McCain 08 Gingrich

It’s a long weekend where I’m from, if not (by any means) where I am. Why work? So – openly defying the suggestion that I’ve no right to criticise my hosts, here are two thoughts that have really taken hold in the last several days:

  1. Gingrich is the best running mate McCain can have. Possibly the only one.
  2. McCain-Gingrich will win.

Gingrich has the same moronic ‘tough’ caricature that McCain has managed to build (how? No idea – but have you read a newspaper or watched CNN lately?). He’ll also remind the brainless of the glory days of the Gingrich revolution – back when things worked because the New (read: crazy, racist, classist, elitist, paranoid, nasty, corrupt and utterly utterly useless1) Republicans just hadn’t had the time to pour raw sewage into the functioning systems of nearly every aspect of life. And, by now, all the stuff about cheating on and leaving his sick wife won’t matter.

It’s also reminded me that reading Warren Ellis during election time may not work so well.

page13

page14

page15

The weird thing is, a lot of Transmetropolitan’s “Beast” reminds me of Clinton – as does a lot of the “Smiler”. Should I just not worry until I hear kids near alley-ways greeting me with “Business, mister?”? I don’t know.

1In no particular order: Gingrich himself; Mark Foley; Denny Hastert; Tom DeLay; Bill Frist; David Hager; Michael Brown; Poindexter; Wolfowitz; Bolton; Rove; Ashcroft, John Yoo. Those terrorist memos. I’m too depressed thinking about the whole travesty to even continue the list. For God’s sake, at least Nixon went to China and started the EPA. These psychos started out nasty and corrupt and incompetent.

Remember – who you vote for is mostly important because of who you elect (i.e. who is given a job by the person for whom you vote. You only get to vote for a candidate, but you elect an administration – Americans have yet to learn that very important lesson, I think).

And I have to teach Monetary Policy, this semester…

Two observations from the blog of (the liberal, the shameless, the Clintonite…and stuff) Paul Krugman:

Treasury rates have plunged close to zero, even though Fed funds is still 2.25%. Since open-market operations take place in Treasuries, I take this to mean that the Fed may not actually be able to reduce short-term rates much from current levels — which means, in turn, that conventional monetary policy has been taken off the table.

fed rates pic

… right now Treasury interest rates are much, much lower than the Fed funds rate — around half a percent on both 1-month and 3-month bills. Weirdness like negative rates on repos aside (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one), basically the Fed can only drive Treasury rates down by about another half-point — which would still seem to leave Fed funds well above 1%.

How is it possible for the Fed funds rate to be higher than the Treasury rates? Well, one interpretation is that banks don’t trust each other — not even for overnight loans. Fed fund loans, after all, are unsecured.

In other words, the Fed funds rate may be more like LIBOR than the Treasury rate — and it may be being held up by a premium similar to the TED spread.

Am I being really stupid here? Or is it possible that the fear factor will soon make it impossible for the Fed even to achieve its target on the interest rate it supposedly controls?

I have been moaning about this for a while, now (in meat-space). Last semester’s Macro was a hoot – all manner of interesting things were going on. The semester before that was fun, because I was telling students all about how bad things would get.

This semester? It’s like teaching physics after a black hole shows up in the Kuiper belt and the laws of physics have just plain stopped working.

Between the Fed coming up with new and wonderful ways to give money away, and the traditional policy actions just not doing anything, what is there to teach? That there’s a difference between giving money to commercial banks while the waste-laying bad paper is mostly in investment banks? That Monetary Policy goes off the table when all official rates are pushing negative (because who really cares about the exchange of near-zero-return instruments for other near-zero-return instruments. Or even cash?)?

I think I might just shelve those chapters entirely, and teach the Austrian school this semester. Makes as much sense as anything else and a few Austrians in the Fed over the last couple of years or more certainly would have done wonders.

Cafe Hayek, meet the Treasury Department

The US Treasury Department on Thursday said it agreed with Abu Dhabi and Singapore on a set of principles for sovereign wealth funds that specifies politics should not influence their decisions.

