Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
Electoral College irrelevancy gets closer
So far, four states representing 50 electoral votes have adopted the pledge: Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii. The concept has been endorsed by newspapers across the country, including The New York Times.Now the Colorado legislature is considering the measure:
I continue to support this measure. Some don't:
The debate hits full stride now in Colorado, a state that political analysts say presents a key test for the National Popular Vote project. So far, the states most receptive to doing away with the Electoral College have all been solidly Democratic -- not the swing states that have been high-profile players in presidential elections.
But Colorado last year joined a small cluster of newly minted swing states that drew a disproportionate share of candidate visits and campaign spending. It will now help answer the question of whether swing states will take the leap.
Opponents of the proposed overhaul argue that it would dilute the influence of small and rural states, as candidates focused on vote-rich cities.I'm all for diluting the influence of small and rural states. They should have less influence, because they have fewer people. They already have disproportionate influence on our country due to the fact that they get as many senators as large states. We don't need to exaggerate that unfairness any further. Candidates should focus on vote-rich cities, because that's where lots of people are. Of course, lowering the influence of low-population states and rural areas would generally tilt the landscape in a progressive direction. So I may be swayed by partisan thinking here. Still, something that makes the country more democratic and more Democratic is a good thing in my book. (It's not a coincidence that the correlation between those two items is a positive one.)
Yes, there may be some difficulties. The first time this law affects the outcome of a presidential election, there's going to be lawyers all over the place. But it's worth it to have an actual democracy. The Electoral College is a shameful embarrassment.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Quote of the day
-Indigo commenting on slacktivist
(HT: Mad Latinist via Facebook)
Quote of the Day
-Paul Krugman, who just appeared on the cover of Newsweek as a critic of Obama's bank plan.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Optical afflictions of the 80's
Happy 3rd Anniversary, Internal Monologue
Thanks everyone for reading.
The Loogie of Disrespect
I hawk the Loogie of Disrespect upon your backward superstition!
GENEVA (Reuters) - A United Nations forum on Thursday passed a resolution condemning "defamation of religion" as a human rights violation, despite wide concerns that it could be used to justify curbs on free speech in Muslim countries.
The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the non-binding text, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic states, with a vote of 23 states in favour and 11 against, with 13 abstentions.
It called on states to ensure that religious places, sites, shrines and symbols are protected, to reinforce laws "to deny impunity" for those exhibiting intolerance of ethnic and religious minorities, and "to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs".
(via vastleft) Emphasis added. Certainly I agree with some of this. Religious places should be protected from vandalism, adherents of a religion should not suffer persecution or discrimination, etc. But that doesn't mean that all possible religious beliefs should automatically be respected. Indeed, given the incompatible nature of many religious beliefs, I don't think it's possible to harbor respect for all religions simultaneously.
Sometimes I marvel at humanity. What an odd lot we are. Not only do we want to cling to the most outrageous supernatural absurdities, we want to be protected from mockery for doing so. Humanity's propensity for supernaturalism is a bug I intend to correct before the update is released.
I have a dream...
Everyone has their moment
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
How reporters treat Bush and Obama differently
Humans are broken: what we need to know about and what we find interesting have drifted so far apart I'm not sure we can survive. (This is more of my "fish out of water" thesis on human nature. Is it just me or was my blog better back in 2006? Internal Monologue's 3-year anniversary is tomorrow. Pretty soon, even Twitter feeds will have a meaningful heritage to reflect upon.)
NY Senator Chuck Schumer backs gay marriage
Chuck Schumer reportedly told gay supporters last night that he now supports same-sex marriage — a 180-degree reversal, and an important moment in the marriage fight.
It's a big deal because it represents support for same-sex marraige moving toward becoming the default, mainstream position of the Democratic Party. Schumer's a New York senator, but he's also always been extremely careful to protect his right flank on issues like crime and gay rights.
It’s time. Equality is something that has always been a hallmark of America, and no group should be deprived of it. New York, which has always been at the forefront on issues of equality, is appropriately poised to take a lead on this issue.
