Sunday, November 30, 2008

These damned terrorists!

The Islamist extremism nurtured by a succession of military rulers of Pakistan has now come to haunt its well-intentioned but lamentably weak elected civilian government. The bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel proved that Frankenstein’s monster is now truly out of that government’s control. The militancy once sponsored by its predecessors now threatens to abort Pakistan’s sputtering democracy and seeks to engulf India in its flames.
That was Sashi Tharoor.

I have blogged enough about Pakistan. It is terrible that we can spot all the flashing red signs, but are simply unable to stop innocents being killed in horrible terrorist acts.

Very sad.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It is a wild world!

Holding together the coalition called the Democrats

I am not sure if even the Onion could have offered a more satirical and comical development than what Senator Joe Lieberman is.
  • The guy was a vice-presidential candidate of one party, and went on to lose the election (well, we won't get into the arguments on the (s)election);
  • then a couple of years later fails to emerge as the party's candidate for his own Senate seat;
  • then runs opposing the Democratic candidate and wins;
  • and then caucuses with the Senate Democrats giving them the threadbare majority;
  • then goes all out campaigning for the Republican candidate for the presidency while dissing his own party's candidate.
  • And, yet, doesn't get kicked out of his powerful committee chairmanship.
To use Yakov Smirnoff's line, What a country!

Well, the progressive-left is already beginning to shed some of its infatuation for Obama. Not just because of Lieberman, whose continuation as the committee chair Obama supported. But, about his cabinet picks. In The Nation, its editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, notes that
some interesting conversations and debates underway at (see especially Chris Hayes at Capitolism, "Left Out") and in the progressive blogosphere (see Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, Digby and David Sirota about why Obama has so few progressives among his cabinet picks.)
I agree with her: "It's worth checking them out"

Will be interesting to see how long the glue will hold all these competing interests together. I am guessing it won't be for long.

Myron Rolle: A role model student-athlete

What an awesome news about the fantastic achievements of this guy from Florida State: to have been named a Rhodes Scholar, and also projected as an early-round NFL draft pick. Simply outstanding.

According to the Chronicle,

Mr. Rolle (pronounced "roll") won the prestigious scholarship, which sends 32 American students each year to the University of Oxford, and jetted to the game on a Florida State booster's private plane. Although there was no timeout, no announcement echoing across the stadium, ESPN cut away from the action to Mr. Rolle's arrival in its national broadcast of the game.

Florida State's cheerleaders met him at the locker room door, as did his parents, whom he hugged. In the stands, Seminoles fans chanted "MY-ron RO-ole" and waved signs: "Congratulations, Mr. Rolle" and "All Rhodes Lead to Rolle."

My favorite part of that news item was this: after the final interview, and after he was informed that he won the scholarship, Rolle had to rush to the football game at Maryland. "a University of Alabama at Birmingham police escort, using full lights and sirens—raced him to the airport and onto the tarmac." He deserved every bit of that royal treatment :-)

Monday, November 24, 2008

We have a vibrant auto industry

The US has one of the most vibrant, dynamic, and efficient automobile industries in the world. It produces several million cars, trucks, and SUVs per year, employing (in 2006) 402,800 Americans at an average salary of $63,358. That’s vehicle assembly alone; the rest of the supply chain employs even more people and generates more income. It’s an industry to be proud of. Its products are among the best in the world. Their names are Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru.

A neat reminder from Peter Klein.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How to solve a problem like Pakistan? :-(

I have blogged a lot about Pakistan, and also authored op-ed pieces in the Register Guard expressing my worries about that country. When candidate Obama went all out hawkish and stated that he will unilaterally go into Pakistan, I was sure that was the worst thing to do. Well, Nicholas Kristof has a much better suggestion for Obama--"Mr. Obama should make his first presidential trip to Pakistan — and stop at a DIL school to remind Pakistan’s army and elites that their greatest enemy isn’t India but illiteracy. "

But, that bottomline is deceptive--Kristof is rightly worried about how much the nuclear armed pakistan is close to failing as a state. It is a mandatory reading for anybody remotely interested in the welfare of the planet. No, I am not exaggerating: Pakistan's collapse can unleash demons that can be beyond our wildest imaginations. Kristof notes:
I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

Later on, Kristof comments on two ministers in the current government:
One new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women tried to protect them). “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them,” Mr. Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.
Then there is Pakistan’s new education minister, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered him arrested for allegedly heading a local council that decided to solve a feud by taking five little girls and marrying them to men in an enemy clan. The girls were between the ages of 2 and 5, according to Samar Minallah, a Pakistani anthropologist who investigated the case (Mr. Bijarani has denied involvement).

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Onion on Bush's legacy

If I had to list some good things that the internet made possible, The Onion will be in my top-ten. Maybe even in the top-three. A couple of days ago, the Washington Post had a story on how the people at the Onion put together the fantastic stories and videos and everything else. It was neat.

I find the Onion to be absolutely wonderful because their satire is so good with respect to actual content. They seem to be in excellent command of the real-issues, which they spin so well into a satire. To prove my point, here, in its entirety, is what the Onion foretold about Bush's presidency--back on January 17, 2001, in time for his first inauguration:

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'
January 17, 2001 Issue 37•01

WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.

Wall Street responded strongly to the Bush speech, with the Dow Jones industrial fluctuating wildly before closing at an 18-month low. The NASDAQ composite index, rattled by a gloomy outlook for tech stocks in 2001, also fell sharply, losing 4.4 percent of its total value between 3 p.m. and the closing bell.

Asked for comment about the cooling technology sector, Bush said: "That's hardly my area of expertise."

Turning to the subject of the environment, Bush said he will do whatever it takes to undo the tremendous damage not done by the Clinton Administration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He assured citizens that he will follow through on his campaign promise to open the 1.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain to oil drilling. As a sign of his commitment to bringing about a change in the environment, he pointed to his choice of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior. Norton, Bush noted, has "extensive experience" fighting environmental causes, working as a lobbyist for lead-paint manufacturers and as an attorney for loggers and miners, in addition to suing the EPA to overturn clean-air standards.

Bush had equally high praise for Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, whom he praised as "a tireless champion in the battle to protect a woman's right to give birth."

