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Showing posts from August, 2009

The Evil Vice President Sweepstakes

It looks like Dick Cheney favored bombing Iran because of the country's nuclear program. Why am I not surprised? The more Cheney opens his mouth -- about torture, about national security, about foreign policy the Dick Cheney way -- the queasier I get. Was this guy really just a heartbeat away from the White House? God help us all.

He's really hardening his reputation as the Great Lord of Darkness. He's even got the perpetual scowl and snaggly, discolored teeth to pull it off.

Just for fun, I thought I'd compare vice presidents: the amiable Joe Biden to the more-than-slightly terrifying Dick Cheney. Who is considered more evil? Well, according to Google, Cheney has what appears to be an insurmountable lead, unless Biden goes nuts and decides to rape and slaughter an entire convent of nuns.

Here are the standings:

"Dick Cheney is evil" (Google search):
846,000 results

"Joe Biden is evil" (Google search):
3 results

The Financial Mess: Obama's Big Mistake

On my morning perusal of thoughts and observations in blogland, I was struck by one emerging theme: Obama, approaching the one-year anniversary of Lehman's bankruptcy and fresh off reappointing Ben Bernanke for a second term as Fed chairman, now "owns" this financial crisis/mess. I can't imagine that's the kind of pleasant notion that sends him merrily into dreamland at night.

But he has only himself to blame. Back in February or March, he should have taken a page from the playbook of Wall Street, whose executives have consistently shown themselves to be much cannier than the deep-pocket government chumps they've been able to exploit for bailouts and cheap money.

Early in his presidency, Obama missed a great opportunity, one that no self-respecting Wall Street CEO would have passed up, that's for sure.

Clearly he had inherited a real mess from George Bush. Knowing that, coming into office he should have taken the presidential equivalent of the "big bath…

Today's Must Reads

1. Squandered Honeymoon: How Botched Bailouts Hamper Healthcare Reform.

Rob Johnson, over on Huffington Post, does a nice job of taking the long view and connecting the dots between the financial industry bailouts and public anger over health care reform. His analysis supports a belief I hold: that the Obama crew really, really blew it on the financial crisis with the perceived, as Paul Krugman calls it, "kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry." That has embittered and discouraged the citizenry and may be the real fuel behind the outrage over health care reform. Had there been town hall meetings about the bank bailouts, you would have seen some really scary, apoplectic fury.

2. Racketeering 101: Bailed Out Banks Threaten Systemic Collapse If Fed Discloses Information

This entry at Zero Hedge looks at the banks that have borrowed billions of dollars from the Fed, using dicey overinflated collateral as security. They are protesting that their identities should not be made…

The Financial Crisis, One Year Later: 4 Questions

Almost a year ago -- Sept. 15, 2008 -- Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. While it's hard to peg a "start date" to a financial crisis (and personally, I think the "Lehman effect" has been overblown and has spurred bad policy decisions because of the "no more Lehmans" vein of thinking, which is the intellectual heir of "Bailout Nation" -- think about it), the day of Lehman's collapse would qualify as well as any other. The Lehman implosion revealed some truly ugly stuff: (1) there was a lot of dangerous interconnectedness in the financial system that made it prone to "seizing up" (2) there were a lot of rotten-egg-bad assets out there, and who was holding them, and the larger impact they might have, was anyone's guess (3) the banking partner you were doing business with yesterday could be revealed to be deeply and massively insolvent today (remember the Lehman bankruptcy settlement, and how shockingly little the investme…

All You Need to Know About Health Care Lies

This commentary in the Washington Post about five health care myths, by T.R. Reid, is really, really good.

I doubt that it will suffice to penetrate the alarmingly thick carapace of ignorance that insulates many of the screamers in this debate over reform. When people can stand up and bluster, with a straight face, "Keep the government out of my Medicare," you know that we're facing a serious knowledge deficit here. Nietzsche once derided democracy as "this mania for counting noses," and sometimes I wonder if he wasn't on to something. On the whole, we are not a very well-informed citizenry.

But back to health care. Here, concrete evidence we pay too much for too little:
On average, the Japanese go to the doctor 15 times a year, three times the U.S. rate. They have twice as many MRI scans and X-rays. Quality is high; life expectancy and recovery rates for major diseases are better than in the United States. And yet Japan spends about $3,400 per person annually…

Today's Gotta Reads, Aug. 18, 2009 Edition

I thought I was lucky to score a trifecta on "must reads" this morning and then -- boom -- nailed a quad-fecta. Or whatever.

Let's start with health care.

1. This CBS news story tells us that America's senior citizens are losing confidence in the future of health care. Remember these are the same older Americans whose resistance is reportedly stiffening to the inchoate plans on the table to revamp health care. In recent polling, most over-50s opposed "Obamacare;" most under-50s supported it.

Let's just go straight to the irony meter on this one, folks: the biggest group of over 50s are actually over 65s, and guess what you get when you cross that magic age threshhold? Yup, Medicare. Government-run health care. That's right: they got their government-run health care, they like it, but they'd rather the rest of us not get any.

