Friday, October 31, 2008

Jeremy Clarkson on Motorcycles

Here is his review of a Vespa.  Here are two of my favorite bits:
"That said, a bike is much cheaper to run than a car. In fact, it takes only half a litre of fuel to get from your house to the scene of your first fatal accident. Which means that the lifetime cost of running your new bike is just 50p."

"I also liked the idea of a Vespa because most bikes are Japanese. This means they are extremely reliable so you cannot avoid a fatal crash by simply breaking down. This is entirely possible on a Vespa because it is made in Italy."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coleman Pulling Ahead

According to Rasmussen Reports Coleman has taken a four point lead.  The DFL made a massive mistake in nominating Franken.  Any boring liberal would have won this race in a walk.  Franken may still pull it out but his nomination was definitely a tactical error.  The minute he announced his candidacy the DFL should have tried to throttle the candidacy in its infancy.

Update: Here is some polling info on Texas.  McCain is clearly going to win Texas, but it also finds that 23% of Texans think Obama is a Muslim.  

Barkeley Running in 2014

For Governor of Alabama.  I love this part:

'"I plan on it in 2014," Barkley told CNN's Campbell Brown on Monday.

When asked if he was serious, the former Philadelphia 76er said, "I am, I can't screw up Alabama."

He added that his native state could only improve. "We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren't going anywhere," Barkley said."'

Move over Stagflation, Here Comes Stag-deflation

Nouriel Roubini, aka Dr. Doom, is predicting we are set for an extended period of Stag-Deflation, i.e. high unemployment matched with deflation as opposed to inflation which we saw in the 70s.

On a related note here is my co-blogger (on permanent hiatus?) Ilya endorsing deflation

Update: I hasten to add that I didn't see a damn thing in the 70s as I wasn't yet even a thought.

Fumes from the Fever Swamp

The newest bat-shit crazy rumor is that Obama is the illegitamite son of Malcom X. Anyhow, it would be badass would if Obama opened his inaugral speech with: "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock - Plymouth rock landed on us."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bailouts for Everyone

The big three had been lobbying the government, and it appeared successfully, for a bailout ($25 billion in subsidized loans). But this is rich, GM wants $5 to $10 billion from the gummint to assist it in buying out Chrysler. Once it does this, it will axe most of the Chrysler workforce save those that manufacture Jeep products and their minivans and pocket the $11 billion cash Chrysler has on hand. I am not a fan of bailouts in general, and with respect to the auto industry there seems to be the least compelling case for a bailout.

If Chrysler or GM goes under, it would in fact hurt Michigan, and the autoworkers. But in the place of the corpse known as Chrysler or GM a "foreign" automaker such as Hyundai, Toyota, or Honda will simply build more plants in the South, increase shifts at existing plants, and churn out more cars which are better and affordable.

What also makes GM's claim to federal assistance for a merger less compelling is that Nissan appears willing and eager to acquire a stake in Chrysler. If one's concern is for the autoworkers, a Nissan merger would seem to be vastly preferable as there is significantly less product overlap between Nissan and Chrysler than between GM and Chrysler. Thus, Nissan would probably be less likely to cut as many workers as GM.

I find this type of thing noxious because it reeks of economic nationalism. That there is some support for such a bailout/merger seems grounded in the desire to keep an American manufacturer from being consumed by those awful "Feriners". However, with the auto industry this is especially stupid as where a company is headquartered has little relevance any more. A Toyota Corolla is every bit as domestic, or more so, than an F-150. It is designed here, the supplies manufacture here, and the car assembled here. So indeed, the Toyota Corolla is a "Japanese" car, but just as much as it is a product of Alabama or Texas or wherever else in the South they produce them.

Update: The $25 billion in loans to the big three have in fact already been approved. The $10 billion GM is requesting is in addition to the bailout they have already received. This is absurd. There is a reason the big three are in dire straits, they are run like a pension company with a side business in cars and their side business is piss poor.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Chrysler

Chrysler is cutting a quarter of its salaried workforce

Michael Brown Has A Blog

Yes, that Michael Brown.  As in "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."  As in the Michael Brown who went to an unaccredited law school, was Joe Allbaugh's college roomate, whose only previous management experience was at the Internation Arabian Horse Association where he was canned and was somehow appointed as General Counsel and then Head of FEMA.  That Michael Brown. Here's the link. Brownie, Welcome to the Blogosphere!

