Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Nate Silver should stick to political prognostication

Posted in Finance, Politics on December 22nd, 2008

File this one under the department of huh? Nate Silver over at 538.com decided to throw up a post encouraging people to spend their way out of the current recession:

But, after a decade or so of spending outside their means, Americans seem almost to feel guilty right now about spending money. This is exactly the opposite of what the economy needs. The structural problems of the financial sector are liable to take a long time to untangle, but if consumers signal that they’ve weathered the storm and are prepared to start consuming again, then jobs and investment capital will follow.

That is exactly the wrong approach to this entire problem. Why are we having massive problems in the housing market? Because the American public as a whole is indebted to the hilt. We have a negative savings rate in this country. The last fifteen years have been a veritable orgy of unfettered consumerism and we are just beginning to have to pay the piper. So for the love of god, if you have extra money SAVE IT. Stick it in savings account, a CD, or some T-bills.

Increased savings will help to recapitalize the banks, which might actual get commercial lending starting again. It will help counteract the massive account deficit the USA is going to have to get out of this recession/depression. Spending more money right now is just throwing more fuel on the every growing fire. Nate should stick to political prediction, since this advice is about as bad as it gets.

Update: I just have to say. 70% of the GDP in this country was consumer expenses. There is NO WAY such a percentage is maintainable. If all you do is buy things (and not make things for others to buy), there is going to be an eventual liquidity crisis. The only thing that kept this giant Ponzi scheme going as long as it has was the Fed monkeying with interest rates to create the housing bubble. We need to seriously reduce consumer expenditure and bring our GDP percentages back into whack. Asshattery.

Clinton as Secretary of State

Posted in Politics on November 14th, 2008

MyDD has picked up the story floating around the mainstream media (which I appear to be completely oblivious to) that Hilary Clinton is getting consideration for the Secretary of State position. While I think she would be an amazing Secretary of State I really hate this move. I just do not see the path that Hilary takes from that position to continue her run in politics.

If she takes the cabinet post, she is out of Congress. Most likely won’t run again. She could run for the presidency in 2016, but I find it unlikely she will (running for president is increasingly becoming a young person’s job given the incredibly taxing demands of modern campaigns). NY Governor isn’t impossible, but the next election is 2010, meaning Hilary would only spend one year as SecState which seems unrealistic. So she’d have to wait till 2014 to run which could happen, especially if Paterson blows it this time around. But is that really what we want from Hilary? Four years as SecState and then nothing for two years and then maybe running for governor?

Clinton still has a chance to be one of the most amazing Democratic leaders the party has ever know. I want her on the Supreme Court, a place where she could leave an incredible mark on the next hundred years of American history. If the plan is for her to serve as Secretary of State until Obama appoints her to the Court, then lets rock. Otherwise, I think we are better served with 12 years of her in the Senate than with 4 years of her as SecState.

Cabinet Posts

Posted in Politics on November 7th, 2008

Gods damn it people. We went through this with the Vice-President pick. Weeks of people, on both sides of the aisle, working themselves up into a lather over who is was going to be or ‘WHO IT ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT, MUST NOT BE.” And in the end, Obama made the choice he wanted, who happened to be just about the perfect pick for the office. He’s going to do the absolutely same thing for his Cabinet. I’ve definitely got my preferences and my guesses on who he is going to choice, but I’m not losing sleep or tearing out my hair over it. This is the guy who just ran a picture-perfect presidential campaign, after running a perfect primary campaign and then healing a divided Democratic party. He’s earned our trust in his decision making, just a little bit. So everyone just needs to calm down, take a deep breath, and go back to laughing at the Republican disarray.

Remember:

I’ve got it

Obama Economic Transition Team

Posted in Politics on November 7th, 2008

The list is impressive. Most of the members are not surprises. I must admit to being incredibly glad to see Robert Reich’s name on there. This is a man who understands better than anyone the destructive potentials of capitalism and the need for a strong hand from the government to mitigate those effects. Certainly better than Robert Rubin (ugh) who is one of those left-brain capitalist types that Jon Taplin is talking about over here. There are no easy fixes to our problems, but this team might actually figure out some of the hard but necessary steps we’re going to need to take.

A Shot Across the Bow

Posted in Politics on November 7th, 2008

The pick of Rahm Emanuel for White House COS should be sending nervous shivers down the spines of the Republican minorities in Congress. For all that Obama has talked about bi-partisanship and the need for a new politics, it is clear that he regards these new politics as being his way or the highway. For his entire campaign he has done it his way, spitting into the wind of political tradition and the heaps of advice offered by those ‘in the know’ to become one of the most unlikely presidents in American history. And he did it with a smoothness and a grace that few other candidates have ever matched. I do not expect his presidency to be any different.

Obama has an agenda: he wants to save this country, even if large parts of it do not currently recognize that it needs to be saved. His pick of Rahm says that he is going to emphatically pursue that agenda, to the detriment of those Republican (or Democratic) members of Congress who attempt to stand in his way. One thing that the primary should have taught people about the Obama team is that they are very good at calculating risk vs. reward. Obama made the most of his cash and time by investing in the exact places he needed to win to capture the momentum that ended with his nomination. I suspect he will be investing time and political pressure upon recalcitrant Senators in exactly the same way. And Rahm is going to be the sharp end of the wedge. You almost feel sorry for them.