The foreign-controlled funds, many based in the Middle East, have aroused U.S. lawmakers’ concern because they have poured billions of dollars into large stakes in Wall Street firms and other businesses and fanned fears the U.S. was losing control of its destiny.

The Treasury has been pressing since last autumn for the IMF to develop the ”best practices” guide. The funds have become increasingly active in buying U.S. assets with growing foreign exchange reserves from oil and international trade.

And that would be Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek – who would most likely remind us of the practicalities of trade: running up monster deficits, needing and attracting capital, one gets the idea.

Mostly I’m just unsympathetic to such boorishness by a system that desperately needs the food, even while it bites the hand providing it. I sure do like to see tribalism weed its way into both international relations and international finance, though.

The IMF has a sense of humour like you won’t believe…

I mean, I’m assuming this was intended as a lesson to the rest of us about how dry wit can actually be. Right?

Commodity prices part speculative

The strength of commodities prices, such as crude oil, this year is explained in a large part by speculative factors such as investors piling into the new asset class and the weakness of the US dollar, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.

The IMF said that the constellation of dollar depreciation and falling short-term real interest rates “has pushed up commodity prices through a number of channels, including by enhancing the attractiveness of commodities as an alternative asset.”

“Overall, these financial factors seem to explain a large part of the increase in crude oil prices so far in 2008, as well as the rising prices of other commodities,” it said.

Laugh? I nearly died. Next they’ll be telling us that the problem with fund management is that managers aren’t actually investors – they just get paid to buy and sell things. Maybe their directors will just give a succession of progressively more curmudgeonly interviews in which they reminisce about their day, when markets trading according to fundamentals. Then maybe they’ll apologise to Argentina.

This is the feeling we learn to live with in North America

I guess it’s just the day for it.

(put NOFX and Fooly Cooly together – I’m happy).

The New England Journal of Medicine (I’ve really taken to the idea of Wednesday being NEJM Day) has three terrific editorials starting it off, this week – all related to (hand)guns. It’s hard, for example, not to be mightily impressed by the likes of how “Handgun Violence, Public Health, and the Law” kicks off:

Firearms were used to kill 30,143 people in the United States in 2005, the most recent year with complete data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 17,002 of these were suicides, 12,352 homicides, and 789 accidental firearm deaths. Nearly half of these deaths occurred in people under the age of 35. When we consider that there were also nearly 70,000 nonfatal injuries from firearms, we are left with the staggering fact that 100,000 men, women, and children were killed or wounded by firearms in the span of just one year. This translates into one death from firearms every 17 minutes and one death or nonfatal injury every 5 minutes.

By any standard, this constitutes a serious public health issue that demands a response not only from law enforcement and the courts, but also from the medical community.

A very interesting perspective – that handguns and handgun violence represent not only a public health issue, but such a one that we are obliged to respond from within our profession. Remember the excellent book/site Understanding the USA?

understanding usa

The two editorials proper are “Guns, Fear, the Constitution, and the Public’s Health” and “http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/NEJMp0801601?query=TOC” – the former the more relevant (which is not to suggest the latter is not interesting in its own right, focussing specifically upon the issue at hand: District of Columbia v. Heller, a case challenging handgun-control statutes adopted in 1976 in Washington, D.C., and currently being heard by the Supreme Court):

Gun violence is often an unintended consequence of gun ownership. Americans have purchased millions of guns, predominantly handguns, believing that having a gun at home makes them safer. In fact, handgun purchasers substantially increase their risk of a violent death. This increase begins the moment the gun is acquired — suicide is the leading cause of death among handgun owners in the first year after purchase — and lasts for years.

The risks associated with household exposure to guns apply not only to the people who buy them; epidemiologically, there can be said to be “passive” gun owners who are analogous to passive smokers. Living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%. Young people who commit suicide with a gun usually use a weapon kept at home, and among women in shelters for victims of domestic violence, two thirds of those who come from homes with guns have had those guns used against them.

