Thursday, June 30, 2005
Letter of Death
Here's the text of the Licata/Carr letter
to the Monorail Board. Clearly they're calling for Joel Horn's head when they write, "Do not be afraid to reorganize the staff dramatically..." Licata and Carr want to save the project. They also write, "Third, we do not believe that it is time to give up on a monorail transit option. Sound Transit went through a very difficult period and has managed to survive. The monorail can survive this difficult period, but only if you are not afraid to act boldly." Horn's actions as head of the monorail--the secrecy, dismissiveness of critics and harebrained financing scheme presented last week--make it unlikely the monorail is savable. Also, unlike Sound Transit, the monorail project does not have the backing of the establishment and never has. If the establishment had engaged in what was obviously a popular idea instead of first fighting it and then standing in the shadows hoping for failure, perhaps they could have helped molded a project that was actually doable. Well, these folks may be snickering and glad at the Monorail's imminent demise, it does nobody any good to have a failure like this.
Fool and charlatans
Joel Horn, the head of the monorail agency, is a fool and a charlatan. He is a fool to think the public and public officials will buy the deceits he is peddling about the monorail's finances. His peddling is a plasma sized screening of his his charlatanism. In the full page ad the monorail bought yesterday, Horn claims, "the $11 billion figure recently reported in the news is misleading and holds the Monorail to a different standard than is applied to other public projects." Horn whines the media and politicians don't talk about the finances of light rail, the viaduct and other public transportation project in terms of their total costs over 50 years. There's a simple reason for that--they aren't being paid for over a 50 year period but over 25 years or so. That's why their total costs don't rise to the level of the monorail's.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
The Canadian Marriage Lesson
Canada is preparing to legalize gay marriage. It is instructive to look to the north to see why that federal government is able to do the sane and right thing while ours is not. It's pretty simple; a majority of Canadians, according to polls, favors gay and lesbian marriage; in the United States, they don't. The challenge here, then, is not to convince the George Bushes and John Kerrys of the world to support gay marriage (although it would be nice), it is to build support among the American public for such rights. Of course, polls in the U.S. show there is support for civil unions for gays and lesbians so that would be a good incremental approach to take. Perhaps, as people become accustomed to civil unions, as it becomes the norm, the next step-- marriage for gays and lesbians--will seem no big deal. So, we must work on two fronts: pushing for civil unions and changing minds. The question is how to do the latter. Suggestions?
Those of you who haven't worked for Congress may not be aware of CRS--the Congressional Research Service. CRS reports are excellent overviews of issues, policies and other matters the U.S. Congress deals with. As a Congressional aide, these reports were invaluable tools, providing basic information on complex policy questions. They are straightforward, nothing but the facts reports. Unfortunately, they are not generally accessible by the public. But, this could change
, and should.
Not much new in Bush's speech on Iraq. Even the so-called new tactics he cited about training the Iraqi troops are things that were already planned or being done--he merely packaged them together as something new in this speech. More on Iraq and Bush later.
A poster on TPM Cafe is right to worry about the potential of tax reform as a political issue:I predict that before the 2006 midterms, we will see a major legislative push for tax reform and simplification. It will come seemingly out of no where, when the President's commission on tax reform releases its proposals. This has the potential to be a stunning, stunning defeat for the progressive movement. We could see conservatives make the tax code far more regressive and supply-side oriented, and still score a political victory for making tax collection less onerous. Can you see it now? "Bill Nelson voted against tax simplification." We need to game plan this attack. We need to come up with messages and counter policy proposals that will let us beat back this assault. Thoughts?
Tax reform is badly needed; tax breaks are a corrupting influence on the political process, handed out like industrial and social patronage. In addition, the complicated federal tax code creates all sorts of perverse incentives, is a drag on productivity and creativity and is a general waste of people's time. Let's hope the Republicans do propose real tax reform and the Democrats offer alternatives rather than stop signs like they have done on Social Security.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Independent World Television (IWT)
, which aims to be an independent media network, is an interesting idea (hat tip: horsesass.org). Whether this particular model will be successful or not I don't know but the potential for new media to take over the role of traditional big media is certainly there with the new technology and interconnectedness of our world. Here in Seattle the alternative weekly The Stranger is increasingly putting more updates and content on its web site, information that can't be found in the printed, once-a-week version. At what point does the web-content begin to compete with the two daily newspapers? The Stranger isn't trying to do that currently but maybe they will, or maybe someone else will. If I were starting a new world television network, I wouldn't use IWT's model but the potential for something new and big is there.
The Price of Housing in China
Not all China touches turns to gold. A ham-fisted policy by the government is causing prices of housing in Shanghai to plummet. "The Chinese government announced in May that starting June 1, a tax would be placed on all housing sold if the owner hadn’t lived in it for more than two years. For non-residential housing inhabited for more than two years, the government also placed a business tax on the difference between the sale price and the original purchase price." This, of course, caused housing prices to fall $173 per square meter. Although China is a great medium- and long-term bet, the control the central government still has on the economy makes the country a short term risk.
