Friday, April 30, 2010


Hacking Sarah Palin's E-Mail

I just read the following news item in a Newsmax e-mail newsletter:

Palin E-mail Hacker Guilty on 2 of 4 Charges

A Tennessee jury convicted the man who hacked into Sarah Palin's e-mail account during the 2008 campaign on two of four charges, according to Fox News.
The jury in Knoxville found David Kernell guilty of computer fraud and obstruction of justice, but judged him not guilty of the wire fraud charge and deadlocked on an identity theft charge.

Kernell, a 22-year-old former University of Tennessee student, faced as much as 50 years if he had been convicted of all charges. The maximum prison sentence for obstructing an investigation is 20 years.

The article goes on to say that Kernell is the son of a Democratic member of the Tennessee legislature.

To save my life, I can't imagine a good reason for hacking into Sarah Palin's e-mail. What secret could she possibly be hiding? With Mrs. Palin, what you see is more than what you get. She has never shown that she has interesting or unusual ideas about government policy, about politics, or about anything. Her most useful attribute is her "averageness." She has the ideas and opinions of the average conservative wife who lives in a small city or village and surrounded by like-thinking relatives and friends. Her followers adore her because she is "just like them." Why would there be any interest in her e-mail?

The hacker is the son of a member of a state legislature. Members of state legislatures are not noted for their intellectual abilities. Like father, like son, perhaps.


Sunday, April 25, 2010


Arizona's New Law

There's a lot I could say about the law just enacted in Arizona to rid the State of illegal aliens. A short summary of my opinion is that it won't work. As written, the law can not be enforced, at least if the governor is serious about not permitting the police to engage in racial profiling. I admit that the police may have some secret and mysterious way of watching a person and deciding that he or she is an illegal alien. They may have the ability to tell, but I doubt it.

However, the police can be surprisingly skillful at determining a person's background and origin. I recall visiting Ottawa, Canada in 1982 with my wife. We stood next to the parliament building to watch for the prime minister. The police were keeping order by keeping the crowd on the sidewalk and kerb and out of the street. A policeman near me would approach a man walking in the street and speak to him in French if he was from Quebec Province or in English if he was from other parts of Canada. I asked the policeman how he could tell. He couldn't tell me, but he had the ability. Perhaps there is a slight difference in the way the Quebecois people walk. I have noticed, for example, seeing people on television walk. The Chinese have a characteristic way of walking that is noticeably different from that of an American.

I don't think that the manner of walking will serve the Arizona policemen. Mexicans may indeed have a characteristic walk that is a little different from that of a "white" American like me. However, I suspect that Arizonans of Mexican extraction who have American citizenship walk just like their relatives in Mexico.

In the end I suspect the police will give up the practice of simply stopping and questioning anyone they suspect. They will confine their questioning to persons stopped for traffic violations as well as those arrested and put in jail for more serious offenses. Even that won't work. How is a person who is in Arizona legally to prove he or she isn't an illegal alien? We Americans don't carry passports or birth certificates with us. A driver's license isn't a guarantee of citizenship. The only people who are apt to carry identification with them sufficient to convince a skeptical policeman of their legality are tourists with visitor's visas.

Perhaps the only workable solution is for everyone who is in Arizona legally to move to some other State. California, look out!


Friday, April 23, 2010


Lies and Myths

I am disturbed by the eagerness of some Americans to embrace as fact a statement about the environment, the economy, or the political prospects for Democrats who voted for the health care reform bill that is either demonstrably false or can not be backed up with solid evidence. Here are some examples:
  1. Scientists now admit that the evidence in support of global warming is not convincing and that there is no hard evidence that the earth is actually getting warmer. In fact, the earth may be getting cooler.
  2. The recession has hit bottom. From now on the economy will improve.
  3. In the fall elections this year, Democrats will lose control of both the House and the Senate because of the unpopularity of the health care reform bill.

Regarding statement #1, I have read that public opinion polls indicate that at least a third of the public believes that global warming is a hoax. This belief persists in the face of reports about glaciers in many parts of the world retreating and predicted to cease to exist some time in the next century. Is the retreat of glaciers a result of the increased concentration of CO-2 in the atmosphere? The two effects seem to correlate and there is a logical explanation as to why increased CO-2 concentration should lead to the melting of glaciers. However, the simultaneous occurrence of two phenomena is not necessarily proof that they are related causually. It has been reported that there is an increase in the amount of CO-2 absorbed in the oceans. The increase has led to the formation of enough carbonic acid (H-2 C O-3) to change the pH of ocean water 0.1 toward increased acidity. This is a large increase and may harm several forms of ocean life. It may be the cause of the death of corals in many parts of the ocean. Aside from coral reefs there is yet no evidence of harm to other marine organisms.

Regarding statement #2, jobs are still disappearing. Unemployed workers aren't finding new jobs. There may be some favorable economic indicators, but such indicators haven't yet helped unemployed workers find new work.

