Archive for March, 2009

 

Genital Integrity Awareness Week

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Celebrate Genital Integrity Awareness Week, and stop performing dangerous cosmetic surgery on infant boys without their consent.

(h/t Hit and Run)

 
 

Gold Bringer

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

From Russia With Love:

Arkady Dvorkevich, the Kremlin’s chief economic adviser, said Russia would favour the inclusion of gold bullion in the basket-weighting of a new world currency based on Special Drawing Rights issued by the International Monetary Fund.

Chinese and Russian leaders both plan to open debate on an SDR-based reserve currency as an alternative to the US dollar at the G20 summit in London this week, although the world may not yet be ready for such a radical proposal.

It would appear that the former Communist countries have a better understanding of economics than the United States or Britain today. We live in interesting times.

Read more here.

 
 

More Crony Capitalism

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Few articles of note on the subject. First, Jacob in the comments below points to a good article on the subject by former IMF banker Simon Johnson:

In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

Read Simon Johnson.

Michael Miller decries the trend in a slightly different way, calling it “Davos Capitalism”:

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith warned, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” The shenanigans of business leaders over the last year, which led to a serious loss of faith in markets and a call for more government intervention, sadly proves Smith’s point. Unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch, AIG or whatever company has grabbed the headlines of the day.

Smith, who published >his landmark work in 1776, warned of corporate collusion, but we’re experiencing something much more insidious — not just businesses, but business and government and a host of others all meeting, and colluding, at the posh Swiss resort town of Davos. It is Adam Smith’s nightmare.

This isn’t free market capitalism. It’s Davos capitalism, a managerial capitalism run by an enlightened elite–politicians, business leaders, technology gurus, bureaucrats, academics, and celebrities–all gathered together trying to make the economic world smarter or more humane.

Read about Davos Capitalism.

Jonah Goldberg draws the obvious conclusion from this, that big government requires big business, and that big business prefers crony capitalism to real competitive capitalism:

Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan required working with large corporations and other firms. It was little guys for whom she had nothing but contempt. When warned her plan would crush smaller businesses, she shrugged, “I can’t go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”

Again, this is hardly a new story. Chiefly under the auspices of the National Recovery Administration, the New Dealers sought to create huge cartels and trade associations that could work side by side with economic planners. Small and independent firms, from movie theaters to dry cleaners to poultry distributors, were hounded and harassed by a government determined to “rationalize” the economy by sweeping away all those pesky-but-innovative competitors. Would Barney Frank rather work with one giant Fannie Mae that will always take his phone calls and do his bidding, or a thousand smaller firms that would need to be herded like cats? I think we already know the answer.

Everyone agrees that we are spending trillions of dollars on firms “too big to fail.” Many of these firms got so big because politicians in both parties liked to have important businessmen take their phone calls, do their bidding, and fund their campaigns. And maybe, just maybe, the lesson from the financial crisis isn’t to get big business and big government even more involved with each other, but to finally bust the trust between them.

Read Jonah Goldberg.

 
 

Time To Stop Taking The T

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I thought I’d follow up on my previous tweet on the subject, and explain myself a bit better.

I basically take the 78 bus to Harvard and then the Red Line to South Station to get to work every day. Since the 78 bus runs right in front of my house, it seems silly to drive in to Boston unnecessarily. I should, logically, be a poster boy for public transportation.

And yet, public transportation sucks so bad in this city that I just can’t do it any more. The Red Line seems to be broken, stopping for ten minute intervals in between stops on the way back home. This has on multiple occasions caused me to miss the bus home, adding an extra 15-20 minutes to my homeward commute. And that’s when the bus is on time. More often than not, it isn’t. Either it leaves 2 minutes early, causing me to just miss it, or it’s extraordinarily late.

Moreover, for some reason, the 78 route seems to use the oldest and most decrepit busses in the MBTA fleet, busses which break down far too often. If I were a conspiracy theorist I would say this is to punish Mitt Romney by giving the bus route that runs by the Mormon temple the worst busses imaginable. But whatever the reason, the fact remains that there are times that the bus just doesn’t show up, as happened on Friday morning when the 7:33AM bus just didn’t come by. By 7:55AM the 7:50 bus hadn’t arrived either, and so I got in the car and drove in. It took me less than 30 minutes.

Frankly, I’ve had it. It’s nuts to be living in Belmont, commuting to Boston and having it take over an hour to get into work. But this month was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The MBTA seems to have removed one bus from the 78 route, adjusting the schedules accordingly. Now I know we’re all under budget constraints, but it seems to me that they’d be better off shutting down the entire red line for a year or two and fixing it rather than doing what they’re doing. Because with every incremental change they make, with every application of a band-aid here and some duct-tape there, they create a public transportation system that is nominally working but for all practical purposes is useless for getting from point A to point B on time.