"Soon, with John Ashcroft's help, we will move out of the Dark Ages and into a more enlightened time when a woman will be free to think long and hard before trying to fight her way past throngs of protesters blocking her entrance to an abortion clinic," Bush said. "We as a nation can look forward to lots and lots of babies."

Continued Bush: "John Ashcroft will be invaluable in healing the terrible wedge President Clinton drove between church and state."

The speech was met with overwhelming approval from Republican leaders.

"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

"For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. "And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that's all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up."

An overwhelming 49.9 percent of Americans responded enthusiastically to the Bush speech.

"After eight years of relatively sane fiscal policy under the Democrats, we have reached a point where, just a few weeks ago, President Clinton said that the national debt could be paid off by as early as 2012," Rahway, NJ, machinist and father of three Bud Crandall said. "That's not the kind of world I want my children to grow up in."

"You have no idea what it's like to be black and enfranchised," said Marlon Hastings, one of thousands of Miami-Dade County residents whose votes were not counted in the 2000 presidential election. "George W. Bush understands the pain of enfranchisement, and ever since Election Day, he has fought tirelessly to make sure it never happens to my people again."

Bush concluded his speech on a note of healing and redemption.

"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."

"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America. We look forward to a bright new dawn not seen since the glory days of my dad."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spending, savings, and the American economy

Remember Congo?

What does my blog say about my personality?

The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
That was the result from Typealyzer (which I found from Greg Mankiw's blog.) Other than the last sentence about adventure, race cars and firefighting, I suppose the pattern analysis is not that far off the mark. Soon, some computer can start blogging like me, pretending to be me? That will be fascinating.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

GM's imminent death. And then Ford and Chrysler.

I feel terrible for the familes of people who work for the Big2.5, but to a large extent the companies could have averted most of the crisis, if only they had planned ahead. Three colleagues and I had some spirited discussions on this--hey, if elected officials are qualified to comment on this, well, how much worse our discussions can be off-the-mark? :-) Of the four of us, one was in favor, two seemed to be ambivalent, and one was opposed. I think this vote-split reflects well the mood of the country and the Congress too.

Anyway, back to the planning ahead. Years ago, California, which was concerned about air quality, the state initiated a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) program. The auto industry attacked it from the start. Here is a summary of the ZEV program. The right-wing Republicans and free-marketeers also attacked it--they preferred to arbitrate pollution through carbon-trading and other so-called-market mechanisms. Well, the ZEV continued to morph under the relentless attacks and lawsuits.

And now GM cries because it focused on its short-term profits--selling SUVs and pickups--when now the market favors fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Hey, they could have developed them in the 20 years, like how Honda and Toyota did.

The worst economic crisis in my lifetime

Just when I think it couldn't get any uglier, well, I am shocked at how much more worse things are. A month ago, when Warren Buffett said it was a good time to buy stocks, the DJ was at 8852. Since then, well, even Buffett's op-ed couldn't lift up the spirits, and the index is now below 8000--actually a tad below 7800 as I am writing this.
Unemployment is shooting up. Here in Oregon, the nightmare scenarios of the next two to three years should keep public officials busy 24x7.
GM will run out of cash before the next Congress and administration is sworn in.

It is in such situations, more than during the normal ones, I can easily demonstrate how in academia we tradeoff higher incomes in favor of job security and guranteed salaries. I just can't imagine how families adjust when they lose jobs. Simply unimaginable.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let the auto companies fade out

This is a photo of one of the most expensive parking lots on the planet. Cars being brought in containers from Germany and other countries, off-loaded and parked in lots because there is no dealership that wants them, says the LA Times.
But, that is not even as fascinating as another one in that same story--the sharp drop in our leading exports through California: recycled cardboard and paper products.
This material typically goes to China, where it is used to make boxes for new electronics and other products that are sent back to the United States. But Chinese factories reacting to sharply falling demand are slowing production, so they need less cardboard. Tons of paper are piling up recycling businesses around the port, the detritus of economies on hold.
My students always find it hilarious that containers from China get here loaded with electronic gadgets, and all kinds of crap we don't need, and we send back in those containers scrap metal and paper as our exports. What is wrong with this picture, eh!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Putin 'wanted to hang Saakashvili by the balls'

What a day for the headline writers at the Times (of London, not NY!)

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?” Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah —
you have scored a point there.”
Not only is this funny and bizarre and horrible all at the same time, it is a really telling statement when Vlad "the impaler" Putin thinks that Bush is the ultimate yardstick for how low a world leader can go! What a bunch of global leaders we have now.

I am hoping that I won't be nabbed by an extra-terrestrial who might direct me to "take me to your leader" :-)

Hail a cab, explore the world

Whether I travel for work or pleasure, whether I go to cities in the United States or abroad, I find it difficult not to engage in one activity: talking with cab drivers about global economics and politics.

It was the night after the elections when I flagged a cab at the airport in Phoenix to head to the hotel and conference venue. I resisted the temptation to ask the driver if he was from Ethiopia, because once before in a different city I asked a driver that same thing. The driver informed me that he hailed from Eritrea, and his brusque tone indicated that he did not quite appreciate my question.

The small country of Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia after a 30-year war, and border and ethnic tensions persist. So it was understandable that my Eritrean driver felt a tad offended when I asked him if he was Ethiopian.

Having learned from my mistakes, which is something my wife says I don’t do enough, this time I asked the cab driver if he was from somewhere in East Africa. Yes indeed — he was from Somalia.

That was all I needed to engage him in a conversation about Somalia and his take on the United States.

I asked him about a news item from the previous day about reports of a female who had been stoned to death. According to news reports and Amnesty International, the female was a 13-year-old rape victim. According to a few Somalis, she was a 23-year old woman who had confessed to adultery. I asked the cab driver for his views.

The driver was convinced that the victim was not a 13-year-old, but a 23-year-old. And that it was not rape, but adultery. And, finally, it was not a case that was initiated by society, but was triggered by her admission of guilt — confession. The cab driver’s logic was that people had no choice in the matter because her confession automatically warranted the punishment.

When I suggested that stoning somebody to death was harsh and cruel, well, he did not think so. His response was strange to me, given that this conversation was happening in the United States, and more so in Arizona, which is known for its libertarian tendencies.