Scrapple


Scrapple is the nastiest shit ever, but it is also delicious. I had some this morning.  It is one of my guilty pleasures. Here is the wikipedia page for scrapple. Here is a brief excerpt:

"Scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver, and other scraps, which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Once cooked, bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned, and seasonings, typically sagethyme,savory, and others are added. The mush is cast into loaves and allowed to cool thoroughly until gelled. The proportions and seasoning are very much a matter of the region and the cook's taste."

 Go out and try some.  

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Car Thoughts

I have a VW Rabbit and very much enjoy it.  However, there are two things about the car that drive me insane.  One, it has no MP3 input.  You can get one of those FM receiver things but they suck.  To get a dealer installed MP3 input would cost $500.  This is absurd to me.  The Rabbit/Golf is an economy car and its market is presumably younger folks who typically have an iPod or some other MP3 player.  In fact what’s the likelihood at this point that they have an iPod but no longer buy CDs.  That certainly describes me but I have a car that has a 6-cd changer.  Even now, in its third year, the MP3 input is optional.


The other thing that annoys me is that it is a hatchback but doesn’t have any hooks to tie down the back.  Yet again, your market is 20 somethings, most of whom are vagabonds making trips to ikea and target or pilfering their relatives for furniture.  Some sort of a tie down would give the car more crap hauling functionality.  You put in the iPod input and the tie down hooks and you are looking at maybe $50 in material costs and you have a more functional car, one that better serves its intended market.

Tax on Securities Transactions

I don't know why this hasn't occurred.  Presently there is a tax on securities transactions of .0033%.  Setting it at .5% would raise roughly $65 billion.  Such a tax shouldn't have a negative impact on US financial markets competitiveness as other major exchanges such as the UK and Hong Kong levy a similar fee.  Here is a CRS study on a Securities Transaction Tax.

Is Obama a Socialist?

So asks Scott Johnson at Powerline.  This shouldn't surprise me because the guys at Powerline do write some positively insane things and really do seem smitten with conspiracy theories. But, one way to determine whether Obama is a closet socialist is by looking at his proposed policies.  What do we find?  He wants to raise taxes!  Though, if we recall Milton Friedman's old saw, Spending=Taxes.  He wants to institute a pigovian tax on carbon emissions to correct for negative externalities, like that other well known communist Greg Mankiw, oh wait, he was Bush's CEA Chair.  He wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program inspired by Milton Friedman's proposal of a negative income tax.  These are all center-left positions, not the onset of a new wave of socialism.  If you want to see socialism in action just look at what's happening with the current administration and the financial bailouts, as Brad DeLong put it

"The Bush administration, having entered office as social conservatives, leaves office as conservative socialists, proprietors of the most sudden large expansion of the state's role in the US economy since mobilisation for the second world war."

But one could also look to the policy advisors Obama has surrounded himself by. Jason Furman's selection as Economic Policy Director drew lots of flak because the left views him as an apologist for Wal-Mart.  Here is an online debate between Furman and Barbara Ehrenreich on Wal-Mart.  I hasten to add that Furman has proposed using the same vehicle for reforming the Health Care system as McCain, as chronicled here and elsewhere. Jeff Liebman is the co-author of the LMS Social Security Plan, the M and the S in the LMS plan are Maya McGuineas (former McCain economic advisor) and Andrew Samwick (former member of the Bush CEA).  One of the central elements of the LMS plan is partial privatization.  Very socialist indeed.  And of course there is Austan Goolsbee, of that strong communist foothold in the midwest, the University of Chicago.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bachman=Batshit Crazy

I tend to agree with Michelle Bachmann, we really need to investigate some of these anti-American politicians. The Committee on Un-American Activities was a great success, if only marred by its limited nature. It sought only those who were commies, in a sense undermining its stated purpose. It was not the Committee on Commie-Activities, rather, Un-American activities. Anti-American activities encompasses people of so many different walks of life and persuasions, not just commies. Go Bachman, Go! Fight the good fight!

Bullshit aside, it has long been the official view of this blog that Bachmann is absurd, though I do think she is a fox. See this brilliant post by my estranged co-blogger, Anti.

Update: Here is Powerline trying to rationalize Bachmann's statements. And yet again.

