Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Right Where The Rubber Meets the Road

In the healthcare debate, here's where the rubber is going to meet the road. Right here:

Randall Shepherd, a 36-year-old father of three who needs a new heart after childhood battles with rheumatic fever, is one of 98 Arizonans no longer eligible for state-paid transplants after Governor Jan Brewer and the Legislature eliminated funding.

Shepherd, a plumber from Mesa who no longer can work, said he was next on the list to receive a heart of his size and blood type when the transplant program was eliminated Oct. 1, cutting him off from the $600,000 procedure. Now, “I wouldn’t even be notified,” he said in a telephone interview, his breathing labored.

The Republican governor’s elimination of transplants to save $800,000 toward a $3 billion budget deficit makes Arizona the only state to do so in the past two years, according to a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health-care researcher in Menlo Park, California.

I don't pretend to have the answers here. But I know the question: are we going to let sick unfortunate Americans die?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Complain, Don't Act

Recent developments suggest a few favorite tea party congressfolk are adopting a strategy of Complain, Don't Act.

 From Politico, Appropriations Panel Loses Its Luster
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was asked to be an appropriator and said thanks, but no thanks. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea party favorite, turned down a shot at Appropriations, which controls all discretionary spending. So did conservatives like Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an ambitious newcomer who will lead the influential Republican Study Committee.

Indeed, the Appropriations Committee just doesn’t seem to be the plum assignment it once was, and the line is short for new recruits to join a panel where the longtime focus on bringing home earmarks and other goodies will shift to finding $100 billion in spending cuts. Even conservative reformers who do get assigned to the committee are likely to be stymied once their appropriations bills reach the floor and get amended to death, then potentially earmarked into oblivion by a Democratic Senate.
These are exactly the sorts of signals we need from new Republican congressfolk to finally convince Americans to support independent candidates who might listen to the people, figure out what they want, and then actually try to follow through.

This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry patiently explains to the car rental rep that it's the holding of the reservation that matters. "Anyone can just take 'em!" Same goes for the complaints of the people. Anyone can just take our complaints and then rant them back at us. It's the addressing of the complaints that matters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Palin Jumps Shark

For months I have been telling both Palin-despising liberals and Palin-adoring conservatives that Sara Palin is not going to run for President. "She's happy and comfortable in the roles she's carved out as a sideline cheerleader, "I've told everyone. "She has no interest in actually playing in the big game."

Well, now Palin has a reality show. It's some sort of an infomercial for her, and for Alaska.

With this action, I declare that Palin has officially jumped the shark. She's maybe a list or two above Kathy Griffin, but that's it. Do we need a clearer signal to tell us that she's not running? I say no. But I also note that this doesn't  mean that she's through playing coy. It's in the interest of prolonging her appeal to display how serious she is about her important work. So this show could well be the most explicit signal that she's not running, at least for the next 6 months.

I warn you all to stay away from such soul-sucking fare as Palin's show. But if you must watch, keep an eye out for moments where Palin name drops smart people in a sad attempt to signal that she has more than a feeble grasp of a complicated issue that smart people right serious books about. I can't bring myself to keep watch for it myself, but it's a safe bet to happen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Research Must Pursue The Truth Wherever It Leads"

Can't recall whether the hat tip I owe should be directed at Instapundit or Marginal Revolution. Here's British economist John Kay on a practice that really chaps my ass:

The studies I have cited are carefully referenced and use advanced statistical techniques. But sophistication of method is used to torture data to reveal conclusions that do not obviously follow from them, but which fit either the researchers’ preconceptions or the sponsor’s policy objectives, or both.

Bad arguments do not necessarily invalidate the causes in which they are deployed. People should not drink and drive. Smoking is unpleasant and perhaps harmful to non-smokers. But these observations do not justify blurring the distinction between genuine scientific analysis and propaganda disguised as science. Policy should follow evidence, not evidence policy. It is time to reassert the principle that research must pursue the truth wherever it leads: the principle on which the social and economic progress of the past few centuries has depended.

Amen, brother.  Every time I hear another innumerate nitwit dismiss data with the insufferable "lies, damn lies, and statistics" line, I have the urge to declare douchnozzle clobberin' time. But when so many skilled practitioners of research and data analysis torture data in the way Kay describes, one can hardly blame careless observers from dismissing the entire enterprise of collecting data to, you know, learn something true.

Of course, this never really changes. So count this as a reminder to everyone who feels Kay's pain: keep fighting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Deficit Hawks Versus the Plain Old Hawks

Englebert Humperdinck once famously crooned

After the lovin', I'm still in love with you... .

After the lovin' of last week's  GOP congressional victories, how long will the afterglow endure? I predict the next tune is Robert Cray. Because the forecast calls for pain. 

Everyone knows that the traditional conservative rant against federal overspending exempts our military. The GOP will wrap itself in as many flags as need be to ensure the security of our good fighting men at risk, protecting our freedom overseas. And to ensure funding for a new weapons program, Especially if it's in their district.

But for a hint that Boehner, Cantor, and McConell may face a cat-herding task, see below. [Hat tip to sometime amigo tillyosu over at donklephant for pointing out that Think Progress compiled these]:
OK senator Tom Coburn this week said:
Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows.
 Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul said:
In order to address the deficit the only compromise that I think we can have is you have to look at the whole budget. We’ve always excluded the military and said we’re not gonna look at the military…everything has to be on the table.
PA senator-elect Pat Toomey said:
But the fact is, there is waste pretty much everywhere in the government, and that includes the Pentagon. Part of the problem is Congress voting on systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want.
 Illinois senator-elect Mark Kirk said:
For example, I back spending restraint across the board. At the DOD like no second engine for the F-35 Fighter, closing down joint forces command, across the board reductions.
Georgia senator Johnny Isakson said:
Well first of all there’s not a government program that shouldn’t be under scrutiny. And that begins with the Department of Defense and goes all the way through.
TN senator Bob Corker said:
Everything! I mean, look, Secretary Gates will tell you there’s a lot of waste there. We need to streamline it.
 So the GOP is apparently not unanimous in extending the military's exemption into the promised era of the new austerity

Let the acrimony begin!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tim Pawlenty Making Sense

Here's Tim Pawlenty with some good points, similar to the ones Chris Christie has been making. Be sure to read the whole thing here. Below, my edited version of his short list:
1. Set clear priorities but cut almost everything else. Not everything government does is equally important.