The item and the conversation with the cabbie was a refreshing reminder of the rule of law that we have in this country. While a sexual relationship outside of marriage might be considered by some Americans as immoral, we clearly make a distinction between individual notions of morality and a collective sense of legality. Death by stoning, which is thankfully a rare practice anywhere, introduces a harsh and extreme version of legality.

On the other hand, if Amnesty International and news agencies are found to be correct in their reports that a 13-year old rape victim had been stoned, then the story takes on an entirely different dimension and surpasses any discussion of morality, legality and cruel and unusual punishment. It is simply atrocious.

I could not discuss these matters further with the driver because we had reached the hotel. But neither am I able to shake off the news. It was my first conversation with somebody who defended anything as terrible as death by stoning. The clichéd conversation with cab drivers that commentators often rely upon, as if we are hard-wired that way, turned out to be anything but ordinary.

But this story is only a small part of the tragedy Somalia has become. It has been a failed state for a number of years. Piracy off its coast is not a Hollywood-style “Pirates of the Caribbean” swashbuckler but real, with economic and human costs. Neighboring Kenya has been warned by warring Somali factions that it should stay out unless it wants to be drawn into the conflict.

Perhaps there is no better time than now to follow up on these and many other global issues that we need to understand, and to see if there is something we could do constructively in order to make it a better world. This is a good time because the week of Nov. 17 is celebrated as International Education Week as well as Geography Awareness Week.

And, yes, please continue to have conversations with cab drivers, too.

For the Register Guard, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bailout, stimulus, and the free market

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?

Recession watch: Now Japan, too

The G20 summit has ended, which is why the planet feels cooler all of a sudden--after all that hot air :-) ha ha. You know what was even funnier? This news report:
US President George W. Bush emerged from the G20 summit Saturday satisfied with having preserved the principles of free market economics, while leaving his successor wide room for maneuver
Excuse me, there is a "free market"? As Johnny Carson used to say, "I did not know that!" Would the "free market" apply to the 700 billion dollar bailout of private corporations? The proposed 25 billion dollar bailout of the Big3? The massive agriculture subsidies? I will stop here .... no time to list 'em all :-(

Anyway, the news is that Japan has caught the recession bug:
Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, has officially slipped into recession, hurt by weak export growth and steep cuts in corporate spending amid the worsening global slowdown.
Japan’s gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 0.4 percent from July to September after declining a revised 3.7 percent in the previous quarter, the government said Monday. It was the first time since 2001 that Japan’s economy has contracted for two consecutive quarters, the definition of a recession
The UK got into that even earlier:
The economy shrank for the first time in 16 years between July and September, confirming that the UK is on the brink of recession. The UK will be classed as being in recession if the economy slows in the fourth quarter as well.
On Wednesday, the Bank of England said the UK has probably entered a recession in the middle of 2008 and is likely to continue to contract well into 2009
In between Japan and the UK, in terms of the largest economies, are Germany and China. So, what is the news from them? Thanks for asking! According to the FT:
Germany has officially plunged into recession with economic activity contracting much faster than expected in the third -quarter, intensifying fears about the depth and duration of continental Europe's downturn.
Gross domestic product in Europe's largest economy fell by 0.5 per cent in the three months to September, extending a 0.4 per cent drop in the previous quarter, the German statistical office reported.
You are probably thinking, hey, Germany is the big dog in Europe. So, does it mean that that entire part of the world is in recession? Ah, the power of critical thinking! Doggone it, you are right, says AFP:
The 15-nation eurozone fell into recession for the first time ever, EU data showed on Friday, with Europe's economic powerhouse Germany among the hardest hit.
Gross domestic product in the economies using the eurozone fell by 0.2 percent in the third quarter after a similar drop in the second quarter, according to the Eurostat figures.
Everybody says the same thing: the worst is yet to come. And I am, like, you got to be kidding me! It was almost humorous to read in the following in the Guardian: "But while output is expected to contract next year, the US economy is predicted to lead the way towards recovery." Wait a minute; the US predicted to lead the recovery? How? By printing a few gazillion dollar bills?I don't get this.

And, you are meanwhile thinking, hey, what about China? You know, I have a pet theory. Let me present it:

For many years now, China's economy has grown at double-digit rates. However, in order to keep inflation under check, among other reasons, the government made sure that a significant surplus created was saved. And it saved that in the US and other places.

This kind of savings created the glut that Bernanke gushed about. Soon, we came up with dizzying schemes to exhaust the savings.

Meanwhile, China's prosperity came from ravaging the environment.

So, here is a thought experiment: we would all have been better off if only China's economy had not grown by leaps and bounds. If, for instance, their average growth rates had only been about six percent, then all the gains from the exports would have accrued pretty much to the Chinese.

No "additional" surpluses that would have resulted in China-dollars that made Americans consume like crazy.

That much of a slower Chinese growth would have also resulted in a significantly lesser environmental impacts.

Which means, in the crisis we have now, we have screwed up the environment for nothing. It is not even as if we have something to show for everything from the Three Gorges Dam to polluted skies to .....

I like my framework here. Not that I am blaming the Chinese for everything that has gone wrong. But, I do wonder about the wisdom in that relentless pursuit of economic growth that merely exported its natural resources as US Treasury notes!!!

Gender in higher education

I wonder if gender studies at universities have started recognizing the trends shown in the two graphs here:

Assuming that the Source is right, of course.

Kissinger's kiss of death: he approves of Obama and Clinton!

When Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, the mathematician/satirist Tom Lehrer observed that it signified the highest form of satire. He said, ""It was at that moment that satire died," says Lehrer, "There was nothing more to say after that." (At the end of this post, you can watch one of Lehrer singing one of his satires--on the bomb.)

Kissinger has been the target of Christopher Hitchens--while with a sharp tongue, a satirist he is not. Back in 2002, Hitchens went ballistic with the appointment of Kissinger to the 9/11 inquiry commission, and wrote:
But can Congress and the media be expected to swallow the appointment of a proven coverup artist, a discredited historian, a busted liar, and a man who is wanted in many jurisdictions for the vilest of offenses?
Of course, Hitchens has literally produced a book of criminal charges against Kissinger.

And, I am in the Lehrer and Hitchens camp when it comes to Kissinger.