Kos is one of THOSE people
Monday, March 23, 2009
Will the plan to rescue the banks be Obama's downfall?
Examiner.com. My post on "Faireyization" is here.
Most of the economists I read are not happy with Geithner's plan. It uses massive government loans to minimize the downside risk for investors who buy "big shitpile" securities. Here's Krugman ripping the plan apart:
To this end the plan proposes to create funds in which private investors put in a small amount of their own money, and in return get large, non-recourse loans from the taxpayer, with which to buy bad — I mean misunderstood — assets. This is supposed to lead to fair prices because the funds will engage in competitive bidding.Whether this plan is a good one or not, I'm so pissed that we have to clean up this mess in the first place. In the future, whenever I hear someone use free-market ideology to justify some right-wing political stance, I'm just going to laugh in their faces. If there are entities that are too big to fail, then there obviously isn't a free market. If giving enormous amounts of money to very rich people is the only way to prevent massive amounts of human suffering, so be it. But I think spending enormous amounts of money on very poor people to avoid human suffering should happen with much greater frequency and much less whining from the right. Felix Salmon (via Sullivan) wonders if this anger at the financial crisis might have broader political ramifications:
But it’s immediately obvious, if you think about it, that these funds will have skewed incentives. In effect, Treasury will be creating — deliberately! — the functional equivalent of Texas S&Ls in the 1980s: financial operations with very little capital but lots of government-guaranteed liabilities. For the private investors, this is an open invitation to play heads I win, tails the taxpayers lose. So sure, these investors will be ready to pay high prices for toxic waste. After all, the stuff might be worth something; and if it isn’t, that’s someone else’s problem.
Or to put it another way, Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem, which it proposes to cure by creating massive moral hazard.
Salmon seems a bit disdainful "the real people, the angry people" here. I think many "real people" are very interested in what's fair and what's sensible, and they are rightfully angry because the things they see happening aren't fair and aren't sensible. And many wonky types who do understand about orders of magnitude and the different kinds of money in question are just as pissed, if not more so, than the "real people". Krugman certainly seems ready to knock some heads.
I don't have any answers, but I do have a question: might we might be seeing the first real rumblings of class warfare -- the genuine article, not the Republican talking-point -- in this country?
In one corner are the technocrats not only in finance but also in government and the media: people who can understand the importance of distinguishing between a $250,000 base salary, a $2.5 million bonus, a $250 million bonus pool, a $2.5 billion bonus pool, a $250 billion bailout package, a $2.5 trillion monetary stimulus, and so on.
In the other corner are the real people, the angry people, the unemployed people -- and with them their elected representatives in Congress. They're not interested in such distinctions any more, they're not interested in what's fair or what's sensible. They saw their real wages stagnate for decades as the orgy of plutocratic self-congratulation reached obscene levels only to keep on growing.
That issue aside, I do wonder if this anger will be translated into a meaningful political re-alignment and re-balancing of power between the different economic strata in our society. I doubt this will happen. It's still easier to succeed within the system than to overthrow it. And I suspect any potential proletarian revolution could be successfully bought off or distracted by an external threat. But there does seem to be some sort of rumbling going on, some realization that the Calvinist equation of wealth=virtue might not hold up in all circumstances. The unsettling notion that the dream of great material prosperity can be a delusion as well as an inspiration. The idea that sometimes, the powerful exploit the weak, and maybe, just maybe, we're being had.
These aren't thoughts that most of us permit ourselves to think very often. We've been told that they're un-American, that they're "class warfare" (the appearance of that phrase is a tell that someone's trying to defend a plutocrat). But it's pretty hard not to have those thoughts these days. If everyone who was pissed about AIG were un-American, there wouldn't be any Americans left.