2. Reform out-of-control entitlements. By far, the biggest long-term driver of the federal debt is entitlement spending, including Social Security and Medicare. These programs are going to have to be changed. And despite Beltway rhetoric, it can be done.

3. Sacrifice. Americans have sacrificed enough; it’s time for government to sacrifice for a change.
The explanations behind this short general list can be found at the link. While I am personally not reflexively opposed to tax increases in some cases, as Pawlenty is, I think he's pointing in the right direction. And has good concrete examples of things he did in his state.

These are the sorts of changes the future holds for all of us, If we are lucky and wise, we get on board now and do them by choice. If not, they happen anyway when insolvency forces them on us in more ugly, unfair, uneven, unpleasant ways.

Positive Feedback for Talking Sense

Sadly for Independent prospects, the path is straight uphill. That means walking right up to the turd in the punchbowl, patting him on the back, and saying "Tell me more." We live in a political environment where a true but unpopular message usually brings no more than a chastening firestorm.

For any effort to encourage political independent to survive and thrive, we have to be ready to reward independent, good-faith truth telling no matter who is telling it, and no matter whose ox it gores.

Here's one simple truth as I see it, and the teller is Tim Pawlenty. Quoted at Thinkprogress from his appearance on MSNBC:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) essentially called his party’s congressional leaders liars, saying anybody says they want to cut spending but won’t touch entitlements or defesne is “lying to you”:

HOST: What are you going to cut?

PAWLENTY: If you look at a pie chart of federal outlays, discretionary spending being the red, non-discretionary being the blue. The blue is already over the over the half way mark and it’s growing in double digits. Anybody who comes in here and tells you they’re not going to cut anything other than waste fraud and abuse, they’re not going to touch entitlements — they’re lying to you. If you want to deal with the spending issue, in terms of total federal outlays, you got to deal with interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — if you have the time I can walk you through my ideas. But that’s the truth, you got to do entitlement reform, particularly if you’re going to hold defense harmless.

Predictably, THINKProgress's focus is expresing glee at a republican who apparently suggested his party leaders were liars. I've got a different takeaway.

Tim Pawlenty is telling the unvarished truth about our federal budget. We should applaud that, and acknowledge its truth and the ramifications that come with it. I could not have LESS interest in any argument about the relative truthiness of party-leading talking heads.

Any sensible independent has to read this and think, "hmm, I am willing to listen to more of what this guy has to say on the federal budget. I think his many not even be relevant to this matter."

More to come.

Open Thread: Potential Independent Leaders for 2012

It's an open thread, so smoke if you got 'em on any topic. Sports, beer, whiskey, cool gadgets, what you're up to.

And if you have a mind to, can you point me at some leaders out there who seem willing to face facts about our future even if these facts are inconvenient and suggest unpopular solutions. Have at.

Republicans: Is the New Script the Old Script?

It's not very hard to understand why so many republicans are so sure today that their script was always right, and the reason the last show bombed was bad acting.

It's also not very hard for longtime politics wonks to see that both parties reach this conclusion each they go through their boom-bust cycle. Democrats "learned" that they should have really passed healthcare, so when they got their next swing at the ball, they made sure they did it, by whatever means necessary. How'd THAT work out? To this day, they are convinced of their courage and rectitude on HCR.

And now it's the GOP's turn to fail to learn. Even as the president (granted, predictably) announced his commitment to identifying and working on important business with the GOP at the table. various GOP members trumpeted their zeal to be uncompromising. I must have missed the part where we all voted for our leaders to fiddle while the nation keeps burning.

We're poised for an epic 2-year food fight where almost nothing gets achieved, and nearly every political act by both sides is done first for the sake of signaling. The GOP seems ready to keep talking big about cuts. Then they plan to deliver little, and blame democrats. Because most of them lack the courage to propose unpopular cuts or structural adjustments to the nondiscretionary spending that comprises most of the budget, and they are terrified to cut the only arguably discretionary portion of the budget that is a big chunk: military spending.

So they'll nibble at non-defense discretionary spending, and blame the subsequent lack of success at cutting spending on the democrats. They will act without courage, because most of them cannot get past their gut instinct that such courage is political suicide.

As an advocate of independent thought and independent candidates in 2012, I am hoping to identify some politicians, regardless of party, who have on occasion shown a willingness to speak the truth even if its inconvenient for their side. How about an open thread for that?

The Things Barack Obama Still Doesn't Seem to Get

When it comes to empathy for the electorate., Barack Obama continues to show that he's no Bill Clinton. Clinton, warts and all, had an innate connection with the evolving whims and feelings of the people. On top of that, he genuinely likes and enjoys interacting with all sorts of people.

As of 2010, the passionate sure-footed candidate of 2008 is gone. He's been replaced by a careful, tempered, detached President, riddled with doubts. Worst of all, his deep attachment to his sense of the world as it was for the 2008 candidate continues to threaten his future viability. And his effectiveness as a President in the upcoming months.

He is clinging to the elephant of two years ago. But the economy didn't bounce back as  he promised, making people doubt the wisdom and efficacy of the stimulus. The healthcare reform he was sure people wanted in 2008 has given way to the bastardized reality of a package that improved access but failed to address the real problem of cost. A package that was bought only at the price of ALL the political capital he had.

Yesterday, Obama showed he wasn't entirely clueless by stressing that the nation has urgent business and that he is ready to work with both parties in congress to do it. Then he went on to show that he is still wedded to the kinds of approaches that sounded good  to some in 2008, but which many Americans are deeply skeptical about in 2010.

How long will Obama persist in believing in expanded rail and other expensive public works projects without any demonstrable acid test of regard for whether any given project is truly necessary. Necessary beyond providing short-term employment at taxpayer expense, that is.

And how much longer will Barack Obama remain so cool, so tempered, so detached, so careful in tumultuous times? He would do well to talk to Mike Dukakis, who learned the lesson of the value of passion and fight too late. Obama needs to find passion and fight, and he needs to find the lyrics to the right song. Vy that I mean a song that resonates with the public circa today, not 2008.