Which is why I think Kissinger's approval of Hillary Clinton as Obama's potential secretary of state is an insult to Clinton, Obama, and the entire world! FT Reports:
Henry Kissinger, the former senior US statesman, yesterday gave his firm backing to Hillary Clinton as the next US Secretary of State in the forthcoming Democratic administration.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s India meeting, Mr Kissinger said ”I believe it would be an outstanding appointment,” if Barack Obama, the president-elect, chose Senator Clinton for the foreign affairs portfolio.
“If it is true [that she is in the running], it shows a number of things, including great courage on the part of the President-Elect. To appoint a very strong personality into a prominent cabinet position requires a great deal of courage.”
I just wish the media would stop reporting Kissinger's blathers.
And, here is Tom Lehrer singing the satire on the bomb:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Are you eating beef, or chicken, or corn?

Well, it is all the same. Kind of. According to a study,
The bulk of a fast-food hamburger from McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's is made from cows that eat primarily corn, or so says a new study of the chemical composition of more than 480 fast-food burgers from across the nation.
And it isn't only cows that are eating corn. There is also evidence of a corn diet in chicken sandwiches, and even French fries get a good slathering of the fat that makes them so tasty from being fried in corn oil. .....
Eating a diet of meat from corn-fed animals hasn't been linked to any specific health effects in humans. But it has resulted in widespread environmental degradation, including drained water supplies, degraded soils, and reliance on fossil fuels for fertilizer, pesticides and farm machinery fuel, says preventive medicine physician Bob Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.

Nasdaq: same value as 11 years ago. OMG!

James Surowiecki
Here’s a fairly amazing market statistic for you: right now, the Nasdaq is below where it was on July 15, 1997. Eleven and a half years of incredibly volatile stagnation

Coulda been a (presidential) contender

And, definitely the attorney-general in the Obama administration. He would have been a terrific "enforcer" of the law. Would have gone after the rogues and thieves, and anybody trying to hide behind funny accounting. But, he messed it up big time with sex.

It is Eliot Spitzer that I am referring to. If only he had resisted the temptations of the flesh! Spitzer would have been one solid candidate for the AG spot, and will be well in line for the 2016 presidency. When I read his profile in the New Yorker a few years ago, way way before his sex scandal/crime, my immediate thought was President Spitzer. Ah, lesson learnt--we are humans, and we err, particularly the smartest ones.

In WaPo, Spitzer has an op-ed. I wonder if this is his first ever public comments on policy questions since his public statement that he was stepping down as NY's governor. In that op-ed, Spitzer writes:
No major market problem has been resolved through self-regulation, because individual competitive behavior doesn't concern itself with the larger market. Individual actors care only about performing better than the next guy, doing whatever is permitted -- or will go undetected. Look at the major bubbles and market crises. Long-Term Capital Management, Enron, the subprime lending scandals: All are classic demonstrations of the bitter reality that greed, not self-discipline, rules where unfettered behavior is allowed.
Those who truly understand economics, as did Adam Smith, do not preach an absence of government participation. A market doesn't exist in a vacuum. Rather, a market is a product of laws, rules and enforcement. It needs transparency, capital requirements and fidelity to fiduciary duty. The alternative, as we are seeing, is anarchy.
Well, the message is on the mark. If only the messenger had not strayed :-(

While not the same set of dynamics, here is Marlon Brando uttering the famous line from On the Waterfront: "I coulda been a contender, instead of a bum, which is what I am - let's face it"

And here is Robert De Niro uttering the same lines in Raging Bull:

Coriolanus, politics, and democracy

The presidential primary season was just about in its peak last May, when I went to Ashland to watch three plays with freshmen in the Honors Program. One of the plays was Coriolanus, by Shakespeare. I had no clue about the play. My colleague, the theatre faculty, said that it was an absolutely perfect play to watch and think about, given the war and election season.

The folks at Ashland did a great job. (When the play ended, I was thankful that they did not adapt it to any other time period, as they occasionally do with Shakespearean plays.) Once again, Shakespeare punched the lights out of me--how did that guy manage to do all that fantastic stuff? And such profound dramas!

Even as the play was progressing, it was difficult not to compare it with contemporary American social and political events. Later on in the summer, politics unfolded the way Shakespeare wrote about--four hundred years ago, and about events that occurred more than 2000 years ago! Obama droppin' the "g" or not mentioning arugula after one mishap, all in order to relate to the commoners. Later on the hilarious attempts by McCain to relate to Joe the Plumbers, and the "betcha" folksy Palin .... well, Shakespeare portrays these so well in Coriolanus.

Here is a neat essay on Coriolanus, from the New English Review (once again, thanks to AL Daily). The author notes that:
Has political life really changed very much since Shakespeare’s day, at least as portrayed in Coriolanus? If anything, it seems to have regressed towards it, having perhaps (but only perhaps) have moved away from it for an interlude of a century or two.

Demagogues and war heroes we have with us still, while discernable principles seem very few and far between. The crowds are still demanding that the candidates display their war wounds: when Mrs Clinton ‘mis-spoke’ she was trying to demonstrate that she, too, knew what it was to be under fire. The desire and willingness to present others in the worst possible light, as a sufficient argument in itself, is still with us.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Divorce in "Second Life". No, not from the Onion.


A British couple who married in a lavish Second Life wedding ceremony are to divorce after one of them had an alleged "affair" in the online world.

Amy Taylor, 28, said she had caught husband David Pollard, 40, having sex with an animated woman. The couple, who met in an Internet chatroom in 2003, are now separated.

"I went mad -- I was so hurt. I just couldn't believe what he'd done," Taylor told the Western Morning News. "It may have started online, but it existed entirely in the real world and it hurts just as much now it is over."

Second Life allows users to create alter egos known as "avatars" and interact with other players, forming relationships, holding down jobs and trading products and services for a virtual currency convertible into real life dollars.

Taylor said she had caught Pollard's avatar having sex with a virtual prostitute: "I looked at the computer screen and could see his character having sex with a female character. It's cheating as far as I'm concerned."

The couple's real-life wedding in 2005 was eclipsed by a fairy tale ceremony held within Second Life.

But Taylor told the Western Morning News she had subsequently hired an online private detective to track his activities: "He never did anything in real life, but I had my suspicions about what he was doing in Second Life."