Chrysler Preparing to Die

Chrysler (owned by the private equity firm Cerberus) is discussing mergers with GM and Nissan-Renault.  The GM merger doesn't make any sense to me, but is apparently the most likely merger scenario.  GM and Chrysler overlap significantly, almost completely.  GM has Hummer, Chrysler has Jeep.  GM's product lineup mostly consists of big crappy cars and trucks, same goes for Chrysler.  Neither company has any credible small cars in the market, both have horrible reputations for vehicle reliability.  At least in a Nissan-Renault merger there would be some areas where it would be mutually beneficial.  Nissan doesn't really have all that much in the way of truck offerings nor a succesfful minivan.  Two areas where Chrysler has actually done well with the Dodge Ram, Chrysler Towne and Country, and the Dodge Caravan. Nissan can provide a platform to Chrysler for the development of a credible economy car (no, the Dodge Caliber does not qualify).  It seems with the GM/Chrysler merger the basic idea is to more or less kill Chrysler and hope that GM is able to capture their old customers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Read This

It's a goodbye letter from a hedge fund manager closing up shop.  It's hilarious.  Here's an excerpt:
"I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they lookforward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life."

PeP Endorsement

As the only active contributor, I feel entitled to make the blog's endorsement.  The PeP blog is endorsing Obama, big surprise there.  

While a conservative, I simply cannot imagine McCain as President.  Or rather, I can, and this compels me to vote for Obama.  His impetuous nature simply renders him unfit to lead our nation in foreign affairs.  His unrivaled enthusiasm for war (read: singing Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran) is positively frightening.  His lack of knowledge on economic or other domestic matters is simply pathetic for a presidential candidate (such as the inability to credibly defend his health care plan) but also shows an alarming lack of intellectual engagement or curiosity. Such attributes have been in constant display by the current occupant of the Oval Office and to the nation's detriment.

I am not necessarily excited by the prospect of an Obama presidency combined with a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress.  However, he clearly has the character and intellect to be President.  He will raise taxes, but ultimately they must be raised.  He will spend a lot on infrastructure, but such investments are overdue, and at least with Obama there is a chance that such investments will also include mass transit, and heaven forfend, there might be a more rational process in how these investments are made.  His committment to enact a cap and trade is less than optimal, but his preference for auctioning off permits is vastly superior to McCain's proposal of allocating permits.  And most importantly, Obama's signature foreign policy proposal is to wind down an ill-conceived war instead of doubling down on the existing one and launching a new one.

But further, as a Republican, I believe a loss is deserved on our side for the horrible mismanagement of the nation's affairs from Iraq to Katrina, the scaling back of our civil liberties, the rampant cronyism, politicization of the federal agencies, and deterioration of the nation's fiscal position.  The conservative movement, and the Republican party to which it has become so intertwined as to the point of oneness, has become intellectually and morally bankrupt.  A relevant conservative movement will need to develop ideas beyond the current platform of tax cuts, the politics of denial (climate change, income inequality, and the state of our health care system), gay bashing and conspiracy theories.  The conservative movement has failed to embrace this reality, hopefully a loss will begin a process of reevaluation.



Dining

Here is Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Blog, a must for D.C. area residents.  Recently checked out Bamian, a very nice Afghan place. In general, for D.C., the way to go is Vietnamese (the Eden Center is always the way to go), Central American, Ethiopian, Indian, Afghan, and Bolivian.

Friday, October 17, 2008

PeP Links

Colin Powell may endorse Obama on Sunday.

Warren Buffett says "buy, buy" and repeats his mantra: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful." The one thing about the meltdown is this is something of a windfall for us younger folks, assuming everything doesn't go to complete hell.

Bill Poole, former Fed Chief of the St. Louis Fed, believes the Treasury is exceeding its authority with the new capital infusion project.

James Surowiecki, he of the "Wisdom of the Crowds", has a new blog: "The Balance Sheet".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

PeP Links

Brad DeLong has an illuminating column on how the policy responses to the financial meltdown have evolved.


Southwest has just posted its first quarterly loss ever.  File this one under sign of the times.

This article discusses the uproar over an abortion ship.  This reminds me of a bit by Chris Rock involving Pro-Choice rallies and young lads, but this is a family blog, so I will let you fill in the rest.

Greg Mankiw Readers: Welcome

Thanks for dropping by. Since you are probably coming here off a link to a health care post, I took the liberty to provide some links to my prior posts on health care (rest assured, they are all consistently mediocre):


More on Krugman

Here is an essay on Krugman by Krugman on his career.  The bits on his Washington experience are very interesting.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The National Review Needs to Cease Publication

Chris Buckley has resigned from the National Review.  He was one of the few good writers remaining at the National Review.  Now he is gone.  Outside of Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin there isn't a single writer at NR that won't make you instantly stupider for having read their work.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Good News: Morbid Version

"On a separate note, one good thing is that there haven’t been any reports of people on Wall Street jumping out of windows. That’s because the windows in modern office buildings don’t open."

