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Friday, January 30, 2009

Style Evolves
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
"Nothing's the same anymore."

No, it isn't, so suck it up, Sinclair.

A preview of the very near future.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 297 ) | Category: Blogging

 
QandO
 
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Are You Stimulated Yet?
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
So,President Obama's stimulus bill has now passed the House on a party-line vote (Good!) in which the only people to cross the aisle were 11 Democrats, to vote against it. So, it's on to the Senate where we can probably expect the wonderfulness of bipartisanship to, again, fail to appear.

Pres. Obama wanted strong bipartisan support, they say. If so, then when being counseled about what should be in the bill by Republican House honcho John Boehner, he probably shouldn't have turned a dead-eyed stare at Rep. Boehner, and wised off with, "I won."

That's right. You won. And now, you own the stimulus package.

Good luck with that.

Because, as most clear-thinking people realize, the stimulus bill won't stimulate much. The last time we tried this, in the 1930s, we managed to reduce the nation's unemployment rate to...17%.

Huzzah.

Fortunately for FDR, he had an agent waiting in the wings to rescue the economy from the Great Depression: Nazis. I mean, if you want to reduce unemployment, it's helpful to be able to put 12 million people in uniform.

Obama doesn't have any Nazis handy.

On the bright side, we will now have a fascinating experiment to see if Lord Keynes' original ideas have any merit. And you, my friends, get to be the test subjects.

Looking over the bill, I'm not sanguine about the results. mainly, that's because since Keynes' first came out with "The General Theory" in 1936, we've had 80 years of experience with how it actually works, and the original ideas of Lord Keynes have had to undergo a restructuring in light of that experience, and to account for the Monetarist and Austrian criticisms to which it was subjected.

Out of that experience rose the Neo-Keynesian School, which I basically subscribe to, in that I beleive that:

1) Macroeconomics arises from microeconomic foundations.
2) Information is, in many cases, asymmetrical, which rules out perfect competition.
3) Monetary policy should aim at macroeconomic stabilization, and not to produce short-term economic gains (at the price of increased inflationary expectations).

I suppose I should also note that I am a Neo-Keynesian only because we have a fiat currency. If we didn't...well, that would be another story.

In any event, Keynesianism was, I thought, killed in the 1970s by stagflation, just as the original ideas of Monetarism were killed in the 1980s and 1990s by the decoupling of inflation and the money supply.

We will now have a fascinating experiment to see if Lord Keynes' original ideas have any merit. And you, my friends, get to be the test subjects.Neo-Keynesianism is basically an attempt to sythesize what we know works from the original ideas of Keynes, Classical economics, and the Monetarist ideas of Milton Friedman.

What we are trying to do now, though, is a return to the original Keynesianism, that I thought pretty much everyone had agreed was basically unworkable in the real world. Even Paul Krugman seems now to have rejected his own academic work, which was broadly Neo-Keynesian, and abandoned his academic arguments that government intervention, even in cases of market failure, was more harmful than helpful.

As far as the stimulus bill goes, it appears "we are all Keynesians now".

We should know better.

Increasingly, it looks as if the Austrians were mainly right in their criticisms of a fiat currency—the regular economic shocks and deflations of the 19th century under the gold standard notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, going back on the gold standard may not be all that practical at this point.

Although it can be done, it might be a painful process. In 1926, when Winston Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the British government returned to the gold standard, after abandoning in the emergency of World War I. It resulted in massive deflation, and lots of unpleasant economic hardship.

I suspect the main problem with that move was that they tied the pound to the pre-war standard of £4.83 per ounce, rather than taking into account the inflationary effects of the war-era spending, but it still gives one pause.

And, there is one other thing that gives one pause, as well, which is the economic record of boom and bust cycles during the 19th century, when we were on the gold standard.

Once you return to the gold standard, the money supply becomes relatively inflexible. The amount of money you have depends upon the amount of gold you have, and it is next to impossible to match the money supply with the demand for money over the short term.

