Monday, February 28, 2011
The latest important development in Libya
It is always hard to know what is going on in a revolution until it resolves itself, but this strikes me as a fairly ominous bit of news for Moammar Qaddafi.
And so the Great War departs from American memory
World War I is gone from the memory of Americans. Frank Buckles, the last living American veteran of the war to end all wars, has died at age 110. His story is a wonderful one (another), although it is not completely obvious to me why longevity in and of itself should confer so many honorifics. Maybe such extraordinary longevity reminds us that our country is yet young. After all, Buckles lived for 47% of the existence of the United States.
"The policeman in my head"
The New York Review of Books has a nice article by Max Rodenbeck that traces the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and now Libya, "Volcano of Rage." I liked this glimpse of Tunisia very much:
With the army hunting down small bands of Ben Ali militiamen, and citizens forming their own patrols across the country, the wave of looting and vandalism lasted barely two days. State television, stultifyingly bland and adulatory for decades, almost overnight replaced the al-Jazeera satellite channel as a trusted source of news. One female presenter interrupted her chat show and in a sudden epiphany stared open-eyed at the camera. “I just realized,” she said in wonder, “I don’t have to listen to the policeman in my head anymore.”
It is easy to forget, when we worry about how things are going in this country, that we do not have a policeman in our head here. Although, come to think of it, in most big institutions now we all have a "lawyer in our head," which is stressful, but not quite the same thing.
While well worth reading, the article's conclusion is a bit glib for me:
Yet there is no doubt that Egypt has changed for good, and with it the wider region. As the increasingly brutal suppression of uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya shows, the Egyptian model of massive street uprisings may not work everywhere in the tyranny-prone Middle East. But in Cairo, at least, a newfound sense of empowerment and potential pulses vigorously. It will not be easily muted. “We were always looking at photos, but were never in the picture,” says one of the young April 6 activists, explaining his wonder at the triumph his movement launched. “Now, the photo is us.”
"No doubt that Egypt has changed for the good"? Sunny and optimistic, to be sure, but we shall all soon see whether the Muslim Brotherhood has the last laugh.
Ten things to know before the market opens
A useful round-up of things to know before the stock market opens this morning. You know, if you trade, which I do not. I do buy individual stocks, but I hold them essentially forever. I have shares that I bought with summer job money almost 30 years ago. When I was 23 I bought a small amount of Exxon and put it in the dividend reinvestment plan. You'd be amazed at what it is worth today, 26 years later.
If you are a young person, buy a few shares in really well run companies in different industries -- as long as oil is among them -- and hold them as long as possible unless something about the company changes fundamentally. You will not regret it when you are my age.
Oh. And mutual funds are only useful for specialized investments you would not make on your own, such as foreign stocks, or a portfolio of industry-specific stocks. Just accumulate shares in a few really good companies, only sell if the company or the world really changes in a big way, and you will be just fine. You have no money to invest? Nonsense. Virtually all of you are spending money you ought to be saving, or at least could save if you wanted, on ephemera.
Less hectoring blogging will resume shortly.
News from Iowa: Better than ethanol
An Iowan has found a use for corn that is a lot more sensible -- and a lot more fun -- than turning it in to fuel for automobiles. More or this, please.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
A short note on the Defense of Marriage Act
I am (obviously) a bit behind on the news for the week, but I do have two perhaps unoriginal observations about the Obama Justice Department's executive decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
First, is not the correct solution to propose repeal of the act, and in the absence of that repeal do your damned job and defend the law of the land?
Second, will all the liberals applauding this decision feel the same way when a Republican administration seizes on this precedent to stop defending laws that conservatives do not like?
I'm no big fan of the DOMA, but it would be nice if our government were at least a little principled.
My little moment of Sunday morning schadenfreude
I've been irritated at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving since the mid-eighties at least, so I'm going to confess to a little twinkle of schadenfreude over this news:
A woman who was the former president of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in Gainesville has been arrested for drunk driving.
She blew .234 vs. a legal limit of 0.08, which is a lot. A few months ago I bought myself a cop-grade breathalyzer and have occasionally taken it around with me to see what it takes to push me above the legal limit. I find that I can drink more or less all I want to drink -- which is whatever amount it takes before I start getting really sleepy -- and I don't go above about 0.04. Not a big deal for me either way, since virtually all my watering holes are walking distance from my front door, but I did take it out with me on Super Bowl Sunday because I had to drive from party to party. I drank beer pretty much all day without getting even close to the legal limit. Perhaps all the concomitant food smoothed out a BAC spike.