Obama, I love you, dude. You've done a lot of good things. But this could really damage the country and also mess you up politically. Maybe this is all part of some complicated jiu-jitsu scheme you and Axelrod have cooked up. I hope so. But you have to realize that these assets may not be worth what you want them to be worth. And you have to realize that people (and I'm one of them) feel that it is unjust to use taxpayer money to subsidize the very institutions and people who contributed enormously to our current hardship. Until you address that sense of injustice, and do something to redress the wrongs that are the source of it, there will be an enormous political vacuum in the American landscape. And God knows what will rush in to fill that vacuum.
UPDATE: Yglesias puts forward an idea that might address some of the fairness issues raised by this plan: Let the public get in on the same deal. Note that this would not address the issue that these auctions would use government money to artificially inflate the values of these assets.
This probably wouldn't have saved newspapers, but...
This would have been a good idea:
Imagine a newspaper with no "Business" section. Where the Business section is now, there is, instead, a "Work" section.
It would make sense for the paper from a, you know, business standpoint. Higher circulation means more revenue for the paper, so it makes sense to focus on the needs, concerns and interests the largest number of potential readers. The current model of a Business section is designed for only the tiniest slice of potential readers -- those who think of themselves primarily as investors. Why not aim, instead, for the vastly larger, overwhelming majority of potential readers, those who think of themselves primarily as people who work for a living?
Think how differently that section of the paper would have evolved if it had been the Work section instead of the Business section. It wouldn't have two pages of dense, inscrutable columns of stock prices tailored to people who think of themselves as "investors." (They're not, of course -- if you're checking the stock price every day, you're not so much investing in the company as betting on it.) Instead there might be columns listing the hourly wages for various employers and industries and their competing benefit plans.
If that last suggestion strikes you as shocking because information about wages and benefits is a private matter, that's because you've been reading newspapers with Business sections and not Work sections all these years and you've learned to think about these things from that perspective. If you'd been reading a newspaper with a Work section, instead, then you'd have spent all those years developing a better BS detector for that kind of thing. Thus if someone suggested that wages and benefits ought to be intensely private and secretive, you'd have learned to ask what it was they were trying to hide and why they're insisting on a labor market in which workers operate with imperfect and incomplete information.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Some people are really dumb
But the survey also found that 33% of adults over 60 would give up their benefit to be able to opt out now.
To save 6.2% on their taxes for the next few years, they are willing to give up 10+ years of future benefits worth about $12,700 per year (average benefit is currently $1056/month).I suppose some of them might be terminally ill, but for the vast majority, that is completely irrational.This survey suggests that 1/3 of our soon-to-retire population has questionable financial judgement. If that isn't an argument FOR mandatory social security, I don't know what is.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Now we're printin' money
Good Evening: After months of threats, the Fed finally pushed the monetization button. Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and the rest of the FOMC decided today to embark upon the one strategy central bankers have always considered the dreaded last option — Quantitative Easing. It’s one thing for the Fed to push the “Easy” button and lower rates or temporarily inject reserves into the banking system, but to push the “QE” button (creating currency out of thin air with which to purchase assets) is an action reserved for only the direst of circumstances. If such a device truly existed in the Board room of the Eccles building, it would be a red button under glass with a “Press Only in Case of Emergency” warning stenciled underneath.
I don't know enough economics to know if it's a good thing or not. It seems like the biggest risk of this would be inflation, but that hasn't been a problem recently. But if people around the world started dumping dollar-denominated assets (like the Chinese who own a lot of US debt), that could be a big problem.
UPDATE: The WSJ has a roundup of reactions. Here's one:
- If there’s one aspect of the current environment that still amazes, it’s the fact that nothing amazes anymore. Even today’s announcement that the Federal Reserve plans on purchasing everything in America that isn’t nailed down raised relatively few eyebrows on our end… Effectively, the Fed is monetizing the Treasury’s debt, a strategy that appears in the encyclopedia under the heading “how to trigger inflation.” In any other environment, this monetization would be deeply troubling, but given the lack of end user demand, the prospects for a near term pop in prices is rather remote. The aggressiveness also suggests that the Federal Reserve remains highly concerned about deflation. –Guy LeBas, Janney Montgomery Scott
Here's the superpower that I want the most
You FAILED, Namechanger Man! My plan to take over the world has SUCCEEDED! I am SUPREME OVERLORD for ALL ETERNITY! Now PRAISE your NEW RULER, vile WORM!