Give Big Bird the Bird
Of course, it's ironic that horsesass.org attacks efforts to cut federal funding for PBS in his article about IWT since the IWT project is just one more piece of evidence that there's no reason to fund PBS. It's a shame that every few years there's a feeble effort to cut this funding and everytime the hue and cry of those who think government funding should never be cut carry the day. People have access to hundreds of channels on their TVs, many of which produce the same kind of programming PBS does, often doing it better. We have access to the Internet and a vast array of content from around the world. There's not a single reason to spend a single cent of taxpayer money on PBS. If we can't even cut government funding for that, what federal program will we ever cut?
Monday, June 27, 2005
Was at Lyle Lovett show last night. He was with his Large Band. Francine was great, of course, and even the Seattle drizzle couldn't dampen the great music Lyle continues to produce. But it does dampen the posts a little bit this morning. More a little bit later. Oh, and thanks to Sheila for the tickets!
The Boston Herald reports on a slow down
in housing sales and claims it is finally a buyer's market in one of big fronts of the housing bubble.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Another column about the housing bubble--this time in Bill Virgin's P.I. column
. It's mostly the usual housing bubble stuff with this one exception: "... 38 percent of recent home mortgages in the Seattle-Bellevue- Everett market that were interest- only loans. You read that statistic correctly: 38 percent for the first three months of 2005, up from 37 percent for all of 2004."Time to recalibrate the Doom and Gloom Meter.
High on Gas
In case you were wondering, demand for gasoline in the United States has risen in the last year despite the steep increase in gas prices.
Horn is a Fool
Joel Horn comes across as either a complete fool or horrible spinmeister in his defense in the Seattle P.I. about extending the license tax for 50 years to pay for an $11 billion monorail that was originally budgeted at $1.7 billion: "And yesterday, in an e-mail, Monorail Executive Director Joel Horn pointed out that 40 years ago, tuition to the University of Washington was about $100 per quarter. The price is now closer to $2,000 per quarter. 'Because of the unquestionable benefits of the UW, Seattle would have been quite shortsighted to shut down the UW in 1960 because the cost of tuition 40 years later would be 20 times higher,' Horn wrote."
It's an analogy only someone tumbling from the cliff of logic would make. If he was talking about the costs of tickets to ride the monorail that would be one thing but we're talking about the infrastructure itself. Is the UW still paying off bonds for Kane Hall? Think how much more trust there would be in the monorail project and in large projects in general if Horn and his cronies, when they realized the revenue was falling short of projections by 30%, had said, "You know what, we can't build what we said we were going to build with 30% less revenue than planned when the voters approved the monorail project. We're pulling the plug and with planning work we've already done, we will go to the voters with a realistic funding and building plan."
More Scotus At It Again
Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds sums up much of what I think about the Kelo case in his MSNBC column.
I've only read part of the opinon and none of the dissent yet so I may add more later.
SCOTUS at it Again
The libertarian/right wing branch of the blogosphere is outraged
at the Supreme Court ruling today
allowing local governments to take private property to build shopping malls. I think the effect of the decision is outrageous and coupled with the medical marijuana decison (not to mention the Bush incommunicado imprisoning of US. citizens) illustrates the legal powerlessness of individuals in today's America. It use to be if you were black or Latino you had no power here but we are much more egalitarian today in taking away people's rights. However, I'm not sure of the legal aspects of the SCOTUS decision so whether it was a good legal decision or not I'll have to look into.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
I'm reading Richard Florida's The Flight of the Creative Class which among other things is a devastating critique of America's isolationist visa policies since September 11, 2001. I've mentioned this problem a number of times before but Florida really lays out the case quite well. "Foreign-born scientists and engineers make up huge percentages of our science and technology infrastructure, including roughly half of all our graduate-level computer scientists...Already in the U.S., nearly one-quarter of all scientists and engineers, 40 percent of all engineering professors and more than half of all PhDs in engineering, computer science, and the life sciences hail from foreign countries." But, of course, under Bush, we are now making it exceedingly difficult for these scientists to study and work in the United States. According to Florida's book, "Applications to many leading U.S. graduate schools from students in China, India, Russia and elsewhere are already down by 30% or more, and there is evidence that these students are going elsewhere for advance degrees." In fact, there is plenty of evidence statistically and anecdotally. When I was in Ireland, Dublin University officials told me they actively recruit international students who once would have studied in the United States, telling them that America doesn't want them and they'll never get a visa to study there.
In addition to graduate students, America is rejecting undergraduates as well. Florida says, "In 2003, the number of student visas issued by the U.S. dropped by 8 percent after falling 20 percent in 2002--the two largest drops since the government began tracking student statistics in 1952. And the rejection rate for student visas hit a record 35% in 2003, up from the record of 34 percent in 2002." It gets worse, "International student applications for fall 2004 admission dropped sharply at 90 percent of the graduate schools responding to a June 2004 survey."
That's just students. Businesses are also being hit hard. "Visa delays have cost U.S. businesses roughly $30 billion in two years..." The Bush Administration has been a disaster on a whole range of issues but perhaps in no area are they leaving a bomb which will detonate so explosively after they are long gone than in visas for students and businesses.
