Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another round?

Sorry things have been so quiet here lately - there's been some good conversation in the "Comments" booths, if you check in there. Big shipment of salt-and-vinegar chips and bar towels to unload out back; we'll be setting 'em up again in a bit, though.

While you're waiting,there's a couple of things you might mull over:

1. The U.S. House passes the first ever bill not only accepting that us bipedal types may be messing with the weather but proposing a course of action. Too much? Too little? Just right?

2. The "wars" in southwest Asia grind on, even in Iraq where there seems to be no poltical solution. Is there a point where a U.S. politician can openly say "We're done."? Is there any evidence that the 27-percenters will EVER say it? And, while we're at i, is there an hope for a reasonable set of objectives in the 'Stan?

3. Honduras reminds us of the very real, very deep problems of Central America. While we're fiddling in southwest Asia, Mexico is burning. Yet little is being said openly about it in the corridors of power. What can and should we do about this?

4. The global economy is doing a pretty good impression of 1929 so far this year. Every time I pick up a paper the business section is full of little items touting an uptick in durable goods or downturn in unemployment applications as the End of The Great Recession. I'm not seeing it here. What are you seeing from where you sit?

5. Madoff will be in jail 100 years after he's dead, yet there appears to be no organized effort to really police the malefactors of great wealth. Olympia Snowe (D-WA) seems determined to save the profits of private insurers if it means impoverishing every damn American making under $40K/year. What does this say - if anything - about our political and economic masters?

6. Indefinite detention? Exeutive order? REALLY?

Oops - that sounded expensive. Here's your drink; sip, consider, and I'll be back in a bit.


  1. It's that time of year when more people than one would imagine feel the need to make sure that our life on a Greek Island is not boring. Thus, input from here will be a bit lean until about mid-July.

    However, on the Iraq scene, I noted this AM that there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in developing their oil fields, at least under the Iraqi's terms. Kinda ironic that we suspected that one motive for that idiotic war was to gain access to Iraqi oil, and when all is said and done, the terms of the government we created are unattractive.


  2. Iraq, [fill-in-here]stan, economy...oy, quite a potent cocktail you've mixed there Chief.

    For me, economy right now.
    Wife's final day at her job was yesterday, merry-happy-fourth to us, and though we kind of knew she was heading in that direction we went all Jesse Jackson and kept hope alive.

    "Perhaps hope is not warranted at this point in time."

    I've often considered whether Despairdotcom has a seer working for them?
    They seem to know just the right phrase, for the right moment, for the right reason.

    The economy blows, and the more I learn, the more I feel that the only way we're going to recover is if Main street burns Wall Street down ourselves.

    Right now, I'm grumpy, so I'm going to grumble a bit in my drink, and console myself with the fact that my wife and I didn't over spend ourselves.

  3. Thanks for the post, Chief. I was beginning to get a bit dry.

    1. Global Warming - Too early to tell yet. There's lots of scary numbers here but all of them draw from too short a period of data. Reliable weather records don't go back more than 200 years or so for a small section of the world.

    This means we don't have enough data to understand whether the scary data is a weather (temporary) change or a climate (long-term to permanent) change.

    That said, I think we should do something because the costs of doing nothing if this is climate change far outweigh the cost of mitigation if it isn't.

    I haven't looked at this bill yet because I doubt the Senate will pass it.

    2. Short Answer: No
    Just like Vietnam, we're going to have to slap the 27%'ers upside the head on the last transport out because they'll insist that we're an inch (or less) from total victory. FM has a good comment on this in his blog entry entitled "Are our wars making us crazy?"

    3. I don't know what we can do. For that matter, Mexico has fallen off the radar screen, does anybody have a clue as to what is going on down there? Best guess is that things are quieting down because the crazy Americano's have less cash to buy the drugs.

    4. One of the better economists (Schiller, I think, I can't find the reference now) posted a chart comparing several components of the US economy in 1929 and now (not stock market prices but output and home prices and wages, I think). It showed that we are currently in a slightly steeper dive than we were in 1929. We haven't hit the Taft-Hawley period yet or when Rooseveldt tried to balance the budget, those are the two big benchmarks in the Great Depression where things really fell off a cliff.

    On the more positive side, I'm seeing the beginning of glimmers of green shoots, but mostly things are getting worse more slowly than they were a few months ago.

    Assuming Obama doesn't try something stupid like trying to balance the budget and that the Chinese are still willing to loan us money I think we will finally start regaining ground sometime around April next year. Then we get to pay off all the debts we encurred in the current crisis.

    5. Check out Simon Johnson's GREAT article in the Atlantic comparing the current crisis against the standard monetary crisis for emerging markets. If he's right, and I think he is, the politicians will believe it is critical to the success of the country that they make sure that we DON'T introduce meaningful reform.

