Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
“Peter writes: ‘Should I be worried about Bear Stearns in terms of liquidity and get my money out of there?’ No! No! No! Bear Stearns is fine! Do not take your money out. … Bear Stearns is not in trouble. I mean, if anything they’re more likely to be taken over. Don’t move your money from Bear! That’s just being silly! Don’t be silly!” —Jim Cramer, responding to a viewer’s e-mail on CNBC’s Mad Money, March 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Incidentally, the lexigraphy of this post's title can be found here.
We're living the industrial analog of the Severan Dynasty. It's worth thinking carefully about how people living in the few decades after that experienced their world, as it marked the shift from the classic ancient world to the world of so-called Late Antiquity. Can Obama be our Diocletian?Imagine an American woman born in 1960. She sees the gas lines of the 1970s, the short-term political gimmicks that papered over the crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, and the renewed trouble in the following decades. Periods of economic and political crisis, broken by intervals of partial recovery, shape the rest of her life. By the time she turns 70, she lives in a beleaguered, malfunctioning city where nearly half the population has no reliable access to clean water, electricity, or health care. Shantytowns spread in the shadow of skyscrapers while political and economic leaders keep insisting things are getting better.Her great-grandson, born in 2040, manages to avoid the smorgasbord of diseases, the pervasive violence, and the pandemic alcohol and drug abuse that claim a quarter of his generation before age 30. A lucky break gets him into a technical career, safe from military service in endless overseas wars or "pacification actions" against separatist guerrillas at home. His technical knowledge consists mostly of rules of thumb for effective scavenging. Cars and refrigerators are luxury items he will never own, his home lacks electricity and central heating, and his health care comes from an old woman whose grandmother was a doctor and who knows something about wound care and herbs. By the time his hair turns gray the squabbling regions that once were the United States have split apart. All remaining fuel and electrical power have been commandeered by new regional governments, and coastal cities have been abandoned to the rising oceans.For his great-granddaughter, born in 2010, the great crises are mostly things of the past. She grows up amid a ring of villages that were once suburbs, but now they surround an abandoned core of rusting skyscrapers that are visited only by salvage crews who mine them for raw materials. Local wars sputter, the oceans are still rising, and famines and epidemics come through every decade or so, but with a global population less than half what it was in 2000 and still declining, humanity and nature are moving toward balance. The great-grand-daughter learns to read and write, a skill most of her neighbors don't have, and a few old books are among her most proud possessions, but the days when men walked on the moon are fading into legend. When she and her family finally set out for a village in the countryside, leaving the husk of the old city to the salvage crews, it likely never occurs to her that her quiet footsteps on a crumbling asphalt road mark the end of civilization.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
President George W. Bush said Thursday he would not be second guessing Barack Obama's decisions after he hands over the White House keys next month.That's, um, mighty white of him. I'm sure Obama was losing sleep over that. Quite frankly I would pay Bush much money to second guess me.
The sponsors of Proposition 8 asked the California Supreme Court on Friday to nullify the marriages of the estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who exchanged vows before voters approved the ballot initiative that outlawed gay unions.Ah, Ken Starr, you dick.
The Yes on 8 campaign filed a brief arguing that because the new law holds that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized or valid in California, the state can no longer recognize the existing same-sex unions. The document reveals for the first time that opponents of same-sex marriage will fight in court to undo those unions that already exist.
"Proposition 8's brevity is matched by its clarity. There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions or exclusions," reads the brief co-written by Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine University's law school and the former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.
I question the use of the word "reveals", this is like saying "Joe bought a case of condoms and has revealed for the first time that he plans on having sex."
My own take on it, shared by a constitutional law professor friend of mine who happens to be a lesbian, is that the word "marriage" does have religious meaning in most faiths, for better or for worse. A much more comprehensive approach to establishing this particular freedom of association would be to acknowledge that fact and challenge the constitutionality of the State santioning a religious activity.
A win would threaten the canon of family law and force legislators to establish, for everyone, a solution absent of religion. A civil solution for a civil right. As for marriage, you are free to pick a faith which is truly inclusive, or ends participation with 'hillbilly heroin' dealers.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Obviously, I'm not an expert on such debates, but as a sometime historian, I know a thing or two about disputing periodization. My own view is that "in the long run" (that is, from the point of view some putative scientific observer millions of years from now), it would not make sense to demarcate the Anthropocene from the Holocene. In fact, seen in geological terms, the heat-up of the planet that happened 14,000 years ago and is now set to take another sharp uptick, should really be seen as one continuous process. Seen from the perspective of millions of years, the planet has been in a glacial period for several million years, with phases of warming and cooling, in which species were fairly stable. The last phase of cooling, however, happened to spit out a novel feedback element (modern humans, which evolved around 100-150K years ago) that happened to engage in behavior that diverted the usual cooling cycle, such that the planet now appears to be shifting to a definitively post-glacial period, more climatically akin to the way the world was some 55 million years ago.