Those of us who voted for the monorail, as I did, have a special obligation to speak out now that the project is clearly off track. The two biggest concerns are the project is over budget and under funded. I'm frankly surprised that the monorail project has the authority to extend the license tax for as many years as they care--so far the monorail folks are talking about extending it for 50 years! If the project is already so over budget, just think how long they'll have to extend the tax once ground is actually broken and the project can really break the bank. The monorail idea had much merit to it--the Ballard line serves a community that is not currently served well by bus (unlike the light rail line which runs along an area where people have great express bus service) and unlike light rail the monorail wouldn't run at street level making traffic worse--but the organizers didn't figure the finances right and like light rail before the current management, the monorail staff and Board are compounding the error through obfuscation and fancy tricks. The monorail won't fly or run like this.
Burning Down the House
The U.S. House of Representatives has officially become useless
: "The House on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to ban desecration of the American flag, a measure that for the first time stands a chance of passing the Senate as well. " Don't worry about torture, record-breaking deficits, an insurgency in Iraq, out of control spending...no, instead let's worry about that life or death issue, that rampant problem in America--flag burning!
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Scandalization of Policy Disputes
On my way home I heard Dave Ross talking about some alleged new document that shows the Bush Adminstration fooled the American people into going to war in Iraq. Christopher Hitchens makes mincemeat of these types of arguments in a Slate article
. The Downing Street memo and all its cousins pushed by the Democrats is all part of the trend since Watergate to scandalize policy disputes. It's not enough to say it was a bad policy for Bush to go to war in Iraq; opponents have to transform it into a conspiratorial crime, to scandalize it. This is dumb and distracts from the larger more important point: invading Iraq was an unnecessary and extraordinarily risky policy that was unlikely to be productive in the war against Islamic fascism, or as idiots call it, the war on terror. This is what opponents of Bush's policy must hammer him on until the next election--that there are better ways than his to win the war, that his policies are weakening our country and could lead to greater trouble down the road. That's the scandal.
So Durbin has apologized
for his remarks on the Senate Floor regarding U.S. torture of prisoners. He shouldn't have. The right wing blogs, and I gather, talk radio, have been attacking Senator Durbin for allegedly comparing the American military to Nazis or the Soviet gulag. If you read Durbin's statement
on the Senate Floor that's not what he did. Here's the relevant passage:
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
Durbin didn't say America is the same as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. He described a particular event and said if somebody read about this action done to a prisoner that person would assume it happened in a totalitarian society and not in America. He didn't say America was the equivalent of Nazi Germany or Pol Pot's Cambodia. Of course, the blind supporters of the Bush Adminstration want to demonize Durbin to discredit him because they can't refute his argument without admitting they support torture as U.S. policy. Durbin's speech on the House Floor is actually very well reasoned. As he points out, the discussion about closing or keeping open Guantanamo misses the point: "there has been a lot of discussion in recent days about whether to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This debate misses the point. It is not a question of whether detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay or some other location. The question is how we should treat those who have been detained there. Whether we treat them according to the law or not does not depend on their address. It depends on our policy as a nation." Read the whole statement.
On Second Thought
In the last week, USA Today, The Economist, the New York Times and nearly every other mainstream media outlet has published stories warning about the housing bubble. I, of course, have been warning about the dangers for years. But now that everyone thinks a housing bubble exists, my contrarian nature makes me wonder whether I'm wrong. But I'm reassured by financial analyst Richard Russell that the world is indeed teetering on the brink, "According to estimates by the Economist, the total value of residential property in developed countries rose by more than $30 trillion over the past five years, to over $70 trillion, an increase of over 100 percent of the those countries' combined GDP. Not only does this dwarf any previous house-price boom, it is larger than the global stockmarket bubble in the late 1990's (an increase over five years of 80 percent of GDP) or America's stockmarket bubble in the late 1920's (55 percent of GDP). In other words, it looks like the biggest bubble in history." But can we really expect something to happen that everyone is now expecting to happen? Stay tuned.
I'm reading Richard Florida's The Flight of the Creative Class
which among other things, is a devastating critique of Amercia's isolationist policies since September 11, 2001 and the ramifications this will have short-term and long-term for the country.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
My Kingdom for, er, is a House
The Economist reports, "Two-fifths of all American jobs created since 2001 have been in housing-related sectors such as construction, real estate lending and broking. " The rest are mostly government jobs. And the trend we've talked about before continues: there is large inflation for everything you need--shelter, health care, education, fuel--and deflation in all the extraneous items--DVD players, TVs and the like. Ahh, but we had record tax revenues last month the federal government reports. So all is okay in the world. And of course, I'm reassured by a mailing from a real estate company we received yesterday who assured us there was no housing bubble because although "the home-price-to-income ratio, at nearly 3.5 is a record, many other developed countries are at 4.0 or higher." Hmm, it's not possible those countries are in a real estate bubble too, is it?
