Archive for the 'Debate' Category

Amazing Hoodwinking

December 23, 2009

It’s amazing to me that we continue to let Congress go down this path of rushed legislation.  “We must do this now!”  “We have to sign it before Christmas!”  They’ve used the same pattern for every piece of rushed legislation this year since the initial TARP programs last year.   TARPS I and II.  Stimulus.  Overextended budget.   Cap and trade (though not signed yet).  Health care.  “We can’t afford to stop and think about this.  We must act now!”

It’s the same argument global warming believers use with the planet.  “It will only happen gradually for the 50 – 100 years, but if we wait 5 more minutes it will be too late.”

In a former job we had a lot of “fire drills.”  The bosses would come with these important pieces of work that had to be done now!  They would get us all frothed up so that we were cranking out absolute crud until 2:00 am.  I coined a term for those projects:  JALJA (Jumping Around Like Jackasses).  “Here comes another JALJA,” became common lingo in my group.  Most of us eventually wised up and realized the JALJA’s weren’t important and moved onto to work for bosses who could use their resources effectively.  The JALJA leaders couldn’t figure out what was important and what wasn’t, so everything was, even when it wasn’t.  They didn’t know what they were doing, so they did a lot of it to keep people guessing.

The Congressional pace over the past year reminds me a lot of those good ole JALJA’s.  People seem to be wising up, based on Obama’s declining poll numbers.  I hope it will translate into results at the 2010 Congressional elections to restore a balance of power in Congress.

At the very minimum, maybe we will get back to the days where Congressman and Senators would at least read, if not come to fully understand the stuff they’re voting on.  It seems like such a basic expectation.

Excellent Video Series on Keynes and Hayek

December 20, 2009

This makes the second link I’ve made to PBS Newshour in the past week.  The link will take you to a series of five video segments with economists Lord Skidelsky and Russ Roberts hosted by the Lehrer.  They discuss Keynes, markets, the financial crisis and a host of other topics and, as my previous link to an interview with George Shultz, is hosted by Paul Solman.

In one of the videos, Solman describes himself as a “dispassionate reporter.”  From what I’ve seen of his work so far, I agree.  Journalism needs more like him.  After watching over an hour of his interviews now, I can’t tell if his personal beliefs lean one way or the other.  What’s more, he seems to understand the subject and is interested in getting the real story out, rather than a stylized version of the story meant to fit a predetermined narrative.  Nor does he practice “gotcha” journalism.

One quote from Russ Roberts that I will take with me is, “Capitalism is a profit and loss system.  The profits encourage risk taking.  The losses encourage prudence.”

I highly recommend watching the video series if you are the least bit interested in economics or gaining a better understanding of the the true causes of the financial crisis.

Silver Tongue on Climategate

December 17, 2009

A new contributor to this site, Lane Meyer, directed me to the excellent December 9, 2009 podcast of the Dennis Miller Radio Show, where Miller interviewed Christopher Monckton, Chief Policy Adviser at the Science and Public Policy Institute.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a link for you to be able to replay the interview directly from the web, but the podcast is available for free on iTunes.  Search for Dennis Miller and look for the Christopher Monckton Interview podcast released on 12/9/2009.

I wish I could do the podcast justice, Monckton absolutely shredded believers in global warming.  Monckton has been challenging Al Gore to a public debate on global warming for two and half years.  Miller gave Gore props for not accepting the invitation.  There is no doubt in my mind (and I bet in Al Gore’s) that Monckton would make Gore look silly, which would put a major crimp into Gore’s livelihood.

If you’ve ever had a hint of doubt about global warming, and suspected that those in the know may be blowing smoke, you need to listen to this podcast.  It’s refreshing.  As Miller put it, listening to Monckton is “cathartic.”

More on why I think it’s cathartic later.