However, seen in the millions-of-years perspective, the two distinct heat-ups -- the one 14K years ago and the one now -- look less like two distinct events, and more like one continuous event, rather than two distinct events, and should probably be interpreted as such. After all, the massive extinctions we are witnessing now are of the same order (and arguably, so far, less severe) than the ones that took place 10K years ago, when much of the North American megafauna was killed off, radically changing the North American continental ecosystem.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
"This doesn't absolve the Bush administration of some of their judgments they've made over the years, but this is the right thing to do," said a Democrat close to the transition who did not want to be named to avoid alienating the team. "This is when enlightened self-interest works."
The real reason that comp in investment banking should be regulated is that the comp levels attract people who are very energetic but in a stupid way and greedy way. Its an entire industry populated by lobotomized greyhounds.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It was Wall Street's version of an inside joke: Take a motley collection of largely unwanted assets, repackage them into a new set of bonds, and name it after the pristine white-sand beaches of an exclusive New Jersey town where Katharine Hepburn once summered.to the close,
Former SEC commissioner Paul S. Atkins, a strong advocate of deregulation during his six-year tenure that ended earlier this year, agreed that the trading of CDOs and other private investments must be done more openly to prevent systemic risk. But he cautioned that there needs to be smarter regulation, not just more rules.
"Remember this crisis began in regulated entities," Atkins said, referring to investment and commercial banks overseen by the SEC and other federal agencies. "This happened right under our noses."
this article shows both the promise of journalism and the problem of groupthink inside a bubble.
Jumping to the back of the A-Section Richard Cohen takes a look at a different bubble, the Presidency.
Inside The Bubble, as Obama well knows, lurks a further danger: groupthink. Obama has used this Orwellian word himself. "One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink, and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views," he said this month.
Cohen has an self-serving antidote for the president-Elect: the newspaper. Given the quality of above article I will go ahead and give him the cure; but given Obama's self-awareness, and his appointments so far I am not sure we will see a repeat of the disease.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
And the back-story continues. A friend of a co-worker does marketing for Budweiser and he provided some insight on their advertising theme. It seems that the overall goal of Budweiser advertising is to establish it as the “default beer,” not the best beer, the default beer. I was fascinated by the idea and have been looking for similar patterns in other marketing campaigns and in the grand tradition of looking for something you see it everywhere. Particularly in policy campaigns, where I am looking hardest. On almost every issue there is a mad scramble to define the “default solution.”
Theory in action occurred last night as I stopped to pick up wine before getting the takeout. A couple walked in, he strolled over and bought one of the 2-liter white wines they sell while she gazed in wonder at the wall of beer in the coolers. “What should I get?” she asked. “I don’t know, Bud Light?” he asked back. A 12-pack of Bud Light was soon on the counter, the default beer.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
- how urbanization happens without industrialization
- what vast and growing wealth disparities means
- how the poor are reacting to climate change
- what the implications are of the commercialization of a vast number of crucial social functions that used to be managed either by governments or deeply rooted cultural institutions
- and how all this intersects with the rapid proliferation and democratization of media and communications technologies
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
In New York City, the local police and the feds do not get along — at least when it comes to counterterrorism. Now the FBI has a new man in New York. His name is Joe Demarest. Besides guarding against terrorists, his top job will be to help patch things up between the New York Police Department and the FBI.Something to keep in mind as various proposals for more government involvement in certain industries bubble up, trade and trespass will always find its currency, be it dollars, mentions in the dispatches, or mackerel. I personally find it easier to follow the money, the machinations are usually more apparent. But neither of the above selections are why the story stuck in my mind this morning, it was this one:
That's because things are a little different in New York. While the law enforcement community does pull together in a pinch, the personalities are very strong, very "New York." The U.S. attorneys are aggressive, and so are the district attorneys. As the police commissioner of America's most populous city, Kelly is used to picking up the phone and calling [FBI Director] Mueller directly. And if he doesn't get what he wants from that call, he'll call his friends on Capitol Hill.
