Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Powell Aide Lawrence Wilkerson backs me up

I haven't received the general agreement I expected to my assertion that Sarah Palin was "George Bush without Connections." But, here's something.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Conventional Wisdom Update on Climate Change

link via TalkingPointsMemo
Could the time for Happy Talk be drawing for a close? It seems like sections of the government are forgetting Shrub is still president. One of my prospective brothers-in-law was saying the other day that Bush 43 had been a disastrous president -- it always makes me anxious to hear the President being spoken of in the past tense. He's still there, doing terrible things, and to forget that renders us blind to the danger.

Anyway, the USGS, who you'd think would be out trying to find kleptocrats to turn over mining rights to (just kidding, I know that's the Bureau of Land Management,) released a study announcing climate change was happening faster than they'd previously been willing to admit.

Are you ready for what the Federal Government now believes? This is from the [PDF] executive summary:

Based on an assessment of the published scientific literature, the primary conclusions presented in this report are:

• Recent rapid changes at the edges of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets show acceleration of flow and thinning, with the velocity of some glaciers increasing more than twofold.... Inclusion of these processes in models will likely lead to sea-level projections for the end of the 21st century that substantially exceed the projections presented in the IPCC AR4 report (0.28 ± 0.10 m to 0.42 ± 0.16 m rise)....

• [S]ubtropical aridity is likely to intensify and persist due to future greenhouse warming. This projected drying extends poleward into the United States Southwest, potentially increasing the likelihood of severe and persistent drought there in the future...

• The strength of the [northward flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the Atlantic, and the southward flow of colder water in the deep Atlantic, {which} plays an important role in the oceanic transport of heat from low to high latitudes.] will decrease over the course of the 21st century in response to increasing greenhouse gases, with a best estimate decrease of 25-30%.... [RFM: this means the lower latitudes will heat up much faster than the upper latitudes, and New York City, to choose a place at random, may even get colder for some time.]

• A... doubling of northern high latitudes CH4 emissions[RFM:, a much more intense greenhouse gas that Carbon Dioxide,] could be realized fairly easily. However, since these models do not realistically represent all the processes thought to be relevant to future northern high-latitude CH4 emissions, much larger (or smaller) increases cannot be discounted.

So, there you are. The main point here is that scientists continue to discount the impending global tsunamis predicted by this blog. They laughed at me! I should build a giant robot, or something.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I popped open my Christmas Kindle today to get the paper, and what did I see?
John P. Holdren, a physicist and environmental policy professor at Harvard, will serve as the president’s science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology. Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist from Oregon State University, will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which overseas ocean and atmospheric studies and performs much of the government’s research on global warming.

Dr. Holdren will also be a co-chairman the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology along with the Nobel Prize-winning cancer research Dr. Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Eric S. Lander, a genomic researcher.
It struck me that maybe our perceived cynicism about politics was because bad things kept happening to us, and our apathy was because we didn't seem to be able to do much about it. I'm ready for good things to happen.

I do think it's too late to stop a catastrophic collapse of civilization. However! I've been wrong before -- as, uh, regular readers know -- and I'm very open to being wrong about this. It's really nice to see government being set up to respond in powerful ways. I don't even know how to respond, other than positively. Gobama!

I was 11 years old when Reagan took office, and we've just been in a world of shit since then. I'm giddy about the prospect of good governance.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Geek Out with some hurricane animation

I did.

Congress Catches On

Mel Watt, a Representative from Charlotte, North Carolina, asks Interim Assistant Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari what I think is a key question: Is Goldman Sachs running this country? Ah... this isn't going to end well. Still, I guess it's better to know the truth.

Update: Apparently my fact-checking team failed to confirm which state Charlotte was in. It's updated from South Carolina.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prosperity is just around the corner

The Simpsons features a bratty child, and starts every episode with him repeatedly writing upon a chalkboard some assertion that an authority figure wants him to internalize, like "I will not [do some prank.]" This episode, he writes "Prosperity is just around the corner."

Ah, adulthood. I can repeatedly warn you about stagdeflation, and a depression which will compare to the Great Depression like World War II did to World War I, and I still get supper. Heck, I could have dessert if I wanted it.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Inflation on and after 2006

So, to quote Nephos, who linked to a very pretty picture
An interesting example is looking at US inflation around WW1: Inflation skyrocketed at the end of the war as the US invested in sending its work force toward futile engagement in the trenches. And then deflation skyrocketed once they came home. The average over this period was probably somewhere in the vicinity of something small.
Using the linked table -- and there's a line between quoting and stealing I'm never sure when I cross, but I make you click in to the table -- inflation in the year 1924 was zero, so we'll treat that as a turning point (even though the year before was positive, at 1.8%) and end in 1923. Inflation jumps from 1% in 1914 and 1915 to 7.9% in 1916, so we'll start in 1916. This gives us inflation rates of 7.9, 17.4, 18, 14.6, 15.6, -10.5, -6.1 and 1.8 per cent per year, which add up to a 1915 dollar being worth 93 cents at the end of 1916 and 59 cents at the end of 1923. Deflation starts in again about half-way through 1926 -- remember that's supposed to be the middle of a great economic boom -- so the 1915 dollar bottoms out at 58 cents in 1926 before zooming back up to 78 cents (nearly its 1917 value) after 1933. In 1943, it's back to 58 cents.

Look, I made a plot.
The four post WWI years 1930 - 1933 had a lot of deflation, and it took ten years to undo them. Using this as a precedent, buying a house could still be an extremely sucky investment. However, I think the path of inflation will be the one we'll follow.

