Monday, December 14, 2009

Use History Part 2

Any Democrat who wonders why Joe Lieberman is holding the Obamacare bill hostage and maybe a little hacked off at Harry Reid might want to recall this statement that Reid and Chuck Schumer issued after Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in 2006 in Connecticut
The Democratic voters of Connecticut have spoken and chosen Ned Lamont as their nominee. Both we and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) fully support Mr. Lamont’s candidacy. Congratulations to Ned on his victory and on a race well run.

Joe Lieberman has been an effective Democratic Senator for Connecticut and for America. But the perception was that he was too close to George Bush and this election was, in many respects, a referendum on the President more than anything else. The results bode well for Democratic victories in November and our efforts to take the country in a new direction.
Well I'd say Joe is taking that health care bill in a new direction, yes siree...............

Quick prediction - a deal will be cut, but Lieberman won't be the last Democratic moderate to waver and maybe vote no. I'd still put the odds of passage of some kind of bill at 65%.

Someone is Hiring

And that would be the Federal Government, and they are giving out sweet pay and perks! I've been blogging about the onerous burden that state and local government employees' pension and health care obligations will place on Fundbaby, but this is just another reminder of how the feds don't understand what real people suffer through and become increasingly disconnected from reality and the correcting forces of markets.

Representative Government Update

This poll from CNN, not Fox, shows that around 60% of Americans now oppose the Senate health care bill. The key passage from the article:
According to the poll, a very large majority of Americans think that the health care bill that the U.S. Senate is considering would raise the federal deficit and raise their taxes, and while they think that the bill would help many families, only one in five think they would benefit personally if the bill becomes law.

"As a result, more than six in 10 say they oppose the Senate health care bill," Holland said. "Republicans obviously don't like the bill, but two-thirds of independents also say they are against it."
Hat tip to the Opinion Journal's Best of the Web.


Stumbled across this news bit from the Washington Post about the fourth Democratic House Member in a "swing district" who will retiring this year - coincidentally. Of course even if there's a seismic shift in the elections next year, we'll simply get more of the same from the other group of thieves.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Scary Lesson in Government Financial Planning

I handle the finances in Chateau Fundfamily, and Mrs. Fundman and I are in agreement that this is the best way to handle it. You see, I'm cheap, and Mrs. Fundman is not so much. I may not be as cheap as La Cheapa Chica, but I tend to view Dave Ramsey as a more appropriate role model than say, Nicholas Cage. So I turn down the thermostat in the winter, bring back little shampoo bottles from hotels, and buy meat when it's marked way, way down at the story. I don't dumpster dive, but hey, you never know.

In government, no one is Dave Ramsey, and everyone is Nick Cage, and lately, everyone has been like Nick Cage with a vengeance. Of course it's easy to be Nick Cage when you are spending other people's money, and that's what governments do. The only broad limits on insane government spending of OUR money has been a legal limit on the amount of debt the U.S. government can use to fund its activities - 12 trillion bucks.

You'd think that in addition to tax revenues, a 12 trillion dollar limit would be enough to run a country no? Well apparently it isn't because now they need more credit. And unlike normal people, the government doesn't need the approval of Visa or Amex to raise their credit card limit. Congress votes on it. So imagine if you could take out a credit card, and just keep raising the limit - awesome no? And the debt you put on the card was paid off with someone else's money in 30 years after you had retired and made a mint as a lobbyist and paid speaker.

Well yesterday the Democratic House leadership said they were going to have to raise the debt ceiling - by 1.8 TRILLION dollars (1,800,000,000,000). If that isn't nauseating enough, the Congress doesn't understand, at all, the ramifications of this. Take a look at this quote from David Obey, the Chairman of the House Appropriations committee:
“It is December. We don’t really have a choice,” Obey told POLITICO. “The bill’s already been run up; the credit card has already been used. When you get the bill in the mail you need to pay it.”
Now David Obey is head of the committee that appropriates all, ALL, of the expenditures for the House. This guy is the top shopper for all of the U.S. government along with his colleague in the Senate. Consider his quote about the credit card "has been used" and the bill needs to be paid.................

Dave, buddy, YOU ARE NOT PAYING FOR THE BILL BY RAISING THE DEBT CEILING. No, Dave you are ADDING TO THE BILL. Trust me; I handle the finances for my family, and I don't think a bill has been paid when I simply borrow money from someone to pay someone else. But this apparently is the way that the government thinks. You "pay" bills by borrowing money. And while most U.S. families are cutting their debt burden by not borrowing more money, the government is doing the opposite and apparently thinks that's fine.

If the government would like to actually "pay" it's bills I have some suggestions on that matter - spend less, and pay down the debt. In a regime that is supposed to have democratic tendencies, the Congress may want to look at the actions of their constituents and learn a thing or two. A novel idea in politics today.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shedding a Little Light on Another Global Warming "Expert"

Mrs. Fundman and I have become very disillusioned with former Governor "Hockey Mom" of Alaska. We don't dislike her nearly as much as the folks in the MSM or on the left, but she's just not that bright and really should just go away. Instead she writes stuff like this piece in the Washington Post on global warming that sort of takes a flimsy position on the science and politics surrounding it.

So now the next day in this response along comes Alan Leshner, who is the chief executive officer of the AAAS, which touts itself as the world's biggest general scientific community, that publishes the journal Science. So in a fight like this you'd assume that the Hockey Mom is wrong and Mr. Scientific Community guy is the expert.

But in many ways this exchange summarizes why I don't have any clue who to believe here. We know about Palin, and her intellectual "limits." But what you may not know about Mr. Science Guy is that he has no background AT ALL in climate change. He's a psychologist, a Ph.D. in it. Now that's more of a social science. And in fact, he's a former government bureaucrat who was head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is at the core of the Drug War, and later NIH. So first off, the guy's not a physician, but he's a brain psychology expert who focuses on addiction. He has no background in global warming other than having worked as a bureaucrat.

Secondly, it turns out that at least according to this guy who is a doctor, Mr. Science Guy may have influenced research that predisposed results to support his worldview. I'm not fucking kidding. ran this nice little piece suggesting that Mr. Science Guy
has supported research that bolsters the administration's point of view, failed to fund projects that could undermine it, opposed research into medical marijuana and used images drawn from advanced medical technology to create misleading anti-drug campaigns.
This is EXACTLY the problem that the Climategate emails have raised - that a political agenda is pushing the research not honest debate. So this guy is part of the problem posing as an objective, all-knowing scientist.

So we are left wondering who the hell to believe? A probably ditzy, self-interested politician or a guy who has a history of engaging in questionable scientific activities? That's at the core of what's wrong with all of this public dialogue AND why people are starting to doubt the validity of this stuff. If the science is not scientific, and the opponents still look like wing-nuts we're left confused and cynical.

This is a Joke, Right?

Headline from the NYTimes wire this morning:

Accepting Peace Prize, Obama Evokes ‘Just War’

I think we are going to find out at the end of his administration that Sasha Baron Cohen is playing Obama and filming the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Climate Language - Watch your Wallet

Investment - it's one of those words that sounds good. Evokes images of squirrels hiding nuts for the winter and saving for Fundbaby's college education. It sounds a helluva lot better than "huge tax increases giving elected politicians and government bureaucrats lots of money to pass around to campaign supporters and rent-seeking business people" which is what it usually means when people talk about government investments.

See governments don't make money and then invest it. They take our money and then spend it. Now one of the biggest debates in economics is whether or not the effect of government spending is good or bad for an economy depending on the context and way it's spent. Folks like Keynes and Paui Krugman think that's possible and support it. Conversely folks like FA Hayek say that such initiatives are a bad thing to be avoided because the government doesn't do a particularly good job of spending other people's money and typically just gives the money to special interests.

The Greenies have been the kings of language. They say things like "green jobs" and "investment" and "climate change" rather than "heavily subsidized jobs" or "wasteful government redistributive spanding" or "variations in dynamic systems that potentially show little causal effect." It's just like shopping at Whole Foods and paying 14 dollars for a 5 ounce bag of baked organic root vegetable chips, which makes you feel good about yourself, but makes little economic sense and even less environmental sense.

But I think that Climategate, which I've blogged about a little and the right wing blogosphere has been covering extensively, along with the economic downturn has had a pretty big impact on even MSM coverage of Copenhagen. Take for example this Time article examining the costs of a climate change deal. The author focuses on how expensive it's going to be, qualifies the apocalyptic predictions, and notes that carbon trading is going to be really, really expensive.