One chart: It's the entitlements
I propose a new rule: Any federal politician of either party who claims to care about our fiscal condition who is not also proposing steep reductions in entitlements is transportingly disingenuous and ought to be voted out of office.
More here. The link explains why "the U.S. is screwed," but we are only screwed if we lack the courage to tame this monster. Until this problem is solved, no federal politician should ever again leave a meeting with constituents without having to answer the question "what is your proposal for reducing entitlements?"
Friday, February 25, 2011
Dumping the phone camera
Scrolling through my Blackberry, a few stray pictures from today and before...
Downtown Brattleboro, about 4 this afternoon...
Old school medicine. Carter's Little Pills were the first famous product of Carter-Wallace, which persisted as an independent company until around ten years ago. They owned Arid Extra Dry and Trojan condoms, among other famous brands.
Spending the evening in the Brattleboro Super 8 motel, I needed some fucking merlot to get me through. Sadly, my new Wal-Mart corkscrew screwed me.
Fortunately, I had my Swiss Army knife and retrieved the situation, so I am halfway through the bottle as I write this.
ADDENDUM: A couple of readers have suggested this approach the next time:
The sculpture on Palmer Square after the big snow a few weeks back. He's reading this book, which I believe has more to do with its title than its subject matter.
The Super Bowl Sunday India Pale Ale. Special TigerHawk points to the reader who explains why it is called "India Pale Ale" (without resorting to Google or facsimiles thereof).
And, finally, your blogger looking over the New York Times with at least a little disgust, Sunday morning last.
The unions fist Governor Christie
TigerHawk friend and all-too-rare Princeton conservative Paul Budline (who did the awesome "Dig It" video during the 2008 presidential campaign) made it to to Trenton today for a glimpse of our local teachers exercising their right to petition government for redress of grievances.
I disrespectfully suggest that teachers who seriously liken Governor Christie to Moammar Khadafy and their own protests to the Egyptians facing down the Mubaraks are too ignorant to be charged with teaching our children. But judge for yourselves.
Possibly relevant point of interest: There are only 45 states with lower average teacher salaries than New Jersey. So, you know, I see where they are coming from.
The Times on Christie's moment
I'm driving to and from Vermont in the next couple of days to visit the TigerHawk Teenager (who will be a teenager no longer in just a few days) for "family weekend" at his college. While I'm doing that, take a look at this surprisingly (although imperfectly) balanced article from the New York Times Magazine about the political imagery of Governor Awesome's confrontation with the New Jersey public employee unions.
Two responses to rising oil prices
In today's news, we see two responses to rising oil prices. The first is at least coherent, even if incomplete:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to meet with oil industry executives in Houston Friday to assess the industry's readiness to handle a major offshore oil spill, amid growing pressure from congressional Republicans and a federal judge to resume deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico...
The recent jump in world oil prices and U.S. gasoline prices following unrest in Libya has spurred renewed calls from many Republicans and Gulf Coast Democrats in Congress to allow more domestic production. One House committee is scheduled to hold hearings on drilling policy next month.
The second one makes no sense at all:
Separately, three Democratic lawmakers called on the administration to consider releasing oil from the government's strategic petroleum reserves to tamp down gasoline prices.
Oh, that will work. Because, you know, the oil market won't instantly figure out that when the reserve is down or depleted the United States will have no defense against a genuine oil shock, as opposed to next to no defense.
The "solutions" of politicians are becoming ever more temporary and fantastical. They seem to assume that Americans cannot see consequences beyond their next meal, much less the next year or decade. Sadly, in many respects we have conditioned our politicians to think that way. If I could change one thing about our national political culture it would not be to return to "civility," but to persuade our leaders that many of us -- obviously not all of us -- think about and even work and plan for the future.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
I nursed this "Old Fashioned" from roughly 8:30 to 10 tonight at the bar in the Peacock Inn, Princeton, New Jersey. I recommend the place.
Libya - Rank Speculation Regarding Our Silence
The second possibility occurred to me this morning as I watched the news. The reporting boldly suggested that Qaddafi's hold on Libya was weakening and that outside of Tripoli, the rebels were getting control of the rest of the country. I asked myself, how is this possible in a tyranny where the nutcase has a monopoly on the use of force? Then they showed film of black clad "rebels" on rooftops, well-armed and celebrating.
Could it be that the US and other allies have inserted special forces or intelligence operatives into Libya, armed locals and are leading or supporting local tribes - not unlike what we did in Afghanistan 10 years ago?
Um, yes. I bet we have. In all likelihood, a small number of experienced and well-trained professionals are operating inside of Libya accomplishing a variety of objectives. Priorities would include: 1) securing and evacuating non-Libyan civilians; 2) securing strategic assets, such as military, communications and oil facilities and 3) turning the milirary, such as it is, into a neutral or anti-Qaddafi force.