And then there's what happened last month: The head of the NYPD, Commissioner Raymond Kelly, accused the Justice Department of dragging its feet on approving wiretap applications. The Justice Department said the New York police were asking for wiretaps that broke the law. The angry letters between Kelly and Attorney General Michael Mukasey went public.
Exactly how messed up is your wiretap request that THIS Justice Department raises a red flag?
Monday, December 08, 2008
Sunday, December 07, 2008
First, the central historical thrust of Duffield's book is the story of how the NGO-led model of development, which emerged in the 1980s and which remains dominant to this day, displaced modernization theory, which was the dominant model of development from the early cold war through the middle 1970s. Unlike modernization theory, which sought a technology that would allow post-colonial states to "close the gap" with the developing world, the NGO-led model of development seeks to "contain" and "stabilize" the poor. Institutionally (as we know from reading James Scott), the high modernist model of development believed that the state should be the instrument that would drive development. By contrast, the NGO-led model believes in working around the state, which is rightly perceived as corrupt and predatory. (Of course, while the NGO-friendly "sustainable development" movement likes to think of itself as politically progressive, its anti-statist bias dovetails very conveniently with neoliberal views of reducing state power--hence the liberal-conservative "consensus" in the Washington Consensus.) Successful development, in this model, is not about "catching up" but rather about achieving "sustainability" or "self-reliance." Contemporary liberal developmental dogma holds that such "self-reliance" not only provides local dignity and eliminates the need for humanitarian interventions, it also reduces local sympathy for radicalism, jihadism, etc.
Second, analyzing this NGO-led model of development, Duffield points out that the use of NGOs to deliver developmental aid and to perform aid-effectiveness monitoring compromises the sovereignty of the subject state by wresting the biopolitical commanding heights (e.g. population surveilance and monitoring) away from the state, and placing these responsibilities in the hands of non-governmental organizations. With a nod to Judith Butler, Duffield describes this process as a multiplication of "petty sovereignties." His point is that in much of the so-called developing world, "governmental" functions (e.g. the delivery of "political goods" such a social services, health care, education, security, etc.) are being taken over by non-state actors.
Third, while most of Duffield's book is an extended analysis of the evolution of the official discourse of development, he also briefly alludes to the danger at the heart of making "self-reliance" the key metric of developmental success, in a passage that resonates with my own work on deviant globalization:
Self-reliance has a dangerous ambiguity in relation to attempts to strengthen state authority. When successfully and innovatively pursued, rather than being a process of governmentalization, self-reliance supports resistance and imparts independence. The "actually existing development" of informal trade, illegal commodity procurement, transborder smuggling networks and diaspora enterprise can encourage centrifugal forces of autonomy and alternative cases of legitimacy (p. 183).
What's effective, and affecting, about this video is not just that the young veteran politely criticizes Obama on the point that made his candidacy within the Democratic party. (Obviously one can argue with the substance of what the young man has to say -- notably his ridiculous claim that "Iraqis are just like us.")
Thursday, December 04, 2008
- Machete leads to arrest of three robbers in Newberg
- Thieves make off with 130 guns in Vancouver smash-and-grab
- Gun sales explode in Oregon on Black Friday
- Armed sex offender on the loose
THIS MAN HAS A GUN AND WANTS TO FORCIBLY SODOMIZE YOU
rallies those crazy gun buyers and thieves, plus every machete wielding maniac in the Northwest into a frenzied mob to track this guy down. Then afterward they could help the Coast Guard find the other guy’s mail-order bride. Now that would be community organizing.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I've now reached the point at which I simply don't believe people when they say that lower pay for bankers will result in worse performance -- especially since it looks very much as though it was higher pay for bankers which was at least partly responsible for much of the present crisis. Let's bring down pay, a lot, and see whether performance really falls.I don't know how you legislate this except through taxation, but as a matter of political ethics, this is just about common sense and democratic decency. The argument for much greater pay equality is fundamentally about political justice. And just as Salmon dismisses as nonsense the argument that lower pay would lower performance, I dismiss as nonsense the claim that higher taxes compromise the liberty of the rich.
The financial system went for decades, quite happily, without monster paydays: why can't we go back to those days? No one thinks we need to pay the Treasury secretary lots of money to make sure he's "working hard"; why are bank CEOs any different? And insofar as lower bank salaries would drive America's best and brightest into other sectors of the economy, that would surely be a good thing.
A massive, across-the-board pay cut in the banking system -- to levels which would still be incredibly generous by normal-America standards -- might result in a mass exodus of employees and a radical downsizing of the banking sector. But that's going to happen anyway, this would just achieve it without layoffs. And the outcome can't really be worse than what we've seen to date.