On the Matter of the Blind Men and the Elephant (or Donkey)

The teaching tale of The Blind Men and the Elephant feels apt today.
But finally, an old blind man came. He had left the city, walking in his usual slow way, content to take his time and study the elephant thoroughly. He walked all around the elephant, touching every part of it, smelling it, listening to all of its sounds. He found the elephant's mouth and fed the animal a treat, then petted it on its great trunk. Finally he returned to the city, only to find it in an uproar.

Each of the six young men had acquired followers who eagerly heard his story. But then, as the people found that there were six different contradictory descriptions, they all began to argue. The old man quietly listened to the fighting. "It's like a wall!" "No, it's like a snake!" "No, it's like a spear!" "No, it's like a tree!" "No, it's like a rope!"  "No, it's like a fan!"

The old man turned and went home, laughing as he remembered his own foolishness as a young man. Like these, he once hastily concluded that he understood the whole of something when he had experienced only a part. He laughed again as he remembered his greater foolishness of once being unwilling to discover truth for himself, depending wholly on others' teachings.
I'm convinced today of the greater foolishness of the leaders of both parties, who remain convinced that their own teachings are complete, and who seek always to attract followers by persuading them it's unnecessary to discover truth for yourself.

In my next two posts, why I think neither side has demonstrated that it really gets the whole message of either the 2008 or 2010 elections.

Wasn't Reagan an Actor?

Peggy Noonan says that Sara Palin demonstrates what the Tea Party needs to get, if it wants to grow and succeed. On Fox, Palin said:

"Wasn't Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn't he in 'Bedtime for Bonzo,' Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor." 

Here's Noonan's response:

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I'll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

The point is not "He was a great man and you are a nincompoop," though that is true. The point is that Reagan's career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn't in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn't in search of fame; he'd already lived a life, he was already well known, he'd accomplished things in the world.

Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can't just bully them, you can't just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.

Complaining? Noticing what's wrong? Criticizing the doers from the sidelines? That's easy.

Going to Washington and changing things? Getting people to work together? Representing the whole nation and your own broad constituency? That's hard. That's why we should try to elect people who we think can do it. The things that make people appealing to vote for are not always the same things that make them able to lead and govern with the touch that the nation wants.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

GOP: Obama Must Narfle the Garthok

I’d put the chances at better than 50-50 that Republicans take such a hard line on the budget.
But they are on the meter now, and people will be watching. Suppose the President moves right and puts substantive cuts on the table, and offers to make some of the changes to healthcare reform that the GOP has suggested. Imo, this a given, just as it is a given that the GOP will countersell any such offers as far too little. Americans will split the difference and assume the truth is somewhere in between. the usual partisan half-truths. Remember, few Americans trust politicians to give it to us straight
Then suppose the GOP digs in its heels and says it’s not enough. That’s likely to please the hardcore. Right? But I seriously doubt that it will please impatient independents who would like to see pragmatic moves in the right direction. Now.
In such an environment, the chances are better than ever for viable independent and moderate candidates.
Possible Obama line: “The Republicans are leaving a perfectly good half loaf at the table, and going home to Americans empty-handed with a story that it’s the Democrats’ fault.”
The brinksmanship of insisting that only a whole loaf (or most of it) will do is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Newt Gingrich was sure it would work against Clinton, But Americans blamed Republicans for being too rigid and shutting down the government. The result was that Bill Clinton got to take most of the credit for later balancing the budget. Because Clinton positioned himself as the reasonable one, protecting regular folks from overweening partisanship.
Gingrich BTW is a really smart guy with a colossal ego. So he and the cohort of the GOP inner circle may have convinced itself that this time some sort of similar brinksmanship scheme will work. The basis is probably that people are angrier this time, and more committed to shrinking government.
Maybe they are right. Or maybe Americans, while quite committed to the idea in general, will prove more squeamish when faced with drastic particulars.
Will they want an extra couple hundred billion in cuts if they directly reduce federal aid to their state, which will reduce state aids to towns. Which will force each town to choose between higher property taxes and less police,m fire, and school money. Maybe we’ll all be that brave and that willing to sacrifice now. If Republicans lead the way in making an insolvent California grovel and insist on draconian cuts and policy changes, how will that play out across California, and on TV before the nation.
Even if you or I are basically behind the making of hard fiscal choices, we have to appreciate what a tightrope this will be to walk. Every hard move of brinksmanship by the GOP is a bet on the intestinal fortitude of Americans, on their willingness to put what’s best for the country fiscally as a whole against their personal interests, whether that means school funding, social security, still uncontrolled healthcare costs… .
Right or wrong policywise, it’s a ballsy bet if the really GOP chooses to make it. If they do, they’ll be the ones forced to endure an endless parade of TV anecdotes about the people being hurt, and the phones ringing off the hook with constituents telling them that while they agree with the policy of across the board cuts, their particular sacred cow really does need full funding, because they’ve already cut to the bone.
It has been comparatively easy for the GOP to talk tough at the national level. It is going to be MUCH harder to act tough with the whole country watching. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From Indignation to Indy Nation

In Alaska, Lisa Murkowski is poised to defeat both anointed party choices via a write-in campaign. Hooda thunk that Alaska would so cheer Indy Nation so soon as after polluting the waters with Robo-mom Sara Palin?  

Democrats want to spin Murkowski's win as an anti-tea-party or anti-Palin result. The GOP wants it to prove that disloyalty is a bad thing. It proves neither. What it proves is that the people who win elections are the people who best represent their constituents, not the people who best represent their party.  

Alaska should be happy that they were able to avoid the horns of the sort of false dilemma that Nevada faced: odious liberal versus odious conservative. Folks ought to appreciate how hard it is to get 41% in a 3 way race as a write in candidate. That's a very loud shot by the people of one state against partisan politics yielding abysmal choices. the abysmal partisan dilemma CAN be evaded I dunno about other states, but MA had more independent and unaffiliated candidates than I have ever seen. And I voted for many of them. I think there is plenty of room for more growth in the market for candidates who are not affiliated with either party.