Campaign Contributions

Posted in Life, Politics on September 29th, 2008

I’m officially not giving any more money to political candidates until they all stop sending me fund-raising requests in the mail. Seriously, how many fucking trees do you need to kill before you realize, I ONLY GIVE MONEY ONLINE. Sending me an envelope will just increase the amount the nice san man has to haul away in recycling. This is the 21st century. Maybe a good rule would be–if people donate online, send them emails. If they send you checks in the mail, send them snail mail asking for more money. But none of you seem to get it. Darcy Burner is the only one of you who actually sends me e-mail, but she sends me snail mail too. Total Fail. So no more money for you guys until you figure it out. Sorry.

Small stories and politics

Posted in Life, Politics on March 17th, 2007

There is another component, besides informational complexity, that explains why small stories are used: increased informational availability. There is more information available today than there has been in the entire course of human history and we are generating it at an ever increasing rate. There are more scientific studies, books, lectures, papers, experiments, philosophical tracts, esoteric websites in existence now than any one person could ever digest. There are probably more words written in a single week than a person could read in a lifetime. Which means that it becomes increasingly hard for anyone to know something about everything. There was a time when someone could be a “Renaissance Man,” excelling in all the scholarly fields. That is impossible now. It is becoming increasingly hard to even excel in a single field: people are not physicist anymore, but astrophysicists and theoretical physicists.

This has greatly increased the need for “small stories” in every facet of our lives. There is simply not enough time or brain-cycle capacity to absorb everything or even a tiny subset of everything. There is a lot of talk about the decreasing attention span of today’s youth and our need to have constantly changing stimulation Is that a reflection of some sort of deficiency in us as people or just a result of trying to keep up with the massive amounts of information that exist these days. Cable news stations are criticized for reducing everything to sound bites. But, really, what are their options? If you take the time to provide the full context for every story, including all pertinent prior events, you’d never get through the “news” in an entire day. There are more things that happen every day than could possibly be talked about.

That is not saying that cable news is a good thing. It is saying that it is an inevitable thing. As more things happen (and our society is currently increasing the number of things that happen every day) you have less time to talk about each of them. Less time to talk means you have to lose complexity, turn a real story into a “simple story.” It is this process, of condensing information into its most basic component, which is where problems start.

Smart people understand the process. They know that no one has the time to know the real story. So if you craft your press releases and your interviews in ways that are easily compressible, your message will be transmitted better. It is a process that Republicans have come to understand much better than Democrats. The reason that John Kerry was Swift-Boated is that he tried to turn it into a discussion, even though discussions do not get reported on. People do not have the time to know everything. They have to worry about their job, their kids, their sports teams, their investments, their TV shows, their music, their car, their mortgage, their health, their dinner, their marriage, their college education. Where in that is supposed to be the time to study all sides of the issues and reach an informed conclusion?

It is often argued that being informed about is important, where can be health, or retirement, or politics, or rasing children. But there is more conflicting information about all of those than anyone could read in a lifetime. How do you choose what to read? How do you educate yourself as to how to properly educate yourself about things that are too complicated for you to have the time to educate yourself about them? When a person is faced with deciding between two messages, one that says that John Kerry is lying about being a war hero and one that meanders about trying to explain why he doesn’t want to talk about, which do you think is going to win? It doesn’t matter which is right.

That is reality. This will never change. We will never have more time and less information. The history of human civilization tends towards complexity in all things. It may suck, it may be unfortunate, it may lead people to wring their hands and gripe about the old days. Doesn’t matter. It isn’t going to change. What is now important is learning how to craft small stories that tell the story you want to tell. Small stories that cut to the heart of your issue in the way that you want. Because no one has time to read all the small print all of the time.

Peak Oil

Posted in Finance, Politics on March 5th, 2007

I plowed thought Twilight in the Desert a while ago and it gave me a lot to think about. The book, by Matthew Simmons, talks about the eventual inevitable decline in Saudi Arabian oil and what it is going to do to the world economy. Today, Stuart Staniford over at the Oil Drum has up a post in which he crunches the numbers and comes up with a year on production decline of 8% for Saudi Oil in 2006. 8% is a big number when it comes to oil production, especially in a year where Saudi Arabia talked positively about bringing new wells online and boasted that had a maximum production capability of 10.7 million barrels a day.

As Simmons discusses in his book, Saudi Arabia has been drilling like mad for the last decade attempting to find another massive oil field to prop up their older fields. These older fields were (and still are, at least for right now) the most productive fields in the short history of the fossil fuel industry and Saudi predictions have them running strong for the foreseeable future. The only problem?

There is a small, but growing group of watchers who think the Saudi’s are full of it. Simmons, in his book, lays out very reasonable evidence as to how the Saudis are juggling numbers or just making up numbers to assuage the world’s fears about peak oil. The Saudi claims about mbd or about the total amount of recoverable reserves seem to have no correlation with the actual production levels that the Saudis are operating at or with their announcements of new discoveries. I wish I wasn’t traveling and had my copy of his book on me, because there is a great section where he discusses how those numbers have magically risen at times with no substantive proof.

Why would the Saudi’s lie? Because their sole political power comes from being the spigot for the world’s oil. Do you think that America really cares about Saudi Arabia? When all is said and done, they’re the country that has given the most support and aid to Al Quadi and the country which is probably doing more to aid the Sunni side of the Iraqi civil war than any other. But as long as they have oil, they are an inviolate American ally.

This is a small story right now. It will get bigger. The idea of peak oil has been kicking around for the last thirty years or more, but its starting to look like it might be showing up. Head on over to the Oil Drum. Look at the graphs, read the evidence. It is starting to look pretty convincing to me.

For those people predicting a recovery in the housing market, think about what a shock in oil prices is going to do to the construction industry and the American economy as a whole. It is not a pretty picture.