This is pure speculation. But don't rule it out. Remember, even the feckless Carter Administration tried to insert our special forces to evacuate our hostages. They just failed ignominiously after months of blather and prevarication. It would not surprise me in the least if Obama was advised by Petraeus that he had the capacity to do exactly this, and he's been authorized to execute.
Let's hope so. IF so, Qaddafi should be swinging from a lightpole soon enough.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Zero tolerance watch
An example of the "zero tolerance" policy reflecting zero intelligence, and, more importantly, violating our most cherished principles.
Arvada Police are defending the way they handled the arrest of an 11-year-old boy. The Arvada boy was arrested and hauled away in handcuffs from his home for drawing stick figures in school – something his therapist told him to do.
How can anybody ever be arrested for making art in this country? Why isn't this a black-and-white violation of the First Amendment?
We have lost our minds.
Conservatives finally learn to fight back
I had a nice discussion last night about the transfer of the organizational and confrontational tactics of the left to the right (see my post from last year on the subject). Last night my best example was the startling story that the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing has started to investigate more than 300 email complaints against those doctors who were giving out fraudulent "notes" that purported to excuse teachers from working so that they could demonstrate against Republicans. Conservatives never used to be that smart. They have learned, in part because they have adopted the teachings of Saul Alinsky who -- and this part is hilarious -- they only heard of in the first place because the Democrats nominated a community organizer to run as their candidate for president.
Today we get another example of a deft procedural counter-punch from Republicans, albeit from inside the parliamentary system:
Sometimes politics makes you laugh out loud. Hot Air has a roundup of the latest from Wisconsin, of which the greatest is this: the Republicans have adopted a rule that Senators have to collect their paychecks in person, on the Senate floor. Hilarious! Can the Democratic Party survive the shame of this debacle? I suppose so, but no amount of ridicule is too much.
Whatever you might think, this whole confrontation in Madison is nothing if not amusing.
Monday, February 21, 2011
A moment of optimism
If you are concerned about the future of the world and whether we will avoid the many catastrophes that loom, try this bit of sunny optimism on for size. Cheered me right up! Of course, your results may vary.
Oil, and bread, and Arabs
Richard Fernandez considers the oil markets, American foreign policy, and the turmoil in the Arab Middle East and proceeds to scare the heck of me. And, by the way, he notes the fraud in Barack Obama's putative lifting of the ban on offshore drilling.
Meanwhile, oil prices hit a 2 1/2 year high this morning.
If only we had that high speed rail.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Another Governor Awesome, and this time with cheese!
For those of you who have not seen him in action, here's a video of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's press conference last week.
My question: Would Walker have had to the room, or the courage, to confront the public employee unions if it were not for Chris Christie proving how popular it could be? Another few governors like this and people will decide that the Republicans have a deep bench, rather than a shallow one.
Blog-hounds know that liberal doctors have been handing out fraudulent notes to demonstrating Wisconsin teachers, who have called in sick so that they can protest reforms that would weaken the bargaining power of their union. Naturally, I have questions.
Release the hounds.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Obama's budget: The Economist weighs in
The Economist takes a look at President Obama's proposed budget and sees rank, unreconstructed delusion:
IMAGINE you have developed a serious weight problem. Things have been going badly for you, and as a result you have been piling on the pounds; in the past three years your weight has ballooned by a shocking 10% a year. Your advisers all say that this will give you a heart attack: not immediately, but in the next decade or so. What do you do? Not many doctors would recommend a diet confined to items that make up only an eighth of your consumption (and were in any case often rather good for you), while slyly sticking to a plan to increase gradually the number of cream buns and cheeseburgers you eat every day. Yet that is exactly what Barack Obama has prescribed for the bloated American government.
Ouch. But then, the truth hurts, doesn't it?
A short history of public employee unions
A short history of public employee unions, with pictures and graphs 'n' stuff. Nice job.
Pirates grab Americans, Obama "mulls"
Pirates have grabbed four Americans, and we are "mulling" our response.
Dear President Obama: Wine may be mulled, but the response to piracy is well-settled.
Even the French know what must be done.
Black shadows emerging from the sea would have been the only warning of the fate that awaited seven pirates aboard their captured yacht off Somalia early yesterday morning.
Struggling awake, they found themselves staring at the barrels of assault weapons belonging to soldiers from the underwater combat unit of France’s elite special forces.
Not once, but twice.
One French hostage has died and four others have been freed in a rescue operation by French troops on a yacht off Somalia, French officials say.
