Posted by: Bill | February 16, 2010

More rhetoric?

If this quote from Rep. Paul Ryan is just some political Kool-Aid, then I am considering taking a long drink. Maybe that is because my cynicism has some cracks in it. Or perhaps it is because this type of thing is so rare that I am stretching the bounds of my normal credulity looking for some, dare I say, hope. Here is the money quote:

This is my 12th year. If I lose my job over this, then so be it. In that case, I can be doing more productive things. If you’re given the opportunity to serve, you better serve like it’s your last term every term. It’s just the way I look at it. I sleep well at night.

Read some of the comments for some good context/opinions on Ryan and his proposals.

Posted by: Bill | February 16, 2010

Does Obama not care if he only serves one term?

If this is true, I would grant the President a great deal of respect. Peggy Noonan kind of makes the argument in a recent WSJ editorial. This is gated so I will quote a few paragraphs:

There is, I think, an amazing political fact right now that is hiding in plain sight and is rich with implications. It was there in President Obama’s Jan. 25, pre-State of the Union interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, who was pressing him about his political predicaments. “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” he said. “And I—and I believe that.”

Now this is the sort of thing presidents say, and often believe they believe, but at the end of the day they all want two terms. Except that Mr. Obama shows every sign of meaning it, and if he does, it explains a lot about his recent decisions and actions.

A week after the Sawyer interview, the president had a stunning and revealing exchange with Sen. Blanche Lincoln, the Arkansas Democrat likely to lose her 2010 re-election campaign. He was meeting with Senate Democrats to urge them to continue with his legislative agenda. Mrs. Lincoln took the opportunity to beseech him to change it. She urged him to distance his administration from “people who want extremes,” and to find “common ground” with Republicans in producing legislation that would give those in business the “certainty” they need to create jobs.

While answering, Mr. Obama raised his voice slightly and quickened his cadence. “If the price of certainty is essentially for us to adopt the exact same proposals that were in place leading up to the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression . . . the result is going to be the same. I don’t know why we would expect a different outcome pursuing the exact same policy that got us in this fix in the first place.” He continued: “If our response ends up being, you know . . . we don’t want to stir things up here,” then “I don’t know why people would say, ‘Boy, we really want to make sure those Democrats are in Washington fighting for us.'”

I don’t agree with everything Obama has done, but it’s difficult not to respect something like this. Sadly, I am….what’s the word I’m looking for here…a bit cynical. This could be nothing more than rhetoric, but I will watch a little closer to what he says along these lines.

The idea of term limits in all of Congress is attractive at many levels, but there are definitely drawbacks in a system as complex as the United States. It’s still nice to think about though. When the Republicans staged their “revolution” in 1994, they campaigned on arriving in Washington and leaving within 12 years. Some of them even held to this pledge. This sounds to me like a reasonable number of terms (2 for senators and 6 for representatives). You should be able to do a lot during 12 yeara, go home for awhile and then, if your people still want you, come back and run again.

Posted by: Bill | February 4, 2010

US Constitution 101

This is entertaining. After Arne Duncan released this message, the education blogosphere had a good time pointing out that, if what Duncan said was, true, the Constitution of the United States had undergone a radical change wherein the Executive branch now controls the purse strings. There may be a good explanation for this, but I have not yet heard it. I’m not drawing any deep meaning from it other than the press people over at Ed should pay a little more attention.

Posted by: Bill | February 1, 2010

From the Department of Nobody Should Be Surprised

Things aren’t going well in Hugo Chavez’ socialist haven of Venezuela. I have pasted the entire article below since the WSJ has been nice enough to keep things brief.

To the short and brutal list of life’s certainties, let us add that socialism invariably leads nations to economic ruin. Latest case in point: Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian” Republic of Venezuela.

Earlier this month, the Venezuelan strongman moved the official U.S. dollar exchange rate to 4.3 bolivars to the greenback from 2.15. At a stroke, he wiped out the savings and purchasing power of the very working-class people he purports to represent, most of whom have barely been getting by. News of the devaluation instantly sent the country—where consumer prices had already risen by 25% in 2009, according to official figures—into a panic, with consumers standing in line to stock up on goods before prices rose.

Mr. Chávez next decreed that he would fine and even arrest any merchant caught adjusting prices, eliding the fact that Venezuela imports nearly everything and exports only oil. Now Venezuelans have the Hobson’s choice of either complying with the diktat, which means shortages, or disobeying it, which means inflation.