All hail our eternal supreme overlord, Doctor Stupidhead Smallpenis.
Doctor Stupidhead Smallpenis:
Facebook quizzes we need
UPDATE: From Roger on Facebook:
I hope quizzes haven't really jumped the shark yet. I'm still waiting with bated breath for the "Which Modron are you" quiz
(Link added.) Secundus all the way, baby!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Dora the Explorer gets a makeover
WTF? Is now the time to be EASING accounting standards for financial firms?
As far as I understand it, "mark-to-market" means you have to value your assets at what you could actually sell them for on the market. It is contrasted with "mark to model" accounting where you value your assets according to a financial model that you have. (By the way, why does "mark-to-market" have hyphens but "mark to model" not?) It seems to me that we need a good deal more of the former and a good deal less of the latter. I realize that with certain kinds of assets, you need to take into account something other than what price you could get if you had to dump it at a moment's notice. But depending on what "model" you use, there's an enormous potential for bullshit and self-deception to creep in to your asset valuations.
Financial stocks also gained support from news that the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which sets U.S. accounting rules, proposed to give more leeway on mark-to-market accounting rules. [ID:nN16511198]
Mark-to-market accounting has forced financial institutions to write down billions of dollars in assets.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
CLYTAEMNESTRAIn ancient Greek tragedy, the gods inflicted horrible suffering on mortals, often beyond anything one would recognize as justice. In this modern tragedy, mortals inflict horrible suffering on other mortals and are rewarded beyond anything one would recognize as justice. In both cases, a chorus of singers/bloggers laments.
Thanks to a substantial injection of public funds, my heart is freed from its anxiety and the annual bonuses may be paid. [To AIGAMEMNON] So, my dear lord, dismount from your car, but do not set on common earth the foot that has trampled upon global markets. You to whom I have assigned the task to strew with bonuses, salary top-offs and the like, Quick! With something on the order of $160 million let his path be strewn, that Justice may usher him into a new quarter he never should have seen. The rest my unslumbering vigilance shall order duly, for if Geithner can be made to swallow this than, please god, pretty much fucking anything can be subsequently ordained.
I wish I could do this underwater
Monday, March 16, 2009
Information wants to be free
It is high time that we placed all the content of peer reviewed, academic journals online, for free, and without any employment-based firewalls. It is a simple, cheap way to make a big leap forward for our culture, our democracy and our educational system. Information like this should not be restricted to a small percentage of society for the enrichment of the academic publishing world. There really is no way to justify denying 95% of the country access to our best, peer-reviewed academic research.Academia isn't a priesthood. If the goal of your institution is to further intellectual progress and learning, there's no reason you should submit your work to a publisher who charges for reprints rather than put it on the web for free. If your livelihood depends on your position as a gatekeeper to a hoard of information, you better figure out how to add some value.
This is analogous to what the newspapers are going through and comes down to the same issue: one of the problems that publishers were created to solve (getting information from an author and making it available to an audience) just isn't a problem anymore. We still need academic, peer-reviewed studies and papers, just like we still need journalism. But that doesn't mean we need over-priced journals locked away in ivory towers/closed databases.
Pitchforks and torches for AIG
Obama, you better get on the case here. You're guy Geithner is making a hash of it.
Secretary Geithner found out about the bonuses. He told AIG CEO Edward Liddy it wouldn't fly. And Liddy, in a curiously imperial letter, tells Geithner that much as he is pained by the situation -- to blow it out his ass. Which he apparently proceeded to do.There's really no other way to describe it.