Pollard admitted having an online relationship with a "girl in America" but denied wrongdoing. "We weren't even having cyber sex or anything like that, we were just chatting and hanging out together," he told the Western Morning News.

Taylor is now in a new relationship with a man she met in the online roleplaying game World of Warcraft.

Buy coffee to stimulate the economy

Michael Kinsley has been a huge favorite of mine--for his ability to analyze major policy issues and interpret them in simple language (such as his column on on why social security privatization won't work), and the humor that is there in anything he writes. The heights of humor was in the column that he wrote about his brain surgery.

In this column in the NY Times, Kinsley yet again injects that humor into a discussion of the current economic crisis. Here is an excerpt:

Without consumers to lead the charge, an economic recovery will be hard to achieve. And yet everyone agrees that we need to start saving more. So should I buy that coffee maker to stimulate the economy? Or should I save the money in order to “grow” the economy and provide for my own old age? I can’t do both.

This is the dilemma that 30 years of Reaganomics (the real Reaganomics — keeping the economy overstimulated with huge deficits and irresponsible consumer borrowing — not the fantasy Reaganomics of government run like a family and tax cuts that pay for themselves) has left us with. So what do we do? The nearest thing to an actual plan seems to be something like this: stimulate first, to avert various short-term disasters, and then — at some signal from the Treasury Department — turn around and start saving like mad, to avert various long-term disasters. In other words, we need to get back our consumer confidence, and then lose it again.

The first part is fun. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, only more and faster. The deficit may soar to $1 trillion a year while the government hands out cash to whoever shows up at the teller’s window. Each of us can do our own bit as well. Show your consumer confidence. One last shopping spree. Buy that coffee maker whether you want one or not.

Part II will not be fun. Return the coffee maker (if the store is still in business), and deposit the money in your 401(k). Start drinking instant.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The mall is dead. Really? Wow!

[The] American mall—that most quintessential of American institutions—is in its dying throes, if not already dead. Moribund malls have not gone unnoticed amongst industry analysts and Web sites like that feature photos of hundreds of now-abandoned sites. But what were once just worrying signs appear to have finally flat-lined. Last year was the first in half a century that a new indoor mall didn't open somewhere in the country—a precipitous decline since the mid-1990s when they rose at a rate of 140 a year, according to Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of the forthcoming book "Retrofitting Suburbia," which focuses on the decline of malls and other commercial strips. Today, nearly a fifth of the country's largest 2,000 regional malls are failing, she says, and according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, and a record 150,000 retail outlets, including such mall mainstays as the Gap and Foot Locker, will close this year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oil at $58.40 per barrel

Oil prices are collapsing faster than how the NY Mets collapse towards the end of the regular season! It is now trading at less than $60 per barrel; in fact, as I am typing this, it is at $58.40! What a mighty fall from $147 per barrel only a couple of months ago!

One of the best things that can come out of this: it will mess up Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will soon be in big trouble, because:
The government has based its 2009 budget on a price of $60 per barrel. Oil revenues account for some 90% of Venezuela's export earnings, more than 50% of the government's budget revenues and around 30% of gross domestic product.
There is thus much at stake. Government rhetoric is now dominated by talk of saving money and austerity, and the country being able and willing to take steps to live with oil prices at 2007 levels ($60 to $70 dollars per barrel) or less. Stress is also being put on the scale of Venezuela's international reserves of nearly $40 billion.

It is speculated that Russia might want to form an OPEC-like natural gas cartel. And it also wants a greater role in global oil prices. Well, wouldn't Putin like that! In fact, that might be the only way he can prop up the prices and also secure his own position.

And in Iran, 60 economists have published an open letter critiquing Ahmedinejad's policies:
"Meager economic growth, widespread jobless rate, chronic and double-digit inflation, crisis in capital markets, government's expansionary budget, disturbed interaction with the world, inequity and poverty have combined with the global economic downturn to leave undeniably big impacts on exports and imports," the letter says.Ahmadinejad immediately blasted back, contending at a seminar on economic development that Iran has been "least affected by this international financial crisis" and urging economists to design "an independent economic system and model based on justice," according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Naughty or nice? Uncle Sam knows :-(

A page from Ripley's "Believe it or not"

So, are we "polarized" or "unified"?

Bill Bishop, whose thesis is that we continue to sort ourselves with respect to our religious, social, and political preferences, which is reflected in our spatial aggregation, says that the 2008 elections have only divided the country even further. In his final entry in the blog at Slate, Bishop concludes that:

The vote last week was transformative in a sense. In many ways, however, the election produced no change at all. The country is split in much the same way it was divided four and eight years ago. People continue to sort by age and by way of life. As a result, our communities (and states) are growing more like-minded.
Oh, and there is the continuing and stark racial division in both the geography and how Americans live. In Republican-landslide counties, blacks and Hispanics are distinct minorities. Where McCain won by 20 percentage points or more, there were five Anglos of voting age for every black or Hispanic, Cushing found. In Obama-landslide counties, there are 1.3 whites for every black or Hispanic. Obama counties and McCain counties are very different places.
Liberals and Democrats seem to think the country's divisions have disappeared just because their man won. And it is easy to ignore people on the other side when they aren't your neighbors. But that doesn't mean the country is less polarized-because it isn't.
In his regular blogging place, Daily Yonder, Julie Ardery notes the importance that college towns played in Obama's victory, and reports on how one student made his decision:

According to an Indianapolis news station, "An IU student who identified himself as a Republican said he threw his support to Obama at the last minute because of the something the Democrat said on ‘Monday Night Football.’
"'He was asked, "What would you change in college football," and he said he wanted a playoff system,' said IU student Ben Dyar. 'It was really tied before that, but that pretty much sent me over the edge. I decided to vote for Obama.'"
Oh well.

Meanwhile, the guys who analyzed the 2000 election data and showed that the red-state/blue-state divide is not accurate, and that the country is varying shades of purple, have more interesting cartograms based on the 2008 data. They note that:

large portions of the country are quite evenly divided, appearing in various shades of purple, although a number of strongly Democratic (blue) areas are visible too, mostly in the larger cities. There are also some strongly Republican areas, but most of them have relatively small populations and hence appear quite small on this map.