Two pirates were killed in the operation and three were captured, the French presidency said.
At least while Sarko is president, pirates who mess with the blue, white, and red die. But are they equally afraid of the red, white, and blue? Deterrence has failed, President Obama, what is your next move?
MORE: To be clear, we applauded President Obama's use of snipers to rescue the captain of the Maersk Alabama, and hope and expect that he will respond similarly in this case. That does not change the fact that deterrence has failed, and we have not yet responded.
Princeton basketball note of the day
A select subset of our audience will delight to know that the Princeton men's basketball team won its 20th game of the season yesterday, beating Yale in New Haven. The Tigers are unbeaten in and on top of the Ivy League, and 20-4 on the season. The title and the conference's NCAA tournament berth will probably turn on away games at Harvard (March 5) and Penn (March 8).
Regular blogging will resume a bit later.
Gridlock, Belgian style
The Belgians are even more divided in their government than Americans, but they are much more light-hearted in their demonstrations. I'd advocate for the Belgian method here, but that I would want the typical American to lose some serious weight before rolling out this program nationally.
NOTE: This video starts every time one loads the page, which is annoying. I'll take down the embed tomorrow and late-comers can click through the link.
[UPDATE: Done. But you can still get it by clicking through the link.]
Friday, February 18, 2011
Demonstrating race: The asymmetrical classification of crowds
Regarding the pro-union protests in Wisconsin, a damned good question:
BTW...in no MSM coverage I have seen is there ANY note that the crowd is "predominantly white".... Why is that?
Compare to MSM coverage of the Tea Party, which dissected its demographics to the point of an obsessive compulsion. What can possibly account for the mainstream media's disinterest in the diversity of pigmentation in the pro-union crowds demonstrating against Republicans in Wisconsin? I am baffled and mystified, and cannot imagine why this question would not be of great interest, just as it was during the summer Tea Party rallies.
Memo to public unions and Barack Obama: When you've lost Joe Klein....
Newsweek columnist Joe Klein applies actual intellectual honesty to the confrontation in Wisconsin:
Revolutions everywhere--in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they're protesting against it. I mean, Isn't it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn't it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn't it interesting that some of those who--rightly--protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in the Wisconsin Senate?
As we all learned in 2008, elections can hurt like a bitch.
Read the whole thing.
Attention Daytona 500 fans: The winning car, 1960 style
A buddy of mine is in Daytona for the Great American Race on Sunday, and snapped this picture of Junior Johnson's winning car in the 1960 running of the 500. Yes, a TigerHawk exclusive.
Johnson won $19,600 -- around $140,000 in today's dollars -- driving this Chevy an average speed of about 125 miles per hour. Last year's winner also drove a Chevy, and only 12 miles per hour faster than Johnson fifty years before. But Jamie McMurray won more than $1.5 million, or more than 10x Junior Johnson's inflation-adjusted winnings.
The world is bigger and richer now, and if you are at the top you get paid more. The same goes for baseball players, rock stars, and CEOs.
A Modest Proposal - Healthcare Reform
We switched from what I''ll call "traditional" insurance product - a United Healthcare sponsored PPO with a reasonably low deductible, high (and rapidly growing) premium and 80/20 in-network coverage, to an HSA. For the uninitiated, here's what an HSA is - it stands for Health Savings Account.
Rather than our business funding rapidly increasing insurance premiums against the low deductible, 80/20 plan in which people had a very limited incentive to manage their costs, we decided to give people the money we were paying to United to fund their HSA. The HSA then attaches to a low premium, high deductible, 70/30 plan. I call this true insurance, because we are essentially paying people a pile of additional cash ($4000 + premiums for a family plan) and they manage that against their deductible.
Employees actually wanted it. And as an employer, we converted a defined benefit into a defined contribution (sound familiar?). Employees like the idea of getting the money, managing their costs and then actually rolling the money that they save, building an account. And the employee still has considerable catastrophic coverage in-network and a cap in the event of a significant event. True insurance. The problem with our existing healthcare system is overutilization, because providers and patients had no reason think through the economics of buying healthcare. With this product, you do - whether it's using generic drugs, preventive care or saying no to the unnecessary MRI, I get to to make my choice.
Now, how about if we did that for people with Medicare and Medicaid? I bet the rate of increase in medical costs would miraculously slow. What the government pays Medicare and Medicaid providers varies considerably by region, but assume it pays $800 per month per person for Medicare and $150 per month per person for Medicaid. Do you think maybe if they funded that into an HSA for every Medicare and Medicaid recipient, they might do a better job holding costs down and making individual decisions that work for them better than the government can or would?