As long as folks like Fox News stop posting stupid survey data about opposition to global warming and de-legitimizing folks who have genuine concerns about the costs and benefits of this project I think we may, MAY be heading in the right direction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Should be a Huge Scandal

I've been sort of shocked by the language, but unsurprised that folks at the East Anglia climate center who advocate AGW dismissed skepticism or criticism of their research in emails that were released in the MSM a few weeks ago. I used to be an academic, and I can tell you that this kind of stuff happens all the time in universities. People are people, and they tend to buy into a conclusion and overlook details that don't fit their world view, dressing up the results with fancy models and at times heroic assumptions. The research may or may not get it right, but too often people's careers and lives get intertwined with an investment in the work. ALL scientific and social scientific research should be submitted to public cross-checking by posting of all available data. See this quote from Declan McCullagh:
The irony of this situation is that most of us expect science to be conducted in the open, without unpublished secret data, hidden agendas, and computer programs of dubious reliability. East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit might have avoided this snafu by publicly disclosing as much as possible at every step of the way.
But now it's starting to look like there's a big reason why none of these folks disclosed the information: many of the conclusions that AGW are based on use data that now no longer exist, which is a huge, enormous, and really troubling problem. If the folks who advocate AGW are saying that the "science" is settled, but they no longer have the raw data that support the scientific findings, that's bad. And whether or not those emails show bias or lack of sensitivity or whatever, if the whole thing can't be re-examined because the data got thrown out, it's really, really, really, really, really, really, really, bad.

The financial, economic, and political consequences of policies that limit carbon emissions will cost trillions of dollars - 1,000,000,000,000's. And all of this legislation may be based on temperature measurements that may be ALL WRONG? Even in my deeply cynical world view this is pretty depressing.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Throwing Good Money After Bad Money After Stupid Money After Bubble Money

Let me begin with a simple statement - most people facing or in foreclosure now probably had too much house to begin with. Anyone who cares to disagree is free to do so in the comments.

If you take that statement at face value, why do we continue to throw money at these folks for at least the third time?

Here is the key passage in my humble view:
Under the president's plan, delinquent borrowers are put into trial modifications for several months to make sure they can handle the new payments and to give them time to submit their financial paperwork.

Borrowers that qualify for a long-term modifications can keep making the lower payments for five years. At that point, the interest rate will be set at the rate at the time of the adjustment, or about 5% today.

Loan servicers, however, say they are having trouble getting the necessary documents from borrowers, while homeowners maintain that their financial institutions are repeatedly losing the paperwork.

And once homeowners send in their forms, servicers may find these borrowers don't have enough income or have too much equity or savings to qualify. Or it may just be more profitable for the bank to foreclose on the home than modify the mortgage.
So to summarize - most of the folks in this program either shouldn't be in these places or have plenty of money but are trying to steal from the government; the government can't get the paperwork right for either the lenders or borrowers who actually can benefit from this program. So it's a complete cluster-fuck.

So basically all we are doing is re-inflating an asset bubble, and pushing back the pain of the inevitable. Why? Well we aren't bailing out homeowners really. If you think about it logically, we are basically bailing-out lenders who don't have to take foreclosure, but instead get reduced payments through this program. The program should really be called "A Way to Make it Look Like We Care About Little People While Actually Giving Money to Big Banks and Rich People" but that's a tad long and unwieldy. So I'd settle for "Business as Usual."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Class I Would Love to Take

From the New York Times of all places, this video on a guy in Virginia who teaches people (it's all guys in the video) how to hunt, field dress and cook deer. I can only imagine how the comments section of the Times is full of angry vegans bemoaning the glorification of tasty Bambi being sauteed to perfection.............(this is what I'm doing thinking of tasty venison).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Question About the French Health Care System

Reading the stories today about the cervical cancer recommendations, I was struck by two things. First, the MSM like this New York Times piece is really on board with what is now being called "science based medicine." Between you and me I thought medicine these days was SUPPOSED TO BE BASED ON SCIENCE ALREADY since we'd stop the bleedings and such.

Secondly, I know this is going to sound catty, but wasn't one of the big things about why our system sucked was that we already weren't very good at preventable deaths? Don't the Europeans and French in particular score really well on those measures of preventable deaths? So do we square limiting screening with this goal? Or did I miss something?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Some Truth Behind the Rhetoric

Living in Washington, DC is weird. I should know - I used to live there. The food scene is great, and there are a lot of young people who bring energy and relentlessly baseless optimism to the place. But everything closes early. Public transit is built around the needs of commuters and tourists. Almost no one, other than the city's African-American population, actually is born, lives, and dies in the area. And then there's the infestation of politicians.

Inevitably, it starts to influence people's minds, like Steve Pearlstein, who actually writes the occasionally smart business column in the Washington Post. However like most DC/NYC public intellectual types, hanging out in the halls of power clouds his perceptions, and it annoys me. Behold this quote from a column of his attacking Republicans for being "political terrorists" in the health care debate:
While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers -- the only two ways I can think of to credibly bring health spending under control.

When Democrats, for example, propose to fund research to give doctors, patients and health plans better information on what works and what doesn't, Republicans sense a sinister plot to have the government decide what treatments you will get. By the same wacko-logic, a proposal that Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care is transformed into a secret plan for mass euthanasia of the elderly.
Now by and large I agree with him that Republicans are being fear mongers in this debate but he's not being honest when he says that our only choice is to "reduce the amount of health care people consume." He assumes, since he lives in DC, that the government must be more heavily involved in health care. Instead we could also use proper pricing to make people understand health care costs. But once he assumes that government is the answer, what he's saying, inevitably and unavoidably, is that some people who are "over-consuming" care will be limited in their access to care. If he admitted this, he'd understand that the reason why the Republicans "wacko-logic" is working with people is that the public rightly understands there's no such thing as a free lunch. The Democrats are soft-peddling the impact of their proposed changes and the impact of those changes.

Using very vague phrases like "better information on what works and what doesn't" is dancing around the fundamental issue. Note that Pearlstein doesn't say "perfect information." People facing life threatening situations don't want to hear about probabilities and costs. They don't want to hear that if something PROBABLY WON'T WORK that they can't have it because it's too expensive. And it's not easy for a bunch of experts to decide what "works" and what doesn't.

Imagine a 10 year old child who's life can be saved by a procedure with a high probability of success and very high cost. Now imagine a 75 year old columnist for the Washington Post who needs an expensive operation that might only extend life for a couple of years. In our screwed up system it is more likely that the old fart columnist would get the operation because of Medicare. That's wrong in my view. A panel of "experts" are more likely to do the opposite, but even they might discover that the child would die in a few years and the 75 year old might live another 25 or 30 years and add productively to society. And no matter what anyone on the left says, they will have to limit access to certain procedures based on "better" information. Overall society will save some money, but individual choice will be limited.

Which brings me to today's column by Pearlstein on the breast cancer recommendations. Much like many folks in the MSM, he's sort of surprised by the hoopla. After reviewing what the panel did, he says:
All that, of course, is exactly what the task force did, based on numerous studies done in different countries using different methodologies. In the end, it found that while some lives might be saved each year, the benefits of annual screening of women in their 40s were outweighed by the costs -- and that's without even getting into the financial costs, which run to several billion dollars a year.
That's the most honest statement I've seen yet about this entire debate. As I've noted here on a number of occasions, you CANNOT change this system without altering the winners and losers. If the reforms as currently written go through, more people who currently do not have health insurance and decent, not awesome, coverage will get it. In addition, people with awesome coverage (AARP and old farts I'm looking at you) will see an erosion in quality and access. Costs will increase. You can't get something for nothing.

Now if, IF we were going to have an honest discussion of these issues I'd start here. But since honesty has never been part of politics, I'd settle for compromise. Why not expand Medicaid for the poor and down-trodden. Push for cost controls in Medicare, and create a health system where people actually saw the costs of their procedures? That would, in my humble view, limit "over-consumption" or at least place those costs on those consuming. It's called personal choice and responsibility combined with broad public charity. It wouldn't kill us to start here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

No Such Thing as a Free Mammogram

Mrs. Fundman and I "discussed" the new recommendations for mammograms last night after dinner and a few drinks. I say "discussed" because I hadn't read much about it and she was pretty wound up after a long day with FundInfant at the pediatricians. As a conservative who watches too much Glenn Beck/John Nash, she saw the specter a conspiratorial future of cost-cutting once Obamacare passed the Congress. I just suggested it might be related to the changes that doctors had recently recommended to prostate exams for men.

