Jesus, Born in Bethlehem…

Entry for Jesus in the Republican Dictionary: Charismatic religious leader and son of God; born in Bethlehem in the year 0; beliefs include love, charity, enhanced interrogation, privatized healthcare, elimination of the estate tax, and the right to carry concealed semiautomatic weapons.

Entry for Jesus in the Democratic Dictionary: Charismatic religious leader, good with teachable moments; born in Bethlehem; beliefs include love, charity, multilateral international institutions, subsidized healthcare, paying to Caesar a progressive income tax, and no respect for authority.

Producing Dead Bodies: A Remaining Realm of American Excellence

I took the subtitle of this post from Glenn Greenwald’s October 22 post at Salon.com. Greenwald is at his best here. Everyone in the country ought to read this article and reflect on it.

On May 1, President Obama announced the end of Osama bin Laden’s life. That evening I talked with my son on the phone. He lives in Washington, DC, and mentioned the celebrations in his city that night. He noted the celebrations as troubling, and also noted in passing that many celebrants were students who had some alcohol to assist their energetic cheering in the streets. I took some heart from that, and I suppose from knowing that up here in Boston the response was more temperate.

Then came the Awlaki killing. That assassination represented a breakthrough in our constitutional history – not just a chip but a huge chunk removed from our Constitution. If the government will assassinate an American citizen without due process – a plain violation of the Fifth Amendment – what won’t it do? Which is worse: torture or summary execution? Don’t trouble yourself: both acts count as a crime. They are criminal acts not because the Constitution and international law specifically prohibit them. The Constitution and international law prohibit them because they are criminal acts.

The distinction matters. We may ask, how do we know something is a crime? Then we look at the wording of our laws to determine if a particular act counts. If legal language and precedent leave room for maneuver – they invariably do – you write a long memo to explain why the act you want to commit does not count as a crime. Such legalistic reasoning reverses the relationship between legal and moral thought. You can’t resolve ambiguity in the moral sphere with a legal memo. We do – and ought to – resolve legal ambiguity with moral reasoning. Moral reasoning tells us that civil – not savage – societies cannot permit torture and summary execution. Civil societies use legal frameworks to codify these moral conclusions.

I’ve written a lot about torture, so let’s concentrate on summary executions. To celebrate summary executions is beyond anything we could have imagined before 9/11. After 9/11, I argued that we would have to find new legal frameworks to govern the prosecution of this war. I did not like the idea that every time we captured someone suspected of waging war against us, we would haul the individual back to the United States and inaugurate the same legal process we undertake when an American citizen is charged with a crime. Yet we had little precedent to guide us. Strictures of international law reflect precedents and rules used to govern wars among states. International law had virtually nothing to say about war between a state and a loose network of combatants scattered around the globe. I said that we would have to work with our allies in Europe to fashion new rules for this kind of warfare.

It didn’t happen. We build Guantanamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib on our own. We instituted extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, extra-judicial capture and punishment, enhanced interrogation techniques, exculpatory memos and executive orders, targeted assassinations, secret drone operations, warrantless surveillance, military tribunals, executive findings, and compliance positions for prisoners on our own. We decided that collaboration with our allies would unduly delay and hamper prosecution of the Global War on Terror. So we acted on our own.

As a result, new international rules to accommodate new forms of warfare did not evolve. As a result, we’re compelled to choose between apparently legal but plainly immoral procedures of our national security state, and cumbersome, long procedures embedded in our criminal law. No one cares to argue that we should infuse our domestic criminal courts with prisoners captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The debate over Guantanamo shows we don’t want them here as prisoners, let alone as defendants in criminal trials. Yet we have no procedures to handle prisoners other than the ones we have seen develop since 9/11. We have not consulted with our allies, launched any proposals, or pursued any public initiatives to determine how to treat individuals captured in the current war.