Our government has to convert its benefit programs into defined contribution plans from defined benefit plans before it too goes broke. Just like the steel, airline and auto industries before it, the union drive for defined benefit pensions and benefits is bankrupting our government. If we don't convert Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security into defined contribution plans soon, the dollar and treasury market will suffer inordinately, the US dollar will lose its global reserve currency status and we will suffer powerful social instability.
The solution is actually remarkably simple and direct and has been adopted for pensions by most of the private sector (401-ks) and is in process for healthcare (HSAs are growing rapidly). The government must do this to arrest the growth of the budget.
There is no serious alternative.
Why don't people just say it?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I have a question about constitutional law
If it is constitutionally permissible to cut off the funding for Barack Obama's teleprompter (as Arkansas Republican Steve Womack proposed), why can't the Congress also cut off funding for the White House press room equipment, its internet access, and its non-essential computers and smart phones? Not saying I would be in favor of that, but why stop with the teleprompter?
Violent, eliminationist rhetoric...
...union-style. More here, here, and here.
And especially here.
There are two points to remember about public employee unions.
First, meritocracy and unionization are logically and institutionally just as incompatible in the public sector as in the private sector. The two cannot coexist in the same institution. Not possible.
Second, the arrangements between public employee unions and their employing governments is rarely adversarial or involves "bargaining" of any sort, collective or otherwise. It is conspiratorial.
Release the hounds.
Is Obama's ridiculous budget a trap?
Chicago Boyz thinks Barack Obama's budget is far from a failure of leadership but a trap for the GOP. The back and forth and updates in the post are quite interesting, to which I would add that my chief concern is that most American voters cannot do the math to comprehend the mess we are in. Obama's strategy relies on H.L. Mencken's famous dictum, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." I hope Obama's echo of Mencken is all wrong, but I fear that the truer formulation is "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, except the American public."
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Sitting in Austin airport dumping of the tabs
Yeah, I've been *really* busy. Just keeping my schedule straight has become something of a full-time job. But I still read, and therefore have accumulated a big wad of tabs which I should spew out before I burst. Or my computer crashes. You have seen many of these over the last couple of days, no doubt, but some of them may be new to you.
Harvard historian Niall Ferguson goes to town on what passes for foreign policy in the Obama administration. It isn't pretty.
Megan McArdle: "When freedom is bad for business." How difficult it is to start, and wind up, a business in Iraq. This is a tragedy, and a failure of American policy. It should be possible to start a small business in an hour, with a simple disclosure form and a nominal fee. Anything more, anywhere, destroys the possibility of more wealth for everybody.
Slow-walkers two abreast on the sidewalk in front of you, and people who occlude the escalator. Yes, they suck, but they are not a reason for rage:
A lot of us have 'shoulds' in our head," says Dr. Deffenbacher. Ragers tend to think people should do things their way, and get angry because the slow walkers are breaking the rules of civility. It's unclear exactly why some people harbor such beliefs, Dr. Deffenbacher says. Such ways of thinking are generally learned from family, friends or the media, he adds.
Ragers' thoughts tend to be overly negative, over-generalized and blown out of proportion, leaving them fuming about how they can't stand the situation, how late they are going to be, and how this always comes up, Dr. Deffenbacher says. In contrast, someone blissfully free of sidewalk rage may still be frustrated, but thinks more accepting thoughts such as, "this is the way life is sometimes" or, "I wish that slow person wasn't in front of me," he says.
I have a lot of "shoulds" in my head, but I do not regard the nameless people around me as moral actors. They are like the weather, and there is nothing much I can do about them. All the fuming in the world will not change that.
Why are there fewer women in science?
Christopher Hitchens, who can still unlimber his pen to wonderful effect, mocks the "human rights establishment" for suddenly noticing that the Taliban are the most brutal people in Afghanistan, by a long-shot.
The turning point, in the mind of the human rights "activists," appears to have occurred in late January, when a Taliban suicide-murderer killed at least 14 civilians in the Finest Supermarket in Kabul. Among the slain was a well-known local campaigner named Hamida Barmaki, whose husband and four small children were also killed. One wonders in what sense this was the Taliban going too far—women are killed and mutilated by them every single day in Afghanistan. Yet let the terror reach one of the upscale markets or hotels that cater to the NGO constituency in Kabul, and suddenly there is an abrupt change from moral neutrality.
Not really surprising, though, right?