And so, Tuesday's indignation can lead to Wednesday's Indy Nation, where the beady-eyed crap weasels of both parties should be beginning to feel the heat. As noted in other posts, several prominent conservatives had already warned their party against triumphalism. That's become the dominant spin in the aftermath...that this represents a last chance for Republicans to adjust our nation's headings to match public needs and desires.

The early returns suggest to me that they are determined to fail in part, because they are twisting these results to fit their version of the truth, which only ever tells half the story. Where the results show that the public is deeply upset by economic circumstances, the GOP insists that the results are simply a rejection of Barack Obama's polices. As usual, only about half right.

Many of us may well want smaller government and lower taxes. But we all know that the economy didn't suddenly collapse because of big government deficit spending and taxes. It collapsed because both parties were asleep at the switch, unwilling to speak to an unsustainable real estate bubble overinflated by deeply questionable lending and risk-selling practices at every step of the process by powerful business entities with Congress's ear and sympathy.

In a morning CNN poll, Americans give "wall st bankers" the most blame for our economy's current state. In this context, Republicans continue to insist we give freer reign to business. Apparently, there is not a politician in congress or a pundit on the DC beat who is willing to connect these dots. Smaller government and lower taxes probably can help lead us out of our current hole. But as long as we are dominated by two parties that never tell more than half the truth, and who spend most of their time fundraising and serving powerful special interests, the people will never come first.

As long as this endures, Democrats and Republicans will never be able to see the real world, only the world through the lenses of various special interests who sign checks for re-election campaigns. Congresscritters will spend their time speaking only to the issues as seen by the groups signing the checks, and the party power brokers setting the agenda and bulleting the talking points. If it's not an issue in the eye of some specific powerful special interest, Congress can't see it.

By supporting independent candidates with the freedom and the actual ability to see and describe MORE than half of the truth, we can wake up the partisan zombies pulling the switches. Here's to that come 2012.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Gauntlet to Throw Down Beginning Wednesday

The rising GOP tide is at this point a foregone conclusion in all quarters. The only remaining question is "how high?" I dunno the height of this peak, but I think there's a very good chance I know the time of the peak. Tuesday Night. In the run  up to the midterms, I've already noticed at least three smart conservatives warning the GOP to understand that this represents a last chance of sorts for them. To deliver for regular folks. Fiscal sanity and sensible policy.

Americans don't want to see triumphalism and celebrations. What do they want to see? Asses and elbows,  that's what. Hard work. Real work. Ignoring special interests. Listening to the people. Delivering actual policies that really demonstrate that.

Heres the pollster Rasmussen on the trend he sees, plain as day:

The reality is that voters in 2010 are doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008: They are voting against the party in power. This is the continuation of a trend that began nearly 20 years ago.... This reflects a fundamental rejection of both political parties.

More precisely, it is a rejection of a bipartisan political elite that's lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve. Based on our polling, 51% now see Democrats as the party of big government and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people.

Voters today want hope and change every bit as much as in 2008. But most have come to recognize that if we have to rely on politicians for the change, there is no hope. At the same time, Americans instinctively understand that if we can unleash the collective wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

In this environment, it would be wise for all Republicans to remember that their team didn't win, the other team lost.

The gauntlet for us all to throw down beginning Wednesday? That we're all ready to keep shuffling the deck. We're ready to vote in droves for independent candidates who put regular folks first.  If party politicians don't stop throwing poop, if they don't stop putting special interests and reelection first, if they don't start listening and delivering, we'll consider  party affiliation to be a stain, a scarlet letter that says "don't vote for me."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Douche-con 5: A Strategy for the Final Days Before the Midterms

The Friday Before.

Both sides are officially in high dudgeon.. Either it's a conservative pounding a fist about "the gutter media's attacks on conservative women." or it's a liberal sanctimonifying about the GOP's gains being the fruits of an evil sham based on nothing but unscrupulous lies.

The takeawy for the sane?

Clearly we're now at douche-con 5, folks. DOUCHE-CON 5.

 Red  Alert. The future of the republic rests on a razor's edge, and the outcome is in your hands.

So, 4 days until the election. You won't see or hear any new arguments in these closing days. Just higher volume, higher frequency, more vitriol, and more dirty tricks. Pretend revelations. Arm-waving.

 What a great weekend not to watch TV or answer the phone or read a poll or an editorial. Hug your kids, Take your spouse to dinner. Go for a walk. Let things settle and digest. Remain calm. Don't be afraid. If the poison energy of the election comes your way, take the long way round.

Then, on Tuesday. Please vote. Think both of yourself and of your fellow Americans. Do the best you can. On Wednesday the sun will rise, Earth will turn, and we'll keep picking up the pieces.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Should Riskmakers Be Able to Sell All that Risk?

Subprime lending fueled a real estate bubble that later collapsed. It had to do so eventually, as prices outstripped what buyers could afford to pay.

Bubble-inflating lending was fueled by loan originators packaging and selling their loans to other people,  offloading their risk to other people. The ability of originators to offload all of their risk removed any incentive to accurately assess borrower creditworthiness and loan viability.

Shouldn't we try to revise the system to insist that loan originators of most sorts must retain some substantial portion of the risk they create by originating the loan?

Or at least ensure that such risk is not obscured in a haze of complexity? I am not arguing that we repeal caveat emptor. But if you look at the chain of custody of this risk-selling, you see that ratings agencies gave high investment-safety marks to a swath of investment vehicles which not only collapsed, but were loaded with packages of high risk loans. If entities which set themselves up as experts are this dumb and or compromised, what hope is their for the rest of us.

I think we either need to make the risk-makers keep some of their risk, or reform the system so that bullshine salesmen are penalized when their bullshine proves to be just that.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bragging on My Home State

In more than one place I have seen articles bemoaning the quality of political discourse and the caliber of candidates in some places. People deign to say they feel sorry for Nevada or Delaware or California. And hey, maybe so. If I had to choose between a partisan technician and kant-spewing kook, I'd be pissed.