Dishing Good Rice
Condoleeza Rice is in Egypt pushing liberalization and talking common sense, "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." Think if the Bush Administration had pushed for liberalization in the Middle East right after September 11th. Condleeza Rice has been great on this issue since becoming Secretary of State but Bush's first major policy speech calling for such liberalization in the Middle East did not occur until after the Iraq War. If only Bush had used Rice's words right after September 11 during his speech to the joint session of Congress. This should have been one of the central parts of the war against Islamic fascists (and should have been a policy in the 90s also). Of course, administration supporters will claim such a policy was not possible without creating a new dynamic in the Middle East by removing Saddam Hussein. But this is baloney. The risky Iraq War was not necessary to promote liberalization in the region. So-called liberals would have complained about imposing American values on countries in the Middle East. It was the same complaint they used against Reagan for advocating democratization in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War. Real Politickers would have called the Bush policy naive saying it would lead to instability and an increase in oil prices...wow, we could have ended up with $60 per gallon oil and Saudi Arabia would continue to breed terrorists
. Such a policy would have required patience and resilience and creativity but it was far less risky than the Iraq war and far more likely to be successful.
Butch and Sundance
In case you didn't notice the announcement late last week, the dynamic sports due of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann are back together on ESPN radio, if only for one hour per week. Olbermann talks about this in his blog today
. Olbermann is a curious creature, completely nutty on some issues while oozing common sense on others. But either way, he's funny as hell and one of those rare breeds who will admit when he is wrong.
I'm still working out kinks with the new software. You'll see more design changes and fixes sometime in the next week or so. Thanks for your patience.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Pop Goes the Housing Weasel?
Who knows if there's truly a housing bubble and if there is when it will actually pop. But if it does, the ramifications will be huge. According to economists at the Northern Trust, "U.S. commercial banks mortgage-related assets are now over 60% of their total earning assets, a postwar record high." In fact, just twenty years ago, the figure was only 28% and in the 60s it was less than 20%. But the mortgage business is now the big earner for banks. As Paul Kasriel, the chief economist for Northern Trust puts it, "If the U.S. housing bubble were to go whoosh, great damage would be done to the U.S. banking system. Ask the Japanese how an economy performs for a decade when its banking system is crippled." YepJapanesese real estate prices have still not recovered 13 years after the popping of the bubble. Let's hope we don't really have one.
I'm a basketball fan and unlike most, I like the NBA. But over the years my fandom has decreased as every year in the playoffs it became increasingly clear the NBA was rigging games to make sure certain teams with "star" quality advanced so the NBA's ratings would stay healthy. I've never believed in conspiracy theories--Oswald acted alone--but I couldn't disagree with what my eyes saw every May and June in the NBA playoffs when referee calls would always favor the team the NBA wanted to get to the next round. The only thing that stopped me from completely believing the theory was I couldn't figure out how the NBA was doing it. There's no way dozens of referees could be in on it--a conspiracy of that many people would easily be exposed. Then Bill Simmons, the sports guy on espn (who should have won a Pulitzer for his Red Sox coverage last year) figured it out. The NBA was assigning "homer" or "non-homer" refs depending on what the league needed to have happen. I agree with Simmons that the NBA's biggest problem is not the issues that keep coming up during talk of a possible lock-out--age limits and contract limits. The league's biggest problem is that fans like me will start to lose interest because we understand the games are essentially rigged. Here's a great excerpt from Simmons from his mailbag feature explaining more.
Q. My buddy Chuck and I just had a 20-minute conversation as to why Bavetta is not involved in Game 3. As two of the other 19 NBA diehards left, we figure that Stern is saving Bavetta for Game 4. Stern desperately needs this series to get to 2-2 Â the NBA cannot have a lackluster Finals followed up by a lockout; it would sink this league. And Stern still has this game covered with Crawford and Salvatore. So, here's to Bavetta in Game 4, and a 2-2 tie.ÂKyle Blanton, Las Vegas
SG: Yes, I received this e-mail on Tuesday night, before we found out Dick Bavetta was reffing Game 4. All joking aside, I'm worried that the NBA is morphing into professional wrestling. With all due respect to the Pistons, who may have played the best playoff game of any 2005 team Thursday night (four turnovers?!?!?!), Game 4 was decided in the first few minutes when it became clear that the Pistons were allowed to clutch, grab, paw at the ball and contest every shot with no repercussions, culminating in Ben Wallace raking Duncan across the arm (probably the worst no-call of the playoffs) and Popovich picking up a technical. The Spurs were D-U-N done after that. Of course, in Game 2, the Pistons weren't allowed to breathe on anyone without a foul being called.
Sometimes I feel like Mel Gibson in "Conspiracy Theory" complaining about this stuff, but I honestly feel that the officiating is slowly undermining the credibility of the league. My friends who follow the NBA feel that way. Enough of my readers feel that way that I don't think I'm crazy. And it's getting to the point that I can actually guess which referees will be assigned to which games Â
and I'm right! That's insanity! This is a much bigger problem than high schoolers entering the draft, six-year contracts, revenue sharing and anything else. Where have the quality referees gone? Why are some playoff games called completely different than other games? Why are certain refs only assigned to must-win games for the home team? Why does it seem like certain refs have grudges against certain teams, and more importantly, why has there been a preponderance of coaches calling out these grudges (more than any other year)?