More on the Pessimism Bottom

This is from a[nother] reader of Agora Financial's Five-Minute Forecast. As you know, I like to make obvious points seem more credible by having someone else repeat them.
“Barton Biggs is no doubt a great moneyman,” writes a reader in response to a Biggs essay we published last Tuesday . “His assertion... ‘We must be pretty close to maximum bearishness’ sound[s] like... cheerleading, to me.”
“We’ve hit the point of maximum pessimism? The point of maximum pessimism can only be known in hindsight. People will get more and more pessimistic as their personal conditions/news get worse. If you are saying it’s not possible for people to be more pessimistic than they are now, I disagree. Whether or not they do become more pessimistic is another argument and will depend on what happens to them. (I have a couple of friends who left Liberia at the start of the civil war. They were really pessimistic then. In fact, I was so concerned, I recommended counseling, but they still felt they would be back in Monrovia before Christmas. Ha. Somewhere over the next five years, they hit their point of maximum pessimism.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

I'm now eligible for a Pulitzer

The Pulitzers wouldn't be the Pulitzers without the Christian Science Monitor to give them to. With the CSM going online-only, this means...
Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler told E&P that "we are expanding the Pulitzers to include many text-based newspapers and news organizations that publish only on the Internet." At the same time, they are "stressing" that all entered material should come from news outlets that publish material at least weekly, "are primarily dedicated to original news reporting, are dedicated to coverage of ongoing stories and that adhere to the highest journalistic principles."
Which leaves the door open for yours truly.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Maybe it is time to buy

“The Changing Prospects for Building Home Equity,”[PDF] tries to predict where today’s first-time buyers in the 100 biggest metropolitan areas may actually have less home equity by 2012 as a result of continued price declines. The verdict was that buyers in 33 of the markets could see a decline by 2012, including potential six-figure drops on an average home in the New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle metropolitan areas.

It may be, actually, a good time to buy a house. I think yesterday, I realized that hyperinflationary policies -- where you lose a lot of money by not lending or investing -- are a tack the Obama Administration may very well try to get the credit markets unfrozen.

Say you buy a $500K house that has some platonic, abstract value of $250K in a universe where housing prices are tied to rents and incomes. After 5 years of 15 % inflation, you haven't lost anything -- you have a $500K house again. If you have a 15 year morgage, ten years later you own a $2M house. While it seems like you've made nothing in real terms, if you've only been paying 4.5% on this, you're golden.

Update: I also wanted to comment on this in the column itself, [A]s it does with the stock market, the [bottom to the housing market] will probably arrive when everyone is feeling the most pessimistic. I hear this sort of thing now and then. Isn't that kind of stupid? Not only is pessimism harder to measure than even prices, but you can always get more pessimistic -- prices have a soft bottom at 0 (you could pay people to take stuff away, which is why I don't say 'hard bottom'), but I don't think pessimism is even strictly a scalar quantity. The statement is an implicit suggestion that you replace your inability to predict the shape of a hard-to-measure trend with your inability to predict the shape of a harder-to-measure-and-hard-even-to-define trend. I don't see what you gain.

Friday, December 05, 2008

First Big Problem with President Elect Obama

link referred by TPM
Now, I've spoken a lot about how I entered the Shrub presidency with optimism and an open heart, and was quickly disabused. And, it's my intent to do that with 44, except for the disabusing part. I want to be perfectly clear that it is not my intent to find fault with President Obama until I decide he's another good-for-nothing wastrel driving the world towards doom. But, Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-prize-winning former World Bank President -- should have a prominent place in his cabinet.
Stiglitz denounced Rubin's support for repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial from investment banking for precisely the reasons we are now witnessing on Wall Street.... Stiglitz became the most prominent voice in Washington to say plainly that free-market absolutism, which began with the Reagan revolution and continued under Clinton (who upon being elected declared the era of "big government" was over), was ill-founded theoretically and disastrous practically....

As far back as 1990, Stiglitz argued in a paper (it can be found on The Economist's Voice Web site at www.bppress.com) against securitizing mortgages and selling them
All I could come up with when asked who should be on Obama's economic team was Elizabeth Warren. But, Joseph Stiglitz should definitely be up there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

That's how they get you

There are a lot of pundits I generally agree with, but they all have some fatal flaw -- like Professor Krugman's pro-NAFTA Clintonism and Joshua Micah Marshall's failure to appreciate just how unstable our political and economic systems are -- that reassure me that I have some need for independent thought.

This guy, Glenn Greenwald, though, is pretty tight. I'm really tempted to outsource all of my opinion-forming to him. Remember Anna Karenina?
Stepan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal paper, not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority. And in spite of the fact that science, art, and plitics [sic.] had no special interest for him, he firmly held those views on all these subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he only changed them when the majority changed them--or, more strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly changed of themselves within him.
I've always felt like this was my eventual fate, to be a superfluous man. And Glenn Greenwald's getting me closer.

Update:Just as we enter the last month, I think Nephos and I have developed the word of the year: Arkadyevitchizing from Arkadyevitchize, to replace one's opinion-forming capacity with preformed editorial content, used of media. It's developed in the comments of this post, but I moved it into the body so that it would be searchable, as it's now in this blog's header.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas Story

The Season's Greetings blog is gone! I grabbed my story from the Google cache.

News From Antartica

Well, there goes the Wilkins Ice Sheet.
New rifts have developed on the Wilkins Ice Shelf that could lead to the opening of the ice bridge that has been preventing the ice shelf from disintegrating and breaking away from the Antarctic Peninsula.
If the ice shelf breaks away from the peninsula, it will not cause a rise in sea level since it is already floating.

And, hey, they found a mountain range. WIth really big lakes.