    Yes, I know that's stupid. Read the article and it will make more sense.

    Hey Al, did you get shaken by the earthquake near Crete?

    Sheera, we're all in this together. My wife is down to half-time but thinks she will keep her job, for now. I've taken two paycuts, lost my 401(k) benefit, and had my health insurance costs raised but still have a full time job.

    We also haven't overspent ourselves but have been reduced to point where the only thing we are grateful for that things aren't worse. Not a lot of fun, overall.

  4. Pluto-

    We slept through the earthquake, but the family down the road felt it.

    And, as to the economic woes of the world, the Dollar seems to be on a downward slide again, which does effect us directly. The Dollar was worth 0.855 Euro when we moved here, fell to 0.625, and is currently at 0.704 and falling. While we don't have jobs to lose, the exchange rate hurts, and our 201k's are as damaged as the rest of you.


  5. I'm frankly very pessimistic about the chances of seeing any serious climate bill passed. I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject lately and I don't see how any sentient human being can ignore the frightening data we're seeing. When I write "sentient," I suppose I've just got to arbitrarily write off anyone in politics with a (R) after their name; unfortunately, this also applies to many with a (D). We're in a period in our and the civilized world's history where we—meaning the entire human race—desperately need statesmen, but instead we've got petty, small-minded politicians.

    I'm also pessimistic about A-Stan and Iraq, the former because it's becoming clear that we're going to be in a quagmire there for years to come, and the latter because I think the whole place will blow up sooner rather than later.

    Pluto, I read Johnson's piece in the Atlantic and I agree with your assessment. How about some more pessimism? The politicians, aided and abetted by the bankers, will do everything they can to jerry-rig and patch the foundational cracks. Disappointed as I already am in the direction of the Obama presidency, this is yet another area where I don't think we're going to see any of his vaunted leadership and brilliant thinking.

    Speaking of Obama, he's not what I hoped he would be. He is, however, what I expected, which is better than McCain. I don't regret my vote for him—I do regret I had no better choice—but I'm already getting into the "nothing to see here, move along" mode when it comes to our president. I understand he's got a tough row to how, but then, he wanted the job. He's turning out to be a "get along, go along" guy and I suspect he's turning off a lot of his younger, more starry-eyed acolytes. This cynical old dude isn't surprised at all. Guess who won't be tuning into any of his speeches.

    I think Obama will end up being able to crow that he got some sort of a medical plan; I also think whatever plan we ultimately see will fall far short of what's really needed. I further predict the Obama plan will result in enriching insurance companies who will still be able to deny claims with impunity. In other words, status quo ante.

    WRT the climate issue, IMO perhaps the most serious issue facing mankind, I think we're going to see lots of high-flown rhetoric from our president, but little concrete movement. Frankly, I'm beginning to think Obama may be kind of a lightweight. Sort of a modern JFK.

    Sheer and Pluto, I'm saddened at your reports regarding the employment front. Don't really know what to say (words fail, IMO), but know that I'm pulling for you. The good news is you haven't overextended. Sheer, I tend to share your feelings about Main Street burning down Wall Street, but I just don't know. We've become so accustomed to letting politicians have their way while saying they're doing things for us that I'm afraid we've lost the ability to do things ourselves. Does anybody even KNOW how to use a pitchfork anymore?

    Man, I am bummed these days.

  6. Chief,
    All the photo coverage of Honduras show the problem IF one is willing to look.
    In all shots EVERY PIECE of military equipment was made in the USA.This is the problem- we arm hoodlums and then expect them to act like liberal democrats. Militarizing 3rd world societies only leads to disaster, for them and us.

  7. Al: Frankly, my feeling when I heard about the bidding was "Good on you, wogs." If the oil majors want their oil, they should pony up the scratch. Too expensive? Go find some more in Oklahoma, slick.

    But, yeah, it does kinda point out that the Bush/Cheneyites fucked-up-as-a-football-bat-ness.

    Sheerah: I hear you. It's ugly out here.

    Pluto: 1. GW - we don't have a dead bang case and probably never will. But to me it seems pretty straightforward. CO2, SO2, soot, yarious hydrocrabons...all these things affect the atmosphere. We don't know by how much, we don't know if they can outweight the natural cycles, but we know they have SOME impact. So the prudent thing would seem to be to a) accept that, and b) start coming up with a way to fix things now, rather than wait until it turns out that they ARE critical. Hard cases, it's said, make bad law, and hard decisions - forced by circumstances rather than planned out - often make bad decisions.

    So even if it isn't a long-term problem (and, like I said, common sense would suggest that when you spend the past 200 years dumping trillions of metric tons of industrial gases and combustion wastes into the air SOMEthing's got to be affected) it seems very rational to start working on it now.