Well today I officially apologize to Mrs. Fundman, because the White House is apparently freaking out over the panel and its potential impact on the debate. The quote from the Post, not Fox or some right-wing blog, that got me was:
Under health-care reform legislation pending in Congress, the task force's recommendations would be used to help determine the basic coverage that insurance companies would need to offer for preventive services. But task force officials said that played no role in the panel's decision and costs were never considered.
Yeah, sure. That's why the White House has issued about 35 public statements saying that this had nothing to do with the reform.

Just as an fyi - this little piece was brought to my attention by a friend in the UK, which has socialized medicine. A panel there just decided not to give people with liver cancer a drug which is proven to extend life because it's too expensive. And the drug apparently has some positive effects on breast cancer as well - not that any Brit will ever enjoy those benefits.

Folks as I've noted before, there is NO WAY to increase access and decrease costs without limiting available treatments. Full stop. The question is which alternative is more just, and that's a discussion we don't want to have in this country.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why I'm a Total Cynic about Greenies, Part 345

Behold today's New York Times piece on the decline of carbon offsets. In it the reporter, Elisabeth Rosenthal, decides to interview the president of a non-profit in the UK, a guy named Paul Dickinson.

Paul, tells Times readers "that rather than buying offsets he had sharply scaled back on flying and was instead taking trains or conducting meetings by phone or teleconference."

Huh, funny, because as his bio says HE FOUNDED A TELECONFERENCING COMPANY.

Then there is another environmental expert quoted in the article, Anja Kollmuss. She claims to be a "scientist," but she's not. Her degree is in Urban and Environmental Planning. She tells the Times readers that "buying offsets won’t solve the problem because flying around the way we do is simply unsustainable." Well she should know. As her bio notes SHE'S BEEN WORKING ON A PROJECT IN RURAL INDIA FOR SEVEN YEARS. That means she's been flying a couple times a year back and forth to and from Europe to India. I mean, what's her carbon footprint like?

Does any reporter ever, EVER check their sources? Is anyone in the Green movement not a total hypocrite? It took me literally five minutes to find this information, and yet the Times parades these hypocrites around to make people feel badly about flying? Ms. Rosenthal appears to be the Times lead reporter on environmental issues, and she can't even check to see how unbiased her sources are? This is America's paper of record?

Flying is one of the greatest advances in human history. It has allowed people to live remarkably better lives. It allows medical patients to receive donor organs, transports goods all over the world, and sends Doctors Without Borders to rural areas. Ms.Rosenthal, please stop bashing modernity and making regular people who don't fly back and forth all over the world feel badly for hoping over to Iowa twice a year to visit Mom and Dad.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Apparently, the Fox News War is Over

Remember when the President basically declared war on Fox News and tried to get the removed from the White House press pool?

Well apparently that was very twelve-minutes-ago because on Wednesday, one day after the off-year elections that had no broader implications for Democrats in which independent voters went fleeing to the GOP, David Axelrod, he who declared Fox non-news on October 18th, granted said agency this exclusive interview with Major Garrett.

Hell, the Argentine military did better in the Falklands than the administration did in that conflict. Talk about surrender. The next thing you know Anita Dunn will be interviewed by Glenn Beck with his insane collection of pictures, chalkboards and arrows pointing everywhere.

The internal polling at the White House must be fucking horrible among independents for them to cave this quickly. I generally don't put too much stock into off-years meaning a whole lot because one year is forever in politics, but the way the White House is acting they sure seem scared.

Here's an Idea, Use History

Three days removed from the Democrats losing gubernatorial races in NJ and Virginia, I have been struck by the way that Democrats have downplayed the results saying the races were unrelated to national events while Republicans have hammered away at the national implications for themselves and Obama.

So I thought to myself, "Self, didn't the Dems win in Virginia in 2005 with Bush in the White House? How did each party spin the story four years ago?"

The answer my friends is here in this MSNBC piece analyzing the 2005 outcomes. Note the similarities. The Democrats crowed about the national implications (and they were right) while the Republicans suggested it was all about local issues.

In the meantime, sorry I've not been posting to my 4 longtime readers. You can all come in off the ledge as I'm going to try to be better about writing more regularly.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Klein Hearts Friedman?

The most unpopular public intellectual in the world today appears to be Milton Friedman, although anyone Pro-Life is probably a close second. Friedman has been trashed by just about everyone on the left, including Naomi Klein who is a poster-girl for left wing, post modern anger at capitalism and all things "conservative."

But when I Googled Naomi recently to see what she has been saying these days, I found this amazing quote:
Larry Summers and Tim Geithner came up with a plan to bail out the banks that is actually a disguised bailout for the hedge funds — where the government is not bailing out the hedge funds directly because they can’t sell that, but hedging the hedge funds to buy the toxic assets of the banks — instead of nationalizing the banks and breaking them up, which is what needs to happen.
Here's the deal, what was Friedman's view of big government's judgment and benevolence? Check out this video of him and Phil Donahue going at it and tell me how far apart these two are on their skepticism of government power?

It seems to me that there may be a growing consensus about the limits of government benevolence in society today among people of very different ideological views. I'm not sure what this all means, but if both sides recognize the folly of the duopoly, that's progress.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Joke of Impartiality

My father is a lawyer. I have neighbors and friends who are lawyers and teach in law schools. My office "next door neighbor" is a lawyer. Some of my best friends........seriously, yes some of my best friends are lawyers. And if there's one thing I know from all of them, it's that they don't think, for one second, that any judge is "impartial" whatever that means.

Any good trial lawyer tries to get sympathetic judges and juries. Any good appellate lawyer tries to appeal to the predispositions of the appellate judges. And the reason the Founders set up a complicated selection process for the Supreme Court and judiciary wasn't, in my view, by accident. They understood that judges were never going to be "above the law" or "impartial."

The Founders had a very sophisticated understanding of law. Hell, read the damn Declaration of Independence. It reads like a legal brief. These guys weren't dumb or inexperienced in the law. John Adams cut his teeth as a lawyer, and they all had read Blackstone. They understood that "good" law should put some constraints on the arbitrary nature of power, but it wasn't perfect or sufficient to eliminate the risks to libery. They also understood that democratic politics had to be allowed to modify the course of government.

So it is with great pleasure that I tell the Left to seriously defend Sotomayor's argument that white judges reach "bad" decisions compared to Latinas. And to the Right I ask you how you can narrowly define "racism" as any generalization based on race when the term comes loaded with the experience of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, bigotry, and racial profiling? I ask the Left how its "post racial" President can play identity politics? I ask the Right why a bunch of white guys, fat white guys no less, are the ones crying foul here? If they are so racially progressive, where are the hordes of black and Latino Republicans defending limited views of the judiciary?

You can't separate law from politics. You also shouldn't equate the two. It seems to me she's an OK, not great judge, who fit a profile in a highly politicized decision. It also seems to me that using the "racism" card against her won't hurt the GOP in NASCAR country. For Obama, she's a bone to the Latino community, which both sides need to win this election. And it's not at all clear that most people even know who she is, let alone Latinos.

The problem is that there are no, universally agreed upon "GREAT" judges. They are not like baseball players or doctors. They are more like painters - you either like their work or you don't. You either agree with the outcomes and laud them, or you don't like the outcomes and call them "activists" or "closed minded" and you take you fight to other political arenas.

Mrs. Fundman and I got into a huge fight about her the other night, and that tells me something else - I'm going to be doing dishes for a while and agreeing with her more. That's probably the best thing that's come out of this.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In Case You Had Forgotten

Because I certainly had, it's been 20 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacres in China. This piece in the UK's Prospect does a nice job reflecting on what's happened since.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How Much is Too Much

I am old enough to remember the phrase "above the fold" which means the stuff in an old fashion print newspaper that was on top of the front page. Honestly I'm not sure if the same stuff holds for today's online media but this afternoon's New York Times webpage "above the median screen line?" is featuring a story about how, apparently, Bill Clinton has run out of interns to sleep with. The headline reads (I shit you not) "The Mellowing of William Jefferson Clinton." (You can do your own spit take at that title)

In the meantime well "below the fold/median line" on its webpage is a short piece sort of dismissing the reason why the Dow dumped about 173 points today -- concerns that the U.S. government's credit rating could tumble because we're borrowing too much damn money. In that piece the author claims that the Treasury's auction of 5 year notes was "better than analysts had expected."