This determination to develop our own procedures for prosecution of this war – unilaterally and secretively – affects our domestic legal environment, our political culture, and the sanctity of our own Constitution. Consider two instances of warfare, one in September 2001, the second ten years later in September 2011. An emotional, indignant reaction to bin Laden’s attack on 9/11 would have been, “You can’t do that!” Bin Laden replies, “Of course I can. Look, I just did.” That’s your enemy taunting you. An American citizen would rightly utter the same words after Awlaki’s killing in September 2011: “You can’t do that!” Obama responds likewise: “Of course I can. Look, I just did.” In the latter case, the speaker isn’t your enemy taunting you, it’s your own president! Your own president claims he can do whatever he wants.

This presidential claim of authority to assassinate an American citizen isn’t only a general statement of powers the president says he needs to prosecute this kind of war successfully. This claim extends to every American citizen individually: to you, and you, and you. The claim says, “If we the authorities determine that you endanger the state’s survival, we will kill you. If you speak against us, if you advocate the state’s destruction, we will kill you. You have no right to counsel, you have no right to hear the charges against you, nor have you the right to respond to our charges. We will kill you.”

The next time government produces a dead body and expects you to cheer about it, think about that.

Rental Properties: Selling Covered Calls

When you sell a covered call, you treat your stock as a rental property. Here are the qualities you seek in an equity position that you would like to rent:

  • Priced under $8.00 per share – under $5.00 per share is best.
  • Options chain is available.
  • Price is likely to go down by the contract’s due date.
  • You would not have seller’s regret if the contract is executed.
  • You have done your mental math before you buy: P@ = S.P. + B.P, and Pc / (Pc – P@) > 25.

The symbols in the two equations above are:

P@ = At-the-money price

S.P. = Strike price

B.P. = Bid price

Pc = Current price

The five criteria, once again, are:

The stock is affordable for you. I don’t like to spend that much on the initial purchase of a stock. Since you can only rent stock in lots of one hundred shares, the per share price has to be low. If the price per share is $5.00, you must spend $500 to acquire the property. If you have to spend $800 to acquire an attractive property, so be it.

A market for covered calls exists. The stock will not have an options chain if you cannot buy and sell options for that symbol.

The outlook for the stock over the next one to six months is weak. A covered call is a conservative way to short a stock. You don’t want to sell a covered call for a stock that you expect will increase in value. Exception: you might sell a covered call for a stock that you hope will appreciate. In that case, the options contract is a hedge against depreciation.

You don’t care to hold the stock over the long term. During my initial experiments, I sold 500 shares of Resource Capital Corporation (RSO). I had taken a long time to build up a good position in that company, since it pays a good dividend. I regretted the loss of those shares in my portfolio.

The at-the-money price is not too far below the current price. The difference between the current price and the at-the-money price should be less than 4% of the current price. That’s the significance of the equation, Pc / (Pc – P@) > 25. Your desired outcome is that you keep the rental income and the stock when the contract comes due. If the stock price has to fall more than four percent over the life of the contract for that to happen, that’s not a contract you want to sell.

That’s it! It sounds a little complicated, but I learned these things over a fairly short period of time. Now I see renting stock as an entertainment enterprise. People who buy covered calls are likely to be gambling investors rather than value investors. They bet that the price of a stock will increase, but they want to place the bet without shelling out for a full one hundred shares. Rather, they want to pay a premium that gives them the right to buy the stock sometime before the contract comes due. If the stock appreciates enough, they make money on the contract when they resell the stock. If the stock price goes down, they don’t buy the stock and they lose their premium.

The bet is entertaining on both sides, but the bet is asymmetrical. That is, the buyer of the contract stands to lose more than the seller. The exception is if I have to sell stock that I bought some time ago for a substantially higher price. You might want to sell the stock in any case, but often you would want to hold it for quite a while to see if its value goes back up. Sell a call on a stock that has depreciated since you bought it only if you are interested in selling the stock anyway.

Thirty Million Uninsured

How many times did we hear during the health care debate in 2009 that thirty million people in the United States don’t have health insurance? Every time I heard that statistic, I asked, So what? What is the breakdown? How many of that thirty million don’t want health insurance? How many of that thirty million don’t care one way or another? How may would like to have insurance if they could get it, but aren’t that concerned about going without? Lastly, how many people don’t have health insurance, and wish strongly that they could obtain it?

