27 October 2008

Another excess of free markets

Via WizBang is this heart warming story about how the management of the NY Times could drive it in to bankruptcy. It’s worth reading, but to me the money quote was this —

His cousin Michael Golden, vice-chairman of the company […] oversaw the sale of the old New York Times headquarters on 43rd Street—which the buyer turned around and sold three years later for a $350 million profit (enough to fund the newsroom for more than a year, notes one Times veteran). [emphasis added]

It costs almost $350M per year to run the NY Times news room? I would ask, “on what in the world could they spend that kind of money?” but hey — they’re liberals. Burning big chunks of money for very little return is what they do.

P.S. If you still can’t crack a smile, try this.

26 October 2008

Political dysfunction

Speaking of the Illinois Governor, “The” Rod Blagojevich, his latest escapade is sadly indicative of our dysfunctional political class, of which Illinois state politics is a cutting edge example. The Rod spent his first four years upsetting most (if not all) of the major political factions in the state while demonstrating a near pathetic level of actual governorship. Yet he won a near landslide victory (50%-39%) re-election1.

As a result, The Rod decided he would expand state funding of health care for families, up to an annual family income of $82,000. The legislature said “no way” and The Rod said, “yes way” and as the chief executive ordered state workers to sign people up. Now there are lawsuits and court rulings against The Rod, but he just doesn’t care. Why should he? He won re-election despite being unpopular last time and what is the legislature going to do, impeach him?

The lack of action on impeachment actually puzzles me, because The Rod is very unpopular with the Powers That Be in the legislature (turf war kind of thing) so I would think they would jump at the chance to dispose of him. But perhaps it’s simply that they would rather give up the rule of law than chance the spectre of accountability haunting them and not just The Rod. After all, what are the voters going to do, not re-elect them?


1 The Green Party candidate took 10%, which makes it worse because I doubt even 1% of those would have voted GOP.

Grant II?

I was stuck in a hotel last week for the tradeshow and saw part of the Keith Olberman show. Is that anything other than a half hour infomercial for Senator Obama? Some of the ancillary reporters showed signs of intelligence but Olberman was just flat out insane.

I also saw a political advertisement concerning a state legislator race. What was interesting was that it was a negative advertisement targeting a GOP candidate with the main theme being how the candidate was in league with the Governor. Who is a member of the Democratic Party. It’s like California Governor Gray Davis, except The Rod, our corrupt and stupid Governor, was re-elected by a landslide even though, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing known about him now that wasn’t then. Yet he’s so unpopular that members of his own party use him for guilt by association attacks. It’s a viable model for an Obama Presidency, I think.

That’s part of my re-thinking of the “Carter II” view of Obama. I am leaning more towards Grant II, a miasma of corruption generated by Obama’s spineless ways and active disinterest in noticing any corruption that benefits him. The entire credit card fraud issue is archetypical in that regard. Obama doesn’t engage in the corruption, he simply makes it very easy for any of his supporters / allies / fellow travelers to do so in a way that benefits Obama.

21 October 2008

Busy busy!

Sorry for the lack of updates, but we are going to a trade show tomorrow in Chicago and trying to get a product release out in time for that. I thought I would let you know while I am waiting for a system build to complete.

15 October 2008

Cutting losses

According to Harry’s Place the current financial crisis has put a crimp in Scottish plans for independence, as the UK had to bail out some banks in Scotland with more money than the entire annual budget of Scotland. I can see that, but what puzzles me is why England would want to hold on to Scotland. Why not play the Czech Republic to their Slovakia? I can understand loyalty to the UK but if the other members don’t respect it, then you’re just setting yourself up to be played as a mark which seems to be the general state of England these days.

P.S. I also think we should declare San Francisco an independent city-state but we do not have the good fortune of a separatist movement there.

13 October 2008

Should have plead the 5th

I read this post a while back and was amused to see the same study show up over at Brothers Judd. I pointed out that counter analysis to Judd and he did not react well. Being a person of low moral character, I couldn’t resist taunting the prisoner, but I thought I would cross post here before it got memholed.

It winds up with Judd writing

It’s next to the picture of the alternate America where Nixon and Bush are Democrats and JFK and Clinton Republicans.

Your problem here is that ideology forces you to deny facts. It would be more fruitful to expand the anlysis. For instance, how can you implicate Democrats in the Nixon and Bush years and even in the current slowdown? Look at the Congress. Likewise, how can you claim credit for the Clinton boom? Again, check Congress.