Tick, tick, tick

December 14, 2009

In an interview on 60 Minutes this evening, Obama blamed Wall Street bankers for the nation’s financial troubles.  If I remember correctly, the question was asked if banks are repaying TARP funds so they could pay their CEOs big bonuses.  To that, Obama said that he thinks that’s a motivation and that Wall Street still doesn’t get it that everyone is mad at them for causing the financial mess (paraphrased from memory).

What’s sad is that many American accept this explanation and we never hold government accountable for their role in the mess.

A true leader would own up to it.  Wall Street certainly played a role in the financial crisis, but they by no means acted alone.  This is where journalism needs to DO IT’S JOB!

Here are some great questions I would have loved to ask President Obama at that point:

1.  Do you think the government or government agencies had any role in the financial crisis or did Wall Street act alone?

2. Do you believe the Federal Reserve should have acted quicker to remove excess money supply after it seemed that the economy got back on track after 9/11?

3. You don’t believe that government put pressure on banks to make credit easier (i.e. lend to people they would normally consider high credit risks) in order to push this idea of expanding home ownership?

4. Didn’t the government provide implicit guarantees to subprime lending, again to expand home ownership, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

5. Wasn’t Fannie and Freddie one of the largest, if not largest, provider of these bad loans?  And weren’t they acting under direction from Congress?

6.  Weren’t regulations proposed in 2004 that would have reduced the risk of the housing crisis by making it tougher to get loans, but those regulations were rejected by Congress because they would have interfered with the goal of expanding home ownership?

6.  In order for us to better trust your leadership, shouldn’t we expect you to be honest about government’s role in the financial mess?  Rather, you seem to pretend that government has not blame and we should continue to blindly trust the government as you want to expand regulatory power even further.

7. Please tell me, how are the new financial regulatory powers that your administration is proposing different from those in 2004?  Why didn’t the current regulations not work to prevent the crisis?  Did anyone in government not even recognize that a crisis was about to happen?  If not, how can we trust those in government to recognize the next crisis?

8. What do you think about the people who borrowed well beyond their means?  Shouldn’t they have acted more prudently?  Shouldn’t we expect our citizens, who are provided thirteen years of education with a total valued at $150,000, to make responsible financial choices?  Shouldn’t we expect them to be able to read and understand a loan document and do their homework about the realities and responsibilities that come with home ownership?

9. What personal finance advice would you give Americans?

10.  Some say that people were motivated to borrow beyond their means because they felt that home prices were appreciating so rapidly that they could always sell the house and make a nice profit.  In other words, they were borrowing on future hopes rather than their realistic income.  Don’t you think that the government’s finances are reflecting that same behavior?  We are borrowing beyond our means with the hope that the economy will grow strong and pay for it.  Haven’t we learned our lesson here?  Don’t we know how this story is likely to end?

The Open Mind Test

December 14, 2009

For the last few years, some believers of global warming have characterized global warming skeptics as having closed minds.   With the recent climategate, it’ll be interesting to see how open minded those same people are about conflicting information.

Jobs Summit

December 5, 2009

This is a good recording of a broadcast on a Minnesota National Public Radio program with economists Russ Roberts and Josh Bivens discussing the jobs summit.  The economists get going about 10 minutes into the recording.

Josh represents what I disdain.  He comes across as confident, smart and completely disconnected from the you and I.  He’s an intellectual elite.  I’ve personally seen his type wreck companies and then rationalize why it wasn’t their fault.  His types also created the financial crisis.  I believe his types evolved from what was once known as a snake oil salesman.  He’s playing a con.  I’m not sure if he really even cares if he’s right or wrong.  His main motivation is to be seen as the smartest guy in the room.

Folks like Russ, on the other hand, we should listen to more.  He says, “I want you to be skeptical, even of me.”  He connects with the callers on the phone and understands what’s going on in their lives.  He says we shouldn’t trust economists, especially those with a great deal of data and models supposedly backing them up.