Ummmm, look, I'm not some sophisticated business reporter with lots of experience at the New York Times, so maybe I'm slow, but when I glance at the bond market reports from basic economic data sites like CNNMoney today, I guess those analysts must have been predicting Jon and Kate winning "Parents of the Year" for things to be "better than analysts had expected."

I mean, the sales of 2 year notes were ok, and 5 year notes were "sluggish." Wanna know why? Because anybody with a basic understanding of what's going on understands that we are going to get a shitstorm of inflation - lots of it. And no reasonable bond holder is going to take notes from the U.S. government and hold them for 5 years and get paid like less than 3% unless they have to. When you consider that not many people have that much money to lend the government, and you have one conclusion -- the Feds will have to offer much higher rates of return to attract buyers.

Oh, and don't for one minute think this little report about how Moody's called the U.S.'s credit rating "stable." These were the same people who called subprime mortgages, and probably Edmund Andrew's wife for that matter, AAA rated.

I don't make predictions often (and don't ask Mrs. Fundman to confirm that), but I'm betting that the FreeCreditReport will begin running a bunch of ads with President Obama in them. He'll be living in his parent's basement complaining about how his credit score allowed the Chinese to foreclose on the White House. Or maybe he'll have to take a side job at a Renaissance Fair..........

Apologies, Excuses, Shameless Deflection of Blame

No, I was not in jail. No, the former head of NOW did not try to hunt me down for my earlier post on her. I did not join either one of those odious two parties.

Simply put, I had a massive work deadline that ended about three weeks ago, and then the Fund family went on vacation............the rest was just me figuring out what to say and working on another writing project.

Many thanks to d.eris for kicking me over the weekend. In the end, nagging is probably the best medicine for lazy bloggers.

It's nice to be back.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Headline of the Day

Below the fold from the Financial Times (am traveling for work in the UK this week, so that helps explain the lack of posts) from this piece by Gillian Tett:
Cadbury Schweppes is currently deemed a better credit bet than the British Treasury.
Would any of my readers (ok, there aren't they many of you) like to work on a list of U.S. companies that are better bets than the U.S. as credit risks? Oh, wait - the Treasury OWNS ever private company in the U.S. now anyway......

My initial list would include Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, and GE. And probably the UAW as long as Obama is in office and Lockheed Martin as long as the Republican Party still exists.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Wish He Would Just Go Away

Pat Buchanan..............I mean, why, oh why, does anyone take him seriously? In this thoughtful little illogical rant he claims that since Catholic universities are becoming more liberal and secular, that means America is going to hell.

First off, if his biography is any indication, the guy was nearly expelled from Georgetown for fighting in the 1960's - how Christian is that?

Secondly, Jesuit institutions like Georgetown have been struggling with their Catholic identity for a long time - well before Obama got elected. Georgetown survives because it compromises its identity for DC prestige at the drop of a hat - it's the Jesuit way. See for example this quote from Tim Healy, former president of Georgetown in the 1990's:
Father Buckley criticizes one contemporary expression of the dichotomy of secular purpose and religious inspiration of the Catholic university in his reflection on the philosophy of education of a famous president of Georgetown University, Timothy Healy. Father Healy had claimed that the Church and the university were essentially two radically distinct entities capable of coexisting in a mutually beneficial relationship but only if their mutual autonomy of mission was retained. In Fr. Healy's view, education at Georgetown was to remain "principally a secular business, and the university is a secular entity with a clear secular job to do. The Church can deeply influence how the secular job is done," (Buckley, 80),
Thirdly, would anyone remember this survey that CLEARLY SHOWED the U.S. is getting more Catholic Pat, not less.

But don't let a little data get in the way of a good cultural rant. The right never does.

If I Only Had a Train.....La, La, La, La

This morning the front page of many newspapers in the Midwest contained something like this headline from the Chicago Tribune
High Speed Trains Could Ease Midwest Travel
Now on the face of it, all of this looks very promising. Speaking as someone who has languished on highways around cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, I for one would love to save time and money, and avoid the hassle of expressways with fast, convenient train service. But is that what the Feds are offering?

Let's begin by closing our eyes, and imagining. On the White House blog the President said:
What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.
Now setting aside any obvious John Lennon jokes, my imagination is more limited than his in the following ways.

First off, last time I checked, relying on Amtrak to do anything efficiently and cost-effectively is, well, delusional. As this piece points out, Amtrak has been operating with so much red-ink that it already gets billions in taxpayer subsidies and simply cannot compete either in economic or efficiency (read here, the trains don't run on time) terms with anybody. I mean it's one thing to imagine Swiss trains which arrive within minutes of their schedules. It's another thing to wait 8 hours for a train.

Secondly, 100 mph? That's it? Look, Mr. President, you're from Chicago, and I would have thought that maybe you've driven between Chicago and say Indy along I-65 where the posted speed limit is 75 mph. I have because my family is still in Chicago, and I like going to the Indy 500 and getting up at 10 am on Memorial Day Sunday and getting drunk with 350,000 of my closest friends. Mr. President, 85-90 is the "rate of travel" along those roads most days. Getting up to 100 so I can enjoy Amtrak's food and efficient service and late arrivals? No thanks.

Finally, note the second sentence in the President's speech "Imagine boarding a train in the center of the city." Hands up from anyone who lives in the center of a large city today? All assumptions about trains are based on the idea that we are all going to live in central city areas and take public transit. I don't predict the future, but I'm sorry that simply doesn't map anyone's empirical reality outside of say 2.5 cities (NYC, SF, and part of Chicago). No one, NOBODY in St. Louis, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Charlotte, etc. lives in central cities, and with the housing collapse, no one is moving into those areas either.

So I'm going to drive 30 minutes to downtown, park (which I suspect won't be free), wait 8 hours for the train to arrive, hop on, arrive 14 hours late, and miss my appointment, or my birthday party, or the game? And it's going to cost us billions more than the billions we already throw at Amtrak?

In the East Coast corridor - sure, ok. And in fact you'd think that Amtrak would be able to make money with it's Acela trains. And in the past they have managed to squeak out a profit. But this year, with the airlines losing money, now even that route is starting to lose money as they are engaged in fare wars.

It's green, you say, and I say, ok. But why not take the 8 billion and develop the infrastructure for hydrogen transportation when we make that switch to emissions free driving? Or build that new electricity grid you want? Or, hell, I don't know, buy some pandas for a zoo. I just don't see this working, not here, not in suburban, Amtrak cursed America. And certainly not in the Midwest where we don't need intercity trains because it will just mean more people try to run rail crossings and get turned into car pancakes (Yes, that link is as cool as you suspect it might be).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How Much Land?

The Washington Post continues to impress me with its coverage of green issues that seem fair and interested in dealing with fact, not partisanship. Take for example today's piece on the unintended consequences of green energy production.

First off, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the reference to the potential "unintended effect" from an environment project by a journalist. It's about time that journalists realized that just because someone releases a report predicting what the impact of a sports stadium, stimulus program, or bio-diesel MAY be, it doesn't mean that things will turn out exactly, or at all, as the experts predict.

Secondly, check out the estimates from the Nature Conservancy, hardly a bastion of right-wing, global warming deniers, about how much land will have to be in the energy production business by 2030 as we move towards "greener" energy - 79,537 square miles of land. Folks, here's some perspective - the entire state of New York, not the city, the FRIGGING STATE is only 54,566 square miles.

That's right, green energy is going to consume a ton of land. So green means cutting down forests, plowing under wetlands, and building wind turbines and bio-diesel farms. Unless they plan on painting the turbines and solar panels green, I'm not understanding how this is so green.

Just So We're Clear

I always thought that conservatives were deeply concerned about civil unrest and too much democracy, while liberals defended free speech - right?

Well yesterday officially marked the moment when either we entered some weird, Star Trek opposite universe or hypocrisy is so prevalent that no one - NO ONE - seems to notice it anymore.

Consider the father of conservatism - James Madison - here quoted on the American Conservative Union webpage bashing democracy along with mob rule. And yet we see conservative journalists of every shape and color lauding these protests. Ah folks, will you be cheering as they charge the Bastille?

Consider the liberal iconic days of the 1960's in which people protested for women's rights, gay rights, animal rights, gay-female-animal rights, about as frequently as people drink lattes today. And yet yesterday we saw Keith Olbermann and a ton of other liberal outlets ridiculing people for engaging in free speech. Next thing you know liberals will be idealizing George Wallace.