Yet no sooner was one catastrophe of “21st-century socialism” inflicted on Venezuelans than Mr. Chávez unveiled another. On January 12, the government instituted a series of rolling blackouts due to an electricity shortage that had been building for months. Ostensibly, the reason for the shortage was a drought that had left water levels at the country’s huge Guri Dam—the source of more than 70% of its electricity—at critically low levels. But that is a function of the government’s failure to maintain the dam and build additional capacity.

The instant result of the blackouts was chaos, particularly in Caracas, where people were left “stuck in elevators or in dangerous parts of town without street lighting,” according to Reuters. The capital city already has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world, and Mr. Chávez was forced to suspend blackouts there two days later. The rest of the country, however, remains subject to sporadic power outages.

Behind the crack-up of Mr. Chávez’s utopia is the fact that he’s running out of money because Venezuela’s oil production is plunging. In 1998, the year Mr. Chávez was first elected, the country pumped 3.3 million barrels a day. Today, the figure is 2.4 million barrels, and that’s an optimistic estimate.

Venezuela isn’t running out of crude. The problem is that Mr. Chávez has expelled or seized the assets of foreign companies capable of properly maintaining the country’s fields, including ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. It didn’t help, either, that in 2002 Mr. Chávez fired thousands of skilled employees of state oil company PdVSA because he didn’t like their politics and replaced them with his political cronies.

On Monday, Mr. Chávez made a grudging concession to reality when he agreed to a joint venture with Italian oil major ENI, which itself had been run out of Venezuela in 2006. We’ll leave it to the Italians to place their own bets about the limits of Mr. Chávez’s caprice. They’ve already had fair warning that Bolivarians, like other predators, rarely change their spots.

Posted by: Bill | January 27, 2010

A few more AGW shenanigans links

No time to go into too much detail on these right now. I don’t have much commentary yet as some of these studies/reports/commentaries come from folks with very strong feelings. That being said, this really feels like all 3 global temperature datasets are garbage.

Scientist admits IPCC used fake data to pressure policymakers

The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.

Climategate – CRU was tip of the iceberg – This commentary talks about major issues with the other two global temperature datasets. Specifically, there might be strong evidence of sampling bias of staggering proportions as well as funny adjustments (like with CRU).

GISTemp – A software developer has been spending many hours going through the code behind GISTemp which is widely regarded as the best global temperature dataset. Much like what was seen in the CRU code, there are some funny things going on. I have not spent much time unpacking this site just yet, but thought the link was a good one.

We know that Copenhagen was a failure. We can also be confident that the ludicrous cap and trade bill will not pass anytime soon. Much like last week with the election results in MA, I am heartened by this latest series of events. I was (and still am) ready to open the checkbook and pay whatever the government says I need to (be it a hidden tax with cap and trade or a carbon tax) because…well….the alternative is a date with the IRS.

However, it looks more and more like there will be enough light shining on the “evidence” of anthropogenic warming that the world will have a much clearer picture (perhaps in the next 2 years?) of what might actually be happening. That being said, I still maintain (without knowing much about the science) that the climate is so much bigger and more complicated than any software in existence has the ability to model. We like to pretend we can control and manipulate this awesome force, but I strongly believe our effect is minimal.

Posted by: Bill | January 27, 2010

Who needs business school…

…when these guys will help you dig deep into competing business cycle theories.

Posted by: Bill | January 25, 2010

NY Times Adding a Gate

It sounds like the NYT has finally decided how it will charge for content. It looks like it will be a metered access of some type where you get X number of articles free per month and pay after that. I don’t know what this means for me personally. I suspect I will enjoy my free content and do my best never to give an extra penny to a newspaper that I generally dislike.

Ezra Klein (who blogs for WaPo) has an interesting thought on what this might mean for bloggers like himself (i.e. ones who gets lots of traffic).

But what to do about blogs? Already, much of what blogs do is summarize, quote or otherwise relay information that’s tucked inside a long newspaper story that busy readers don’t have time to find or read. This will increase that market: A blogger with a few subscriptions can distill the information from the newspapers that readers don’t have subscriptions to. Bloggers move from providing more efficient information to offering access to information. A black market for news, in a sense.