Increasingly, innovative companies are avoiding going public, and confining their capital-raising to the now vast private capital markets. This is not surprising; we have made it so unpleasant to be an executive of a public company that I do not know one who would not rather be private. Worse, the people who do succeed at public companies are experts in process and governance, and not very likely to make imaginative leaps or forge new businesses from the wreckage of the old.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Poor Richard on "blockheads"
My continuing exploration of the lesser-known proverbs of Poor Richard led me recently to this bit of wisdom:
A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
You either want to be governed by the "best and the brightest" or you do not. I think we know where Ben Franklin would have come down on that question.
Discuss "blockheadism" and Poor Richard's proposition with reference to today's American political divide.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Ann makes her pick
Ann Coulter on 2012: "I'll put it in a nutshell. If we don't run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we'll lose."
Unfortunately, I agree.
I like Mitt Romney and think that he would be the smartest choice for restarting America's economy -- by a long shot -- but I am terribly worried that he lacks the touch to make it through the general election campaign. Christie has that. But we actually know very little about him (although apparently that is no longer considered disqualifying), and I'm going to give voice to my biggest worry: Does Governor Awesome have the stamina to run for president?
Release the hounds.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Chris Christie on the Newark schools
Governor Awesome on public employee union feather-bedding and its consequences in the real world. A tough story from a constituent, and a strong response from the governor.
Do you Kiva?
If you are a "self-sufficiency" conservative with a charitable bent, you should consider making networked microloans through Kiva.org. The organization works through affiliate lenders in mostly developing markets to make loans to ultra-small businesses. As those businesses succeed, they pay the loans back. You do not get the interest -- the margin gets sucked up by the relatively high transaction costs in making loans in the hundreds of dollars -- but as your money is repaid you can turn it over in to a new loan and build another business. You can select borrowers by geography, so I have decided to devote my lending to businesses in Iraq. I have lent to a fellow who has bought a generator and sells electricity to his neighbors, another dude with a soft drink and juice business, and a third young man who has opened a general store and wants to buy a refrigerator and build his inventory. They are building Iraq, and through Kiva you can help them.
Getting our dollars back
We send a lot of dollars to China in exchange for stuff. The Chinese have been lending those dollars back to us, and we send them back for more stuff, and then they loan them back, and so forth. Credit blossoms, we get stuff, the Chinese become our biggest creditor, etick, etick. The interesting question, of course, is whether that gives the Chinese power over us, or vice versa. Hard to tell, actually.
Anyway, the good news is that the Chinese are suddenly buying our stuff, which is so much better for everybody. Both we and they would be much better off if that number tripled again over the next few years.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
The public equity markets have taken a long, hard look at the AOL-Huffpo deal, and do not like what they see:
You pay for what you get.
Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer, co-founders of the Huffington Post, are said to be walking away with a combined $80 million to $100 million from an original $2 million per person investment -- but so far AOL stockholders aren't seeing that kind of return.
Since Feb. 1, the price of AOL shares has dropped from $23.85 to $20.89 at yesterday's close.
With 106.7 million shares outstanding, that means AOL has shed $315 million in value over the last five trading days -- which happens to be exactly the same price AOL agreed to pay to acquire HuffPo.
Oops. But a top 'o the hat to Arianna, who may well have called liberalism's near-term "top."
Natural resources news to make you happy
The numbers are in.
In the United States, which contains 8 percent of the world's forests, there are more trees than there were 100 years ago. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), "Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997, forest growth exceeded harvest by 42 percent and the volume of forest growth was 380 percent greater than it had been in 1920." The greatest gains have been seen on the East Coast (with average volumes of wood per acre almost doubling since the '50s) which was the area most heavily logged by European settlers beginning in the 1600s, soon after their arrival.
There is indeed an argument -- I believe it is made in this book -- that there are more trees in North America than there were before the white man arrived in the 17th century.
A new drilling technique is opening up vast fields of previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States, helping reverse a two-decade decline in domestic production of crude.
Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day -- more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.
This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent, or a million barrels per day, over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.
Energy security, brought to you by America's oil companies.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Right Wing News has rounded up the "best" quotations of 2010 from my old friend Ann Coulter. Some are funny, some are sharp, and some are both. I liked this one, though, because so few people were willing to frame it this way:
The reason not to burn Qurans is that it's unkind -- not to jihadists, but to Muslims who mean us no harm. The same goes for building a mosque at ground zero -- in both cases, it's not a question of anyone's "rights," it's just a nasty thing to do.
More news you will simply not believe
I was shocked, SHOCKED, to read that liberals outnumber conservatives among social psychologists by a factor of more than 100. According to the New York Times (per the otherwise sober John Tierney), this was "unexpected."
Er, have any of you ever met a social psychologist? They are an intimidating bunch:
Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) told the audience that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal.