I couldn’t resist replying

I see. You mean that claiming that Nixon governed like a liberal Democrat is something only a hard core ideologue would espouse and indicates a strong denial of facts? Well, clearly, it would be wrong to trust the political analysis of such a person.

I would also note that expanding the analysis is, IMHO, de facto debunking the original claim which rests entirely on the notion that the President is the most important factor in economic performance. I am happy to see you come around to my point of view.

This, Mr. Burnet, is why I have so honed my memory.

Sadly, I really should be working on my new parsing engine. Sigh.

12 October 2008

I am sure some one has brought this up before

A common scenario in many science fiction novels is a stellar diaspora followed by something Really Bad happening to Earth (nuclear war, runaway nanotech, asteroid bombardment, the Sun going nova, etc.). What I want to know is, what would that mean for the Second Coming1?


1 First for our Jewish readers.

Humble servants vs. Elite rulers

Another thing I found while cleaning out the mental attic was this post over at Harry’s Place. The post is basically aghast the Senator McCain has the audacity to call Senator Obama “elitist” when McCain married an heiress and owns lots of houses. I found it a typical misunderstanding of American culture, and had an exchange I have been meaning to report here (click here to skip to the interesting bits).

I commented

In the USA, “elitism” is not being richer or better than others, it is believing you are better than others and, more significantly, believing as a consequence that you know better than others what is good for that other. It is that busy-body nannyism that is the essence of what Americans mean by “elitist”. It is the air of someone who thinks he is a master and the rest of us peasants. Here is Rick Perlstein demonstrating that attitude in discussing Senator Obama

[I]f Barack Obama is elected president with a significant popular mandate, a number of Democrats riding his coattails to the House, and enough senators to scuttle the filibuster of his legislative agenda — all of which seem entirely possible — he will inherit a historical opportunity to civilize the United States in ways not seen in a generation.

Perlstein goes on to recommend that, basically, Obama lie about his actual policies by governing like an Old Labor leader despite his campaign rhetoric. Why should he do that? Because it’s for our own good as Americans and we’re too stupid to figure it out so our “betters” need to lie to us to get it done.

One may argue about the acuracy, morality, and efficacy of such a policy, but arguing it’s an attitude that is popular in the USA is ludicrous. And that’s what Senator McCain’s charge of “elitist” means, and why it’s an effective charge that doesn’t work against McCain. It’s re-enforced by the McCain “Straight Talk Express” vs. the Obama’s campaign’s excessive document security, exemplified by the whole birth certificate imbroglio, which gives credence to the “Obama knows best what you little people need to know about him”. Anyone who projects an attitude that is compatible with uttering “little people” is going to find winning elections a hard uphill struggle.

A commentor named Nick replied

Err … isn’t that the point of being president ergo McCain is an elitist. I mean, the nature of his military and political achievements have long since removed him from the realm or ordinary guyness - as I believe Benji pointed out above.

The fundamental nature of Western democracies is that through the democratic process we basically put our future safety and wealth in the hands of an elite whom we like to believe are competent to manage them. In other words, we abrogate the right to run large parts of our life in a manner of our choosing.

I suppose what i’m trying to say is that you’d have to be a fool to believe McCain’s “aww, shucks, I just speak it like I see it” schtick as though he were some schmo down the local boozer you’d be happy to hand control of the nation’s finances and military to.

I responded to that
isn’t that the point of being president […]?

No. Americans can’t stand Presidents who think that way. Read up on Adlai Stevenson for the archetype of that.

the nature of his military and political achievements have long since removed him from the realm or ordinary guyness

You misunderstand my point. Others can believe that about McCain. He is not allowed to believe it about himself. He is very specifically not allowed to think it makes him deserving of being President. To think that is to take the decision away from the citizenry, who alone decide who is deserving of holding that office. McCain can go on about how he is qualified, but to me that’s a very distinct thing.

The fundamental nature of Western democracies is that through the democratic process we basically put our future safety and wealth in the hands of an elite

Not in America. We put our future safety and wealth in our own hands. The government is a tool we use to help us with that, and the people who serve us in government better do a good job or they’re fired. You may think of elected officials as rulers, Americans think of them as the equivalent of contractors hired to take care of things we’d rather not do ourselves. For that same reason, we like to hire people we can think of having a personal relationship with, not someone who thinks we’re idiots who need their expertise. And that goes right back to the previous point, which is people don’t mind contractors who are up front about their qualifications for the job, but can’t stand ones who presume they’re entitled to it.

