Saturday, January 24, 2009
As Timothy F. Geithner moved closer yesterday to confirmation as Treasury secretary, he signaled a more confrontational approach toward China, bluntly stating that the new administration thinks Beijing is "manipulating" its currency and it will act "aggressively" using "all the diplomatic avenues" to change China's currency practices.James Fallows, who has written extensively on China, is not at all happy with this memo to China. He writes:
we've got a situation where a journalist (moi-meme) is listening to a renowned expert and wondering, Can he possibly believe that things are as simple and bald as what he's just said?Fallows goes on to list many more wonderful points, before concluding:
The expert in question is our old friend Timothy Geithner, who when he was not being grilled about his tax problems today was saying (in his written answer to questions) that China is"manipulating" its currency. Oh my. Where do we start with this.
- That the Chinese government manages the value of the RMB against the US dollar and other currencies is not an accusation but an observation of universally-accepted plain fact. Until about three years ago, the RMB's value was flat-out pegged against that of the dollar, at a rate of just over 8:1. Was that "manipulation"? Yes, in the same sense that the yen was for years "manipulated" at a steady rate against the dollar, or perhaps in the sense that the US "manipulates" its national borders by controlling them.
I lack the energy to go any further down this list, and this is enough to make the point. These are just a tiny few of the factors that go into any US government consideration of how the RMB/dollar relationship affects the economies of both countries. And to boil it down to the bald assertion that "China is manipulating its currency" ignores, vulgarizes, and misconstrues a lot more than it clarifies.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Three things have happened, in a blink of history's eye: (1) a single medium, the Web, has come to dominate the storage and supply of information, (2) a single search engine, Google, has come to dominate the navigation of that medium, and (3) a single information source, Wikipedia, has come to dominate the results served up by that search engine. Even if you adore the Web, Google, and Wikipedia - and I admit there's much to adore - you have to wonder if the transformation of the Net from a radically heterogeneous information source to a radically homogeneous one is a good thing. Is culture best served by an information triumvirate?
It's hard to imagine that Wikipedia articles are actually the very best source of information for all of the many thousands of topics on which they now appear as the top Google search result. What's much more likely is that the Web, through its links, and Google, through its search algorithms, have inadvertently set into motion a very strong feedback loop that amplifies popularity and, in the end, leads us all, lemminglike, down the same well-trod path - the path of least resistance. You might call this the triumph of the wisdom of the crowd. I would suggest that it would be more accurately described as the triumph of the wisdom of the mob. The former sounds benign; the latter, less so.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Our religions are intrinsically incompatible with one another. Either Jesus rose from the dead and will be returning to Earth like a superhero or not; either the Koranis the infallible word of God or it isn’t. Every religion makes explicit claims about the way the world is, and the sheer profusion of these incompatible claims creates an enduring basis for conflict.
I asked Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State if any other president had included atheists and agnostics in an inaugural speech, and he couldn't think of one. I can only be grateful to Obama for reminding his audience--including Rick Warren--that nonbelievers are Americans, too.
Hillary Clinton Mouthing Along To Presidential Oath
January 20, 2009 | Issue 45•04
WASHINGTON—Network news cameras covering Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony Tuesday captured Hillary Clinton silently moving her lips along with each word of the minute-long presidential oath of office. As she stood watching several yards from Chief Justice John Roberts, the former Democratic presidential candidate could be observed placing her left hand on a leather appointment book and raising her right hand slightly from her hip. Clinton, who carefully followed the swearing-in procedure with her eyes shut tightly, only varied from the president's words once, when she soundlessly mouthed her name instead of Barack Obama's. Clinton was later seen at an inaugural ball pretending she was dancing with first lady Michelle Obama
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I’d really like that. I’d like to see better things happen for the United States. I’d like to see us become better people. I’d like to see us find our direction. But I know — and you know — that the next year or two are gonna be a bitch. Not just because the financial markets are in deep trouble, because the banks don’t want to lend money, because it ruins their status quo. It was explained to me; I don’t think I could explain it to you righteously, but it made sense when I heard the explanation. Basically, the bank is sitting because they’re not below what their paperwork should say and they’re not above what their paperwork should say — they’re right at their paperwork mark and they don’t want to move from that. Also, the housing market has to come back to realistic levels so people can actually afford to do the things that they want to do. If you want to buy a house, that is reasonable; you should be able to do that in this country and still feel like you’re moving forward.