Interestingly, the people who cited the statistic did not show any interest in questions like that. The number was enough. For advocates the size of the number mattered: the more Americans uninsured, the more urgent the need for reform. You can beat down the opposition if you repeat a number like that often enough.

The advocates for reform never did address the so what question, but after their triumph in early 2010 they began to reveal their thinking a little more candidly. You saw more references to the Massachusetts plan after the bill passed. Massachusetts originated the idea of an individual mandate to achieve nearly universal coverage in 2007. The reformers held up the Massachusetts plan as their model in 2010. Look what Massachusetts achieved with their health care reform: we can accomplish the same thing all across the nation.

I live in Massachusetts. I can tell you that RomneyCare is not a model for the rest of the country. It has not achieved what its advocates said it would achieve. Neither does it have any prospect of success. Yet people look to this plan as a reform model for all the other states. Why would that be?

I want to say something that reveals my prejudices, but I’m not sure that’s helpful. The fundamentals of the Massachusetts plan come from the mind of a pointy-headed professor at MIT. Whenever I learn that a professor conceives something that’s supposed to work in the real world, I know it’s destined for failure. I used to be a professor. Professors don’t have any idea about the real world. That’s why they’re professors. That’s my prejudice, based on my experience as a professor. People who teach at academic institutions do a lot of good work, but devising reform plans that change real institutions for the better is not something academics do well.

I heard the reasoning behind the Massachusetts plan on the radio not long ago. The simple-mindedness of the reasoning dismayed me somewhat. Ordinarily I like simple explanations and simple reasoning. It’s elegant and rapidly carries you from premises, through connections and reasons to conclusions. Simple reasoning won’t do for health care reform, though. It just won’t.

The main goal and motivation for health care reform in Massachusetts was to cut costs. Health care was too expensive for everyone: for individual patients, for taxpayers, for the state government, for the insurance carriers, and of course for health care providers as well. Everyone involved stood to gain from making health care in Massachusetts more efficient and therefore less costly. The state government in particular stood to gain a great deal, as its outlay for health care expenses greatly exceeded its resources.

The professor at MIT reasoned this way. If you want to pay for an expensive health care system, you have to expand the number of people who pay to support it. High quality health care, after all, is a collective good. If you have too many free riders, the cost becomes unbearable for the people who actually pay. That’s how professors reason. They think in terms of collective goods. If you see health care as a collective good, you have to solve the free rider problem in order to make the system work for all participants. To solve the free rider problem, you have to force people to participate. Thus the individual mandate.

How does an individual mandate contribute to lower costs? If you bring all parties together in a health insurance exchange, the purchasers of health insurance have more bargaining power than they do under the current system. Therefore they can keep prices lower, or at least keep them from rising so rapidly. That’s the reasoning. Universal coverage means greater bargaining power.

I don’t want to criticize the Massachusetts plan or the reasoning that underpins it here. I did that at length in another article. I do want to point to the intellectual dishonesty of that statistic we heard so often. When you cite a number – or any piece of evidence, for that matter – so often that it becomes a cornerstone of your argument, you owe your listeners an explanation. You can’t cite your argument over and over, and presume that its significance is self-evident. You have to answer the so what question.

Advocates of health care reform would difficulty were they to explain why thirty million uninsured is a significant number. They would have to break the number down to see why people are uninsured, whether they want to be uninsured, or whether they even care. Advocates of health care reform take the desirability of universal coverage as a given. That’s obvious enough. Once you take universal coverage as your goal, however, you can’t use the number of uninsured to show why the goal is desirable. That begs the question.

Here’s why. If you reason forward from the number of uninsured, you would include analysis of people who are insured as well. If you reason backward from the desirability of universal coverage, you would compare systems that have an individual mandate, or some other means to ensure universal participation, with those that don’t. If you do both, though – if thirty million uninsured becomes your reason for advocating universal coverage – you bypass all analysis and comparison. Your argument is self-contained because you don’t look at anything else. If thirty million uninsured is a bad thing, then of course universal coverage is a good remedy.