But if the stimulus bill fails spectacularly, I expect the gold bugs will come crawling out of the woodwork.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 19 ) | Category: Economics

 
QandO
 
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Podcast for 25 Jan 09
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale talk about the first week of the Obama presidency.

Observations

Due to technical difficulties, the podcast can only be retrieved at BlogTalkRadio this week.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Post-Inaugural Thoughts
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Now that the Inaugural hubbub has died down, we can take a brief look ahead...and behind.

George W. Bush is an odd guy. Not odd in a mental sense, but an odd person for a president. He was publicly inarticulate. No matter how good the material of which his speeches might have been composed, he didn't have the skill to deliver them properly. the best he could must was a workmanlike recitation. We expect presidents to be moderately good public speakers, and W never really rose to meet that expectation.

In fact, he always seemed uncomfortable in publicly articulating what he believed, or in explaining what he was trying to do, and that is mainly what gives the impression, in the immediate time frame, of having been a failure as president.

Being inarticulate isn't necessarily a crippling fault, unless the awareness of it prevents the president from making the arguments he needs to make. Perhaps that is why he so often simplyleft the field when it became necessary to muster the appropriate arguments for his policies. Twice, he tried to call Congress' attention to the sub-prime mortgage situation. He tried to embark on a reform of Social Security. In both instances—and despite the obvious necessity for action—he retreated almost as soon as opposition arose. He did not use the bully pulpit of the presidency, as Bill Clinton did, to go directly to the American people. He simply left the field. Once has to wonder if a more articulate and confident president might have made these things an issue Congress couldn't ignore, through public pressure.

But he abandoned those two domestic issues, leaving us now in a situation where our obligations to the national debt, social security, and medicare, are now larger than the household worth of the entire country.

His other major fault was his inability to recognize who could, and who could not, be trusted to execute the tasks they were given. Once he had decided on a point man for an issue—such as Paul Bremer as the American viceroy in Iraq—he stuck by that decision even amid mounting evidence of failure.

He simply wasn't that good of a judge of people. He famously looked into Vladimir Putin's heart, and inexplicably failed to see the totalitarian darkness there that seemed so obvious to most other observers.

That flaw nearly led to disaster in Iraq.

On the plus side, he never wavered in his determination to see the Iraq mess through to something approaching victory. He never wavered. And, in the end—far later than he should have, of course—changed the course to a strategy that turned the fiasco around.

Whatever we may think of him now, I suspect that in 20 years or so, we will see a reversal of opinion on his presidency similar to what happened with Harry Truman. In 1952 Truman was widely regarded as an inept bumbler. Very few think of him that way today.

Truman got one big thing right: the containment of Communism. It may be that in two decades or so, we will remember George W. Bush for getting one big thing right in the aftermath of 9/11, which was to take the War on Terror to the Mideast, instead of trying to fight it here, or fighting it as some sort of large-scale law enforcement operation.

Now, we look ahead to a" new era of hope and change". let us not downplay the historical significance of this election. In the lifetimes of many now living, we have gone from seeing water cannon and German Shepherds turned on black people for peacefully demanding their rights as Americans, to a African-American man being elected President of the United States. I know of no other nation in the world that would embrace that sort of fundamental cultural change in a lifetime. How long, one wonders, will it be before a Franco-African man is elected president of France? Or a Turko-German being elected as Budeskanzler?

I suspect that Mr. Obama will, as have most presidents before him, come to realize that there are limits to the power of the presidency. How he will react to those limits will be most instructive. I suspect he will learn that Congress, not the President, wields the real power in domestic policy, and it remains to be seen if he will act as a rubber stamp for his party's Congressional majority, or if he will, as the nation's sole nationally elected official of any note, will moderate their tendencies.

Where the president's power is most unrestrained is in foreign policy and military affairs. And he seems to have moderated many of the views he expressed during the campaign, now that he has begun receiving the daily national security briefings that the president receives.

I suspect he will do much—or will at least try—with which I will disagree. I will oppose those things.