Or is that fair? A critic might rebut that older Americans are just fearful of change, fearful that their Medicare benefits wi…

And Now a Word From our Sponsor ...

Just a quick note to readers: I have added ads to the blog; I don't think this will affect the reading experience and might enrich me a little at the same time (a very little, I suspect). I also tried playing with the color scheme a little, but for the most part figured: ah, what the hell, there's a reason why everything has been printed black text on white paper since time immemorial. Best not to get too fancy.

Coming up: Sometime in the next week, I'm hoping to do an entry on the efficient markets hypothesis. It's long been a favorite of mine and has come under attack during this latest bubble. However I think that the perceived shortcomings of the theory largely go away, if you approach it the right way.

The Big Banks: Destabilizing Our Economy, New Edition

I nearly popped through the skylight when I saw this BusinessWeek article. The big banks are back to peddling fancy crap in a crinkly gold wrapper. It's not that we've seen this train wreck before, it's that we're still living this train wreck.

Here's one worrisome example of "innovation" I plucked out: Citigroup, JPMorgan and Bank of America are refusing to make straightforward loans to giant customers like Hewlett-Packard, UPS and FedEx. Normally they set a borrowing rate that rises and falls with short-term interest rates. Now the rate is also being tied to the credit default swap prices on the borrower's debt.

I smacked myself square in the forehead on that one. Why are we letting these banks throw a virtual noose around their customers' necks?

Here's the rub: credit default swaps are the quasi-insurance policies ("quasi" in this case mainly means they escape regulation) that are taken out against a company's debt, or bonds. As …

(Vainly) In Search of an American Godard

Had I not mentioned Godard a few weeks back in this blog, I would have ignored the comments of A. O. Scott, the chief film critic of the New York Times, about John Hughes being “our Godard”. But I had, and there he was, writing a posthumous review about a director that he said was the “auteur of teenage angst”.
Especially for those of us born between the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Bicentennial, the phrase “a John Hughes movie” will instantly conjure a range of images, including the smooth, pale faces of a bevy of young actors.

But I don’t think I’m alone among my cohort in the belief that John Hughes was our Godard, the filmmaker who crystallized our attitudes and anxieties with just the right blend of teasing and sympathy. Mr. Godard described “Masculin Féminin,” his 1966 vehicle for Jean-Pierre Leaud and Ms. Karina, as a portrait of “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Ringwald, in “Pretty in Pink,” were corresponding icons for the children of Ronald Reag…

Health Care: C'mon America, Grow a Heart

I was watching some smirking conservative rail about health care on YouTube, and as soon as I heard the phrase "government takeover of health care," I knew what was coming. Whenever you hear that phrase, sense has left the room and Polly the Right-Wing Parrot has taken up residence on the TV set.

I don't consider myself a Democrat or Republican any longer -- they both annoy me with all the partisan bickering and grandstanding -- but the right wing shows itself more often to be about as dumb as a sack of rocks. So let's look at health care, in people terms. And let's look at it in the context of the conservative solution. I've even picked out what looks like a white paper of sorts (okay, a bit of a stretch, but it seems to contain the major talking points) from the great mouthpiece of conservative philosophy, the Heritage Foundation. This piece reveals what the conservatives think is most important in designing a health care overhaul.

Let's also introduce tw…

Bad Actors, Bad Economists

Paul Krugman is hot under the collar. He has just discovered that speculators – of “bad” variety, to be sure, or as he calls them, “bad actors” – have been making money off the markets. It is good to be out of coma, Mr. Krugman.

The liberal columnist’s beef is with high frequency trading – he says it does not help “capital allocation” – and one oil speculator who is reportedly due $100 million in bonus thanks to profits he made for his company, a Citigroup subsidiary. Krugman writes:

Just to be clear: financial speculation can serve a useful purpose. It’s good, for example, that futures markets provide an incentive to stockpile heating oil before the weather gets cold and stockpile gasoline ahead of the summer driving season.

But speculation based on information not available to the public at large is a very different matter. As the U.C.L.A. economist Jack Hirshleifer showed back in 1971, such speculation often combines “private profitability” with “social uselessness.”
The fiction of spe…

Score Two More For Me!

It's not that I'm trying to be right. Honest. And I know I've screwed up a bunch of analysis here. Like I predicted that there'd be a major housecleaning during the 2008 elections as voters kicked to the curb the legislators who supported Paulson's massive financial industry bailout. I was wrong. Never underestimate the apathy and indifference of the American voter, I learned.

But here I am, Monday morning, spooning down my Honey Nut Cheerios and laughing through my tears. 'Cause my imagery from a few days ago turns out to be true, sadly:

This is the metaphor I keep thinking of for the U.S. government: He's a fat kid. A rich kid. You recognize him on the playground immediately and run over to him. Why? Because he's such a great guy? No, because change is always spilling out of his pockets. Or he's buying something ridiculous and you just can't believe it. "He paid Jim $40 for that dead cricket? He bought ten boogers off Lester for $10? I wond…