I mention this as a prelude to a big chest thump for my home state of Massachusetts. I watched an hourlong governor's debate between incumbent dem Deval Patrick, GOP challenger Charlie Baker, and possible spoiler also rans Tim Cahill (ex-dem independent) and Jill Stein(green party I think).

What I saw was 4 very capable and well-informed people. Their hearts seemed to be in the right place, they had a good understanding of the issues, they made good points. And I came away thinking that wow, we are pretty lucky as a state that get that caliber of candidates. Leaving aside the ugly polluting and muddying TV commercials by interest groups on all sides, democracy seems alive and well here.

Another interesting note? This debate and this race shows the conceivable problems we might face should the major parties atrophy to the point where it's common to see a 3, 4, 5 candidate race. Even if 2 or 3 of the candidates are only polling +5 single digits, the final outcome could end up seeming sort of random. The ultimate winner seems like so m uch less of a clear winner, at least in my eyes.

 I definitely like the idea of a future where more candidates who are neither democrats nor republicans can truly influence the ongoing debate and get elected to important offices. But at the same time, I think we'd be well served if the election systems evolved so that the final round of voting involves only the top two choices. But if we do that, I think the last 2 rounds of voting should be close together.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What the Tea Partiers Want

I hold Jonathan Haidt in high respect because I think his book The Happiness Hypothesis is jammed with insight about psychology and human nature. Packed. FWIW, I tend to regard the self-help genre with high skepticism, because I think it's populated by too many opportunists, con folk, charlatans, etc, etc.  I hold Haidt as an exception.

So when my buddy let me know that Haidt had written an article called What the Tea Partiers Really Want, I was eager to read it. And Haidt didn't let me down. In attempting to find an on-point 3-paragraph excerpt that encompasses the gist of the article, it became very clear that there is in this case no substitute for reading the whole thing. Please do that!

Because a generalized love of liberty doesn't distinguish tea partiers from other Americans, liberals have been free to speculate on the "real" motives behind the movement. Explanations so far have spanned a rather narrow range, from racism (they're all white!) to greed (they just don't want to pay taxes!) to gullibility (Glenn Beck has hypnotized them!). Such explanations allow liberals to disregard the moral claims of tea partiers. But the passion of the tea-party movement is, in fact, a moral passion. It can be summarized in one word: not liberty, but karma.

The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for "deed" or "action," and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity.

In the tea partiers' scheme of things, the federal government got into the business of protecting the American people—from market fluctuations as well as from their own bad decisions—under Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Great Depression, most Americans recognized that capitalism required safety nets here and there. But Lyndon Johnson's effort to build the Great Society, and particularly welfare programs that reduced the incentives for work and marriage among the poor, went much further.

Hope you read the whole thing. I even hope it leads folks to checking out The Happiness Hypothesis. I think Haidt is spot on with the idea that the best impulse of the tea party to re-establish a firmer link between rights and responsibilities, where honest good-faith effort is rewarded and laziness and deceit is punished. And FWIW, if you disagree with what Haidt says, please give me a better reason than the fact that the WSJ published it.

Critical Thinking About Political Opinions

If you're here, it may be because you enjoy talking about politics and related big ideas, And maybe you have experience with interesting threads suddenly devolving into nasty, pointless flame wars, If that troubles you like it troubles me, maybe you're interested in some introspection on it. As opposed to, you know, continuing to assume its the other commenter who is the 100% a-hole.

The blog Overcoming Bias has an insightful post on the idea that folks run into trouble when they voice opinions (consciously or subconsciously) to signal ability or loyalty, instead of as part of a good faith effort to estimate truth. This rings extremely true to me, since it relates to the idea of "weak-sense" versus "strong-sense" critical thinking that Richard Paul espouses, and which I studied and liked in grad school.

At the risk of running afoul of netiquette regading excepting, I am going to post the whole list, with attribution to Robin Hanson...Opinion Warning Signs:

  1. You find it hard to be enthusiastic for something until you know that others oppose it.
  2. You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.
  3. Realizing that a topic is important and neglected doesn’t make you much interested.
  4. You have little interest in digging to bigger topics behind commonly argued topics.
  5. You are less interested in a topic when you don’t foresee being able to talk about it.
  6. You are uncomfortable taking a position near the middle of the opinion distribution.
  7. You are uncomfortable taking a position of high uncertainty about who is right.
  8. You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.
  9. You are reluctant to change your publicly stated positions in response to new info.
  10. You are reluctant to agree a rival’s claim, even if you had no prior opinion on the topic.
  11. You are reluctant to take a position that raises the status of rivals.
  12. You care more about consistency between your beliefs than about belief accuracy.
  13. You go easy on sloppy arguments by folks on “your side.”
  14. You have little interest in practical concrete implications of commonly argued topics.
  15. Your opinion doesn’t much change after talking with smart folks who know more.
  16. You are especially eager to drop names when explaining positions and arguments.
  17. You find it hard to list weak points and counter-arguments on your positions.
  18. You feel passionately about a topic, but haven’t sought out much evidence.
  19. You are reluctant to not have an opinion on commonly discussed topics.

Thoughts? Since this comes from Robin Hanson, folks who lean liberal are likely to attack it on that basis. In the interest of sidestepping that rut, this post explicitly stipulates that it is possible that he is evil or an a-hole or both, and declares that point irrelevant to the discussion of the merits of the list. In other words, this thread is not interested in what you think about Robin Hanson. Thanks.

Open Thread: Risk Aversion

I'm going to do a double duty open thread. One part of it is the usual renewal of the call for folks to say what's on their mind, in the spirit of good-faith non-ideological political inquiry. Or whatever it is I'm trying to foster here. Apparently, what I like is a discussion that is civil and insightful, and lengthy is also ok. So, for example, if you've had multiple occasions to complain that someone else's posts are too long, you might not be happy here. Clever glib unconsidered comments in the service of winning an argument? Can you do better?

The other part is an invitation for Tully and the hairshirt hedonist to expound some more on an exchange from a lengthy open thread where they discussed monetary theory.

Tully: If I weren't so personally debt-adverse and could be assured of my ongoing income, NOW would be the time to borrow at locked-in low fixed rates.