“I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”
Reason #42 why the "academic freedom" justification for tenure is a crock, by the way.
Anyway, the relevant professional society debated and but ultimately rejected an affirmative action program for conservatives, for which I suppose we should all be grateful. The last thing conservatives need is to sully their ranks with social psychologists.
The Common Cause of anger: The NYT's transporting hypocrisy
In a broader discussion of the hateful and eliminationist campaign by activist group Common Cause against Justices Thomas and Scalia, James Taranto does as good a job of exposing the editors of The New York Times as intellectually dishonest as I have seen in years. And President Obama agrees!
Lefty blogger Jason Easley notes that in yesterday's pre-Super Bowl interview on Fox, "Bill O'Reilly used a Wall Street Journal editorial to try to make the case that [President] Obama is a left wing socialist out to redistribute income":The President easily knocked down this claim by saying, "Well the Wall Street Journal would probably paint you as a left wing guy. I mean if you are talking about the Wall Street Journal editorial page, you know that is like quoting the New York Times editorial page."
This columnist, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, finds the president's comparison hurtful and invidious. The newspaper that employs us adheres to the highest standards of journalistic integrity.
But Obama's comment is telling as well. Imagine: The most liberal president America has ever had is attempting to discredit a criticism by likening the critic to the New York Times. What stronger indication could there be of how low the Times's reputation has sunk?
Does it get any better than that? I submit that it cannot!
Monday, February 07, 2011
The morning after
As a service to you, our devoted readers, a link to all the Super Bowl ads. I bounced between a couple of parties, and spent most of the time watching the game from a distance and yacking with friends. Oh, and eating a giant bowl of cheese puffs.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
Happy birthday, Mr. President
A beautiful moment in civilian-military relations
Perhaps this hilarious yet also disturbing story reveals that the cultural divide that bedevils much of America also cleaves Washington's power elite:
Four-star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli -- the No. 2 general in the U.S. Army -- says he is absolutely not offended that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett mistook him for a waiter at a fancy Washington dinner this week and asked him for a glass of wine.
Apparently both generals and waiters have stripes on their pants. It actually does sound like the sort of thing that could happen to anybody.
That said, Valerie Jarrett is hardly anybody. She is a senior advisor to Barack Obama with a title -- "assistant to the president for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs" -- that suggests expertise in precisely such subjects as the identification of generals. How does the Intergovernmental Affairs czar -- of all people -- not instantly recognize the #2 general in the United States Army?
Perhaps they are not in frequent contact.
MORE: Good point:
It’s a good thing Sarah Palin didn’t make this mistake. Because if she did, it would be a univerally reported indicator that she’s an idiot and should never be allowed anywhere near issues of public policy. Luckily, since it was Valerie Jarrett, it’s all in good fun.
Bad news for Steelers fans...
...the "Obama jinx" is on!
Saturday, February 05, 2011
Refreshing the "scariest jobs chart ever"
How does American employment look compared to other postwar recessions? Pretty farookin' hideous.
At some point you have to wonder whether post-crisis policy decisions have had a greater depressive effect than the overhang from the credit bubble.
Friday, February 04, 2011
Stuck in my camera
I synced my camera for the first time in a few weeks, and out popped this picture of the morning after the big mid-Atlantic snow storm last week. Vandeventer Avenue, an hour after dawn, from my front stoop.
Morning read: Domestic violence myths
Christina Hoff Summers demolishes some of the leading myths about domestic violence, including at least one anti-male falsehood still promoted by Eric Holder's "Justice" Department.
"The facts are clear," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45."
That's a horrifying statistic, and it would be a shocking reflection of the state of the black family, and American society generally, if it were true. But it isn't true.
My questions: Why does the attorney general of the United States say such things and continue to do so long after critics point out the error, and why is the press so unwilling to call him on it?
Release the hounds.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
In every era there are ways to suffocation of freedom. One used to have to wait for samizdat diaries and defectors to tell stories that could shock, inspire, and enrage. Now, as with everything else in our wireless world, the data come fast and furious. If you were to graph the strangulation of a people in Internet age, this might be what it would look like.
Railing against rail
Hard as it may be to believe, there is a good argument that "light rail" is even stupider -- or at least less sustainable -- than making ethanol from corn.