Yes folks, days like yesterday are why I could no longer, with a straight face, teach about politics anymore. Principles get thrown out the window in a heartbeat. It's about winning, power, access to resources to give to your friends, and then justifying it with broad platitudes. All the while the rest of us pay the bills and continue to struggle along.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Case You Weren't Already Worried Enough

Megan McArdle has a nice post here about the looming disaster in public pensions. I hate to blow my own horn (ok, I love to blow my horn, that's why I friggin blog!) but I posted on this last year here. It's linked to the broader problem of state and local government deficits and spending which I've mentioned in a couple of posts here and here.

As she notes, these programs were underfunded and the politicians turned to a lot of exotic forms of investment in the past few guessed it, they were betting on interest rate swaps and other stuff that's now crashed and burned. At least, unlike private investors, they can start threatening people with criminal action like this piece about the state of Tennessee that allowed ONE FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRM to both advise towns on these investments and then sell them at the same time. That was smart. Unsurprisingly all these towns are now in trouble.

The latest example of this that I came across was this gem in Indiana where the water utility lost 100 million bucks on a variable rate financing deal.

If smart people on Wall Street did not understand these things, how in the hell can we expect policy folks and politicians, some of whom were part-time in places like Tennessee, understand interest rate swaps? This is going to be crazy expensive.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Would Environmental Lobbyists Feel if THEIR JOBS Were Gone?

Mrs. Fundman pointed me to this offensive and poorly thought-through piece in the USA Today on Friday. Once again we see that Greenies are toasting with Tofu-Sparkling Wine and Whole Grain Free-Range Pate to enjoy the suffering of the little people who have lost their jobs.

But thank goodness carbon emissions are down! Apparently the alternative is that the unemployed should grow vegetables in our yards and use solar heated out-houses while enjoying the frost covered sunsets and increased deaths that accompany subsistence agricultural lifestyles. It's much nicer than working at jobs in nasty carbon producing industries that allow them to feed their families, buy cars, send their kids to college and live and retire decent lives. However as long as we still have government subsidies for environmental lobbyists though we can rest easy.

What really galled me about this piece though was the amazingly bad final paragraph. The "reporter" decided to ask a LOBBYIST/RENT-SEEKER/LEECH ON THE TIT OF GOVERNMENT and call her an "expert" when it comes to the matter of whether or not the government should take more of our money and give it to HER. The answer to that question was an unsurprising "Well YES, the government should take more of your money and give it to me, regardless of whether or not you are unemployed or hungry."

Ms. Mazzacurati - screw off.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Read Carefully

This NYT piece is so achingly close to being right that I felt a pang of hope this morning that it would end properly. Of course it didn't. The Times reporters naively place blame for this tragedy on China's "lack of a free press, independent trade unions, citizen watchdog groups and other checks on official power." Trust me folks, the problem is not having "checks" on official power. Y'all won't get anywhere until you have less official power - full stop. Remember when this guy had lots of official power and millions of people died in labor camps? Civil society organizations won't solve the problem of unlimited official power.

Read it carefully and you'll see the problem with all modern societies. It's not greedy businesspeople per se (although they exist). It's not malevolent government officials per se (although they also exist). It's that greedy, subhuman businesspeople bribe malevolent government officials. And together they exploit people horribly.

And then the left gets to call it capitalism and the right screams about government corruption. And poor Mrs. Yang Youbiao will never know whose ashes she has.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Who Are Washington Elites and Who are Real People?

There's a really moving story in the Nation today by Kate Michelman who is a former president of NARAL, which is the nation's leading pro-choice organization - except, I'm not sure how much of it is true.

Read the piece, she tells us that her family faces a horrible health care crisis because her daughter, who was uninsured at the time, had an accident on a horse, and her husband's Parkinson's is bankrupting the family, despite the fact that:
He purchased quality health insurance, including long-term-care insurance, so he would not be a financial burden to others. He enjoyed a long and steady career at an institution that would pay healthcare costs and a modest pension for life. Between his salary and mine, we achieved a reasonable degree of economic comfort--never wealthy but independent, self-sufficient, responsible.
The problem is that later she claims that the long-term care insurance pays only a "fraction" of her care for her husband who has Parkinson's. She also says that she can't work taking care of him, and that she struggles to make ends meet. It's a tough story, and very tragic.

But something here just smells funny. I know I shouldn't feel this way, but OK, I had to do this. So I pulled the 990's from the NARAL Foundation, which is affiliated with NARAL USA (and full disclosure I'm not sure which one is the lobbying arm) and Ms. Michelman was making more than 200k per year from the lobbying and foundation end of NARAL in 2003 after her husband was diagnosed.. So she wasn't starving, at least not what most people would call starving. And I'd be shocked if NARAL didn't give it's president some pretty darn good health care benefits.

And what's stranger, she claims in the article that "she had already stopped working" when they "recently" decided to bring her husband home. But that doesn't seem to square with this 990 from 2007, that shows she still draws more than 100k per year from NARAL for "program services" (check out page 25) even after she stopped working there. Now I mean it could be that they are helping her out in a time of crisis, or maybe she's had to stop working just this year (more on that below), but program services means she was supposed to be working.

But her story now TOTALLY doesn't square with her other part-time work as she struggles along barely making ends meet. Well first off, she does speeches, for money, with this organization who, as you can see from their homepage, are the same people who represent, Bono, Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton, and Al Gore. Wow, a bunch of down on their luck people if I've ever seen it.

And here's her vita/bio. So as you can see she's listed as important by all of these prominent places like Forbes. She's "close friends" with Bill Clinton. And she's been making 6 figure salaries, in addition to book sales and speaking fees for a long time.

And this is even weirder - according to her story in the Nation, her husband's horrible fall appears to have occurred in October of 2008, but just two years earlier, in 2006, as President of NARAL, and after the dianogsis in 2002 of her husband and her daughter's accident she was contemplating running for the Senate. I guess the health care benefits of being a Senator outweighed her concerns about spending time taking care of her family.

And one more thing - while caring for her husband at home and her daughter, and starving, she still had time last year to endorse Barack Obama, appear on Hardball, and write about the experience in Salon. She was also a senior adviser to John Edwards (and not as a volunteer) and attacked Hilary Clinton, reported here, on gender grounds and accused her of "playing the victim card." Victim card, ummmmmmm Kate, can you talk about that Nation piece?

So my question is this - is our health system really screwed up so badly that someone who played by the rules, makes a lot of money, and has powerful friends still has challenges? Or she is bullshitting all of us? I'm open on this point, and would like your thoughts and comments. Since she's got a picture of herself in front of the capital, has worked in lived in DC forever, and worked for a lobbying firm you can guess my predisposition.

If she's bullshitting us, and playing politics, and maybe lying, then she should really be ashamed of herself. It's one thing to make a policy point, it's another to lay it on thick with personal stories and duplicitous actions in public outlets. A lot of people, a lot of decent people without her resources, overcome challenges and obstacles everyday in terms of family care. Public therapy designed to manipulate is a favorite move of political types - even if it's more like borderline fiction.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Right's Blame Game

Much as I distrust all politicians, including our president, I find this piece by Stuart Varney particularly hypocritical. He claims, and might even be correct, that the Obama administration is refusing to take the TARP money back from some banks because they want to control them and drive the economy to the left.

Three quick thoughts. First, DUH! The shocking development that a left-wing Democratic president wants to pursue a left-wing agenda is hardly news. Second, BUSH MADE THEM TAKE THE MONEY. Third, who started this problem and came begging for government money? That would be the banks.

Now they don't like the predicament they are in. Cry me a river. They made their beds, and now they can sleep in them. As Goodfellas should have taught everyone by now, if you choose your business partners poorly, bad things happen.

Bankers and investment firms have no one to blame but themselves, and since the rest of us are already paying their tab I hardly think they also need my sympathy.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Messed Up Priorities

I found out today that apparently it's your right as a state employees in Colorado, to be able to call 9-11 victims "Little Eichmanns." Ward Churchill, an insane "ethnic studies" professor at the University of Colorado wrote that 9-11 victims were "Little Eichmanns" and unsurprisingly got fired from his job. He filed a lawsuit and won his job back.

Even conservative academics, like these folks, seem to be defending him on the grounds of "academic freedom." Are they as loopy as he is? Taxpayer money is funding universities during hard economic times and giving away lifetime employees to nutjobs who should be living with the Taliban in the hills of Pakistan eating cockroaches and running for their lives from predator drones, not smoking pot in Boulder.