Friday, June 17, 2005
Da Vinci, er, Michaelangelo Code
No Shades of Gray
Many moons ago, I mentioned an idea I had for Seattle's Central Library--a marvelous building with two flaws, one of which my idea will fix. When you enter the Library from the 5th Avenue side, you enter a grand large room that rises to the very top of the building as you look out into the Seattle gray sky. It's a remarkable entrance marred by the cement backside of the elevators. This large slab of gray also rises all the way to the top of the building. Concrete, there's just no getting around it, is ugly. It's gray. Seattle's weather is gray enough without adding architectural bland to it. However, the large wall of concrete rising up seven stories also offers a great civic opportunity. This wall of gray could be transformed into a work of art. A giant mural/painting could be painted onto the wall. The city could create a competition to do this. Artists could submit ideas and either a Mayor-appointed panel or the city itself could vote on the winner. It would probably take years for the artist to finish the mural/painting which is a good thing. The library has already become a great civic gathering place. Think of the draw as people come to watch the progress of the painting, to see the artist create something out of the current gray, bland concrete monstrosity.
However, I recently learned that the head librarian, Deborah Jacobs, has said over her dead body would that slab of gray be altered. The backside of the elevator shaft is apparently composed of a certain type of cement favored in architectural circles. It has a certain cachet in the architectural world. Such faddish taste is nonsense, of course. The large gray mass is ugly no matter what kind of cement it's made of. It's such thinking that led to the destruction of the original Carnegie Library, replacing it with a 1960s architectural monstrosity. Here's a link to a page
with a photo of the Carnegie Library. Check out the details and flourishes of this beautiful building. Scroll down further and you'll see the mind numbing ugliness that replaced it. Today, on the same site, we have again built a stunning piece of architecture. The building is complicated because it is functional and yet the complexities add up to a riveting charm--with the exception
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
According to the Seattle PI, Garfield High in Seattle had 44 students (out of a student body of 400) who had perfect 4.0 grade averages. This, of course, is more evidence of grade inflation which made me think back to the release of John Kerry's grades in college which were less than stellar. Perhaps poor JFK is tarred by grade inflation. I'm curious if any students at Yale today are getting D's.
Rise of the Individual
The ubiquitous Glenn Reynolds has an interesting piece
today about how the new technologies are leveling the playing field for smaller companies and organizations. I would go further and say we are in the midst of the empowering of the individual over the group. It's an idea I've been toying with for quite some time and am hoping to write about in depth at some point, perhaps even in book form. Examples of what I'm talking about are common place now and practically taken for granted. The consumer is empowered over large companies. When I go to buy a new car through various web sites I have as much information as the sales lot over what price I should really be paying. I'm in the driver's seat now in negotiations. Obviously blogs allow Andrew Sullivan, Daily Kos and others to compete with large media conglomerations. More on all this later and its ramifications.
European Kind of Love
Robert Samuelson has an interesting article
in the Washington Post on Europe. He's far more pessimistic than I. "Preoccupied with divisions at home, Europe is history's has-been." Samuelson is right to point out that demographics are a big problem for the continent:
It's hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe's birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It's 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century -- if these rates continue -- there won't be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe's population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.
But, Samuelson thinks there's little chance of a turnaround in either politics or social policy. I won't say I'm optimistic but I do think the forces of globalization will force them to change--maybe not this decade but certainly the next. The big problem is if even as they atrophe if the U.S. doesn't take care of our debt problem, then there could be worldwide economic dislocation that could set the whole world back a generation or more.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
I'm testing a new publishing and managing program for my blog. As you can see, we're still working out the kinks. I hope to have most of the old posts up and running by Thursday or Friday and new posts will continue during the switchover process.
Coast to Cost
I'm reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat for an assignment at work. Most readers of the book are transfixed by Friedman's overarching themes of globalization. I was caught by a sentence that was essentially a throw-away, meant to illustrate a point about globalization but one which says a lot about America's future and other countries too. Friedman was visiting a large technology company in India which provides everything from call centers to software programming for companies around the world. He writes of the company's offices in Mumbai, "Above the screen there were eight clocks that pretty well summed up the Infosys workday: 24/7/365. The clocks were labeled US West, US East, GMT, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia." What I noticed is that only the US coastal times merited clocks in this Mumbai up-and-coming tech company. The middle of the US has been losing population--eventually, as people can now live where they want, vast parts of the United States (and other countries), will become like Alaska, little populated areas for those who enjoy extreme weather and last frontier lifestyles. I've been told, but haven't fact checked, that there are now more buffalo and Indians in the midwest today than there were in the late 1800s. You won't go wrong--in the long-term--buying land on the coast. Sam, 6/14/05
More on Downing
If one actually reads the Downing Memo, and here's a link to the complete text, it becomes obvious that the memo shows the Bush Administration did not lie about WMD, but were merely deluded. The memo says, "Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD." It goes on to say, "On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions. For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary." So, in other words, the Administration was concerned Iraq had WMDS, so much so it was worried Saddam would use them on US troops or his neighboring countries. I know this won't convince those who have a "Lex Luther" vision of Bush, who see him as an all-evil, ever-plotting-to-take-over-the-world archetype. The crazy conservatives had the same view of Clinton during his presidency. The truth is that most politicians, including presidents, are wanting to do what they think is best for the country. Bush's problem in Iraq is he took a very risky course, made even more risky by not planning adequately for what would happen after Saddam's regime was removed. It's not that he lied to the American people about Iraq that's troubling since there's not much evidence he did that. It's that his policy was not a wise one to begin and that the American public reelected him even so, that is so troubling..