But in the main, in terms of providing for the security of the country, and in overseeing our nation's relationships with others, I hope he is successful. He is my president now, and his successes are the nation's successes, and, by extension, mine.

My overriding feeling for the man now is sympathy. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to be president at this particular point in history. I wish him good luck, even as I reserve the right to oppose him on a number of policies.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 9 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Politics

 
QandO
 
Sunday, January 18, 2009

Podcast for 18 Jan 09
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale talk about the upcoming Obama presidency.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Sunday, January 11, 2009

Podcast for 11 Jan 09
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale wax pessimistic on the state of the economy, and its future.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 6 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Monday, January 05, 2009

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Apple does it again, with a revolutionary new ultra-slim notebook.

 

Permalink | Comments ( 5 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Humor

 
QandO
 
Sunday, January 04, 2009

Podcast for 4 Jan 09
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the Hamas/Israel situation, and the appointment of Roland Burris to the IL senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 19 ) | TrackBacks ( 9 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Technology and the Right
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Since getting their behinds handed to them in the last two election cycles, people on the Right have been taking a long hard look at why they've turned into such losers. One of the areas of concern that have popped up as a result of this introspection has been the role of technology in politics. Technology, many are now convinced, is super-terrifically important. "After all," they argue, "just look what Obama did with his web site. We need to do that!"

So now, the politicos are all jumping onto the technology bandwagon. Being good politicos, they are going about it wrong.

There has been a rush of political consultants to learn technology, so they can bill themselves as "technologists" (They aren't). There's been a stampede to get Twitter accounts and Facebook and MySpace profiles. Everyone is throwing around cool-sounding terms like "Web 2.0" and "social networking software".

All of this generates a lot of heat, but, unfortunately, very little light.

Primarily, that is because the people engaging in this discussion, for the most part, don't have any clue about technology. Oh, they know the buzzwords, and they have a grasp of what some current technologies do, and maybe even have some good ideas about how to use tech here and there.

But they don't know technology. What they know, to some greater or lesser degree, is how to use some products of technology. But how to architect it, design applications, or how to implement them...they don't have a clue.

On the other hand, I don't look at technology from a political point of view. I've worked with computers for twenty-seven years, starting programming when I was a high-schooler. I've been a full-time, professional developer, database architect, web designer, and systems analyst for the last 12 years.

So, from that point of view, I offer up the following bits of advice to the politicos.

MANAGEMENT BY MAXIM

Outside the pure tech world, technology is never a driver. Technology is a support function. It can tell you how to do something. But it can't tell you whether you should do something.

The first step in implementing any technology should be the requirements of your business or organization. What problems do you face, and how do you overcome them? What processes should you implement? What information would you like to store or query? What strategies would you like to implement? What objectives support those strategies? What business tactics will allow you to achieve those objective?

Note, please, that none of these questions have anything to do with technology at all. These are all questions about the goals and means of the organization. If you don't know the answers to these questions, technology is useless. To the extent that it helps you, it's a result of luck, and nothing else.

Jon Henke related an interesting and amusing tidbit to me over the phone this morning. He noted that everyone in the politics business was getting Twitter accounts.

Why?

What does getting a Twitter account do for you? How does Twitter achieve your organizational goals? How will you use it to further those goals? What is the desired outcome of using Twitter? It's not enough that all the cool kids have a Twitter account. Its use has to be in service of some organizational objective, or it's just a waste of time, no matter how much fun it might be subjectively.

Business requirements are always the driver for technology, not the reverse.

You must construct the business maxims you desire to implement first. These are derived from the strategic goals and objectives of your organization. From those business maxims, you and your technologist then derive IT maxims that describe the information you need to access, the software and hardware you need, and the human and physical infrastructure to support it. This is known as Management by Maxim.

The nice thing about this is that you don't need a technologist, or even have any deep understanding of technology to oversee this process. You do, however, need to know 1) what the organization's strategy, goals, objectives are; 2) the problems your organization faces; 3) the business processes you'd like to implement; and 4) how to document them clearly.