In the meantime we continue to give people who've made all sort of mistakes, like homeowners and bankers bailouts and bonuses.

Bill Clinton famously said that he wanted to reward people who "played by the rules." Well someone has either been changing the rules or those of us who have been playing by the rules need to reconsider our lives. I've never asked for a bailout, a lifetime job, a "do-over" on bad investments or special treatment in general. I'm just a Midwesterner with a mortgage, family, job (at least I hope so on Monday) and a support network of friends and neighbors. Stop distorting the incentives we all should be living by and maybe we wouldn't encourage people to do stupid things again and again.

This is Not the Great Depression Part 65

Would someone please tell Paul Krugman and his ilk, and anyone else who is going on about how we are on the verge of another Great Depression to get out of their university offices and look around at say, Yahoo or maybe home prices.

IF they did, they'd come across this piece on what the best things to buy during this downturn are BEFORE things get better. This suggests to me that a fair number of people are acting exactly as the neo-classical or Austrian model suggests - rationally.

Don't believe me? Google "foreclosures for sale" and you'll find a billion sites that tell you how to make money buying foreclosed homes.

Times are hard, there's no doubt. But to continue to compare this to the end of the world defies empirical reality and stinks of political fear mongering.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Be Very Afraid

James Madison must be turning over in his grave. Madison was the short Founder seated in the middle of the famous Christy painting of the signing of the Constitution. He was trained at Princeton, which was weird for a Virginian. And he most famously married Dolly who will forever have a soft spot in my heart for all of the cavities I got from eating the Zingers and Twinkies.

I didn't read much about James until I got to grad school where I rediscovered him and his most famous work, Federalist #10. He, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, wrote a series of anonymous articles defending the newly written Constitution in newspapers and broad sheets in the U.S. They were instrumental in helping to get the Constitution ratified amid more opposition from the Anti-Federalists (yes, they lacked a good PR firm) than American historians tend to remember.

What did Madison say in Federalist #10? He said basically that any free system of government had to acknowledge that people were going to form groups that had competing interests. We could not, EVER hope on the goodwill of people to do the "right thing," because liberty meant people would have the right to organize and promote their ideas and interests.

Instead, we'd need to rely on having a large country with a lot of diverse interests that would check each other. Groups would battle it out in politics and hopefully we'd get a more limited government rather than one dominated by the interests of the few.

Well Madison would be very afraid of this description of the unholy alliance that's forming over the Cap and Spend/Trade bill that was introduced in the House yesterday. I think anyone would expect that environmentalists would support a limit on carbon emissions. That's obvious. But the Mother Jones piece notes that industrial and economic interests that pollute also like the bill.


That's what you should be thinking first, but then you should be thinking the following:


Whenever two opposing interests have united over a bill it is not NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER a good thing. What it means my friends is that a deal has been cut in which both of these interests are going to get something they want at our expense - the taxpayers. And in this case it's that we are going to have carbon limits legislated that we will have to pay for and we will have massive subsidies to polluting industries as well that we'll have to pay for.

In other words, Madison's system has failed to have the fight between two interests that produces a limited government. Both sides have gotten something from the state, and we are paying far more than we should for an imperfect outcome.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Signs of the Apocolypse

I never in my adult life thought I would ever see this headline anywhere except possibly in the Onion:
Uncle Sam Wants to Warranty Your Car
Here is the article - seriously.

I'm not a huge believer in the idea that the Constitution should be taken literally because the Founders themselves tried to figure out ways around the limits. Jefferson bought Louisiana and Hamilton set up a national bank (neither of which were particularly "Constitutional") right after we ratified the thing for Pete's sake. But does this quote really reflect the spirit with which the Framers wrote the Constitution:
"Your warranty will be safe. In fact, it will be safer than it's ever been. Because starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty," President Obama said on Monday.
In my humble view, the fellows who met in Philadelphia in 1787 and ratified what, up till now, has been the most successful experiment in self-government in human history never in a MILLION YEARS wanted the U.S. government to do something like this.

And as I wrote about three months ago, enough with the plan a day strategy. It's not helping in case people hadn't noticed. What would help GM and just about every auto manufacturer, bank, financial institution, homeowner, and local government official would be doing nothing more. Enough with the programs and bailouts. If 2 trillion plus is not helping, another trillion won't make it any better.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quote of the Morning

For me anyway. From Freeman Dyson on the global warming debate:
Beyond the specific points of factual dispute, Dyson has said that it all boils down to “a deeper disagreement about values” between those who think “nature knows best” and that “any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil,” and “humanists,” like himself, who contend that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment.
It's from this piece in the NYT weekend section (why do they release it on Friday?) about one of the world's most prominent physicists, a liberal, who is a global warming skeptic.

No matter what your views are on global warming, and I happen to think something is going on, this piece is good biography, and a nice and fair review of the politics, science and morality behind this public debate.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's Not My Fault You Chose to Live Near a River

Normally I have tremendous sympathies for all of my brethren, and breth-women, in the Midwest. I have a slow cooker; I shovel snow and clear off my neighbor's sidewalk, hills scare me. But whenever spring rolls around there are always stories like this one where some Midwestern town, located along a river, faces destruction because there's a flood.

This year it's North Dakota, last year it was Iowa. In 2007, historic flooding hit Kansas. In 2006 it was Minnesota that had serious flooding. Every spring floods hit, every summer farmers complain about droughts, and every fall the world does not come to an end.

Now in case any of y'all in the South or West are wondering, rivers in the Midwest do not randomly start searching each spring for some unsuspecting town to attack and flood. No, people choose to live next to rivers, which is largely a function of history. Rivers USED TO provide a critical transportation link and promote economic growth. The carbonly evil automobile solved all that, but most of the towns along rivers never really shut-down.

Only problem with all of this is that the Federal Government is the nation's primary provider of flood insurance. I have only one question to ask here - ah, WHY?

Well because the Federal Government has externalized all of the risk that people who live in flood areas have on those of us who are smart enough to decide that we don't want to live near rivers, or oceans, or lakes, or even retention ponds. In the 1960's, as this John Tierney column points out, the Feds starting offering heavily subsidized insurance to people in flood areas, but only about 1/3 of eligible people bought it. The other 2/3 correctly guessed that FEMA would save them when disaster struck. They were right in the case of New Orleans, and the pictures of people being pulled out of flooded cars on the news usually precedes an announcement by the Feds of disaster areas and checks in the mail.

Now in Fargo we are getting a lot of very emotionally moving stories about folks who are fighting a rising river to save their homes. Look, I feel for them, but let's say that these folks lived next to an active volcano, and we were reading about attempts to build a lava levy or roofs to prevent ash from burying their homes. I suspect we'd all be thinking "Sorry I'm not them, but hey, what did they think was going to happen? It was sort of stupid deciding to live near a volcano and thinking it would not erupt." And I doubt we'd be happy that our tax dollars were going to pay to REBUILD their homes next to the volcano so it could happen again.

Now there is some good news on this front because one private insurer wants to get more actively involved in the business of flood insurance, so perhaps we can begin to push the Feds out of this horrible practice. But the way politics works I doubt that will happen soon.

Your tax dollars at work - abating other people's risky, and somewhat stupid behavior. We don't need to live next to rivers in the Midwest anymore, and we certainly don't need to subsidize people who want to live near them.

My Bold Prediction

Obama's gonna try to legalize pot. Seriously. And it's not because I've called for legalization last month.

For a while I've been kicking around in my head how he's going to pay for all of this. Cap and trade is looking waaaaay less likely to pass without a major downsizing, and that means less revenue. Health care reform is still going to cost a ton. The easiest, and most painless way, to raise money is through pot legalization.

Teddy and I were cruising through stylish French Lick, Indiana last weekend, and we popped into the casino located there. The clientele is utterly blue collar - they have 2 cent slot machines populated with old folks who smoke cigs and take hits from their oxygen masks all the while pulling the one-armed bandits. It's like watching a scary, geriatric Busby Berkeley number. However despite all this exploitation of the old, sick poor, it still raises enough revenue to quench the thirst of government spending in the Hoosier state.

Sin taxes are the only really new and potentially bountiful source of government revenue that remain untapped. And Obama can combine the legalization revenue with a reallocation of cops who now focus pot busts and call it an increase in police protection. It's a total win-win.