    2. Wars - Sadly, I think you're right.

    3. There's a ton we can do, from domestic security and intelligence through diplomacy all the way to outright aid and guidance. Mexico is fucked up, and fucked up places have ways a generating troubles for their neighbors. A good first step would be to publicly admit that we need to quit pretending that we can stop people from using drugs and start working on a way to manage the users so they stay productive until they die, like smokers and drinkers. Making them criminals does nothing other than hand the criminals the franchise to the drugs and the drug users. Did we learn fucking NOTHING from Prohibition?

    4+5: Yep.

    Publius: I wish I could find an argument against your points. I cannot.

    One thing that the Founders and Framers could not make the Constitution watertight against was magical and wishful thinking on the part of its own partakers, the citizens of the U.S. The liars - Congresscritters, the press, generals, Presidents - are a relativelt small part of the problem. What I see as the HUGE elephant in the room is that the American people have decided that we want the comfortable lies rather than the painful truths. We want to cut taxes and have aircraft carriers. We want a robust economy but see no problem allowing the wealthy rentier and owner class put their own profit ahead of everything. We've fucked ourselves as much as anyone else has fucked us over.

    Jim: Agreed. But my problem is that we've spent more time and money on Iraq, Israel and Honduras than in ensuring that we have a strong economy that grows and builds what we need and provides us with good work and a decent life whilst doing it. I don't think that the fact that we're selling guns to Honduras will loom as large in our future problems as the fact that Hondurans are making the shirts and auto parts and blenders we used to make here.

    A nation that cannot feed and support itself while supporting a solid working and middle class is doomed. We're desperately trying to become the Czarist Russia of the 21st Century, with our moneyed elites partying while in the towns and cities the factories close and the hollow men wait for work that will never return.

  8. Chief,

    Basically we are in agreement on GW. FM has made good arguments that the data for GW has been badly skewed and I hate to make expensive decisions based on data that I know is flawed because I'm very likely to make the wrong decision. Just look at the government's handling of the financial crisis if you need a good example.

    Another example is the theory that was advanced in the 1970's that we were about to undergo an ice age. What ever happened to that theory? I'd hate to spend all that money and effort on GW and discover that they had it right in the 70's.

    But I also know the same thing that you pointed out, treating our atmosphere as a garbage dump is going to have unfortunate ramifications if we do it long enough. And God knows we've done it a LOT for a very long time.

    I think the first effort should be to clean up our act, both in getting better data and dumping less garbage in the sky and see what happens from there.

    On lessons from Prohibition:
    Yes, we learned a valuable lesson that have stuck with us to this day; the government does a lot better taxing behavior than flat-out denying it, which is why cigarettes are still legal in spite of the health hazards.

    However, our ruling classes are inconsistent (and always have been) about sin taxes and in this later hour of US history they aren't about to get any better.

    On government statistics and other lies:
    Here's a big issue that I think needs to discussed. Yes, the American people have always preferred comfortable lies to harsh truths (separate but equal, anybody?). But the US government seems to have slowly come to the conclusion that it is better to lie to itself and to the people than to tell the truth.

    If you look at's list of alternate measures of unemployment, inflation, and growth you'll see that the government has changed the definitions of what they count and how over the last 30 years to soften the blow.

    Unfortunately, the government makes many of its decisions based on the same data that it publishes so it is slowly getting out of whack with reality and we get such things as the current skewed handling of the banking crisis and "magic" thinking from people who should know better.

    Somebody, somehow, needs to convince the politicians that America is not eternal and that decisions that they make now WILL come back to haunt them if they aren't careful.

  9. Pluto: The bottom line on GW is that we DON'T know, and probably won't. In particular, if we reduce gas emissions and the climate doesn't change it'll really be problematic; we'll be, in effect, trying to prove a negative.

    As far as the 70's go, well, we ARE in an "Ice Age" - we're in an interglacial period, as far as we know a relatively short one. We have every reason to assume that undernormal circumstances the glaciers WILL return. The whole 70's glacial panic was based on the improvement of climatological science that began with palynology, 0xygen 16/Oxygen 18 and foram data and ice cores in the 50's and was maturing at the time to the point where climatologists and geologists realized that the Pleistocene glaciations weren't "over". It wasn't rocket science, it was an overreaction to new information. The GOP has seized on that stuff to use as a club to beat GW legislation with. It's deceptive and wrong to use it that way, but since when did that stop the 27 percenters?

    You're right about the skewing of the data. But I'm not so sure that it's coming from above. I think it's a case of the pols being trained to avoid confronting the voters with hard news. They've seen what happens; everyone in D.C. still remembers Jimmy Carter in his cardigan as a horrible example of what you get when you tell the American voter the truth (s)he doesn't want to hear.