School's Out for the Summer
The Education system in most of our states are failures. Of course, the reflexive action is to throw more money at them. As Jill Stewart in California points out, this is not the solution. Education is a classic case where we need to Moneyball the problem. Rather than providing more money for a program that is not working, let's figure out how to do it better and then assess what funding is needed.Sam, 6/14/05
The Central American Free Trade Agreement is facing tough times in the U.S. Congress, according to the Washington Post. More than 60 percent of Democrats are expected to vote against the agreement with one Democratic leader predicting the figure could go as high as 90 percent. Some Republicans are breaking off too which spells defeat for the agreement. Over the last 60 years, the Democrats have become the party of Taft, the protectionist, isolationist Republican of bygone times. It's unfortunate that on one hand we have a party led by Bush which is spending like its 1965 and taking unneeded risks overseas, and on the other hand we have a political party which is now completely reactionary to the point of nearly becoming Amish. On Social Security and, trade issues, the Democrats are for freezing a changing world.Sam, 6/13/05
Monday, June 13, 2005
China and India
I've compared India and China in the past and wondered who really would be most influential and successful in the future. Now, Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post also ponders this question.
Obama Bops Dean
Barack Obama continues to distinguish himself. Today he criticized Howard Dean's
recent remarks: "As somebody who is a Christian myself, I don't like it when people use religion to divide, whether that is Republican or Democrat," Obama said. "I think in terms of his role as party spokesman, [Dean] probably needs to be a little more careful and I suspect that is a message he is going to be getting from a number of us," Obama explained.
Down with a cold but here's a few quick things.
When Hillary Clinton is elected in three years one bad consequence will be the reemergence of nationalized health insurance on the American agenda. One hopes those pushing for this will note the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a Quebec law banning private health insurance. All these people here pushing for nationalized health insurance don't understand what's happening in all these other countries where they have such a beast. One of our delegates on one of our trade missions a few years ago had to have emergency surgery when we were in Britain--a completely dangerous and frightening experience. Other countries are going broke from nationalized health insurance. Lots of folks clamor for free health care but as has been noted here more than once, there is no such thing. It's a matter of who pays for it and who and how people get priority for being treated. Of course, we do need health care reform and Bush, by not tackling the issue, is making it more likely we will get bad health care reform, creating a system akin to Canada's.
We Already Knew That
What's remarkable about the Downing Street memo is that it is not really news We already knew Bush was committed to ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein from John O'Neil's book and other sources. Last week's reports about the memo merely reaffirmed what we already knew. We also knew, as Sunday's Washington Post front page article also reaffirmed, that the Bush Administration had not prepared for post-war Iraq. To know that all we have to do is look around the last two years at what has happened there. But, reports at the time also indicated the Administration didn't understand what it was getting itself into (although many others did and tried to warn both the Administration and the American people). Both of these were big issues in the presidential campaign. But, a small majority decided it did not matter that Bush is such a screw-up. What continues to be remarkable is that for the last two years we have not committed the number of troops necessary in Iraq to make the risky policy even possibly successful. . This too is not a secret and has been reported on for the last two years. But, Bush continued to not listen until we are where are today.
Friday, June 10, 2005
A Bakery Not a Pie
The often sensible PI columnist Bill Virgin falls into the economic trap that is snaring far too many folks nowadays. In talking about the EU and the recent constitution passing problems, Virgin argues
it may be in the U.S.'s interests for Europe not to coalesce into a cohesive unit since they would then pose an economic competitive threat to America. He concludes, "Not that the Europeans would be inclined to listen to us, but if they want to put another competitive impediment upon themselves, who are we to dissuade them?" But this is a view of the economy as a pie in a nine inch pan. In this view, if Europe takes a slice then that's one less piece for us always ready to eat Americans. But the world economy isn't a pie, it's a bakery. If Europe starts doing well, we add tortes, croissants and baklava to our lives. We should hope for the hum bows from China and the curry bread from India. The world economy, in a free and open system, is not a zero sum game, it is not a constrained pie tin. Let the baking begin.
The Wit and Wisdom of Your Pope
On gay marriage: "Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man," What century are we in?
Greenspan, in an address to a Chinese monetary conference was asked what would be the result of long-term yields falling below the level of short-term yields. He answered, ""I'm reasonably certain we would not automatically assume that it would mean what it meant in the past.” Got that?
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
When I have more time I'll write in more depth on this but Africa's problems are more complicated than forgiving debt and giving $50 billion in aid. It's a big continent and some countries which have liberalized their economies and political systems are beginning to roar and may become in the next two decades African lions that match the last two decades of Asian tigers.
Where's Butch and Sundance
The President of Bolivia is resigning
amidst large-scale protests. There is a fair amount of instability around the world, should anyone care to peak under the media irrelevance blankets. If the U.S. economy falters, the global impact is uncertain but some of the gains in liberalization made in the 90s could disappear.