And what's more, Yahoo news is reporting today pot legalization received a ton of attention during his town hall session on-line. It will happen folks - bet on it.

I Hate Conservatives and Liberals This Morning

Despite great news on the home front - Fundbaby is sleeping in his crib, in his room, for fairly decent stretches - I cannot believe the hypocrisy of the right and the audacity of the left this morning.

Victor Davis Hanson, a cheerleader for the Iraq debacle during the Bush years, tells us here that we need a "Socrates" in Washington to tell us the truth about the impact that our government's spending is going to have our on financial futures. Problem is, his facts and logic are all screwed up. Note this quote:
During the Clinton years, we got higher taxes but eventually balanced budgets. During the Bush administration, we got lower taxes but spiraling deficits. But now during the era of Obama, we apparently will get the worst of both worlds - higher taxes than under Clinton and higher deficits than under Bush.
Vic, can I call you Vic? Vic my boy the key for the Clinton and Bush stories are simple. With Clinton you did get some higher taxes initially, but you also got spending curtailed by sleaziest divorcee in America - Newt Gingrich - who's GOP buddies blocked a bunch of Clinton programs. With Bush half of the reason we had spiraling deficits was this stupid Iraq War you love so much. By the way, all those "tax cuts" aren't real because we have to pay for them down the road without corresponding spending cuts. Bush, who never had a mortgage in his life, didn't understand that basic concept.

At least Obama's being honest about his deficits, although as I've noted here on a regularly basis, trillions are big numbers...........really big numbers. Which brings us to how the Democrats plan on paying for all this red ink.

Turns out the payment will come in the form of higher taxes. I'm shocked. What possible evidence do we have to suggest Democrats like raising taxes? Well this morning the Left is showing it's true colors - finally. EJ Dionne has stopped the charade and along with Alice Rivlin is simply asking that more people pay more taxes. The "rich" will now be the top 8% (note she doesn't give the income numbers of where that ax will fall). But my favorite part is the way Alice avoids the phrase "tax increase." Check out this quote, it's friggin New Speak:
Congress could increase funding for health-care reform by including part of employer-paid health benefits in taxable income. It could put the Social Security system on a sustainable long-term basis by making minor tweaks to benefits and revenue to take effect a decade or more hence.
"Tweaks", "including part of employer paid benefits in taxable income," and "to take effect a decade or more hence." Translation - "cut benefits and raise taxes," "raise taxes and discourage employers from providing benefits," "put off the impact of the taxes until a new (probably Republican) administration has to deal with them."

By the way, why is that all of the folks who want to fight wars are too old to be drafted and NEVER SERVED A SINGLE DAY IN THE MILITARY like Victor Davis Hanson? And why is it all the folks who want to raise taxes are rich elite talking head types like Alice Rivlin who serves on the Board of New York Stock Exchange or EJ Dionne who lives in snobbish Bethesda, Maryland and went to Harvard and Oxford? Just wondering?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Wolf Howls Correctly

Crazy meeting day and Mrs. Fundman and I have a "date" later, so not much posting today. However I couldn't resist a little something from the best column I've read critiquing the Bank Bailout Plan by Martin Wolf. The key quote:
the government has ruled out the only way of restructuring the banks’ finances that would not cost any extra government money: debt for equity swaps, or a true bankruptcy. Economists I respect – Willem Buiter, for example – condemn this reluctance out of hand. There is no doubt that the decision to make whole the creditors of all systemically significant financial institutions creates concerns for the future: something will have to be done about the “too important to fail” problem this creates. Against this, the Treasury insists that a wave of bankruptcies now would undermine trust in past government promises and generate huge new uncertainties. Alas, this view is not crazy.
If he's right, Obama is putting a HUGE bet on the "too big to fail" argument with a plan, heavily subsidized by the Feds with our money, that most serious people believe won't solve the underlying problem. He notes earlier in the column that IF this plan fails after hedge funds and bankers have made money from the government subsidizing the risk involved in buying these bad assets, the banks will still be screwed up. He worries that this situation "is going to convince ordinary Americans that their government is a racket run for the benefit of Wall Street."

Don't worry Martin, most Americans already know that. However in the past most of us were making money along the way, so we tolerated it like a successful business tolerates paying protection money. The real problem now is that we are transferring the funds to Wall Street while we're all getting killed in our investments. That's too much to bear. Let me provide an example from U.S. history to illustrate.

In Mike Royko's classic book Boss, there's a police scandal in Chicago in the 1960's, which sounds weird because the Chicago Police Department was one of the most corrupt in America in the 1960's. But this one was different. Officers were literally breaking into people's homes and businesses, not just shaking down criminals or taking bribes. As Royko put it:
The public was genuinely shocked. It's one thing to take a few bucks to overlook an illegal U-turn; but even Chicagoans could become indignant at the thought of policeman jimmying the locks of appliance stores and loading up their trunks, on city time yet.
We'll put up with Wall Street owning both sides of the Duopoly, as long as we are largely left alone, not unduly burdened with taxes, AND making a decent living. When it gets out of control all bets are off. Obama's from Chicago; he should pick up Daley's book and study it. Then he should tell the bankers, and their whiny powerful creditors, to sleep in the beds they both made and stop asking the rest of us to bailout out their audacity and stupidity.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Socialists Continue to go Free Market

I noted several weeks ago that in France of all places the housing market is largely shielded from the carnage that's occurred here. Why? Well they don't subsidize housing and they require people to have a pretty good sized chunk of change to buy a place. They also have lower household debt than we do. In short, despite their reputations they seem pretty sane when it comes to household finance.

Now today comes word that the American left's other favorite socialist paradise had decided to take a pass on nationalizing Saab, the Swedish automaker. Yes Sweden, the hammer that every good liberal in the U.S. uses when socialism gets critiqued, has decided to let the market kill off Saab unless some private investor steps-up to the plate.

In the meantime today we see that Timmy O'Toole, sorry, I mean Geitner, is planning on continuing to throw billions of OUR dollars at basically five large insolvent U.S. banks. This is a radical departure from the previous administration's plan to throw billions of dollars at every bank they ran into walking along the street.

How recycled is this plan from the Bush administration's plan? Well even Dr. Depression, Paul Krugman, calls it recycling. Paul doesn't understand the key problem. Read the piece - he honestly believes that simply by making reasonable arguments to the Obama folks they will see the light. The real problem is not about arguing policy - it's that both Democrats and Republicans owe their existence to the same rich interests. Those rich interests don't want to lose money with those large banks. The two parties are one and the same - no difference between the two gangs of thugs.

But back to our "socialist" Europe friends. I've always cringed when folks have blamed "capitalism" for this current crisis as much as I've twitched when they called European countries socialist. We aren't Hong Kong or some libertarian paradise. The Europeans do have markets, albeit typically ones that are more regulated than ours.

But the events of the past few months have really got me completely confused. I mean, am I going to start hearing Leftie Americans railing against the oppressive housing policies of the French and the failure of the Swedish government to acknowledge the suffering of workers? Will Ann Coulter buy a place in Stockholm? Is Fox News going to broadcast from Paris? Tune into the next episode of the Twilight Zone.

This Week's Nominee for "That's Journalism?"

From the Washington Post today on the Obama administration's decision to reconsider giving "women" under the age of 18 the Morning After Pill. The reporter gets a quote from a pro-choice group, not a pro-life one, and the representative gives this gem of a comment:
The message is clear: The FDA has to put science first and leave politics at the door.
Yeah because pro-choice advocacy groups are not political - at all.

Geez.........from the Post? That's a new low no matter what your views on abortion and birth control are.

Where's Jonathan Swift When We Need HIm?

Remember Swift? He penned the "Modest Proposal," in which he satirically suggested that the way to deal with Irish poverty and overpopulation was to have the Irish sell their babies as meat for rich English customers. Trust me, you probably read it in high school.

Anyway, I'm waiting for the day when an environmentalist suggests a similar "solution" to deal with the impact of the world's poorer countries on global warming, ooooopppsss, climate change because they are already suggesting the best way for them to address global warming is to stay poor and be unemployed, and now not have the right to buy cars and get wealthy.

Now setting aside for a moment the fact that who the hell are we to tell another country that it can't produce and sell a car, has anyone of these enviro-reporters or activists actually stopped to think for a minute what wealth and progress mean for the environment? They all seem predisposed towards an idyllic vision of poverty in which "native peoples" "at one with the land" "only use what they need."