HSH: I'm pretty debt-averse myself. The only debt I have is my mortgage, which I very recently refinanced to get the low fixed rate available. But I wouldn't go looking for new debt, either, regardless of the low rates. I'm just not built for that.

I'd call this an old-fashioned value that hasn't been "au courrant" enough for some time now. In other words, a good argument can be made that our current problems have been caused by insufficient attention to the gap between what folks want and what folks can afford.

I also carry only a mortgage as debt. This approach that HSH and I share used to be the dominant one, or at least more prevalent. And once upon a time, the approach Tully uses was in high favor. Or maybe even the only available approach.

We've seen a period in America where many borrowers have become cognitively and emotionally detached from debt and risk. And at the same time, lenders have found ways to functionally detach themselves from  the financial risk they create, by offloading the risk onto a chain of other entities.

That's a problem. Any thoughts? Take this wherever you want guys, make any connections you want.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What If We're Slowly Starting to Bounce Back?

I see a hair's breadth of potential for the economy to begin picking up slowly over the next year. It cratered so deep that it's almost inevitable that it will begin to creep up following the recent period where it's basically stabilized without growing nearly enough to console those hurt the worst by the fall.

Republicans will try to take post-mid-term credit for it. Just as democrats would have if the bounce had been quicker, and just as democrats will no matter when that happens. But hey, that's politics. Both parties are always certain that all the bad things are the other party's fault and all the good things are things they made happen. They're like infants. Let them cry themselves to sleep, right?

My personal view is that the government did a number of arguably necessary things to prop up the economy when it cratered, during the tail end of the Bush Presidency and the beginning of the Obama Presidency. Surely preventing the collapse of credit markets needed to happen. Surely some of the bailed out banks needed to be bailed out, though perhaps not all.

Arguably America might not have liked a world where we had only one of the remaining big automakers. And arguably the big stimulus package policies, wasteful and poorly aimed though many were, stemmed a number of ill tides. Since all that spending DID occur, it's pretty hard to say how bad things might have been without it, at your company, in your state, in your town. Though every Democrat is sure it was crucial and every Republican is certain it was folly, I don't pretend to know with much certainty or detail.

My guess is that plenty of the spending was wasteful, but much of it was helpful. And it seems that most of the really important necessary things passed without too much bickering. This indicates to me that no matter what either party said then or is saying now, these particular things would have been enacted in some form regardless of who was President and who was running congress.

I'm old enough now as I enter my later 40s to have seen several generations of politicians and both parties do their best to take partisan credit for for such things. Congress generally does a passing job of taking care of crises somehow or other, with partisan shadings on whatever available approaches seem obvious. Thus barely doing, umm, their jobs. Neither PARTY deserves much credit for the fact that this somehow barely happens in cases when the sh!t really hits the fan.

So if and when the economy recovers, I have no plans to pat EITHER party on the back for "fixing" it. Instead, both parties deserve blame for fostering the long-term environment of easy credit and the subsequent real estate bubble that caused the collapse in the first place. We had a big fall caused the powerful greedy corrupt narcissists and egomaniacs running congress.

Now, after that big fall, regular folks are still alive but bruised, many facing lowered expectations. Maybe a crappier job or no raise. Smaller retirement savings. Or none, with worse career prospects. Different ideas about consumer consumption.

Slowly but surely we can hopefully dust ourselves off and go on as best we can. And THAT, amigos, is what will cause a recovery. Not Republicans and not Democrats. The sooner we all wrap our heads round that, the better.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Open Thread

Smoke 'em if you got 'em! Looking for post ideas, visits, whatever you have on your mind. So go ahead, rub one out.

I'll also be inviting folks at Donklephant to swing by here and continue a conversation that has been stifled by a moderation queue glitch.

Instapundit Warns Republicans

In a Washington Examiner editorial, the Instapundit Glenn Reynolds warns Republicans they'd better understand the nature and limits of the support they're expecting in the fall elections:

Both political parties are out of touch, and ordinary Americans are very unhappy about it, as they watch the Treasury being looted, the economy sink, and the political, journalistic, and financial ruling-class figures escaping the consequences of their ham-handed and self-serving actions.

But while ordinary Americans are mad as hell, this time they really don’t have to take it any more. Institutions have failed them, but Internet tools like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, and personal tools -- like the cheap handheld video cameras that beat back bogus charges of Tea Party racism again and again -- mean that they don’t have to rely on failing institutions....

...But those establishment GOP figures who think that they’ll cruise to victory and a return to the pocket-stuffing business-as-usual that marked the prior GOP majority need to think again. This election cycle is, in a very real sense, a last chance for the Republicans. If they blow it, we’re likely to see third-party challenges in 2012, not only at the Presidential level but in numerous Congressional races as well.

I've been saying this for some time time. Business as usual is not going to cut it. Ultimately, the most interesting thing about the results of the upcoming mid-terms is going to be how the President and the next Congress respond to deep voter dissatisfaction. Together, they need to get past partisan bullshine and find substantive bipartisan ways to address big issues like gross gov't overspending, entitlement reform, immigration, the glut of unrealistic loans clogging the real estate market, and healthcare costs (as opposed to access), If they don't. I think we'll see a pretty noticeable move towards legitimate viable independent candidacies.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ezra Klein, Sounding like a Real Dick

Here's Ezra Klein on the senate's configuration of 2 per state:

But now that we've been the United States of America for a while and none of the states seem likely to secede, the fact that California has 69 times more people than Wyoming but the same representation in the Senate is an offensive anachronism, at least to Californians.

What a dick. If California doesn't like it, all they need is to get 2/3 of the states and then the voters of those states to agree with them. Or something like that. Until then, tough shit.

An anachronism is something that belongs to an earlier time. "2 senators per state" belongs in this time, by definition, unless the constitution is amended. That's how it works. Period.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Housing Prices Need to Fall

The 2007 economic collapse was largely caused by the inevitable popping of a real estate bubble fueled by bad lending. As soon as most folks understand this, they come to conclude that real estate prices need to fall. Both to reflect the new reality of demand for home ownership, and to bring prices back in line with, let's say, median household income. Or some other proxy for the amount of housing the average household can afford.

Now, even the NY Times is joining the refrain:

Housing Woes Bring a New Cry: Let the Market Fall

...As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash. When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve...

