wedlock).  Steven Pearlstein reviews a collection of his letters and cites this haunting warning:

In a resignation letter he never sent to Nixon, Moynihan complains that “the extremes of left and right have joined in a dance of death” around “the presidency and every other institution of order and reason in American society,” exploiting society’s divisions for “short-term, narrow, shallow purposes.”

“The extremists of the left and right need each other, complement each other, strengthen each other,” he wrote, creating a symbiotic relationship that threatened “the quality, and ultimately the survival of the American democracy.”

via Steven Pearlstein – A short reading list for the congressional Class of 2010.

He’s right, isn’t he, about the way the far right and the far left feed off of each other?  And, whether you are a conservative or a liberal, can you see how the extreme ends of both spectrums, playing off of each other, can endanger the country?

Creating money out of thin air

The Federal Reserve has taken some major action in an effort to stimulate the econnomy:

The Federal Reserve escalated its efforts to get the U.S. economic recovery back on track Wednesday, again entering the realm of risky and untested policy in response to the worst downturn in generations.

The plan to pump $600 billion into the financial system is designed to stimulate the economy in large part by lowering mortgage and other interest rates.

Although the approach carries significant risks for both the economy and the central bank’s credibility, the steps announced by Fed policymakers could represent the nation’s best hope for breaking free of sluggish growth, especially with bold initiatives unlikely from a newly divided Congress.

Fed officials concluded that growth is too slow to bring down the 9.6 percent unemployment rate and is at risk of staying that way for some time absent new action. They were also concerned that inflation has been running too low and were looking for a way to encourage modest price increases, which would give consumers and businesses more reason to spend money before its value declined and help energize the economy.

“The pace of recovery in output and employment continues to be slow,” the Fed’s policymaking panel, the Federal Open Market Committee, said in a statement. “Employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls. Housing starts continue to be depressed.”

The Fed usually manages the economy by adjusting short-term interest rates. With those rates already near zero, Fed officials had to dust off a strategy for boosting the economy that debuted during the darkest days of the financial crisis. The Fed plans to create money, essentially out of thin air, and then pump it into the economy by buying Treasury bonds on the open market.

via Fed to buy $600 billion in bonds in effort to boost economic recovery.

I am neither an economist nor an economist’s son, so could someone explain how creating money out of thin air could possibly be a good idea?


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