The job of the technologist is to take that documentation, and design the hardware and software technologies that support your business requirements.

If you aren't implementing technology this way, then you're doing it wrong.

A good primer on management by maxim can be found in Broadbent and Weill's article from the Sloan Management Review, which is available for free online here, in PDF format.

WHERE THE BOYS ARE

The technology boys (and girls), I mean.

Let me be frank.

If someone has spent 20 years as a political consultant, and the last four years as a web designer/programmer on the side, then that person is not a technologist. If you're looking for a technologist somewhere inside the Beltway, then you're looking in the wrong place.

Real technologists work in the field full time. Real technologists have a history of creating IT/IS solutions in fields other than politics or government—and that includes the beltway bandits. Real technologists have probably done very little, if any, work in politics at all. Real technologists work at Yahoo! or Telligent, or at private consultancies in Omaha (and San Diego!). They do nothing but technology, and they do it for all kinds of organizations.

That means that, to find effective tech guys, you are going to have look outside northern Virginia and southern Maryland. You will not know these people personally. They may not, in fact, particularly care about or support your politics. And you should not care.

They don't need to know politics. What they need to learn, they will, because that's what they do. They go into a retail sales or construction business, and they learn as much of the business as they need to learn to provide technology solutions. They are professionals at it.

You don't need activists to create your IT solutions. You need professionals who will implement your business rules, and support your strategic goals with the appropriate technology. You don't need to care what they believe, only that their solutions work to effectively promote your organization's strategy.

Be warned: You will have to pay them real money. They are worth every penny.

CONCLUSION

Technology is massively useful. But only if you harness it to support your goals. Without a strategic vision, you're implementing technology in the dark, without any guarantee that it will ultimately be helpful. Technology is merely a tool to help your organization succeed. If you want to use technology to get you to where you want to go, you need to have a very clear idea of where you want to go in the first place, and to map out the process for getting there. Only then does technology have any real use for you.

Anyone who tries to sell you technology without forcing you to go into details about your strategy, processes, and objectives, isn't someone you want to buy technology from.

[Cross-posted from The Next Right—ed.]
 

Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBacks ( 3 ) | Category: Technology

 
QandO
 
Monday, December 29, 2008

Prejudiced much?
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
James Wolcott's piece in Vanity Fair starts out with this hilarious witticism:
In angry retaliation for the house arrest of Bernie Madoff, Israel has launched a hellacious air assault against Hamas in Gaza...
Get it? Because Bernie Madoff is a Jew! And the Israelis are Jews, too! They stick together! See? That's why it's so funny!

I really don't get how Israel is the bad guy in this deal. If the Mexican government was lobbing 88 mike-mikes at Brownsville for a few days, The Big Red One would be camping out in Chapultepec by the weekend, while the USAF delivered "hot tamales" to Cuidad Mexico.

The Palestinians—or Hamas, to be more precise—want to be able to commit repeated acts of war against the Israelis then claim "foul" when they get the war they've been asking for.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 29 ) | TrackBacks ( 9 ) | Category: Media

 
QandO
 
Friday, December 26, 2008

Black Christmas
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
The initial reports of Christmas retail sales for 2008 are in, and they don't paint a pretty picture.
Price-slashing failed to rescue a bleak holiday season for beleaguered retailers, as sales plunged across most categories on shrinking consumer spending, according to new data released Thursday.

Despite a flurry of last-minute shoppers lured by the deep discounts, total retail sales, excluding automobiles, fell over the year-earlier period by 5.5% in November and 8% in December through Christmas Eve, according to MasterCard Inc.'s SpendingPulse unit.
Graphically, the numbers look like this:

Going into more detail, the pre-season analyst predictions were completely off the mark.
The holiday retail-sales decline was much worse than the already-dire picture painted by industry forecasts, which had predicted sales ranging from a 1% drop to a more optimistic increase of 2.2%.