I suppose what i’m trying to say is that you’d have to be a fool to believe McCain’s […] schtick

Quite possibly. But the subject wasn’t whether McCain’s technique would work, or work on non-fools, but (1) why it would be effective if it did work and (2) why it has very little to do with how much money or how many homes McCain has. Beyond that, even a cynic recognizes hypocrisy as the tribute vice pays to virtue. McCain at least cares enough to fake it. If a candidate isn’t even willing to do that or is so out of touch that he isn’t even capable of faking it, that’s a very bad sign.

I think this hits on a common misunderstanding of how the American Street views its government. I will admit that it’s faded over the years and isn’t as strong as it was in the past, but the American Street still, by and large, views its elected officials as hired help, rather than a ruling class, because the USA is a non-intrinsical class system. The USA has a class structure, but it’s flexible and changeable, not something determined at birth. I suspect that’s why Senator Obama is so popular in Europe and Governor Palin so despised. Obama is very European — he speaks well, sounds off on big things, and has a cultured disdain for the little people, who will be told what he thinks they need to know, and told to work and shed their cynicism. Other than that, and surrendering to the forces of darkness in Iraq, I haven’t seen any real explanation for what’s good about Obama. Even his supporters are generally reduced to “well, I hope he’ll do the right thing, even though his stated positions are completely different or all over the map”.

Palin, in constrast, is a hick with a bad accent. Her ascension is a massive affront to the very idea of a ruling class and its ideals. That’s the real reason for the viturpation, not her policies, as we can tell from the fact that the viturpation started before she announced any. Her very presence provoked paroxysims of rage, which tells you that it is, in fact, her appearance that’s enraging. Unlike Obama, with Palin there’s no good way to delude yourself that she’s what you want, instead of what she is. That, to intellectual elite, is True Evil.

This has also lead me to think that while America is an anti-intellecutal culture, one must keep in mind that “intellectual” doesn’t mean smart or even educated, but someone who believes they are of a superior kind because of it. Americans like smart people, and they like educated people. Just think of Albert Einstein’s or Stephen Hawking’s reputation on the American Street. But they do insist that such people do something useful with their intelligence and education and not just claim superiority.

Fair competition

I have been meaning to write about some various articles I read over the summer about how humans would do in a multi-species Olympics. Naturally, the articles have humans getting crushed. However, this is done by having the Gaian Olypmics be humans vs. every other species on the entire planet. Shouldn’t it instead be one team per species? I think in that case humans would do quite well, if for no other reason than the events were picked to be things humans do reasonably well. I don’t think humans would win many events, but I think they’d place in enough to dominate the overall competition.

P.S. And let’s not forget the true crowning glory of human superiority — big hair.

11 October 2008

Carter II Watch

One thing that is a major concern from the FMO08 is a “regulation bubble” where massive regulations are passed in a hurried and completely unexamined way and remain to burden the economy and its recovery with little to no actual benefit (Sarbanes-Oxley comes to mind). One that would be interesting to watch with regard to political fallout would be this one

A wide range of sweeping changes to the 401(k) system were proposed Tuesday at a hearing on how the market crisis has devastated retirement savings plans.

Chief among them was eliminating $80 billion in tax savings for higher-income people enrolled in 401(k) retirement savings plans.

This was suggested by the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Yeah, that will go over well. And as for privatizing Social Security,

Congress should let workers trade their 401(k) assets for guaranteed retirement accounts made up of government bonds, suggested Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor at The New School for Social Research in New York.

When workers collected Social Security, the guaranteed retirement account would pay an inflation-adjusted annuity under her plan.

So basically, the government would steal worker’s retierment savings and bump up their putative SS payout? Another political winner of a plan. And even those who don’t agree voluntarily should wonder just how long such a thing would remain voluntary.

That’s the kind of thing that will make Senator Obama’s four years a burden and not a benefit in 2012.

And gasoline prices are too low

I think people can disagree about the degree to which the CRA contributed to the Financial Meltdown of 2008. But Orrin Judd’s latest theory seems totally disconnected from reality —

Indeed, the problem was created by the rates charged by the borrowers and then central banks cranking rates to fight a non-existent inflation.