Here’s where we rest. Honesty leads to the truth. Dishonesty leads to disaster. When lawmakers and leaders say they will make health care less expensive for employers and for individuals, but enact a plan that does nothing of the sort, that’s dishonest. When lawmakers and leaders say they will make health care more rational and efficient, easier for all participants to understand and navigate, they ought to do so. If they enact legislation that instead makes health care more complicated and costly, that’s dishonest.

The dishonesty started with the initial statistic of thirty million uninsured. Health care reform advocates didn’t appear to care that much why thirty million people lacked health insurance. Yet they made that high number their rhetorical centerpiece. Advocates wanted universal coverage, no questions asked. You want to know why thirty million is unacceptably high, why we should have an individual mandate to bring the number to zero? Don’t answer questions like that. Honesty won’t get you anywhere.

FreeCell: What Is the Best Move?

Here is the opening position for game 248,185,456:

What is the best way to start? As always at the beginning, we want to ask: which column or columns do we want to clear first? I see some good possibilities in C3: we can easily place most of the cards in this column:

  • The black Q at the bottom goes on the red K.
  • The red 7 goes up. We know we can place it on the black 8 shortly.
  • The black A goes up.
  • The red 8 goes to the black 9 in C8.

At this point, you can see how the rest shapes up: we have red and black sevens, red and black eights, and red and black nines in C1, C3, and C8. We just have to maneuver the red 10 over to one of the black Jacks in C5 or C8.

C3 is a good starting column because the cards are easy to move, or they take care of themselves. The black A in the middle and the black K at the top take care of themselves because we don’t have to move them. As for the red 10, we have some flexibility with that one. We can stash it above for a short time if we like, or place the black 9 in C8 on it until one of the black Jacks is available. Best is to keep the red 10 down below until the black J is free.

Whenever you free your first column, the game seems a little easier. Sometimes it becomes a lot easier. After 29 moves, we have a good foundation in C3, and a king at the top of C1. But be flexible! Later that black K in C1 goes up top to make way for the red K in C5. You’ll see that at move 60.

Our next job is to free the cards in C5, C6, C7, and C8. They are all short columns, and they all contain cards that we need. That wasn’t so difficult. 31 moves later, we are about to win. We just need to free the cards in C2:

What is the best way to do that? Just play C2 – C7 (3), C2 – C6, and C2 – C5. The ace goes up, and the rest follow.

This was a fairly simple game.

How To Print Screen on a Mac

How to Print Screen on a Mac

What is known as “Print Screen” in the Windows world is called screen captures or screenshots in Mac OS X. You’ve probably noticed there is no ‘Print Screen’ button on a Mac keyboard, this is to both simplify the keyboard and also because it’s unnecessary. Instead of hitting a “Print Screen” button, you’ll hit one of several keyboard combination shortcuts, depending on the exact screen capture action you want taken.

How to Print Screen to a file on the desktop in Mac OS X

The basic functionality of taking a screen capture of a window or desktop in Mac OS X takes an image and dumps it to a file on the Mac desktop. Each uses the pressing of Command and Shift keys concurrently as the basis for execution, followed by a number:

  • Command+Shift+3: takes a screenshot of the full screen (or screens if multiple monitors), and save it as a file to the desktop
  • Command+Shift+4: brings up a selection box so you can specify an area to take a screenshot of, then save it as a file to the desktop
  • Command+Shift+4, then spacebar, then click a window: takes a screenshot of a window only and saves it as a file to the desktop

How to Print Screen to the Clipboard on a Mac

This functions a lot more like Print Screen in the Windows world. If you want to do the equivalent of Print Screen to the clipboard so that you can paste it into another app, these are the commands you’d want to use:

  • Command+Control+Shift+3: take a screenshot of the entire screen (screens if multiple monitors), and saves it to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere
  • Command+Control+Shift+4, then select an area: takes a screenshot of selection and saves it to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere
  • Command+Control+Shift+4, then space, then click a window: takes a screenshot of a window and saves it to the clipboard for pasting

Act to Alter or Abolish

Visit Tea Party Grassroots. Good quotations from the founding fathers at the top.