Luxury goods, once considered immune from economic turmoil, were hardest hit, with sales falling 21.2%, compared with a jump of 7.5% a year ago, when the economy had just begun to sputter. Including jewelry sales, the luxury sector plunged by a whopping 34.5%.

During the same period last year, overall retail sales rose a modest 2.4%, helped by late-season discounting that enticed procrastinating shoppers. But this year, after a moderate uptick in shopping activity boosted by steep promotions the Friday after Thanksgiving, shoppers closed their wallets and reopened them only cautiously, worried by job losses, a sinking stock market and a recession climbing into its second year.
We've already seen a wave a bankruptcies and belt tightening in the retail over the past few months. These numbers means that we're likely to see that trend increasing in the next months.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 14 ) | TrackBacks ( 7 ) | Category: Economics

 
QandO
 
Top 10 Dud Global Warming Predictions
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Andrew bolt has compiled a list of the top 10 dead-wrong predictions (in Australia, at any rate) about global warming for 2008, along with the lessons to be drawn from those failures.

Among the various bits of interest in his recounting, is this:
What's more, a study this year in the Hydrological Sciences Journal checked six climate models, including one used by the CSIRO [Australia's top science body—Ed.].

It found they couldn't even predict the regional climate we'd had already: "Local model projections cannot be credible . . ."

It also confirmed the finding of a study last year in the International Journal of Climatology that the 22 most cited global warming models could not "accurately explain the (global) climate from the recent past".

As for predicting the future...
If your current computer models can't predict the known past from retroactively entered data, then why, precisely, would you expect them to accurately predict the future.

You can't, of course.

Look, I've been working with computers for—Oh my God, I hate to even say it!—twenty seven years, and doing it professionally as a developer and IT consultant for the last 12. And I have no faith at all in computer models. I know how they're programmed.

Computer models—all computer models—do nothing more than produce an extrapolation from the assumptions that are programmed into them. The input always determines the output.

Moreover, when it comes to climate, the number of variables is so incredibly large, and often prone to chaotic effects—that I don't believe anyone has ever built, or realistically can ever build a valid computer model with our current state of computer technology.

More importantly, I don't think that, no matter how good the technology, the state of climate science is advanced enough to even know what all of the variables are, or how they should be weighted.

Here's what we do know. The earth has never had a stable climate. Ever. For instance, take note of the last 450,000 years:

Is climate change real? Of course it is.

But it appears to be driven by something other than man-made carbon dioxide.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 8 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Environment

 
QandO
 
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Podcast for 14 Dec 08
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss global warming and the economic crisis.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 and 2006, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 7 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Sunday, December 14, 2008

Podcast for 14 Dec 08
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce and Dale discuss the Rod Blagojevich indictment, and the Big 3 Auto Bailout.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 and 2006, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big 3 Bailout
Posted by: Dale Franks
 

 

Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBacks ( 3 ) | Category: Government

 
QandO
 
Monday, December 08, 2008

Goodbye Auto Industry
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Democrats are talking about a "Car Czar" to oversee the operations of the US Auto Industry. You'd might think it'd be hard to come up with a worse idea than that. You'd be wrong.
Detroit Democrat John Conyers — who chairs the U.S. House Judiciary Committee — proposed on Tuesday the creation of a so-called auto czar to sit on President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet.

"If the Congress and auto industry strike a grand bargain aimed at improving the industry's efficiency and innovative capacity, America's public and private sectors will have to work together on a variety of fronts," Conyers said in calling for an auto czar.

His pick for the job? UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who Conyers praised as having "an uncanny understanding of the technical operation of the auto industry, as well as the leadership skills needed to bring competing interests together."
Because the UAW has been so, you know, diligent, in making the US Auto industry so healthy.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 7 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Government

 
QandO
 
ODS Setback
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
The sufferers of Obama Derangement Syndrome were dealt a setback by the Supreme Court this morning.
The Supreme Court has turned down an emergency appeal from a New Jersey man who says President-elect Barack Obama is ineligible to be president because he was a British subject at birth.