Here is to hoping for no more wars ....

Iceland's deep freeze

From the blog at the Economist:
Iceland’s entire banking system is ruined. In addition to the usual domestic credit shock, this financial sector collapse is causing havoc to the import and export sectors, which are crucial to this small open economy. International bank transfers are difficult. Capital controls are in place; a multiple exchange-rate system is operating. Many companies are facing bankruptcy. Others are thinking of moving abroad. Polls show that a third of the population is considering emigration.

The International Monetary Fund has promised aid, but the Dutch and British governments are demanding compensation for citizens that deposited billions in an Icelandic bank’s high-interest saving accounts. Since Iceland’s GDP is down 65% in euro terms, repayment is unlikely—especially if the nation’s best and brightest move abroad to escape the shock and growing tax burdens. This has happened before. The Great Irish Famine triggered a mass emigration shock which tipped the nation into a downward spiral; population fell in most counties from 1840 to 1961, according to O’Grada and O'Rourke (1997).

I learned all this from a fascinating Vox column posted 12 November by Jon Danielsson, who is a Reader (professor, in American English) of finance at the LSE. Here’s the most sobering bit:
In this crisis, the strength of a bank’s balance sheet is of little consequence. What matters is the explicit or implicit guarantee provided by the state to the banks to back up their assets and provide liquidity. Therefore, the size of the state relative to the size of the banks becomes the crucial factor. If the banks become too big to save, their failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That’s worth paraphrasing: If banks are too big to save, failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are several European nations with banks their taxpayers could not save.

Monday, November 10, 2008

World War II was NOT a fiscal stimulus!!!

Paul Krugman has a timely column for one reason: the right, which never liked the characterization of FDR as one of the greatest presidents, and who have always sought to dismantle many of FDR-initiated programs, is now all the more in a hysteria over another FDR-style government intervention in the economy.

What really caught my attention in the op-ed was Krugman's honesty in assessing FDR's record. Particularly, this sentence: "What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs."

When I was at Calstate, one course that I taught was "Economy and Society", which was to convey economic ideas to the teacher-prep majors. I would routinely ask them something like, "hey, it looks like WWII was good for the economy. so, does it mean that whenever we fall into an economic rut, we ought to just start a large-scale war?"

It always got them thinking, and they would start providing all kinds of responses. Until somebody pointed out that there was severe rationing. and then somebody else would point out the enormous loss of life and property we suffered, and the world suffered.

In other words, I wish Krugman hadn't written that sentence, or phrased it that way. It was not the fiscal stimulus of WWII, but it was literally blood all over the place that re-started the economy. I mean, everybody on the planet knows that Krugman is a progressive liberal, and there is no way he meant to minimize the loss of life and property. But, it is also the unfortunate aspect of economics that loss of lives--in millions--becomes a mere economic footnote, and not the main story. The main story in economics is always only economic growth.

I have a love-hate relationship with economics. Which is why I systematically stayed away from a PhD in economics itself, but did read up on it .... and continue to ....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Avoiding clichés is not rocket science

The top ten most irritating phrases:
1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

Commentary here

Friday, November 07, 2008

Bailout in a graphic

Make sure your underwear fits!

Make sure your underwear fits and is unobtrusive, consider whether your eyebrows are a distraction to others and, at all costs, avoid looking cheap.
This is the grooming advice given to new staff at Leeds Metropolitan University as part of a guide to etiquette.
The rules were set out during “manners training”, which included how to walk wearing a hat, how to select the correct cutlery during dinner and how to make polite small talk.
In the chapter on developing a “personal brand”, the graduate trainees were told to avoid wearing “clashing colours, crumpled or stained clothes” and to make an effort not to appear “frumpy, tarty, [or] lazy”, Times Higher Education reports.

Don't they have anything else to do? More here I agree with this:
one academic, who asked not to be named and was not so keen to mind his manners, said that the guide was “a broth of self-important snobbery that most of us thought had been laughed out of existence in the 1960s”.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Professor in Chief

Siva Vaidhyanathan noted that "professorial" was being used in the media as if it were a horrible way of life. Well, whatever incorrect connotations the media and some of the public might have employed, Richard Monastersky notes that there is now a Professor-in-Chief:
When Barack Obama takes the oath of office next January alongside his running mate, Joe Biden, it will be the first time in history that the president, vice president, and both of their spouses have worked in higher education.
Taken together, the Obamas and the Bidens have amassed decades of experience at colleges and universities. Mr. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until 2004, when he took office in the U.S. Senate. His wife, Michelle, has worked in the administration at the same university and is on leave from her job as vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals.
The Bidens also have spent considerable time in academe. For the past 17 years, Mr. Biden has taught as an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law. His wife, Jill, is an English instructor at Delaware Technical and Community College's
Stanton-Wilmington campus.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Eating locally to save the planet? Think again.

A follow-up to an earlier post about food-miles. Ron Bailey cites a study by economic geographer Pierre Desrochers and economic consultant Hiroko Shimizu, who challenge the notion that food miles are a good sustainability indicator. And, importantly:
the debate over food miles is a distraction from the real issues that confront global food production. For instance, rich country subsidies amounting to more than $300
per year are severely distorting global agricultural production and trade. If the subsidies were removed, far more agricultural goods would be produced in and imported from developing countries, helping lift millions of people out of poverty. They warn that the food miles campaign is "providing a new set of rhetorical tools to bolster protectionist interests that are fundamentally detrimental to most of humankind." Ultimately, Desrochers and Shimizu's analysis shows that "the concept of food miles is...a profoundly flawed sustainability indicator."

America’s destiny is in space

Over the last month, we in America have been completely fascinated with the twists and turns of elections. In addition to that drama, the rapid collapse of the financial sector and the wild gyrations of the stock market indices made sure that every day, and sometimes even every minute, brought news that we could not have imagined.

If we had diverted our attention a little bit away from this country, we would have found out that while all these were happening, China and India had ascended to new heights. Literally.

On Sept. 26, a Chinese astronaut (yuhangyuan) ventured outside the space craft and waved a Chinese flag while spending 15 minutes walking around in space. Quite an achievement and an emphatic statement on how far the country has come since Deng Xiaoping put China on a new economic trajectory in 1978.