Interesting Paragraph

This is from Arnold Kling:

"1. An FDIC document on the risk weights of different bank assets. The higher the weight, the more capital the bank has to hold against that asset. As I read table 1 and table 3, if you originate a loan with a down payment of 20 to 40 percent, the risk weight is 35. But if you buy a AA-rated security, the risk weight is only 20. So if a junk mortgage originator can pool loans with down payments of less than 5 percent, carve them into tranches, and get a rating agency to rate some of the tranches as AA or higher, it can make those more attractive to a bank than originating a relatively safe loan. If you want to know why securitization dominated the mortgage market, this explains it. Regulatory arbitrage, pure and simple."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Higher Education Forum

Cato Unbound is having a forum on higher education.  Charles Murray is writing the lead essay and his basic view is that too many, not too few people are going to college.  Many people are tempermentally or intelllectually ill suited to a traditional 4 year college.  A system of national certifications (such as a CPA, CFA, etc.) should be built up to substitute or supplant the signaling function of a BA.  I highly encourage you to read Bryan Caplan's essay (GMU professor, econlog blogger, and author of the Myth of the Rational Voter).  Here's an interesting outline of his on the signalling.

Questions for the Candidates

Here's a good one from Joe Stiglitz:

"More than a million people have lost their homes in the past two years. A million more are expected to lose their homes in the next 12 months or so. Do you support a more direct program of relief for homeowners? The government pays more of the mortgage costs of rich homeowners, through larger tax deductions, than of poorer homeowners. What would you do to correct this injustice?"

In my fantasy world the answer would be to phase out the mortgage interest deduction.  The benefits skew highly towards the rich, encourage people to buy houses that they otherwise could not afford, or buy more house than is necessary which negatively impacts the environment.  However, I don't see this occuring in the immediate future.  I do think in a couple years, if we weather the present storm, tax reform will undoubtedly be on Congress's mind.  A partial phase out of the interest deduction with an unreasonably high cap that is not indexed to inflation ($500k) might be saleable.


"The existing capital standards for financial companies helped create the illusion that risky assets were “safe.” A reformed system could mandate more capital, to support incremental risk-taking, during a boom and lower such capital requirements in a bust. By changing capital cushions over credit cycles, banks would be less likely to be forced into asset fire sales. Would you support such a change?"

Arnold Kling has been advocating capital forbearance as a possible solution to the credit crunch, and I like Hubbard's twist on making it counter-cyclical.

A Distressed Sovereign

Russia might bailout Iceland.  Wild times indeed.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Palin Debate Flow Chart

hat tip: Ezra Klein

The Roots

I went to see the Roots at the Rams Head Live! in Baltimore last night. Massively disappointed. I had seen them live 3 times previously, though the last time was five years ago. Anyhow, they used to be an incredible live act. Anyhow, this time they blew. Literally, they subbed out the beatbox guy for a fucking Tuba player. Don't get me wrong, they immensely talented. But they no longer had the same energy that they once did. They have become a brand not a band. They beatbox guy wasn't touring with them, they ditched their old bassist. The Roots is basically now just Questlove and Blackthought. While they were always the driving force of the Roots, the bassist, beatbox, and keyboardist all fueled the fire. That chemistry is gone. However, the Gymclass Heroes and Estelle opened for the Roots and both acts were brilliant. They alone were worth the money.

The Juice is Going to Jail

OJ has been convicted. The great thing is that this gives me a fresh impetus to make OJ Simpson jokes at work. I work for the government and it is fairly diverse. Even so, the Simpson trial is one of those things that reveals a really interesting dynamic. When I make OJ jokes, my African-American coworkers have a two-fold reaction, they give me shit for "not being right" and at the same time look to get pissed off at any of my white coworkers who laugh. My white co-workers simultaneously find the joke funny, get nervous as shit at the prospect of their African-American coworkers getting pissed at them for believing OJ was guilty. I don't know why this amuses me but it just does.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bailout Passed

House passed it today.  My guess is this will simply be the first installment on a series of massive industrywide bailouts of the financial industry over the next year.

Wachovia not Going to Citigroup

Apparently Wells Fargo is buying Wachovia now.