The court did not comment on its order Monday rejecting the call by Leo Donofrio of East Brunswick, N.J., to intervene in the presidential election. Donofrio says that since Obama had dual nationality at birth — his mother was American and his Kenyan father at the time was a British subject — he cannot possibly be a "natural born citizen," one of the requirements the Constitution lists for eligibility to be president.
Event the Supreme Court is involved in this vast conspiracy.

Of course, those of us who know that the Bilderbergers, the Illuminati, and the Freemasons joined in a secret alliance to control the world at the secret Seacaucus Conference in 1959 are completely unsurprised.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 9 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Legal Affairs

 
QandO
 
Saturday, December 06, 2008

No Podcast This Week
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
We're gonna take a Podcast hiatus this week. Doing the podcast would interfere with the "hurt, waken Percoset, sleep" cycle I'm currently enjoying.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 3 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Friday, December 05, 2008

Ow. (Updated)
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
I got T-boned by a car on my way home from work. Details here.

I'm banged up a little bit, but generally OK. Bike's kinda thrashed, though.

And I have vicodin!

UPDATE:

My injuries were a bit worse than I thought. Had to go to Emergency last night.

Toe is broken, knee ligaments hyperextended.

And now, I have Percoset!
 

Permalink | Comments ( 23 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Personal

 
QandO
 
Tuesday, December 02, 2008

OK. This is just badass.
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
I want one.

 

Permalink | Comments ( 14 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Humor

 
QandO
 
Whiffs of the Third World
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
This week, the horrific events in Mumbai have attracted a lot of attention. This has diverted us from other things, that deserve a bit of attention of their own.

Damian Green is an MP, and is the Shadow Immigration Minister for the British conservative party. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Police—who operate under the direct authority of the Home Secretary—held for questioning for nine hours, his home and office searched, and various papers and computer files confiscated.

His sole crime appears to have been to point out in public debate in the Commons that the government's immigration policy was an ineptly managed shambles, and he revealed some dirty little secrets that Mr. Brown's government found embarrassing.

Subsequent questioning of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, reveals that...well...no one is certain what it reveals. As Janet Daley puts it in The Telegraph:
So, Miss Smith was asked, did she agree with this former occupier of her office that Mr Green was owed an apology? Answer: no. Sort of. It was, in fact, rather difficult to discern what the answer was amid a lot of blather, the main object of which was to hang the police out to dry - they apparently being solely responsible for this extraordinary incident. (I suspect that the next day or two may produce some interesting responses to this performance from the police - quite possibly in the form of leaks.)

Miss Smith soldiered on, making a great deal of the notion of "police independence" - even trying rather ingeniously to turn the argument round on those who see Mr Green's arrest as an indication of an emerging police state. What would truly constitute a police state, she maintained, would be for ministers to intervene when the police were engaged in an investigation.

Not that this investigation was being carried out on a unilateral police impulse: oh no, her department had certainly been concerned about the leaks in question. But again, it was unclear in what way that "concern" had mutated into police action, or what happened after the "concern" had been expressed.
But, of course, that's not quite true. We do know what happened. A member of parliament was detained by the police, and his home, papers, and effects were ransacked. We do know that.
Anyone who thinks that this incident is being somehow blown out of proportion by opposition politicians and an excitable media had better think again. A senior opposition spokesman has been arrested and detained, had his personal possessions and confidential correspondence examined, and his family home occupied, without being suspected of any criminal offence.

The object of the exercise seems to have been intimidation and the flaunting of power. Short of an outright, totalitarian suspension of democracy, this is about as serious as it gets. Freedom is under threat in ways that we would not have thought conceivable a generation ago. The threat seems to be coming in various forms from a government desperate to save its own credibility and to be so convinced of its moral righteousness that it can justify the most blatant abuses of what we had taken to be the fundamental principles of a free society.
I am reminded by a famous quote from Louis Brandeis" "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

There are plenty of "men of zeal" over on this side of the pond as well. And come January 20th, a number of them will be holding significant political power.