This is cute
and the music that goes with it is keen too. It's harder than it looks.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Now I'm Really Mad
So the above is an attempt at rationale discourse with those who would control our lives in the name of morality, a morality that they own and peddle, or rather, force on the rest of us. The truth is the Supreme Court decision is a complete f**king outrage. I say this as someone whose Dad is in a terminal condition and has been fed a whole variety of drugs far stronger than marijuana, drugs intended to help him but that instead have caused him real harm. So, it's okay to give these incredibly powerful drugs to a patient not in a condition to provide permission, but we tell someone who is in an intense amount of pain they can't smoke marijuana, someone who is dying--fucking in their last months on the planet and suffering horrible, unimaginable agony--is denied the right of some salve by 6 moral morons who are completely disconnected from the real world. The President and his crusading justice department, the six justices who ruled yesterday that states and individuals have no rights, that the federal government is the all knowing, all controlling dictatorial ruler of the universe, can kiss my fucking ass. We are quickly approaching a time when civil disobedience is a requirement. Perhaps it is time for a public smoke-out when we tell Justice Stevens and Scalia and the rest to lay their paws off our our liberty and lives. Stay tuned for more.
The Left hates Clarence Thomas but in this case his judicial restraint was right on, "If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything--and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers...If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress' Article I powers--as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause--have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of "regulating commerce."
A Tale of Two Decisions
Lost in all the hub bub of judicial filibusters in recent months, is that fact that, just as in so many other policy areas, Bush's judicial policies are not conservative. This was made evident again in today's medical marijuana decision by the Supreme Court and amplified by the judge's decision in the Washington State election contest. On the one hand, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the federal government can trump state law even when someone grows marijuana in their own backyard and has been prescribed by a doctor to take it for pain, and the state passes legislation making this legal.. The Court claims the Interstate Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to do this even though there is no commerce between states in the marijuana case. Of course, for most of the last 200 years the Supreme Court has stretched the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution like Gumby on steroids to essentially make the federal government all powerful over our lives and liberty. The medical marijuana case is judicial activism pure and simple. Six Supreme Court justices--the liberal side of the bench plus a few alleged conservatives like Scalia--force their morality on the rest of us, constitution and common sense be damned.
On the other hand, the judge in the Washington State Gubernatorial election read the letter of the law and applied it to the facts of the case. As the Judge said, "An election such as this should not be overturned because one judge picks a number and applies a proportional deduction analysis." Bridges went on to say,. "To do so within the context of the facts of this case would constitute the ultimate act of judicial egotism and judicial activism." The Judge clearly thought King County displayed lots of incompetence in running the governor's election but the law did not say such incompetence, under current laws, allowed for overturning an election. Again, in the judge's words, ""The problems in King County are associated with and result from a lack of communication, lack of taking responsibility for action, a lower level of accountability and a difficulty documenting procedures...It's inertia, it's selfishness, it's taking our paycheck but not doing the work." But, the Judge noted this did not meet the legal requirements to overthrow an election and said there is, "not substantial evidence, by clear and convincing evidence, that improper conduct or irregularities procured Ms. Gregoire's election to the office of governor." Some Republicans are complaining that clearly the number of illegal votes is larger than the margin of victory. True, but the law does not say you can overturn an election if that's the case. Others are irate because they are convinced the miscounts are a result of conspiratorial fraud. This may or may not be the case but no evidence was given for this type of fraud during the trial so the judge can't assume it's there in making his decision. Still others complain Judge Bridges is just part of some establishment once again thwarting the people's will. No, he's actually the exact opposite of the current establishment which performs judicial activism--he instead applied the written law. It could be that existing election laws need to be changed (in fact, I think they do need to be changed) but that is not up to Judge Bridges to do in a court case--he must apply the law as currently written.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Hot Rod Spacing
I thought Howard Dean was a pretty good presidential candidate early on but he's been going off the deep end most of this year since becoming head of the Democratic Party. His latest nonsense? Saying of Republicans, "a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives." It's very frustrating that no reasonable opposition exists to the Bush follies of the last five years. I will not be surprised to see a real third party develop over the next decade.
Stop Lights on Human Trafficking
My old boss, John Miller, is now the senior advisor to Condoleeza Rice on human trafficking issues. His office released its annual report
on Friday detailing what is happening around the world on human trafficking. Here's one case cited in the report:
Neary grew up in rural Cambodia. Her parents died when she was a child, and, in an effort to give her a better life, her sister married her off when she was 17. Three months later they went to visit a fishing village. Her husband rented a room in what Neary thought was a guest house. But when she woke the next morning, her husband was gone. The owner of the house told her she had been sold by her husband for $300 and that she was actually in a brothel. For five years, Neary was raped by five to seven men every day. In addition to brutal physical abuse, Neary was infected with HIV and contracted AIDS. The brothel threw her out when she became sick, and she eventually found her way to a local shelter. She died of HIV/AIDS at the age of 23.
John has done amazing work raising the profile of the human trafficking issue. If you belong to an organization, church or civic group, have Miller come and speak to your members. He gives a riveting talk on the issue and can let your group know how it can become involved and help stop this practice.
Friday, June 03, 2005
Fascinating account by Bob Woodward
on how he met Felt and developed him as a source. It reinforces how much of life is chance meetings and happenstance and taking advantage of them. Of course, it will be interesting to see in the coming days how Woodward answer questions from folks such as Slate's Chatterbox.