The further the market descends, however, the more miserable one group — important both politically and economically — will be: the tens of millions of homeowners who have already seen their home values drop an average of 30 percent. The poorer these owners feel, the less likely they will indulge in the sort of consumer spending the economy needs to recover. If they see an identical house down the street going for half what they owe, the temptation to default might be irresistible. That could make the market’s current malaise seem minor.

Caught in the middle is an administration that gambled on a recovery that is not happening. “The administration made a bet that a rising economy would solve the housing problem and now they are out of chips,” said Howard Glaser, a former Clinton administration housing official with close ties to policy makers in the administration. “They are deeply worried and don’t really know what to do.”

Look folks, we know where we want to get...to a housing market where homes prices reflect demand for homes and the ability of the average person to pay for that home. We're Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption. Either we crawl through the river of shit now to freedom, letting prices fall. Or we wait and wait until we're old and gray and hope for housing to rebound in a decade or two.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trying to Call "PARADE!"

We've known for some time that these hard times were generating mucho public dissatisfaction. Politically, that's manifesting as serious anti-incumbent sentiment. Since there are so many more democratic incumbents right now, the GOP is poised to benefit greatly from "sweep these bums out!"

Unable to simply enjoy this good fortune. GOP party leaders are eager to grab a baton, run to the front of the onrolling crowd, and call "PARADE."

GOP Readies Agenda Rollout
Just weeks before House Republican leaders are set to announce the contents of a proposed governing agenda if they retake the majority, some GOP politicians and grasstops activists are growing nervous about those plans....

 Earlier this year, a team of leading House Republicans and their staffs devised a program called America Speaking Out which allows any visitor to the program's Web site to enter ideas about what issues Congress should be legislating. Next, Republicans in the lower chamber were encouraged at the beginning of this August's congressional recess to discuss ideas laid out in a 22-page packet provided to RealClearPolitics, and then return to Washington this month with feedback from their constituents...
The 22-page recess packet of trial balloons does include an explicit ban on all federal funding for abortion. That's one item on Dannenfelser's list, but she has two more: requiring parental notification for abortion-seeking minors, and requiring physicians who perform abortions to notify women who are at least 20 weeks into their pregnancies that fetuses can feel pain in the process. Said Dannenfelser, "The conservative base of the Republican Party is so strong at this moment, the most divisive thing that could happen would be to leave out the family values third of the issue base." Her group has undertaken its own small media blitz, "Life Speaking Out," to lobby the House GOP on abortion issues and prevent the omission.
 Even leaving aside the prospect of featuring pro-life rhetoric and policy prescriptions, this feels like screwing up a free lunch to me. Here's the thing. IMO it's substantively true that the GOP has thus far failed to outline many positive policy prescriptions, aside from chanting "jobs, jobs, jobs."  [duh, btw] Mostly they've focused on negative painting of  Obama as, well, a socialist muslim antichrist.

 But sitting pretty as they are, why answer that criticism if it'll cost votes? Nationally, they need to stick to the real short list of things everyone agrees on: more jobs sooner, and goring someone else's ox. 

 What I expect to see is that most of the trial balloons cause dissent. IFf they are wise, GOP party leaders will decide to keep the national party mouth mostly shut. Let individual candidates look as independent as possible. Let candidates tailor their own platforms to local constituencies. Don't burden them with national platform components that could drag them under in a close race.

Are party leaders ever that wise? I kinda doubt it. As an independent I have no real dog in the hunt. But it would be pretty entertaining if the national party puts some brakes on what looks to be a substantial swing to the right.

Open Thread

Even though I have jacksquat for traffic, I'm cracking open a Tuesday open thread, just for sh!ts and giggles. Maybe if I drop a few invites elsewhere, someone will drive by.

What's on your mind?

A couple things are on my mind, and I hope to have posts later this week. One topic is the currently circulating theme that questions the worth of a college education in the face of the mushrooming cost burden. I'd like to hear what folks think about that. Especially if they've got something more than a yes or no answer to "is it worth it?"

I'd also like to do something on education reform in general, both in public schools and college.

And as always, chat about music, beer, movies, and so on is always welcome. How was your Labor Day weekend?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Who Decides What America's Common Core Values Are?

At this writing I have yet to locate the full text of Glenn Beck's speech about restoring America's traditional values, the one with a special guest appearance from co-conservative darling Sara Palin. So for now, I'll work with summary coverage of it. I don't think it'll harm my point. Be sure to read it all for the whole story>Here are excerpts indicating the apparent gist of the Beck-Palin message, which is what I want to focus on:

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck and tea party champion Sarah Palin appealed Saturday to a vast, predominantly white crowd on the National Mall to help restore traditional American values ...Beck billed his event as nonpolitical.... conservative activists said their show of strength was a clear sign that they can swing elections because much of the country is angry...

Palin told the tens of thousands ...that calls to transform the country weren't enough. "We must restore America and restore her honor," ...Palin and Beck repeatedly cited King and made references to the Founding Fathers. Beck put a heavy religious cast on nearly all his remarks, sounding at times like an evangelical preacher....: "America today begins to turn back to God."..." "For too long, this country has wandered in darkness. ... Today we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished — and the things that we can do tomorrow." 

Clarence B. Jones, who served as King's personal attorney and his speechwriter, said he believes King would not be offended by Beck's rally but "pleased and honored" that a diverse group of people would come together, almost five decades later, to discuss the future of America. Jones said the Beck rally seemed to be tasteful and did not appear to distort King's message, which included a recommitment to religious values.

So. Who decides what America's common core values are? It's really not that hard for open-minded folks to acknowledge that big chunks of this message include ideas with real merit. A large part of Glenn Beck's success is due to his constant recitations of simple ideas that no one really disagrees. That's the truthiness, right?

But is it really the case that we need a "restoration," that most Americans have departed from a common sense path, and that conservatives are the only remaining protectors of American virtue?