And, of course, they mean well. They are concerned about guns and crime. They are concerned about economic equality. They're concerned about global warming. Indeed, they're positively brimming with concern, and equally brimming with policy proposal to address them. Proposals that are no doubt motivated solely by compassion, and a keen sense of social justice.

How will they respond to those who oppose the obvious moral rectitude of their policies? How will they express their "concern"?

Let's hope it's in a better fashion that the Home Secretary appears to have done.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 7 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Freedom and Liberty

 
QandO
 
Monday, December 01, 2008

It’s Official: Recession
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
The National Bureau of Economic Research has weighed in with it expected dismal news.
The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research met by conference call on Friday, November 28. The committee maintains a chronology of the beginning and ending dates (months and quarters) of U.S. recessions. The committee determined that a peak in economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in December 2007. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in November 2001 and the beginning of a recession.
So, we've been in a recession for about a year now, and presumably are heading for the trough.

So, what to do?

Well, if you ask Paul Krugman, he thinks he has the answer:
Right now there's intense debate about how aggressive the United States government should be in its attempts to turn the economy around. Many economists, myself included, are calling for a very large fiscal expansion to keep the economy from going into free fall.
In other words, a government spending spree. He suggests this because he's a bad Keynesian.

I, on the other hand, am a good Keynesian, which means that I do not believe that the government can spend us out of a recession through fiscal expansion.

Keynes suggested that in bad economic times, a fiscal policy that resulted in a budget deficit, was, on the whole, a good thing. He suggested that spending and taxation played a part in economic recovery. Although, he concentrated on the spending side, a natural result of the general fascist tone of the times.

By the 1980's, Keynes original writings from the 30s had to go through some serious revision in the light of 50 years of subsequent experience. During that time, massive spending was tried at various times, with so-so results.

What we know now is that the essence of Keynesianism is that in bad economic times, the government needs to get more cash into the economy. The classical Keynesian view is that government spending should be the primary component of that cash infusion.

But now, we know that tax policy is an extraordinarily effective tool. And one which few in government, especially in the incoming Obama Administration, wants to diddle with too much. But it is tax policy that needs to be diddled.

Consider: our goal is to increase aggregate demand by supplying cash to consumers.

The spending model suggests that we create many new jobs by embarking on some sort of massive public works programs or the like. But, what the spending model doesn't deal with well is that, the government doesn't create wealth. It merely transfers it.

The goal is to get money in to the hands of the businesses and individuals who do create wealth. If so, then...why take it from them in the first place?

Robert Mundell, the Nobel laureate economist, has a far simpler suggestion that creating some massive new spending programs, or re-creating the Depression Era National Recovery Administration.

Just cut taxes.

First, have a year-long tax holiday for business and corporate taxes. Then, after one year, when taxes are re-imposed, impose them at 15%.

This obviates the (essentially correct) objection to tax cutting offered by Robert Reich:
Conservative supply-siders, meanwhile, will call for income-tax cuts rather than government spending, claiming that people with more money in their pockets will get the economy moving again more readily than can government. They're wrong, too. Income-tax cuts go mainly to upper-income people, and they tend to save rather than spend.
He's right, although not for the reason he thinks. If personal income taxes were equitably spread out among the citizenry, personal income tax cuts might be a lot more effective. In a situation where a third of the citizenry already pays no income taxes, and the lion's share of taxes are paid by the top 10% of taxpayers, income tax cuts are fairly ineffective.

But business and corporate taxes are another matter. Those tax cuts would provide immediate cash reserves to businesses of all sizes. They would go towards capital improvements, investments, etc., far more directly.

For the government, the end result is the same, i.e., much larger deficits arising from the revenue decreases from tax cuts.

But by keeping the money in the hands of productive enterprises, the goal of increasing the cash available to businesses and, indirectly, consumers, and thereby increasing aggregate demand, is met much more efficiently.