Handguns, like cars, like fatty food, like a great, great many things, simply kill way too many Americans. If only it were acceptable to use “9/11” as a unit of comparison – handgun-related-fatalities being around 10 of them every year. What’s insane is that the same lunatics (say, the GOP) who defend such a thing go around insisting that abortion is the reason the US economy is in trouble – because all of those potential American Workers were killed in the womb. Go figure.

Huckabee called abortion a holocaust because he says “we have aborted more than a million people” in the last 35 years. I’m willing to bet guns have killed more than that. Worse, they’ve probably killed plenty of women who could have given birth! (my cheap shot).

Personally – and I realise full-well that I’m a foreigner with no claim to any sort of up-bringing within the 2nd Amendment – the idea that the 2nd Amendment protects individual rights to bear arms is a little crazy. For a start there’s a “the” before “people”, clear as day. It’s written down, for Cliff’s sake – it isn’t like it’s Neal Armstrong, or anything.

Back to regarding the title of this post (and the song of the link of the youtube clip at the top):

It’s like seeing a car crash from inside the car
The driver’s got his head craned back he’s telling you a joke
You see the bus on collision course
You point your arm and turn your head and wait for the impact
This is the feeling we learn to live with in North America
The morning headlines always accompanied with sweat and nausea
Every week another puzzle piece gets permanently glued into place

We see the iceberg from 15 miles away
The captain orders the ship to “stay the course”
“Full speed ahead” shouts the accursed
The next thing we heard was, “Rich women and children first”
The ship is listing, the captain’s placing blame on the iceberg
“That berg attacked us, I am declaring war on the Arctic”
Who could ever have predicted the greatest ship could so easily sink (duh)

Lifeboats are useless without rescue
The only ships show up for salvage
When setting sail on the St. Louis
We all knew what consequences could be
With the crew we had at the controls

On the doing of body counts

The quote for the day –

Lieutenant General Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan during his time as head of US Central Command, once announced, “We don’t do body counts.”

He, of course, had nothing on a certain former first lady:

NOFX

But back to the story.

… five years after Bush and Tony Blair launched the invasion of Iraq against the wishes of a majority of UN members, no one knows how many Iraqis have died. We do know that more than two million have fled abroad. Another 1.5 million have sought safety elsewhere in Iraq. We know that the combined horror of car bombs, suicide attacks, sectarian killing and disproportionate US counter-insurgency tactics and air strikes have produced the worst humanitarian catastrophe in today’s world. But the exact death toll remains a mystery.

There is no shortage of estimates, but they vary enormously. The Iraqi ministry of health initially tried to keep a count based on morgue records but then stopped releasing figures under pressure from the US-supported government in the Green Zone. The director of the Baghdad morgue, already under stress because of the mounting horror of his work, was threatened with death on the grounds that by publishing statistics he was causing embarrassment. The families of the bereaved wanted him to tell the truth, but like other professionals he came to the view that he had to flee Iraq.

An independent UK-based research group, calling itself the Iraq Body Count (IBC), collates all fatality reports in the media where there are two or more sources as well as figures from hospitals and other official sources. At least four household surveys have been done asking Iraqis to list the family members they have lost. The results have then been extrapolated to Iraq’s total population to give a nationwide estimate.

The results range from just under 100,000 dead to well over a million. Inevitably, the issue has become a political football, with the Bush administration, the British government and other supporters of the US-led occupation seizing on the lowest estimates and opponents on the highest.

It is a long and fantastic article about the trouble involved in trying to get estimates of dead civilians when the corporation making them won’t co-operate. For those of you who’ve not been to the site of the Iraq Body Count, you really should:

247 dead: Last week’s death toll (as counted by Iraq Body Count)

Monday March 10 – 34 dead
Including Dr Khalid Nasir, the only neurosurgeon in Basra; sheikh Thair Ibrahim and his five-year-old niece, killed by a female suicide bomber; 10 people killed by a suicide bomber; and a mother and son killed by gunmen.