That’s got to be pure chain yanking.

10 October 2008

Palinsulated

I think Governor Palin is well placed for 2012, regardless of what happens in the 2008 election. The base loves them some Palin and even if Senator McCain goes down humilatingly I just don’t see any of it sticking to Palin. My reading is that the base thinks it wouldn’t even be close without her. With four more years of experience and fundraising, she’s likely to be formidable. Palin could actually borrow some pages from the former President Reagan play book and spend effort in local and mid term races to build up national contacts and organization. Palin also seems eager for it, which is no small factor either. Personally, I think if it’s Senator Clinton vs. Palin in 2012, HRC is going down.

P.S. What would a Palin presidential candidacy do to Orrin Judd’s “next in line” theory of GOP nominations?

It's all in the spin

If Bush had pointed out that Saddam Hussein was not only a warmongering genocidal megalomaniac who supported terrorism and had been working on nuclear weapons for decades (with more success than any Western intelligence agency had thought possible), but also the effective CEO of his nation’s oil companies, Oliver Stone would be making “Why We Fight” pictures.

bgates

Sorry, had to cross post this, it was too funny.

09 October 2008

Here, it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place

McCain was booooring! We’re gonna lose! Welcome to your new socialism, start stocking up on ammo… OMGWTFBBQOBAMAWONTHEDEEBATE!!!ELEVEN!!!

Oh, sorry, I’ll behave now.

What I find interesting is the amount that Senator Obama is spending vs. Senator McCain. What does it say about Obama’s underlying popularity that he has to massively (and I mean massively) outspend McCain and have Old Media in the tank for him to maintain a slim lead? At least now I know what he needed all that money for.

08 October 2008

Lady-like politics

I saw reference to this article from Time magazine in several places. It starts off with

Ah, women, the consistently, tragically underestimated constituency. What the Democrats learned during the primaries and the Republicans might now be finding out the hard way, I learned at my very academic, well-regarded all-girls high school: that is never to discount the ability of women to open a robust, committed, well-thought-out vat of hatred for another girl.

Women are weapons-grade haters. Hillary Clinton knows it. Palin knows it too. When women get their hate on, they don’t just dislike, or find disfavor with, or sort of not really appreciate. They loathe - deeply, richly, sustainingly. I do not say this to disparage my gender; women also love in more or less the same way.

When men disagree, the steps to resolution are reasonably clear and unsophisticated. Acts of physical violence are visited upon one another’s person or property, and the whole thing blows over. Women? Nu-unh. We savor the discord.

Leaving aside whether this is an accurate statement, my first thought was that this would make the USA a “guy” nation and Europe a gaggle of gal nations. After all, when the American Street gets upset with some other nation, we beat them up but afterwards, if they don’t make more trouble, we let it all blow over. Europe, on the other hand (or at least the EUlite), seems to enjoy stewing in long standing historical grievances with each other and the USA.

And if the USA is a “guy” nation, and the GOP is the “daddy” party, who is the natural governing party …? I wonder if this author ever thought about that.

06 October 2008

Chipping away at a legend

Two UCLA economics professors have published a paper which blames President Frankling Roosevelt’s economic policies for prolonging the Great Depression.

After scrutinizing Roosevelt’s record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.

“Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump,” said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA’s Department of Economics. “We found that a relapse isn’t likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies.”

[…]

he [FDR] came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces.

I find the comment about cartels the most interesting one. It puts an ironic edge on the report, doesn’t it?

04 October 2008

More bailing

The previous exchange on this subject got lost in the weeds a bit, in my view, so I am go to restart both the discussion and my own digression.

First among the things that I think got lost is that, like an airplane crash, a situation like this is almost never the result of a single cause. There is usually a root cause, but it is very rare for that root to have grown to a serious problem without other contributing factors. While we can argue about whether “mark to market” was a contributing factor, I think we can dispense up front with the idea that it’s the only factor. I would say that should be the default position for any discussion of a root or contributing cause, unless specifically argued otherwise.

I am not interested in seeking a “villian” unless a successful such search would improve things in the future by enabling the removal of the villian’s power to do harm or discouraging future imitators. If we can’t do either of those, even if we find a villian, then it’s not a productive pastime.

