Archive for March, 2008

Energy Policy In A Nutshell (March 31, 2008)

Posted in Energy, Taxation on March 31, 2008 by

Energy policy is complex.  A few general ideas.

1.                  Increase the tax on a gallon of gasoline by a quarter (25 cents) every quarter (3 months) for two years or longer to reduce American consumption, spur alternative energy options, and reduce transfer payments to many of America’s enemies.  The revenue, a secondary concern, could be used in a market-efficient way to offset some of the painful economic impact of increased gas prices.  Taxes should have been increased when oil was at $25 a barrel, yet action now is better than more delay.  (Okay, this will never happen in the current political climate with prices already rising daily, yet one can dream.)

2.                  Appoint Amory B. Lovins as Secretary of Energy.

3.                  Release 70 percent of the employees at the Department of Energy.

Bumper stickers of the week:

Pass the Terrorist Tax

A Quarter Every Quarter

Keep your tires properly inflated

Garbage In Garbage Out (March 24, 2008)

Posted in Economics, Housing, Society on March 24, 2008 by

GIGO may be the only acronym one needs to know today.  There are now daily cautionary tales about the CEOs and other ‘Os who created CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) while the OTC (Office of Thrift Supervision – one of the putative regulators) played dominoes.  The details and new concoctions (CLOs, CDSs, ABSs, SIVs, etc.) are intriguing and revealing and depressing.

The simple truth is captured in the old expression:  “Garbage In Garbage Out.”  No alchemy can convert a bad loan into a good loan as it slithers through the economy.  There is no way to “make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”  Putting “lipstick on a pig” does make the pig a swan.  Rating something as “AAAAAAA” does not make it any safer than something rated “AAAAAA.”

This economic downturn is a small “d” democratic phenomenon.  Many Americans (ordinary citizens; realtors; appraisers; loan officers; bundlers; butchers; bakers; candle stick makers, etc.) actively participated in the fraud in broad daylight with their eyes sufficiently open.  Only those deluding themselves could have missed the inevitable Meltdown that is taking place and will get worse.  Those on “Wall Street” not only should have known about the fraud they knew that everything was junk in gilded garb.  Everything that glitters is not gold.

Bumper stickers of the week:

“Sir, ’Margin’ is holding on line 2”

Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered

[As many police as demonstrators took to the streets in DC on March 19.  So few care or believe that anything can be done about the “Forgotten War.”  The police did not don riot gear; a riot did not break out.  The police let the demonstrators take over a few intersections without major incident.  The demonstrators made a statement without making any major disruptions.  A bad day for America and the world, yet a good day for the First Amendment.]

On Courage and Truth (March 17, 2008)

Posted in Society on March 17, 2008 by

Ernest Hemingway’s description of “courage” as “grace under pressure” is popularly invoked, although he provides a more accurate definition of “poise.”  Courage is a decision to do something that needs to be done or to say something that needs to be said even if it is not likely to be successful or well-received.  Political courage is a decision to do something or say something that is in the greater interest even if it is not in the individual’s interest.  No one seeks to pursue something that is not in one’s interest and is likely to fail.  But courage happens.

Find the Truth and it shall set you free, they say.  Not really.  Find the Truth and you may be imprisoned.  The Truth often terrifies.  Most people do not lead lives of quiet desperation, but they do go to the grave with the song still in them.  They lead lives of quiet delusion and refuse to sing or shout out the Truth before they go to the grave.  Getting through the day is not easy.  Overlooking or disregarding the Truth is the path of least resistance.

[With a nod to Montaigne’s essais.]

Bumper stickers of the week:

Ne sois pas decourage

No se desanime

Peace In Palestine? (March 10, 2008)

Posted in Middle East on March 10, 2008 by

Peace in Palestine is impossible.  Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have compelling moral, historical and legal claims to the same land.  Neither is yielding its position.  Neither has any reason to yield its position.

Pick a time in the past and select a country or region.  The Jews seem always to have been shunned, beaten, harassed, oppressed, dispossessed, ostracized, stigmatized, denigrated, disregarded and treated unkindly.  Those experiences shape one’s world view.