Or is it the case that:

  •  Americans in the middle share a whole bunch of common values
  • these common values are often obscured by how partisans spin them
  • we think the areas of disagreement are bigger than they are because political opportunists relentless highlight them

I mean, who is anti-hard-work? Who thinks that children are not the future? Who doesn't believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated? Who is against life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Who hates the idea of guaranteeing some sort of equality of opportunity? Who really thinks we should turn away from God once it's understood that God can be conceived as no more than the personification of the idea of good?

Even though I think Glenn Beck is a schticky, phony opportunist,  I am fine with Glenn  Beck exhorting Americans as he has done, insofar as it helps us all focus on our better nature. What I am not fine with is Glenn Beck appointing himself as the arbiter of America's core cultural values. Because at the same time as he wraps himself in God and the flag, he sells anger and divisiveness.  He profits from a narrow antagonistic spin on values that extols conservatism as the source of  good, and liberalism as the source of bad. We ALL get to say something about what these values are, and Glenn Beck doesn't get to play leader or moderator. His act is such that his credibility outside one subset of Americans is nil. Nil. How could such a person be a leader for us?

Consider that he encourages people not to even consider the concept of social justice. What, Americans can't have a discussion and decide for each of ourselves what that might or might not mean? Justice is a long-term core American value. We're all of us stuck re-determining every day how to balance liberty with equality, whether we like it or not. If Beck doesn't get that, he needs to get off the stage. Period.

Consider how the messages at this rally include a desire to "bring God back into the public square." What is that supposed to mean? How come this idea so often leads to a quick leap to things like bringing prayer back into schools and government meetings, and so on. 
Sure, we can argue about what precisely was original meant by the antiestablishment clause of the constitution. But it's safe to presume that the founders sensed the wisdom of reluctance when it came to mixing government and religion. And it's hard to miss how well-served American has been by sticking with this reluctance, especially when we compare American political life to the political life in places where they like to mix the politics, government, and religion into a toxic brew.

Know any religious conservatives who also love liberty? If you seek out such folks, it's not hard to find ones who are extremely supportive of of the antiestablishment deal: the religions stay out of the government's business, and the government stays out of thew religion's business. God gets his, and Caesar gets his.

I'm a firm believer that there's a really solid way forward for values in our country if we search for common ground among the values of our many different faiths, and extol them in an inclusive way. And that's where I think this message of Beck (and to some extent Palin) fails.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Zombies and Partisans

From Daniel Drezner in a book review

All intellectual movements start with trenchant ways of understanding the world. As these ideas gain currency, they are used to explain more and more disparate phenomena, until the explanation starts to lose its predictive power. As time passes, the original ideas become obscured by ideology, caricature and ad hoc efforts to explain away emerging anomalies. Finally, enough contradictions build up to crash the paradigm, although current adherents often continue to advance the ideas in zombielike form.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Sane Accounting of Facts Surrounding the Ground Zero Mosque

One of my very favorite writers and critical thinkers, Cathy Young, has composed a very sane and thoughtful accounting of the facts surrounding the proposed construction of the "ground zero mosque." Thanks, Cathy.

No excerpts. Do yourself a favor. Click through and read the whole thing.

Cathy has a long time affiliation with Reason magazine. She used to be a columnist at the Boston Globe but was downsized out a few years back. Probably not inflammatory enough. She writes for RealClearPolitics these days too.

The Metacognition Deficit

David Brooks nicely expresses the nature of a core cultural issue that's troubled me for some time:
...we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. ... We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group....the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse. 
...There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.
...To use a fancy word, there’s a metacognition deficit. Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate.... Of the problems that afflict the country, this is the underlying one.

Amen, my brother. You're preaching to the choir here. 
Of Course, it should be no time at all before someone responds that Brooks is a patronizing egghead of the "political class." And encourages us all to ignore him, and embrace the wisdom of crowds.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Have Regular Folks Re-Discovered The First Rule of Holes?

This query from over at Marginal Revolution got me wondering:

If Tyler Cowen and others are right that this slump is the end of family-deficit spending, it is quite conceivable that the Fed will fail to deliver that which it promises to deliver. At that point, the institutional players in the Fed will have lost credibility. 

Not all that interested in the Fed, beyond thinking that they've painted themselves into a corner with an empty toolbox. 

I'm just wondering what folks think of the idea that the era after the 2007 economic collapse will be characterized by a renewed commitment by folks to spend within their means. Financially speaking, do regular folks have a reborn appreciation of the first rule of holes:

First Rule of Holes
If you find yourself in a hole, first quit digging.

I got no argument with the idea. Folks are spending less. And I think they'll continue to be more careful for some time. And that means any recovery will continue to be slow and resistant to the encouragement of cheap money, in other words low interest rates on loans.

It's going to take a few years for folks to get a handle on what things are really worth in the post-2007 EC era. Now, will it last? Are we seeing a sea change? Do most folks now truly understand that paying on a credit is a way to pay more for something? Meh. Folks didn't suddenly get wise. They got scared. IMO, the slowness of the "recovery" is about fear and uncertainty.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Examining the "Ground Zero Mosque" By Way of Analogy

Suppose Peter was raised Catholic, and was abused repeatedly by a priest. As a result, he no longer practices this religion. He tries to avoid Catholic imagery, which brings back traumatic memories. Can't do it everywhere of course, but his neighborhood and home is safe. His two abutting neighbors are hateful folks who both harbor venously anti-catholic feelings.

Suppose the property across the street from Peter is sold, and a Catholic moves in, and places a statue of Mary in the front yard. Peter sees it every day. He has more nightmares and flashbacks of his abuse as a result. So he goes across the street and talks to his neighbor. He reluctantly recounts his personal history and lingering mental issues with Catholicism. And he asks his neighbor to consider moving the Mary to his back yard or somewhere out of sight from his own property.

If you were his neighbor, what would you do? Would you:

• dismiss your neighbor's concerns out of hand because you have the right to display the Mary as you see fit?

• Agree to seriously consider your neighbor's request, out of respect for his feelings, while making it clear that you would make no promises, and that you expected him to respect your decision either way?

Suppose you decided to move the Mary simply for the sake of good relations, as a show of good faith. Then, before you moved it, one of your anti-catholic neighbors came over and ranted hateful anti-catholic spews at you and demanded that you get rid of the Mary. Would this change you mind?  If so, why?