No, this was not Bush. These are the golden words from Whoopi Goldberg. And, no, it was not a comedy act either.
Thanks to Reason.
In recent times it has often seemed as if many of the big questions in US and international affairs have been simplified to the point where any child can grasp them. A primer in politics, economics and science could perhaps be boiled down thus. Name the main cause of man-made global warming: President George W Bush. Outline the central causes of the war in Iraq: President George W Bush. Analyse the factors giving rise to the terrorist threat today: President George W Bush. Explain the origins of the financial crisis: President George W Bush. Give reasons for the ‘dumbing down of America’: see above. Etc, etc.
Like it or not, I fear it will not only be the cartoonists and impressionists who will miss the easy target in the White House when he has gone. Without such an obvious boil to blame for all of their ills, the liberal intelligentsia on both sides of the Atlantic might even be forced to confront some deeper questions about themselves and the sort of societies in which we live. Or perhaps they can just keep on blaming Bush for the next 20 years - after all, there are many over here in the UK who would still like to hold old Margaret Thatcher responsible for the current crisisHey, good luck, Mr. President--Barack Obama
Monday, January 19, 2009
and then watch the AG-nominee's call on waterboarding:
I am so glad we have an AG nominee who categorically states that waterboarding is torture.
A few months ago, Chris Hitchens voluntarily went through waterboarding and wrote about it. Here is the video from that:
Attn.Any takers? Feel free to contact Prof. Gadzama but only after you read this
I am the P.A to the Vice president of Nigeria Chief Goodluck Jonathan
Mr. Vice President has a transaction to the Tune of $150 Million USD.
Can you handle it? Please do respond with your direct phone number. So we can discuss.
Prof. N.M Gadzama
[There] is a more serious problem with treating Barack Obama as an elected monarch; one that affects us journalists, in particular. Put a man on a pedestal and suddenly it's hard for the press to drag him through the political wringer. It happened in 2003 in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and risks happening again.
In Britain, we invest the Queen with our ceremonial hopes which leaves us free to treat our prime minister as exactly what he is—an elected official, paid for by the taxpayers, and serving at the people's will. While George W. Bush was being asked patsy questions by a subdued White House press corps, Tony Blair was being drubbed by un-cowed political hacks. It is far easier to do when you don't stand the moment the man walks into the room.
Barack Obama has a four-year rental on the White House. We would do well to remember he doesn't possess the freehold.
America got rid of King George for good reason and it toyed recently with another dynastic George. Wasn't that enough? January 20 is indeed a day for celebration, as the world watches the peaceful transfer of power in Washington. I simply wish we could tone down the royal trappings just a smidge. Who really needs another coffee mug anyway?
In fairness, we cannot assign all the blame to Mr Bush. Congress bears some responsibility, as do the American people. After all, in our constitutional republic it is “We the People” who are ultimately account able for what happens in Washington.
Any stimulus proposal should be timely, targeted and temporary. It should be large enough to make a difference, but not too large, and be properly structured in order to minimise waste. It should be designed to stimulate job growth and make targeted infrastructure and other investments to make America more competitive.
While some stimulus is called for, we cannot spend our way into economic prosperity, especially when all new spending is debt-financed. It was troubling to see one prominent incoming senior economic official refer to the Obama administration’s planned stimulus proposal as a “down payment” on the future. How can something be a down payment when there is no equity involved? This is an example of how words used in Washington do not always fit Webster’s definitions.
The president and Congress must put a process in place that will enable elected officials to reimpose tough statutory budget controls and reform our nation’s Social Security, Medicare, healthcare and tax systems. All these require significant reforms that Washington has delayed for too long. We also need a baseline review of all main spending and tax choices to re prioritise them to reflect 21st-century realities.
“One man's expenditure is another man's income.”
That was the succinct remark from the economist John Maynard Keynes, describing the world that was trapped in the Great Depression where tightening spending and loss of income worsened the situation for each other.
Now, as we try to deal with the worst recession ever since that awful Great Depression, Keynes’ ideas are again rapidly gaining favor among economists and policymakers alike. And, yet again, the fundamental struggle is to figure out how to get households and businesses to spend such that it will trigger “another man’s income.”