Few exchanges have so captured the disconnect that makes this situation so politically explosive. We're collectively taking our country's future in our hands, spending vast sums of money to keep these companies from suffering the consequences of their own folly and (in many cases) criminality. And in return we're receiving cavalier dictates about pay-outs and bonuses from executives who by any reasonable measure work for us -- dictates we promptly accede to. There's a beggars can't be choosers problem there. And the disconnect is so mighty that it fuels the impression that the whole enterprise is not what it seems, not what we've been told, that in addition to picking up the tab we're being played for fools.
This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that's "too big to fail" and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government.
But if our very own Secretary of the Treasury doesn't even learn of the bonuses until months after AIG has decided to pay them, and cannot make stick his decision that they should not be paid, AIG is not even accountable to the government. That means AIG's executives -- using $170 billion of our money, so far -- are accountable to no one.
The death of the newspaper
It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.Emphasis added. I also like this quote from a different post about how we like to share content:
This is superdistribution — content moving from friend to friend through the social network, far from the original source of the story. Superdistribution, despite its unweildy name, matters to users. It matters a lot. It matters so much, in fact, that we will routinely prefer a shareable amateur source to a professional source that requires us to keep the content a secret on pain of lawsuit. (Wikipedia’s historical advantage over Britannica in one sentence.)
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Happy Pi Day!
[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
From a review of 4th Edition Player's Handbook 2
There’s the lurking sense that the designers are cribbing from bad manga, rather than building on the shoulders of the D&D game’s own mythos. That’s a lost opportunity, and it’s a shame that a game that once prized itself on appealing to an educated audience is no longer even aiming for that. Basically, the PHB2 assumes you are sort of an idiot, whereas Gygax always assumed you were smarter than the average reader. The shift leaves me a little offended.Amen, my friend. Gary Gygax never talked down to us. As an intellectually precocious youngster, I can't tell you how important that was to me. 4th Edition is working great mechanically so far: its much more balanced, better paced, easier to run, etc. These are very necessary and welcome improvements. But it's not drawing me in to its own mythology, and it is neglecting the vast D&D mythology that already exists. This is a shame.
Oh My God, the hideousness
Friday, March 13, 2009
Bristol Palin Wedding: Not Going to Happen
Of course, I don't know that they were insincere before the election. But the timing does coincide with Sarah Palin's political convenience.
WASILLA, Alaska (AP) -- Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin, the teenage daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin, have broken off their engagement, he said Wednesday, about 2 1/2 months after the couple had a baby.Johnston, 19, told The Associated Press that he and 18-year-old Bristol Palin mutually decided "a while ago" to end their relationship. He declined to elaborate as he stood outside his family's home in Wasilla, about 40 miles north of Anchorage.
UPDATE: By the way, I think Bristol Palin has actually handled herself much better than all the right-wingers trying to use her as their poster-child/cautionary tale, including her mom.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Scales of War
If it's an asset, it isn't toxic
I’m increasingly frustrated with the conventions in which this idea is discussed in public. I think an ordinary person reading that sentence would think that the problem with Citi is that some of its assets are somehow “distressed” or “toxic” in a way that’s causing a problem for the rest of the bank. Take the toxicity off its hands, and the rest can go merrily about its way. But that’s not right. We can argue ’till the cows come home as to what the assets in question are “really” worth, but at a minimum they’re worth $0. And in practice they’re sure to be worth more than $0. Assets with a positive value can’t be a problem for a company. A company gets into trouble because of its debts. Citi’s problem isn’t that it has toxic assets, it’s that it made loans backed with toxic assets. You don’t rescue banks by “tak[ing] distressed assets off the balance sheet of Citigroup or other troubled financial institutions.” The problem isn’t the assets, it’s the debts. You can deal with the problem by giving the banks vast sums of money in exchange for their toxic assets but in this case what’s solved the problem isn’t that the assets came off the balance sheet, it’s that the money you gave them got on the balance sheet. Alternatively, you can create a government-owned bad bank that owns the bad assets and assumes responsibility for much of the debt. In either case, though, the key element of the rescue is expenditure of taxpayer funds to service the debts, not anything that’s being done with the assets.