Of course, doing so would eliminate the ability of politicians and bureaucrats to direct funds to their favored clients and causes. Instead, millions of individual actors in the free market would determine their own spending needs and priorities.

Which is why it will never happen, of course.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 29 ) | TrackBacks ( 31 ) | Category: Economics

 
QandO
 
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Podcast for 30 Nov 08
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce and Dale discuss the week's events.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 and 2006, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bank Standoff Ends in SWAT Assault
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
A New Jersey police SWAT team was forced to assault a PNC Bank branch in Montgomery Township, after a tense stand-off in which the suspect refused to respond to all offers to negotiate.
Some 30 officers surrounded a PNC Bank branch in Montgomery Township after alarms at the branch went off at 8:40 p.m.

Officers looked through a window and reported seeing a person crouching inside.

The cops proceeded to evacuate a nearby housing complex, stop traffic on an adjourning highway and try to negotiate with the cardboard crook through a bullhorn.

At about 10 p.m. a SWAT team stormed inside - only to emerge red-faced after they realized the "crook" they were trying to nab was made of cardboard.
Apparently, the cardboard cutout figure was supposed to be there.
The cutout - for an advertising promotion - was gone yesterday afternoon. The bank refused to comment on the incident.
This kind of reminds me of a similarly odd promotion campaign that US Bank put on here last year.

They had the bank branches decorated with playing cards, casino chips, and what not. I always used to think, when I went by there, that if I was running a bank, trusted with safeguarding my customers' money, the last thing I'd want to do is have the bank's image associated with gambling.

Sometimes, when you let the marketing people go, they get a little too cute.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Humor

 
QandO
 
Bad Advice, Rewarded
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Austan Goolsbee is slated to become Barack Obama's chief of staff at the Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Mr. Goolsbee is a respected economist, but in this particular situation, may not be the best choice, considering his views on the lending practices that got us into this mess.
One form of intervention that Goolsbee favored was extending mortgage loans to the the uncredit worthy. In a March 29, 2007 op-ed for "The New York Times," he said that it was good that financial institutions were being prodded to lend money to those who would not meet normal standards for home loans.

Why? Because people should be evaluated on the basis of what their future income is likely to be in deciding whether or not they can offord to buy a house and meet the monthly payments, not their present income status.

Banks and other lending institutions were clearly misjudging who, therefore, was a "good risk" by only looking at someone's ability to make a reasonable downpayment and meet those montly payments today.

Thus, Goolsbee was delighted that political and regulatory tools were being used to get those uncredit worthy into new homes. The private sector was not thinking far enough ahead, and that's what the government needed to get them to do, Goolsbee said.
OK. Well, we did that. How'd that work out for us? And by "us", I mean, all of us who aren't Austan Goolsbee. for him, it appears to have worked out fine. His reward for advocating the policies that led us into this mess appears to be increased power and responsibility.

That's all you need to know about how government works right there.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 23 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Economics

 
QandO
 
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Limited Interest
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
For those who are interested, the Motorcycle blog is back in operation, at a new url.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 3 ) | TrackBacks ( 280 ) | Category: Personal

 
QandO
 
Sunday, November 23, 2008

Podcast for 23 Nov 08
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Bruce and Dale discuss the decline in conservative/libertarian political power.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 and 2006, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 10 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Podcast for 16 Nov 08
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
In this podcast, Michael, Bruce, Lance and Dale look ahead at the prospect of major reform, and discuss the economic implications that may strangle it.

Observations

The direct link to the podcast is here.

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don't forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don't have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 and 2006, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 1 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Podcasting

 
QandO
 
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Put the FJR in Storage?
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
Well, at this rate, I might be able to start driving my truck regularly again.
 

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Energy

 
QandO
 
Monday, November 10, 2008

Semper Fidelis
Posted by: Dale Franks
 
MARINE CORPS ORDER No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS
U.S. MARINE CORPS Washington, November 1, 1921

The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name "Marine". In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation's foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term "Marine" has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as "Soldiers of the Sea" since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant
 

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Military Affairs

 
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