The latest economic data show that retail sales were down almost ten percent compared to a year ago. What a dilemma: on the one hand, unnecessary material consumption being down can be good for the environment. However, in a consumption-driven economy, a dramatic and sudden decrease in expenditures will only ensure that the economic recession that we are in will get nastier. In the quite strange and complex global economy that we operate in, it turns out saving money is not a virtue if it completely dampens the spending.
I was thinking about all these when my neighbor walked over to remind me about getting the gutters in my home cleaned. When I told him that we are planning to get the exterior of our home painted this coming summer, he lightheartedly remarked that I might be the only one in town spending money a few months down the road. As our conversation on the economy ended after only a few minutes in the freezing cold, we parted company and rushed to the warm interiors agreeing that it is not going to help the economy if everybody stopped spending.
This unique quality of money is best summed up by Dolly Levi—the lead character in “Hello, Dolly!”—who often quotes her late husband’s words: “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow.” Yes, the words from the musical are far more meaningful today as economic interpretation than as mere Broadway lyrics more than forty years ago.
Dolly’s advice to spread the money, or Keynes’ observation, imply that when people and businesses stop buying, the economy has no growth opportunity whatsoever. As corporations tighten their expenditures, for instance, corporate aircrafts are being shunned, and we feel the impact right away in terms of job losses at the Cessna plane factory in
And households tightening their spending and eating only at home quickly leads to job losses at local eateries—sometimes even permanent closures of those establishments, as has been the case with Café Zenon and El Vaquero. When consumers are no shows at eateries, it affects the jobs of those who work there, which in turn affects their own spending habits. These horrible multiplier effects can have disastrous impacts causing a massive downward spiral.
After driving myself crazy with such half-baked analysis of the global economic meltdown, I decided to take my daughter’s advice and simply stop reading and thinking. For a while, at least.
Thus, on a cold but sunny Saturday morning, I headed out to The Country Bakery on the remarkably picturesque
As I walked out with a marionberry pie and a glazed doughnut, two other vehicles pulled up. I wondered whether they too came in for that simply delicious home-baked comfort food, made by a baker who wakes up at midnight to get things going.
Sitting in the car, I bit into the doughnut, which had quickly cooled down with that momentary exposure to the freezing temperature. That is when I thought that maybe we do have a guaranteed way out of the recession: every man, woman, and child in
Sunday, January 18, 2009
In a way, that's the paradox of Al-Jazeera's war journalism: It is flagrantly political, but accompanied by a real curiosity about other perspectives. It also makes me wish for something else: A TV network with the bravery to show the war imagery you can see on Al-Jazeera, but the integrity to do it in the service of peace, rather than the service of a side. Its violent imagery, however unpleasant, would be a strong stand for the individual against violence, and for human compassion against easily fanned hatreds.Want a taste of it? Here is an Al-Jazeera report on the Gaza situation:
We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims. Rather, conservatism serves the ends of “Human Flourishing,” what the Greeks termed Eudaimonia. Secular conservatism takes the empirical world for what it is, and accepts that the making of it the best that it can be is only possible through our faculties of reason.I wish these people lots and lots of luck. A reformed GOP will be far more constructive than the current one held hostage by the "religious right"
Since believers give credit to God for answering their prayers when they are saved from catastrophe or illness, they have to explain why he answered their prayers and not those other people’s prayers, why he saved these children from a tsunami and not those other children. Any believer who today thanks God for making sure that his coronary bypass operation was successful has to explain why God allowed at least 37 peasants to be buried in a Guatemalan landslide on Sunday.In another post, Mac Donald notes:
The teen birth rate has started climbing again. As usual, it’s highest in red states and states with high black and Hispanic populations and lowest in New England blue states. In 2006, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas topped the list, with 68, 64, and 63 births for every 1000 female teens, respectively, compared to 19 births per 1000 female teens in New Hampshire and 21 in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Will more religion cure this scourge? Not by itself. Mexican-American teens have the highest birth rate—93 births per 1000 girls—compared to 64 births per 1000 black girls and 26 births per 1000 white girls. Decadent secular Europe and non-Christian Asia lag far behind. In 2003, Japan’s teen birthrate was 3.9 births per 1000 girls. Italy’s rate was 6.9 per 1000, and France’s, 10 births per 1000 girls.