Statement #3 is pure pie in the sky. In spite of all the publicity given to the Tea Partiers, the new health care bill isn't as universally hated as some Republicans believe. There is a substantial minority of the population, greater in numbers than the Tea Party movement, who believe that the bill, though flawed, is a good start. It will be amended from time to time, not abolished as some Republicans wish, until we finally have a health care system in our country that we can be proud of.

That's not to say that the Democrats won't lose some seats in the fall election. I won't predict how many, but I am confident that they will still have majorities in both houses.


Sunday, April 18, 2010


About Local Politics

In January I filed as a candidate for a seat in the Woodland Hills Neighborhood Council. After the close of filing I learned that one other person had filed for the same seat, and that I was certain to be at least an alternate member of the council. In the election in March the other candidate received more votes than I did. I can thus claim to have achieved a respectable second place in the election, while my opponent was next to last. Member or not, I am a member of one of the committees of the council. I think it's called the Public Safety Committee. The committee deals with crosswalks, traffic lights, unsafe places that need to be closed or monitored, and the like.

I have a friend C who was elected to a position on a near-by neighborhood council in Los Angeles. C is appalled that a person who has a "separate agenda" can be elected to and serve on a neighborhood council. One of C's examples is a friend of the president of a local community college. C believes this person will vote the interests of the community college rather than the interests of the whole community. Another member who merits C's disdain has some real estate in the neighborhood and is ambitious to achieve zoning changes that will enhance the value of his property.

I say, so what? When was it customary to have any legislature, local or national, without members who have special axes to grind? A purely altruistic person isn't likely to go to the expense and effort of campaigning for office anyway. That person is more likely to join and participate in a service group, such as a church. It's precisely those individuals who have issues that they can influence by being members of a legislature who will try their hardest to join it. If they can not join, they will become lobbyists. I think C is unduly harsh in judging these members who may have conflicts of interest.

Actually, the friend of the president of the community college doesn't have a "conflict" of interest. He has a single interest. The same can be said of the person with the real estate in the neighborhood. C chooses to swim among sharks and still expresses astonishment that sharks act like sharks.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010



We all live in a world that is not exactly like the world we think we live in. Either the world is warped or our perceptions of it are. My friend H worries about retirement and how it can be paid for. I think about how rich the country is and surely there is enough surplus to supply the needs and many of the pleasures of those of us, like H and myself, who are retired. I say I am coasting. I don't do a lick of work that anyone would pay me to do. Fortunately I have enough savings that the interest and other income that comes to me is sufficient to pay for my own needs and pleasures.

In the bad old days when Social Security was started and large companies and government agencies offered their employees the promise of a comfortable retirement to offset the rather low wages that they paid them the plans were what we now call "defined benefit" plans. That is, no matter how much or how little your own contribution to the plan was the plan would pay you at least a fixed income for the rest of your life after you retired. In the case of Social Security the benefits would increase according to the rate of inflation.

It was possible to create and operate such plans because the pay-out period for the employee was rather short, on the average. The retirement age was set at 65. Statistically, the life expectancy of a retiree was only about 18 months. I was told once that on the average, typical retirees from the company for which I worked would live only a year and a half after retirement. Clearly a defined benefit plan worked very well under that circumstance. It worked so well that the money paid into the plan exceeded the pay-out. Company managers could borrow money from the plan when things were a little tight and wouldn't have to worry about paying it back right away.

During the last thirty years or so it seems that the life expectancy for us old geezers has increased. At the time I retired, I learned that if I lived to be 70 1/2 the government then assumed that I would live to be 87. Hence, I should take money out of my IRA account and pay income tax on it at a rate that would use it all up by the time I was 87 years old. That rule was changed a few years ago and I still have quite a bit of money in my IRA accounts.

You can imagine the strain this unplanned longevity is having on retirement plans. Most companies that are setting up such plans today provide a "defined contribution" plan. The combined contributions from the employee and employer are invested in an annuity in which the pay-out is set by an actuarial calculation of the probable remaining life span of the retiring employee. Alternatively, the money collected is put into a savings account or a Roth IRA which is then simply given to the retiree to spend as he chooses.

H is worried about the retirees who retired when the retirement plans were still "guaranteed benefit" plans. My own retirement income from firms I used to work for will continue at its present level as long as I live. The longer I live the more I cost those former employers. I don't wish them ill, but if I did I would enjoy every minute of my life thinking about how by living a long time I am having my revenge. H worries about the employers. He thinks of how poor General Motors is now trapped by having to continue paying the luxurious pensions of all its former emloyees, a number of persons considerably larger than its present work force. Those greedy unions should agree to allow General Motors to terminate the pensions and provide a fixed sum of money for each retiree. I may have mentioned before that H has a rather low opinion of labor unions.

In my thinking, General Motors is getting what it deserves. It resisted strongly any proposals to provide a government-funded pension for each employee, with the funding provided in large part by a fee on General Motors. The company wanted to control the pension plan because at the time it was a useful tool for recruiting skilled workers. I suspect that today the company might look more favorably on a government-guaranteed pension for its retired workers.


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