Tuesday March 11 – 90 dead
Including a couple kidnapped the week before; 16 members of a family returning from a funeral, killed by a roadside bomb; three killed in a US air strike; and 20 people whose bodies were found in a mass grave.

Wednesday March 12 – 24 dead
Including a 10-year-old girl killed by US forces; five shot and beheaded at a checkpoint; and three truck drivers killed in a roadside bomb.

Thursday March 13 – 39 dead
Including a journalist killed by gunmen; 18 people killed by a car bomb in Baghdad; a 15-year-old girl shot dead by police; and Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

Friday March 14 – 15 dead
Including ex-footballer Munther Khalaf, killed outside his home by a group of armed men; a street sweeper killed by a roadside bomb; an Iraqi interpreter, killed by a suicide bomber; and the son of the chief of al-Kharaj tribes, killed during a raid by joint forces.

Saturday March 15 – 19 dead
Including Hussein Awda, killed by gunmen; three brothers; and an Iraqi contractor, Athir Ibrahim.

Sunday March 16 – 26 dead
Including two policemen killed in an armed assault and 16 others whose bodies were found, including that of an 11-year-old boy.

icasualties.org is another site worth visiting. Amongst other things, it might just remind you of how many non-civilians have died, also (since surveys here in the US show fewer people than ever know these numbers – rather relevant ones, one would think – 3988 confirmed by the DOD, by the by):

people press

Green tech: USD20tr of fictitious wealth

According to Eric Janszen:

Eric Janszen is an angel investor and founder of the contrarian market website iTulip.com, which The New York Times credited with “accurately predicting that the [internet] bubble would pop.” Now Janszen believes the American economy needs a fundamental restructuring away from its foundations in finance, insurance and real estate. His prescription: a new bubble based on green technologies.

In a widely discussed Harper’s article in February, “The Next Bubble: Priming the Markets for Tomorrow’s Crash,” Janszen argued that clean tech is the only sector that could create enough “fictitious value” to replace the losses from the housing bubble, if only temporarily.

Much more interesting than the (so far, for me) dull world of current financial meltdown (meltdowns? Melts-down? I don’t know). Janszen made an interesting argument in his Harper’s essay:

Nowadays we barely pause between such bouts of insanity. The dot-com crash of the early 2000s should have been followed by decades of soul-searching; instead, even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold on the foundation of our long-standing American faith that the wide expansion of home ownership can produce social harmony and national economic well-being. Spurred by the actions of the Federal Reserve, financed by exotic credit derivatives and debt securitiztion, an already massive real estate sales-and-marketing program expanded to include the desperate issuance of mortgages to the poor and feckless, compounding their troubles and ours.

That the Internet and housing hyperinflations transpired within a period of ten years, each creating trillions of dollars in fake wealth, is, I believe, only the beginning. There will and must be many more such booms, for without them the economy of the United States can no longer function. The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle.

“The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle.” I shall have to remember that one, come macro (a few lectures hence). Back in his Wired interview, he had something even more creative:

Wired: What do you see as the nascent financing and credit vehicles that could come up with the trillions of dollars needed to finance clean tech without creating a bubble?

Janszen: One way to do it is to put a floating tariff on the price of oil and gradually raise the price up to $200 or $300 a barrel. As long as you do it gradually, the economy can respond to it. That’s the beauty of our system. It has responded very calmly to an increase from $20 to $100. The economy hasn’t collapsed. It’s definitely slowing, but it’s not wrecking it. You could create a process that gradually forced a lot of relatively painless transition without wrecking the economy.

That’d certainly make things a lot more interesting…

Shop and pay off your student loans

Today’s gift of humour from the missus.

shopping

Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas

Time off is almost up. My exams were marked (but the marks were shit). Among other of my pursuits this weekend has been the fourth book by Chuck Klosterman:

amazon

Plenty of it to be read at Google Books. Along with other of his work (I’m working backwards).

Meanwhile, here’s my own contribution:

chuck klosterman excerpt

Cat and girl

Irrefutable!

cat and girl

Also, exam day.