Game over: Popular sovereignty dies aborning
Whether "democracy" had a chance in Egypt, or just a chance for something akin to popular sovereignty, the people lost and legitimate government will not rise in Cairo. For a hard-headed and yet dispirited dissection of the Egyptian government's successful suppression of its people and the Obama administration's awful bet -- which still might be the best result for American policy in the short term -- read this from Foreign Policy. Money quote:
The Obama administration, having already thrown its weight behind the military, if not Mubarak personally, thereby facilitating the outcome just described, can be expected to redouble its already bad gamble. Fearing once again that the regime might be toppled, it will lean on the Europeans, the Saudis, and others to come to Egypt's aid. The final nail will be driven into the coffin of the failed democratic transition in Egypt. It will be back to business as usual with a repressive, U.S.-backed military regime, only now the opposition will be much more radical and probably yet more Islamist. The historic opportunity to have a democratic Egypt led by those with whom the U.S., Europe, and even Israel could do business will have been lost, maybe forever. Uncle Sam will have to eat yet more humble pie, served up by the dictator who has just been insulting him.
If the Obama administration had vocally sided with the people it would now be on the wrong side of the surviving military government. But so what? They need our billions in aid and will do what we need to get it. One gets the sense that the Egypt experts in the State Department fairly routinely line up on the side of oppression. Remember the "blogger crisis" five years ago, when the Mubarak government through some bloggers in jail? Congressional Republicans moved to block aid to Egypt, and the State Department went nuts. Yes, the Bush White House brought its weight down in favor of reauthorizing the aid, but (as I understand it) the bureaucratic impetus came from the specialists in Foggy Bottom, who tend to know and sympathize with the Arab governments in the region. I speculate that more or less the same people drove the American response this time, especially since President Obama's crew is much more deferential to the career diplomats than the Bushies were, at least according to popular impression.
The sad thing is, we squandered the noble ambition of Condoleezza Rice's great speech in Cairo in 2005, which presaged this very moment and came down decisively on the side of popular sovereignty:
In this time of great decision, I have come to Cairo not to talk about the past, but to look to the future -- a future that Egyptians can lead and define.
Ladies and Gentlemen: In our world today, a growing number of men and women are securing their liberty.
And as these people gain the power to choose, they create democratic governments to protect their natural rights.
We should all look to a future when every government respects the will of its citizens -- because the ideal of democracy is universal.
For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither.
Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.
Until, of course, we don't.
In any case, it is hard to see the Egypt crisis as a victory for American foreign policy. Having hedged our position betwixt and between in Egypt, why would either the dictators or the Arab world or its tired "Arab street" trust the United States to do anything? Even in the world of realpolitik, trust is valuable.
A short note on the causes of the financial crisis
There are no simple explanations for the financial crisis. To the extent the cause was a housing bubble, it is far from obvious that it was purely an American crisis, brought about either by Community Reinvestment Act initiatives or Fannie and Freddie. Home prices rose all over the world. There may indeed have been a credit bubble -- almost certainly there was -- but it engulfed the globe.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
My what a
mundane interesting thought experiment!
Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure - the ones who are driving the action - we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.
So let’s begin.
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.
Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.
Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.
People often play this game from the opposite end of the spectrum, particularly in response to fashionable counter-tribal trends, "hate crimes" or when discussing preferences. Certainly I remember criticism of the "miliion man march" as off-limits, and anyone who dared put it down the way the bien pensant revile the Tea Party would be branded a racist. The million-man march didn't arrive "armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition." But then again, neither did the Tea Party.
But what's also interesting is that a lot of these hypotheticals exist (despite the fact that a few of the above incidents actually don't). There's been all sorts of violent revolution fantasy. Here's one I encountered recently.
In 2008, I saw not one but two different plays featuring very literal violence against President George W. Bush. One, titled "Beast," by Michael Weller, was appalling in several respects. First, to my eye it was simply bad theater, casting returning Iraq veterans as violent zombies--caricatures of humans, lacking all soul. Then came the scenes with Bush, in which they kidnapped him, tied him to a chair, and burned him alive, to permit him to experience what he'd done to our soldiers. More shocking than the raw hatred, the heartless treatment of soldiers and the murderous attitude toward our president was the (apparently correct) expectation that the likely audience would find it unobjectionable. To be sure, I heard some audience members complaining that it was lousy. But I heard not one object to the events depicted or the sentiments expressed.....
The other 2008 play was titled "Old Comedy After Aristophanes Frogs," written by and performed by David Greenspan. That one featured a monologue that describes the literal and elaborate dismemberment of George W. Bush. What this had to do with Aristophanes, I don't know.
I'm ready to believe that American society would find a crowd made predominantly of any minority, all things being equal, more threatening than a crowd of people who look like them. But you wonder why these events, featuring actual violence and threats, didn't prompt Mr. Wise's oh-so-sagacious thought experiment.
Tastes great (if you like that sort of thing), less filling.
The ice on my car's window this morning. Being a Midwesterner, I was of course well-prepared.