So I’m going to be driving in to work from now on. At my level at work, I get to have work pay for my T pass or a parking space at a nearby garage. I’m going to ask the boss to switch me over to the parking space as soon as possible. Maybe someday things will change. Maybe someday they’ll have qualified people running the T instead of political hacks. But until that time, I’ll be driving.

 
 

Why Can’t We Get Articulate Politicians Like This?

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

And not just articulate ones, but ones who are right!

 
 

Crony Capitalism

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Desmond Lachman has a must-read piece today about the rise of crony-capitalism in the United States:

Back in the spring of 1998, when Boris Yeltsin was still at Russia’s helm, I led a group of global investors to Moscow to find out firsthand where the Russian economy was headed. My long career with the International Monetary Fund and on Wall Street had taken me to “emerging markets” throughout Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, and I thought I’d seen it all. Yet I still recall the shock I felt at a meeting in Russia’s dingy Ministry of Finance, where I finally realized how a handful of young oligarchs were bringing Russia’s economy to ruin in the pursuit of their own selfish interests, despite the supposed brilliance of Anatoly Chubais, Russia’s economic czar at the time.

At the time, I could not imagine that anything remotely similar could happen in the United States. Indeed, I shared the American conceit that most emerging-market nations had poorly developed institutions and would do well to emulate Washington and Wall Street. These days, though, I’m hardly so confident. Many economists and analysts are worrying that the United States might go the way of Japan, which suffered a “lost decade” after its own real estate market fell apart in the early 1990s. But I’m more concerned that the United States is coming to resemble Argentina, Russia and other so-called emerging markets, both in what led us to the crisis, and in how we’re trying to fix it.

Be sure to read the whole thing. As I’ve said before, crony capitalism is NOT capitalism, and will lead to our economy resembling that of Mexico, Argentina or Russia. This is a VERY bad path for us to head down.

Read Desmond Lachman.

 
 

Legislation by Fiat

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Rob Tracinski discusses how congress has abdicated its legislative authority to executive agencies within the government, such as the EPA, and then decries Obama using those powers to extreme effect:

Under what system of government does the chief executive say to the legislature, in effect, “write the legislation I want, or else I will simply enact it by decree”? The answer: not under a system of representative government and the separation of powers. Barack Obama is proposing to govern, not in the manner of an American president, but in the manner traditionally sought by leftist strongmen like Hugo Chavez.

To be fair, this is no different than what Bush did with his faith based initiatives. I oppose the method no matter how its used (and I oppose both uses as well).

Read Rob Tracinski.

 
 

Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

WHY does this not exist in Boston?????

A group called Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling has for six years packed bars around this city with its lampoons of World Wrestling Entertainment, the pro league. Cast members have included a husky everyman who likes to tick off environmentalists by boasting about chopping down trees, and Ronald McFondle, a raunchy rendition of a clown character, who finishes off his opponents with a lewd gesture. They grapple on foam pads placed on stages in bars, not in rings.[...]

The Seattle league calls itself “fight cabaret” — in essence, theater with singlets, suplexes and sweat, as unworthy of regulation as a Shakespeare play. “It’s a bunch of grown men and women in costumes pretending to be professional wrestlers,” says David Osgood, the league’s lawyer. “It is to wrestling as ‘West Side Story’ is to actual gang relations.”

Read the rest of the article here, including pictures of the wrestlers (McFondle is #4).

And visit the Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling website, which also includes pictures and bios of the wrestlers, including McFondle.

 
 

The Atlantic Anti-Food Blog

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I thought I’d subscribe to the Atlantic Food Blog briefly to see what it was all about. First of all they only gave snippets in their RSS feed, a major problem in my book. But then they announced they were going to do a series on somebody who had an overeating problem, followed up by an article about how meat is supposedly bad for you.

Fuck that. They can go preach to somebody else.

 
 

George Will On Congress

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

George Will has a must read devastating account of the current congress. He goes policy by policy, comparing how even nations many Americans would consider backwards, corrupt or tyrannical have better sense than our government does now. A sample:

Another embarrassing auditor of American misgovernment is China, whose premier has rightly noted the unsustainable trajectory of America’s high-consumption, low-savings economy. He has also decorously but clearly expressed sensible fears that his country’s $1 trillion-plus of dollar-denominated assets might be devalued by America choosing, as banana republics have done, to use inflation for partial repudiation of improvidently incurred debts.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Read George Will.