The government-sponsored, institutional, corporate, mechanized, franchised torturing and killing machine in business in Germany and other occupied countries between the middle 1930s and 1945 was unprecedented in its scope, duration and depravity.  Those experiences dominate one’s world view.  (Those horrors are being and will be replicated on this planet).

The logic of existence in the Middle East today is so desperately human.  The Palestinians proclaim:  “I kill, therefore I am.”  The Israelis proclaim:  “I kill, therefore I am.”  No one in the Middle East does more than kill and subsist.  Everyone is spiritually dead.  If they looked in a mirror, they would not see a reflection.

The Palestinians are engaging in techniques and tactics first pioneered by the American colonists in their battles against the British.  If the United States provided them F-22s, they would be able to fight on a level playing field.

The Wall is a monument to failure, a bill board advertising hopelessness.

The Jewish Lobby in America (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, et al.) is powerful and is equaled only by the influence of AARP (American Association for Retired People) and the NRA (National Rifle Association).

The single greatest source of resentment in America that often leads to a distrust of Semitism is the widely understood perception that no on can criticize the Jewish Lobby publicly without being pilloried and crucified.

Jimmy Carter committed the Sin of Truth.  He discusses the Apartheid in Palestine and is condemned and excoriated.  Few have the courage to support him.

Note the religions of the members of the foreign policy elite.  There are not enough Unitarians, Buddhists, Quakers and Shakers among the movers and shakers.  (Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon was born a Quaker and followed some of its precepts at times in his life.  The most prominent example is admittedly not very convincing.)  Pacifists are activists in their communities, but they are not heard nationally.

The money that Americans have been borrowing from the Chinese and others and transferring to unfriendly regimes to acquire oil will be used to acquire media outlets in America in the future.  A foreign government, a “Sovereign Wealth Fund,” will offer real money for a publication such as the Wall Street Journal.  The next Rupert Murdoch with 5 billion in his pocket will sit across the table from someone who can bid 10, 15, 20 billion, whatever it takes.  When media control changes, perceptions in America will change.  Not necessarily for the better.  An imbalance of information and influence in the other direction is dangerous.  Equipoise is not likely.

Life is often portrayed as a battle between David and Goliath.  Life is usually a battle between David and David, one underdog battling another underdog.  Two underdogs are at war in the Middle East.

The current most powerful nation, the Goliath, is a super power slipping into second world status (measured by: infant mortality rates; percentage of the population in prison; percentage of the population which is not counted as unemployed because they are not even looking for work; spiritual and economic deficits, etc.)  With the rise of Asia and other Middle East nations, the United States may not be in a position to protect Israel in the intermediate run.

The killing will go on until the inevitable tectonic shifts of power in this century play out with uncertain consequences.

Bumper sticker of the week:

There are no unwounded civilians

Forgiving American Debt? (March 3, 2008)

Posted in Debt/Deficits, Depression on March 3, 2008 by

America will never repay its foreign Debt.

When you borrow ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00), you lose sleep worrying about repaying it.  When you borrow ten million dollars ($10,000,000.00), your banker loses sleep worrying about you repaying it.  When you borrow almost ten Trillion dollars ($10,000,000,000,000.00), your banker should never get a restful night’s sleep.

The day will come when one foreign country quietly reduces its purchases of Treasury instruments.  [See the e-ssay dated March 21, 2005 entitled “America The Bankrupt (Jan. 17) Revisited”].  “Sovereign Wealth Funds” created by countries to invest substantial sums of money in an enterprise are moving into the U.S. equities market.  Taking by investment is much easier and more productive that taking by invasion.  Foreign investment can lead to an intertwined and interdependent economy.  [See the e-ssay dated March 13, 2006 entitled “Dubai Port Worlds:  The Ship Storm”].  Are the funds being invested to exploit an economic opportunity or to gain a political advantage?  This issue will make the front pages in the next few years.

America is the Bear Stearns of the world.  America’s failure to repay its debts will also attract some passing attention in the next few years.

Bumper stickers of the week:

Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven those who have been indebted to us.

Too intertwined to fail?