With this spacewalk, China became the third country in history, after the United Sttes and the former Soviet Union, to have one of its citizens engage in, as NASA describes it, extra-vehicular activity. China’s goal is sending a man to the moon, which might happen as early as 2020.

As China was celebrating, India was getting ready to launch its first unmanned mission to the moon. On Oct. 22, “Chandrayaan”, which means “lunar craft” in Sanskrit, was launched. It is expected to reach the lunar orbit in 15 days. Furthermore, India’s space agency has already begun planning for Chandrayaan-II. Interestingly enough, Chandrayaan is carrying payloads for other space agencies as well, including NASA.

Of course, China and India are pursuing these to also improve their global standing and to remind the world that they are important players, as if their combined population of more than 2.2 billion people does not provide enough of a rationale by itself. In many different contexts, from the affairs of the United Nations to international discussions on global climate change, these two countries have made it clear that they will not put up with a Rodney Dangerfield-like “I-don’t-get-no-respect” treatment.

The good thing is that we are not in an ideological cold war with China or India, as we were with the Soviet Union. But, we could, and should, use these Asian space adventures as catalysts to shape our larger goals for the 21st century.

I hope that the new president and Congress will see this as the Sputnik-like wake-up call for America’s 21st century. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik-1 in October 1957, and then sent a dog into space in Sputnik-2 in November 1957. Sputnik awakened and re-energized the United States and 12 years later, Neil Armstrong was on the moon.

It might seem rather incongruous, perhaps even professorial, to highlight these extra-terrestrial developments when there seem to be more urgent issues such as the economic recession, home foreclosures, rising unemployment, and, of course, such a list is endless. But, even as we focus on the pressing issues of the day, I would argue that it is equally important to have a clear idea of the bigger picture — including our vision for deep space explorations.

We are almost at the end of the first decade in this new century, but it feels like all through these years we have only been reacting to global events as opposed to charting our own destiny. Our social and political discussions have been framed strictly as responses to, for instance, economic competition from China, immigration from Mexico, or the atrocious activities of al-Qaeda.

The economic competition will get fiercer as more and more countries develop, and we ought to welcome such economic progress that pulls people out of abject poverty. And perhaps al-Qaeda might continue to affect life and property around the world for a few more years.

At some point we need to stop and ask ourselves, “quo vadis” — the old Latin phrase meaning “whither goest thou?” Thanks to China and India, we now have a wonderful opportunity to ask ourselves this question.

And our answer is ... ?

For The Register-Guard
Published: Nov 4, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

One "nasty" recession!

Says the LA Times:

Signs of the economic free fall have cropped up in many of Nevada's 25 or so legal brothels. The Mustang Ranch, for example, has a steady stream of customers, but the number of women vying for work has soared. Even a 74-year-old applied. This summer, the Shady Lady gave $50 gas cards to those who spent $300.

The Moonlite Bunny Ranch offered extras to customers paying with their economic stimulus checks.Here, 180 miles west of Salt Lake City, near the junction of Interstate 80 and Highway 93, Donna's Ranch has seen its business plummet nearly 20%. More than three-quarters of its customers are long-haul truckers, and high fuel and food prices have drained them of "play money," owner Geoff Arnold says. That cuts into pay for his 10-member staff and the "working girls."

Feeling a lot poorer in a rich country :-(

More than once, I have blogged about Robert Samuelson's analyses and opinions. His lengthy piece in Newsweek gives us an idea of the challenges ahead. And, again, I am confident that my intro students know the situation really well--that they are screwed :-(

The bad news is that recovery, though boosting employment, may prove unsatisfying. Our new economic era may lapse into a state of "affluent deprivation." That's an unfamiliar term. It doesn't mean poverty. The United States will remain a wealthy society. Rather, "affluent deprivation" signifies a state of mind. People feel poorer, because their sluggish income gains get siphoned off into higher taxes, energy costs and health spending. Though these all involve benefits, they don't pay everyday bills or cover people's routine pleasures. There's an approaching collision between private and public wants—government spending for everything from retirement benefits to defense to the repair of roads and bridges. ....

A dilemma for the new president is how to reconcile the needs of the present with those of the future. The immediate need is to revive confidence—to rev up demand and spending, thereby absorbing the jobless and increasing the production of underutilized businesses. But the long-term problem is different. It is to mediate between all the competing demands on the nation's income and to expand the economy's capacity to produce the output that satisfies those demands. The closer the economy comes to stagnation, the more Americans will succumb to distributional struggles—not just between the rich and the poor, but also between the young and the old and between immigrants and natives.

Down that path lies "affluent deprivation." To use an old but apt cliché: people will fight over pieces of a fairly fixed economic pie rather than sharing ever-larger pieces of an expanding pie. The winners may be pleased, but the losers will feel short-changed—and so the conflicts may intensify, with yesterday's winners possibly becoming tomorrow's losers. Politics, which is often about rewarding some and punishing others, may become more so.

Vox Populi

The Economist:

But the best thing that can be said for the system is that it is so democratic. In most countries party leaders are chosen by political insiders. In America rank-and-file party members (and some independents) get to choose—and this year they upset all political calculations by rejecting the inevitable Mrs Clinton on the left and choosing the maverick Mr McCain on the right.

Millions of people have been enthused by the campaigns on both sides. On October 26th 100,000 people in Denver, Colorado, endured cold weather and time-consuming security checks to see Mr Obama. Mr McCain and (particularly) Mrs Palin have also attracted boisterous crowds. More people than ever before have given money to one candidate or another—and unprecedented numbers will take part in get-out-the-vote efforts on election day. All the signs are that this will be the third presidential election in a row where turnout has gone up rather than down.

There are plenty of reasons to withhold the final cheer. The candidates spend too much time repeating their stump speeches and not enough wrestling with tough questions (the Obama campaign’s aloof way with the press is particularly inauspicious). But the biggest problem is perhaps that the process is too enthralling. Americans have spent the past two years in a state of obsession with their presidential campaign. Even important global events such as Russia’s invasion of Georgia have been seen through that prism.

But for all that Americans can at least take some comfort, during these glum times, over the state of their democracy, at least on the presidential level.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The death of public financing of elections

One of the many historic notes of the 2008 campaign--the sure death of public financing of elections. Now that the end of the elections is (hopefully) less than 48 hours away, mainstream media and the blog world have started thinking about this, quite seriously.