Saturday, March 07, 2009
The quagmire of Afghanistan continues
Nearly every expert seems to agree that 17,000 additional troops will be insufficient to stabilize Afghanistan. Andrew Bacevich says 17,000 troops "hardly amounts to more than a drop in the bucket." Robert Pape believes the Obama administration is merely rehashing the same surge strategy employed in Iraq. And Stephen Kinzer says, "The Afghans are probably the world champions in resisting foreign domination and infiltration into their country," meaning that if 500,000 Russian soldiers were unable to quell Afghan resistance in the 1980's, how well will 17,000 more US soldiers fare?
Switch, Specter, it's your only hope!
Or he could switch parties and become a Democrat, and then kick Toomey's butt in the general as a Democrat. Oh, the howls from his betrayed Republican party would be most sweet to hear!
Friday, March 06, 2009
(depressing) thought of the day
[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
Thursday, March 05, 2009
DCCC helps Republicans apologize to Rush Limbaugh
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Rush Limbaugh polling: he's not popular with the electorate
Gallup at the end of January: Republicans like him 60/23, but independents don't 25/45 and Democrats really don't 6/63.
An October 24, 2008, poll conducted by the Democratic research firm Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner has Rush Limbaugh enjoying a public-approval rating of just 21 percent among likely voters, while 58 percent have “cold” feelings toward the right-wing radio-talk-show host. Limbaugh’s cold rating was higher than that of all the political figures the firm polled. It was seven points higher than Rev. Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright and eight points higher than former Weather Underground domestic terrorist William Ayers. (As the firm points out in an email, it’s true that Wright and Ayers both had lower “warm” ratings than Limbaugh—as you’d expect for men who have virtually no constituencies.)
Rasmussen from back in March 2007 puts Limbaugh's favorable/unfavorable at 26/62.
More on Limbaugh from Open Left.
I think it is frickin' hilarious that absolutely no one in the Republican party can criticize
Limbaugh. They really have locked themselves to him. His fans adore him. But nobody else likes him.
The one thing I worry about is that the economic hard times (and all the news I read is bad, bad, bad) are going to drive a lot of ugly political energy. The Republican rump will try to convince people that its Obama's fault, so Obama really needs to be on the people's side (and yo Obama, your coddling of AIG and the banks isn't helping: receivership for those screw-ups, please). I don't think they're going to have enough of a message to convince a majority of the country that they could do a better job. But it's something to watch out for.
Steele bows to Limbaugh
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he has reached out to Rush Limbaugh to tell him he meant no offense when he referred to the popular conservative radio host as an “entertainer” whose show can be “incendiary.”
“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. ... There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or is leadership.”
...Steele, who won a hard-fought chairman's race on Jan. 30, told Politico he telephoned Limbaugh after his show on Monday afternoon and hoped that they would connect soon. “I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren’t what I was thinking,” Steele said.
It's Rush's party now. So why shouldn't he run for president in 2012? Make Palin his veep - and be done with it.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Thought of the day: public newspapers
Here's a thought: Is there a place for government-supported public newspapers? We have public television and public radio, so why not public newspapers?
This post by dday on Hullabaloo offers some good insight into what holes the deaths of these newspapers mean and the sorts of holes they leave.
Republican infighting update
Is [GOP Chair Michael Steele] nuts? Does he not want contributions? You insult or stand AGAINST Rush....you are spitting on your base. Looks like I may have to change my affiliation to INDEPENDENT (until CONSERVATIVE) is allowed. I didn’t leave the Republican party...they left me.
Rahm Emanuel throws the Limbaugh anvil around the Republican party in this clip:
(Via Muzikal203 on DailyKos.)
I've got my popcorn and I'm eagerly watching the show.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
Reverend Green -> Mr. Green in United States
- Outside of North America, it's called Cluedo.
- Outside of North America, the character "Mr. Green" is "Reverend Green". Did they fear that having a preacher as a murder suspect would provoke a religious backlash against the game in the United States?