As with villians, to me the point of finding contributing factors is to find ways to ameloriate or prevent them in the future. An important corollary of that is that factors over which we have no control are pointless to debate. One that comes to mind is the “greed” or “shareholder value maximization”. There’s nothing one can do about that short of massive genetic engineering so I find it pointless to discuss. One needs to design any financial system under the presumption of greed by basically all of the participants and designs that don’t deal with that fact of life are doomed to miserable failure.

After all this, I still see the FMs as the seed crystal of the problem. These entities basically created the mortgage security market by first dealing with them large scale and by providing de facto guaranteed liquidity for them. Without that government backing the problem would not have been able to grow so large.

The FMs were also used to engage in social engineering, in terms of home ownership, and as usual the long term result was a crash and burn.

Beyond that, however, a major contributing factor that doesn’t seem to get much play is the large amount of fiduciary malfeascance that was going on at the FMs over the last decade or so. This is actually what the efforts of President Bush (2003) and Senator McCain (2005) were aimed at, much more than the previous two items. If there’s one group of people who need to be named villians and prosecuted, it’s that crew.

To me, the proper preventative measure is simple. Don’t provide government backing for derivatives. Don’t mix public and private in the FM way, which created the worst of both worlds — all the greed of the private sector with the sclerotic reactions and impenetrable corruption of the public sector.

UPDATE 1: I will state that I think the repeal of Glass-Steagall is irrelevant to this issue. One can see this by noting how the liquidity problems have spread throughout the banking system, and indeed internationally. Either all of the local and regional banks that avoid the MBS market are not in danger, in which case we don’t have a real problem, or they are, in which case the division that Glass-Steagall enforced an obviously artificial one with no relevance in the real world.

UPDATE 2: Some claim that a New Deal style regulated banking system doesn’t suffer from crises. One might make the counter-claim that such regulation merely stores up trouble for the future, the way the USSR’s economy, rather than enduring periodic problems, simply collapsed catastrophically after many decades (hmmm, about as long as the New Deal financial system…). That’s a style as common to government intervention as periodic panics are to capitalism, so it would seem just as reasonable a claim.

But I thought it would help!

As a companion post to the Daily Duck, I offer this post by Tim Blair. It is an excellent tale of the travails of an “artist” and the stunning disconnect between his supporters and normal citizens. Please do not hold any liquids while reading.

02 October 2008

Laptop retrieval

I was going to share a money making idea with you all, but I was too late. It’s already on the market. I got the idea while trying to use my laptop, which the cat (POset) has utilized as a warming pad now that the weather has turned cold. I thought, “hey — you could build something that was just a flat pad that was warm like a laptop and cats would love it”. Sadly, I was not the first to think of it. Now I just need to persuade SWIPIAW to get one to promote marital bliss.

01 October 2008

Served Chicago Style

I have been exchanging email with my Evil Brother (who found the 2004 Fannie Mae hearings video quite the eye opener) and the subject of Gwen Ifill’s conflict of interest in moderating the Vice Presidential debate. One thing I said, and my brother also noted, was the question of how the McCain campaign could have been blindedsided on this, since the book was not in any sense a secret.

But it still kind of bothered me, and while writing an email back to Evil Brother I realized what the underlying issue was.

If we take as a basis that Senator McCain was stupid for having agreed to the debate, are we not accepting the proposition that McCain was stupid for presuming any sort of non-partisanship on the part of the debate organizers? Is that really where we want to go, where our candidates are mocked for not treating every single thing as a Machiavellian plot? That way, it seems to me, lies Chicago style politics.

I noted earlier how Senator Obama was a Chicago style thug. I think that this is also an example of the road to Chicago style politics, aided by the Obama campaign and Old Media. The act of shrugging it off, saying “McCain should have been more suspiscious” is an acceptance of that style, that anything goes if you get away with it, and no honor in honesty and trust. It brings to mind a recent essay (which, sadly, I cannot find now) about how cities fall not when the barbarian hordes over run them, but when people decide that what has been lost can’t be recaptured. To lose the ability to have any trust, any neutrality, in our political process and have people just shrug it off seems a piece of that.

P.S. Am I the only one old enough to remember the fears of the Clintons bringing in the sleaze and back room dealing of Arkansas politics to the national level? Well, I have lived in Illinois for decades and and very familiar with Chicago politics and it just flat out boggles my mind that we’re now getting ready to import politics from a place that makes the Clintons’ Arkansas look rustic.