The problem with all of these preconceived notions about the world is that they are deeply political, as Matt Ridley correctly notes in this article. Folks in the environmental movement claim that progress has done more damage to the environment than subsistence living and native practices. The problem is that the fossil record doesn't bear it out.

And more bluntly, neither does any trip to the developing world. If you want to see trash thrown from buses and people destroying forests, go to Brazil, or Guatemala, or Kenya. If you want to see people picking up trash, planting trees, or worrying about cleaner air and water, go to the richer parts of Western Europe or America where wealthy people have the time to pursue those policy goals.

So while I have no doubt that Tata's new Nano will increase carbon emissions in the short run, I have little doubt that in 20 years a richer India will do much more to preserve the environment, not to mention that thousands, possibly millions of lives that will be saved and enriched if we let them grow economically.

Unless the real green agenda is an anti-human one - in which case I suggest the environmentalists sell their babies as meat to prevent environmental degradation, not the Indians.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I mean I don't believe this article from the Los Angeles Times - not National Review, not the Wall Street Journal. Obama is comparing AIG to a suicide bomber at a time hall meeting............I mean, shouldn't someone be screaming about this? Like a lot?

Instead the friggin Washington Post reports, very apologetically, about Obama making an inappropriate joke about how is bowling game is like "the Special Olympics." Wonder if Cheney had made a joke like that........ah I don't even know why I'm going there.

Back in the real world, people want to kill AIG employees. God Bless America.

Hat tip to Jay Greene's awesome blog.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dr. Keynes, Meet Dr. Friedman

Well so much for the New Deal analogies. Yesterday the Fed did exactly what Uncle Miltie would have done - dropped a trillion plus bucks from a helicopter onto the stock market. Combined with the fiscal stuff that Obama's been doing, we've entered into very new, and very weird territory. I largely agree with this guy who points out that we will eventually have some nasty inflation and some real "Third World" debt issues if things break a particular way.

My initial take on this, sitting in a hotel lobby, is that the Fed must have seen something in the data that scared them. I'm not sure why Bernanke was talking about the recession ending maybe later this year UNLESS he was counting on this working.

Folks, doing this fits with what the monetarists (read here, University of Chicago economists) say you should do. It's textbook. Only a small slice of economists have a strong critique to it - the so-called Austrian School. They argue you have to ride out the problems, make the structural adjustments, and that any government intervention simply makes it worse.

Alas now any arguments that Keynesian economics can finally be tested here are gone. This blurs the line between monetary and fiscal. We really won't be able to know which one of these, fucking gigantic, interventions has the biggest impact when, ok, IF, we get out of this mess.

The Fed yesterday basically instantly added a trillion, deep breath 1,000,000,000,000 DOLLARS into the money supply. This had better work or "Welcome to Zimbabwe!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'll Take a Beer and a Shot

So as long as we're all pissed about hypocrisy, I give you this little gem and this other little gem.

If this blogging gets any easier I may have one of my cats do it.

Have yourself a wonderful night seething in continued anger at the bullshit theater that continues in DC.

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

165 million dollars is enough for myself, Mrs. Fundman, Fundbaby, and most of our neighbors on our block to retire on comfortably. We could probably throw in our immediate families and a few friends. It's a lot of money for any normal sane person.

It is, however, much smaller than 300 billion dollars. Why compare it to 300 billion? Because two stories down on the front page of the Post this morning is this article, which will not receive 1/1000th of the attention that the AIG crap is getting, in which a budget expert says that the Pentagon has wasted about 300 billion dollars with the way it chooses and pays for its weapons systems.

Where do all of these Members of Congress, who have been irresponsibly and blatantly wasting our money like it grows on trees, get off crucifying this mope WHO THEY FRIGGIN HIRED over a lousy 165 million when just down the hall there's another guy WHO THEY HIRED telling them they've wasted 300 billion?

If the Wizard of Oz had managed to deflect attention this well Dorothy might still be in Oz, Judy Garland wouldn't have gotten hooked on drugs, and we wouldn't have to suffer through Liza Minelli concerts.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm Sure GM Will Spend it Better......and Citi too

Look, anyone who's not pissed off that Hammer Hank's monster, AIG, took our money and gave it to foreign banks and people in their financial services division that started this mess is probably working in AIG's financial services division.

That having been said WHAT IN GOD'S NAME DID THE GOVERNMENT THINK WOULD HAPPEN WHEN THEY GAVE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WITHOUT ANY APPARENT OVERSIGHT AT ALL TO A COMPANY THAT HAD SCREWED UP IT'S FINANCES????????????? Were they hoping for some sort of miraculous transformation of judgment, wisdom, and benevolence? That only happens in sitcoms and Disney movies.

Your neighbor has just destroyed all of his lawn equipment because he's just not very good with mechanical things. He appears at your frontdoor and says "hey, I need to borrow your chainsaw, cut down some trees in the neighborhood because if I don't my house will have a tree fall on it and ruin the value of all of the homes in the neighborhood." Your response is not "Sure, good ahead, cut away, bring it back whenever, I trust you." Your response is "Gee Bob, I'm out of chainsaw oil," or "Man, Bob, why don't you ask Phil," or "Bob, I'd be happy to, but let me do the cutting."

You see, you're not stupid. The government on the other hand is stupid, and irresponsible, and now trying to point fingers at AIG when they should have known better.............Jeez.

The 800 Pound, Obese, Gorilla in the Room

In 2006 Massachusetts mandated that just about everyone in the state be offered health care that was going to be run through the state government paid for with taxes on businesses. It was a radical plan to increase coverage, and it was pretty widely hailed on the Left as a great idea and on the Right as something straight out of Revelations. Of course, neither event seems to have happened as this piece in today's Times shows.

Instead of a wonderful fairyland full of hospitals staffed with friendly doctors or a hellish wasteland created by some beast with 666 (or maybe 616 apparently) stamped on its head strolling around, it's expanded coverage, but at a substantially increased cost. And that's left the politicians wondering where to get more cash and where to save money.

And that brings me to the only thing I know about what will happen if the government "provides" health care. Here's the key quote from the Times piece:
Some health policy experts argue that changes in payment practices will not be enough to slow the growth in spending, even when combined with other cost-cutting strategies. To truly change course, they say, the state and federal governments may need to place actual limits on health spending, which could lead to rationing of care.

“Really controlling costs requires just stopping spending,” said Stuart H. Altman, a professor of health policy at Brandeis University.
No one on either side of this political fight wants to admit it, but here's the truth. Reform will mean changes. If you're uninsured or underinsured now, you'll be better off - full stop. If you are insured, paying a ton, and don't have any particularly exotic problems, you'll probably be better off in terms of costs, but you will have to wait longer to see doctors and specialists. If you have serious problems, or really like your coverage now, you are going to be worse off. You can't have it all. In short there will be trade-offs as the folks in Massachusetts are finally finding out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Over 100

I've been doing this for two months. I've posted more than 100 entries. Your thoughts, comments, critiques, tossed tomatoes, would be greatly appreciated......unless you have mean things to say, in which case you can keep your thoughts to yourself.

Fry Bernie Madoff

I should begin by saying up front that I oppose the death penalty in all cases. It's a religious/moral thing that I won't bore you with. But since we live in a country that happens to still reserve the right to kill its citizens legally, I'd like to propose we impose the death sentence on the, now self-admittedly guilty, Bernie Madoff.

Punishment should be proportionate to crime. If we believe that an individual has done extremely destructive things that damage the fabric of society and harm the well-being and safety of lots of other citizens, we should have a punishment that fits the scope of the crime.

I can think of no other criminal in my lifetime who has done more widespread harm to public trust, capitalism, non-profits, universities, individuals, and the health of the U.S. economy than Bernie Madoff. He's stolen billions, ruined thousands of lives directly, further damaged what little trust existed for investment advisers and bankers, already cost tax payers millions and will cost perhaps billions more in investigations, tax research, law suits, and countersuits. And of course the blizzard of regulation that will occur in his wake will cost us even more. He's even prompted a couple of Wall Street folks to commit suicide, so you can put killing people on the list as well. He may be the most destructive individual force I've ever seen since Bin Laden.

As I noted in an earlier post, my Dad works in the criminal justice field. When he first started out he had to watch a couple of executions, which helped seal his opposition to the practice. They had a nickname for guys in death row back when they still used the electric chair - they called them "crispy." Let's turn the chair up to "11" and make Bernie "extra crispy."