He goes on to say that it’s unclear what this might mean for newspaper revenue. In one sense, it could help it go up or the bloggers could be stealing paying subscribers which might lead to ugly, but ultimately important, lawsuits.

Posted by: Bill | January 20, 2010

Some notes on Haiti

As we all know, Haiti has had a tough run of things. This country hasn’t really caught a break since it gained independence. There are even theories that perhaps they gained independence a bit too early when compared to some other French colonies in the area (e.g., St. Lucia). Left on their own, things didn’t go well…etc etc.

My thoughts on foreign aid should be clear from this blog. I favor policies that foster economic growth over direct aid. However, a disaster like this is an obvious exception. The Marginal Revolution blog has put up one excellent post after another since the earthquake hit. I suggest you scroll through and a read a few of them such as this one with advice on the best ways to provide aid.

As many have pointed out, there really is no such thing as the country of Haiti anymore. The fragile (and corrupt) pseudo-democratic institutions that existed are gone (literally). Tyler Cowen has a very interesting perspective on what this means for the Obama administration. Reconstruction is going to take years and it’s likely the US will take the lead at a time when the administration lacks both the dollars and the political capital to sustain such an effort. He even goes so far as to say that Obama stands a higher chance of being a one-term president.

Obama will (and should) do something about this situation.  First, I believe he sincerely wants to help but also he cannot ignore his African-American constituency, especially after former President Clinton devoted so much attention to Haiti and especially if health care reform doesn’t go through as planned.  Yet he will have a festering situation on his hands for the rest of his term.  If “looting” (a bad word in this context) increases or continues, how quickly will the American people lose sympathy with the Haitians?  How can the “reconstruction” possibly go well?  Ugly gang rule isn’t even the worst case scenario.

Obama now stands a higher chance of being a one-term President.  Foreign aid programs are especially unpopular, especially relative to their small fiscal cost.  Have you noticed how Rush Limbaugh and others are already making their rhetoric uglier than usual?  It will be a test of the American populace; at what point will people start whispering that he is “favoring the other blacks”?

Just as it’s not easy to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan, it won’t be easy to pull out of Haiti.

Posted by: Bill | January 19, 2010

What I learned on the Internet

I am not going to offer much of an introduction to this post from Megan McCardle. This often happens with some of my favorite bloggers when they capture how I feel perfectly. The specter of health care legislation failing because of the special election in MA is what spawned this post. However, as Megan notes, it can be applied to pretty much any situation in life. My own flashback to the day after Bush defeated Kerry in 2004 was one of my favorite liberals entering my office and stating “America gets what it deserves for reelecting him”. I smiled and thought that sounds about right for a democracy.

The title of this post may seem unrelated. However, what I learned on the Internet was essentially that I know very little about pretty much everything. The vast amount of information (facts and opinions) available on pretty much any topic humbled me. I think I have a decent number of brain cells and am not afraid to form opinions on almost any topic. However, these opinions are usually qualified in some way because I know there is so much that I don’t know. It’s annoying to have to write and speak this way and you may even believe I have no spine, but I can’t avoid it because I really am not an expert on anything. The only exception might be my own life, but my perspectives there are no doubt biased.

The humbling nature of what the Internet has enabled for most of us–access to unimaginable amounts of information at low cost–is also what makes it fantastic though.

Posted by: Bill | January 8, 2010

A word on the 2009 Steelers

I’m not going to say a whole lot here. Anyone who watches the NFL witnessed the debacle. I will give you this post from my favorite Steelers blog, Behind the Steel Curtain. It’s a thumbnail of the season and I think this paragraph matches my feelings exactly.

It was almost as if someone made a deal with the football gods in 2008 to find ways to pull out ballgames, including the Super Bowl, and in return had to give them all back in 2009.  The bad news is that you never want your team to make the precipitous drop of being Super Bowl Champions one year to not making the playoffs the next.  The good news is the operative words “Super Bowl Champions” in any form or fashion.

This is the right tone I think. You will not hear me complain because I root for a team that just won it all for the 2nd time in 4 years. It was painful, but we saw some good things this year along with the bad. We witnessed the rise of Rashard and Mike Wallace, the enigma that is Limas Sweed, the pain of watching every team throw at William Gay and we got a feel for how important Troy really is to the defense. I’m looking forward to next season and I have no idea how the rest of this season will pan out. It’s a mess and should be fun to watch while entertaining two little girls.

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