In Spiked, Helen Searls writes that:
Amongst liberals, the old mantra against politics and money has evaporated. Obama’s war chest is allowing him to do things few Democrats dared to dream were
remotely possible. His ‘freedom of speech’, or at least his ability to speak frequently and at length, is now boundless. Such is the reach of his money that not only can he buy up primetime TV for the night, he can also run adverts in every state every night, he has campaign staff on the payroll in every state, offices in nearly all the counties of battleground states, and he has even embedded adverts in popular video games like Guitar Hero.
With such a dazzling operation, the liberal money critics seem to have vanished. Could it be it was not so much money and politics that they objected to, but rather Republican money and politics? Maybe an Obama win will silence all those who want to restrict money in politics once and for all. That certainly would be a political sea change.

You might think that Spiked is always a contrarian outpost, and they seem to relish beating up on the American liberals and the British Labor. But, what about the NY Times? In its story, the Times notes that:

advocates for tighter restrictions on campaign finance said they were alarmed by
the more than $1.5 billion that had been raised by the presidential candidates
in the primary and general elections this year — the first time presidential
aspirants have topped $1 billion. (The Obama campaign alone has raised more than
$600 million.) ....
Bob Kerrey, a Democratic former senator from Nebraska who serves as an honorary chairman of a group that fights for public financing of federal races, wrote an opinion article in The New York Post last week in which he confessed to newfound ambivalence on the issue in light of Mr. Obama’s success among small donors and the energy he had seen in the election this year.
Mr. Kerrey said in an interview that part of his change of heart might indeed be because the existing system was benefiting Democrats, and he said he believed that many others in his party were wrestling with the issue anew because of the changed calculus.

The end is near, so says QVC

Saturday, November 01, 2008

NPR, ACLU running out of cash

According to sources, public radio, the environment, and civil liberty defense are unable to raise money through fundraising. It is not because of the economic downturn though. More here.

The youth are screwed

When Thomas Friedman doesn't write as the master manipulator of metaphors, he makes a lot of sense and clearly articulates his argument. Such as this one:

Since the last debate, John McCain and Barack Obama have unveiled broad ideas about how to restore the nation’s financial health. But they continue to suggest that this will be largely pain-free. McCain says giving everyone a tax cut will save the day; Obama tells us only the rich will have to pay to help us out of this hole. Neither is true.

We are all going to have to pay, because this meltdown comes in the context of what has been “perhaps the greatest wealth transfer since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917,” says Michael Mandelbaum, author of “Democracy’s Good Name.” “It is not a wealth transfer from rich to poor that the Bush administration will be remembered for. It is a wealth transfer from the future to the present.”

Never has one generation spent so much of its children’s wealth in such a short period of time with so little to show for it as in the Bush years. Under George W. Bush, America has foisted onto future generations a huge financial burden to finance our current tax cuts, wars and now bailouts. Just paying off those debts will require significant sacrifices. But when you add the destruction of wealth that has taken place in the last two months in the markets, and the need for more bailouts, you understand why this is not going to be a painless recovery.

The Bush team leaves us with another debt — one to Mother Nature. We have added tons more CO2 into the atmosphere these last eight years, without any mitigation effort.

Well, my intro class students know really well the argument about burdens being shifted to future generations--even they have started referring to how much their futures are screwed :-( They have pretty much adopted as their slogan "we are screwed". I am to be blamed though, as their blog posts make it clear.

Sir Charles speaks his mind. Barkley, that is!

[CNN's Campbell Brown]: So are you going to run for governor?
Barkley: I plan on it in 2014.
Brown: You are serious.
Barkley: I am, I can't screw up Alabama.
Brown: There is no place to go but up in your view?
Barkley: We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren't going anywhere.
Brown: And the top priority for you would be education?
Barkley: All the way education, the public school system in this country is the worst it has ever been and what that does is that hurts crime, it hurts the judicial system. You know if you don't give people education and hope, they become criminals. They get involved in drugs. So we have got to fix the public school system. I think we need to make these neighborhoods safer. And the third thing, you have got to give people economic opportunity. America for far too long has a small group of people who have got all the money and then we got a bunch of poor people who have no money. And because we have killed the public school system they can't get the education to make money and that is just not right.

Watch the interview, if you would rather believe your own eyes :-)

Economics not a dismal science, just an useless science :-)

On a few posts, I have made snide remarks about economics. In one entry, I was just short of rolling all over floor laughing at the notion that economics is science! But, I am, after all, not an economist, which means that my remarks are, well, worthless.
So, let us turn to a real expert, James Galbraith, shall we? Here are two of the questions that were posed to him, along with his reponses:

But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis?
Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science?
It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless.

Ethanol producer files for bankruptcy

If Iowa were not the first state in the presidential primary process, then there is a very strong possibility that corn-based ethanol would be a non-story here in the US. If this Wikipedia entry is correct, then we have the Democrats to thank for making Iowa so doggone important at the expense of pretty much every other state in the union!

Iowa is the largest grower of corn; the Iowa Corn Promotion Board points out that "Iowa has produced the largest corn crop of any state for each of the past 14 years. In an average year, Iowa produces more corn than most whole countries." Funny how there is no mention of government subsidies among the reasons for one of the FAQ: Why is corn Iowa's leading crop?

So, it is a no-brainer that the largest corn producing state, which is also the first in the presidential primary process, will then have politicians lining up one after another to sing the virtues of corn-based ethanol. Even a couple of years ago, Slate, one of my favorite go-to-sites, had a fantastic piece on the godawful ethanol subsidies. Slate is no right-wing nut case site, and in fact its people consistently are pro-Democratic presidential candidates. (This year, almost everybody there, but two, is pro-Obama.) BTW, right-wing nutcases also hate the subsidies, and Cato is one such example.

Well, one of the ethanol producers is bankrupt, despite all the subsidies! The NY Times reports that:
The VeraSun Energy Corporation, which accounts for roughly 7 percent of ethanol production capacity in the United States, announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late Friday.

Want more on how corn and ethanol feature(d) in this 2008 elections? Click here for details.

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