My TakeAway From the Debate

I didn't watch the whole thing. Objectively you would have to say Biden destroyed Palin.  However, she came into the debate with such low expectations that even if she were merely atrocious, which she was, as opposed to the ongoing train wreck that we have been witnessing that you would have to deem her performance a success. 

Biden managed to escape any big foot in mouth moments.  When he started choking up when speaking about the safety of his son in the military, which seemed genuine, it was quite endearing. He was very effective in his foreign policy discussions.  

Ifill sucked as a moderator.  There were a couple of follow ups that she plainly blew.  Most glaring among them was the gay marriage question.  She asked Joe Biden a simple yes/no question about gay marriage and his response was a good one, though probably not what most liberals would like to hear.  He said that we should give gay couples the same civil rights that accompany a heterosexual marriage, but that whether it is called marriage is really a matter left to one's faith.  I agree with this formulation and would go one step further and that there should be no such thing as state sanctioned marriage but rather there are civil unions and a civil uinon can take place between two consenting unrelated adults.  Anyhow, Ifill then asked Palin if she agreed with what Biden said. She stated that Joe Biden opposes gay marriage and so does she so they agree.  An obvious followup would be to ask if she believed, like Joe Biden, that gay couples should be accorded the same civil rights as heterosexual couples.  But Ifill didn't make that followup, weak sauce indeed.

Oh, and another great moment from the debate, Ifill asked of both candidates if they agreed with Cheney's view that the Office of the Vice President was a hybrid office that was neither executive nor legislative, fish nor fowl.  Anyhow, Palin agreed!!  Biden did an amazing job in not laughing, or being condescending in his response. 

The other thing, Palin blinked into the camera a number of times.  That was just ridiculously hot. I repeat, Sarah Palin is a stone cold fox.  I want her to stay on the national stage as long as possible, just not as our vice president.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Debate

Palin is atrocious but she is doing vastly better than I thought she would.

More Thoughts on Palin

Palin has been a monumental train wreck.  My initial reactions to her nomination (found here) were positive because I viewed the election as a throwaway for Republicans and at least this gave an up and coming politician a chance on the national stage that she would probably not have had otherwise (being from Alaska and all).  Anyhow, she has failed miserably on the national stage and I am sure tonight's performance will merely serve cement her status as monumental disaster.  The one upshot is that she seems to have revived SNL.  Tina Fey's impression is brilliant and levity is certainly valuable in times of crisis.

Sarah Palin, the Perfecting of Bush

Here is James Fallows take on the Veep debates:

"Joe Biden will be judged on whether he gets anything wrong; Palin, on whether she gets anything right."

The Republican Party is officially the know nothing party.

Great Article on McCain from the Rolling Stone

This is a must read.  Here's a snippet:

"In its broad strokes, McCain's life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity. Both developed an uncanny social intelligence that allowed them to skate by with a minimum of mental exertion. Both struggled with booze and loutish behavior. At each step, with the aid of their fathers' powerful friends, both failed upward. And both shed their skins as Episcopalian members of the Washington elite to build political careers as self-styled, ranch-inhabiting Westerners who pray to Jesus in their wives' evangelical churches.

In one vital respect, however, the comparison is deeply unfair to the current president: George W. Bush was a much better pilot."

Medicare to Stop Paying for Errors

This is one of those things that would seem to be an Onion headline but it's not.  Until recently, Medicare and for that matter private insurance pays for medical care even when it's botched.  
I love this part especially:
“Historically, there’s been some acceptance that these things happen,” said Brock D. Nelson, the hospital’s president. “We’ve come to now accept that they’re avoidable. And that’s a sea change.
Some improvements have been technological, like an electronic prescribing system that has helped cut medication errors in half. Others are breathtaking in their obviousness, like diligent hand-washing."

Gwen Ifill

Apparently Gwen Ifill has a book due out on inaugauration on what the Obama presidency means for America and failed to disclose this to the election commission.  This is clearly a conflict of interest and demonstrates an egregious lack of professionalism.  I understand why conservatives will want to pull the bias card out but really this works in Palin's favor.  Ifill, having screwed up will feel forced to put on the kid gloves with Palin.  Frankly, Palin couldn't have a better situation.  Even so, I expect a complete and total train wreck.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Senate Passes Bailout

They put in a bunch of goodies to get it through. It's going to be interesting to see what happens in the house. I think it will ultimately be passed. I have real misgivings about the bill, though, it seems like a majority of people who have an expertise in finance and economics favor passage of the bill. So maybe it is a not so awful thing.