Gecko and Watergate
Look at the photo and read the article
. Mark Felt's kids are doing it for the money. History is deliciously ironic, as always. Nixon was partly brought down by a man trying to protect J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, an agency reviled by the left. Today, his family hopes to sell millions of dollars worth of books to the boomer left as they pry old man Felt's grip from the grave. Yes, America and history are beautiful.
The stock market moved up during my absence from North America but it's worth remembering its down for the year, much less down since 2000. The figures for 2005 are:
In fact, just about anywhere you want to put your money is currently down for the year. 10 year and 30 year treasuries are down -.22% and -.49 respectively .The Russell 2000 is down -5.3% CD rates are below the rate of inflation (which the government calculates lower than it probably really is). The economy itself seems to be doing well at the moment but do the markets portend something else in the future? I don't know but I'll wait for it patiently as my buying power dwindles like a pint of Guinness 'round midnight.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
There will be much teeth gnashing about the Dutch overwhelmingly voting against the constitution and worries that this will disintegrate the EU. But this is not necessarily what will happen. The EU can continue as is for quite some time, allowing for easy moving across borders and a monetary union, albeit one sans the UK. Reformers on the right were hoping the EU Constitution would provoke economic reform in France, Germany and other countries with constraining labor laws and unsustainable welfare systems. But market forces can do that just as well as the Constitution. The truth is that a 700-page Constitution is not likely to be a winner electorally. A deep breath and perhaps a new approach are in order. However, the Brussels bureaucrats are just as likely to pursue other ways to put in place their heavy tome of government.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
It was revealed today that long-time FBI official Mark Felt starred in the late 70s porn flick, Deep Throat, with a cross dressing J. Edgar Hoover and S&M specialist, Richard Milhouse Nixon. More details coming...
No Free Lunch
I've complained before about people believing you can get something for free such as those who call for "free health care" for people. Someone will say we need to have free health care like they do in Canada. Of course, the health care isn't free--it's just being paid for in a different way rather than directly by the user. Journalists are especially prone to this intellectual laziness. The Stranger, in an otherwise interesting article
about the debate on density in Seattle, states at one point, "And what is Berger's alternative to density? Excellent schools and free day care." Of course, the free day care isn't free. All we would be doing is having different people pay for the day care instead of the parents. It may be a good idea for society to share in the costs of day care for parents, to have all of us pay to help other people's kids, but the day care is not free.
One of my favorite moments of the trip was the Musical Pub Crawl we did in Dublin. On the Crawl, two traditional Irish musicians take you to different pubs. At the pubs, the two musicians play and explain Irish music and its instruments. It's a great time. One of the two musicians on our crawl--Anthony--was in his 40s and after the crawl I had Guinness with him at another pub. He was an interesting character and apparently a music producer of some repute. When he was 19 he was in a rock band and he and his mates were going to try to busk out on the streets of Dublin to make a little cash. They were nervous and so just before playing they dashed into a pub for a little liquid courage. As they waited for the pour of their Guinness (which properly done should take five minutes or so) a small traditional Irish band made up of old musicians in their late 50s saw the young band and asked them if they wanted to join in--Irish traditional music is, after all, essentially a jam session. But Anthony and his mates protested they didn't know how to play traditional Irish music. The old guys said not to worry they would figure it out. Anthony and the other band members joined in and had a great time and played for hours--in fact, they never busked on the street that night. In fact, the pub asked Anthony and his mates to come back on Wednesday nights to play. In fact, Anthony never went back to rock music and has been playing traditional Irish music ever since--for the last 20 years.
Murder in the Military
I was out of the country during the Newsweek flap over whether or not a Koran was flushed down the toilet and the subsequent stories of other alleged Koran abuse.. Frankly, it was all a distraction from the greater torture stories and I'm glad I missed most of the Koran stuff drinking Guinness in pubs. But, for those of you that care, the US military and CIA have murdered at least 27 prisoners since 2002 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Quando.net
which is decidedly not a liberal web site so might carry some weight with conservatives who back Bush, has a good summation of this murdering prisoners issue. They note that "It doesn’t matter that our terrorist enemies are evil. It doesn’t matter what they do to their prisoners, in terms of beheading, or what have you. We don’t judge our behavior by the standards of barbarians. We judge it by our own standards, and, so far, it looks like we haven’t been doing as good a job as we should of living up to those standards." All good points that especially need to be made since I hear too many people who support Bush say it is necessary to murder prisoners because of September 11. It's not. In fact, we don't even know if the prisoners are guilty. There's nothing less conservative then giving government the power of life and death over people, unfettered from any checks and balances. Quando also notes:
There are also 21 more deaths that have been ruled "Natural causes or accident", including one fellow who "accidentally" died "while bound and blindfolded", and 11 who died "accidentally" or of natural causes at Abu Ghraib Prison. It's entirely plausible that prisoners died of natural causes or by accident, but since the US frequently denies prisoner access to the Red Cross, and even, on at least one occasion according to the Taguba Report, "moved [detainees] around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team".
Never forget this amidst all the flotsam and jetsam of Newsweek, Korans and toilets. Please read the entire quando posting
and spread the word to conservatives and liberals alike. The Bush wink-wink, nod-nod on torture has got to stop.