Mind Changer on Local Talk Radio

October 30, 2009

One of the two “moderate conservative” hosts of a local talk radio program admitted yesterday that he changed his mind about liberal media bias.  That was quite an admission, because for years he defended the media and said that any bias was perceived by the reader and not perpetrated by those in the media.

While the other host of the program tried to claim credit for the conversion, he admitted that the blatant actions of two people changed his mind: Charles Gibson and Katie Couric.  I didn’t get to hear which actions.  I assume Gibson’s response to the ACORN break played a factor.  I don’t pay enough attention to Katie to know what she did.

I’m always interested to see what things can change a person’s mind (hence the name of this blog), so I’m glad he mentioned it.  It turns out that Saul Alinsky was right again.  Alinksy, an alleged influence in Obama’s life, suggests showing an enemy in their true light so people can see what they really are.

The guy who made the ACORN tapes found success with that tactic.  It looks like Gibson and Couric.  All I can say is keep up the good work.

To appear “smart” this guy continues to qualify his position.  He doesn’t believe there’s an organized conspiracy in media, but now he sees how individual biases, especially when a majority of people in the profession align idealogically, can influence the angles and the coverage.  I haven’t heard any support the “organized media conspiracy” theory.  That’s a straw man he’s set up for himself to knock.

All this reminds of a story from conservative journalists (some do exist).  I’m not sure who this came from.  This gentlemen was working late one night with one of his liberal editors when the topic of bias came up.  The conservative journalist said that 90% of the staff were card carrying Democrats.  He asked his editor if he could see why the stories were biased.  The editor replied that journalists are trained to be objective and professional.

The conservative journalist then asked, “well, okay then, since journalists are trained to be objective and professional, how would you feel if 90% of the staff were card carrying Republicans?”

His editor replied, “That wouldn’t work.  You can’t trust them to be objective.”

I think of that story every time I hear people defend bias in the media or pretend it doesn’t exist or pretend it only exists on Fox.  It is hard to see our own biases.

But, I think people are starting to see their bias.

On the Margin

October 28, 2009

Here’s an excellent podcast from Russ Roberts of EconTalk:  Munger on Shortages, Prices and Competition.

Listen to it.   This covers a gamut of topics:   Vaccines, minimum wage, organ donation, airline deregulation.  Roberts and Munger do a great job of explaining factors other than price that we use to allocate our resources on the margin everyday and don’t realize it.

For example:  FREE VACCINE!!! Great. We’ll all get it.  Right?  Nope.  Why not?  It’s still not worth it to many because there are “costs” involved.  Time waiting in line, getting there, having a chance to catch the illness while waiting in line to name a few.

I’m listening to the podcast for the second time as I write this.

Obvious Questions

September 25, 2009

In 1980, Milton and Rose Friedman wrote these words in their book Free to Choose regarding the energy crisis of that day:

Government officials, newspaper reports, and TV commentators regularly attribute the energy crisis to a rapacious oil industry, or wasteful consumers, or bad weather, or Arab shiekhs.  But none of these is responsible.

The subtle and sophisticated people who fill the newspaper columns and the airwaves with such silly explanations seem never to have asked themselves the obvious question: why is it that for a century or more before 1971, there were no energy crises, no gasoline shortages, no problems about fuel oil–except during World War II.

There has been an energy crisis because government created one.

To the despair of every economist, it seems almost impossible for most people other than trained economists to comprehend how a price system works.  Reporters and TV commentators seem especially resistant to the elementary principles they supposedly imbibed in freshman economics.

Obvious questions never get asked.

Much like in the energy crisis in the 70s, the usual suspects get blamed for our present day crises – bad mortgages, high gasoline prices and problematic health insurance.   Companies, CEOs, traders, greedy salespeople are the bad guys.  Unpopular politicians catch some blame too, but it’s usually misplaced and based more on how well the media and general public like the politician.

Obvious questions: Are these the right things to blame?  Why do some industries rarely or ever have crises and some seem prone with crisis?  What are the possible causal differences in these industries and how exactly do those causes generate the problems in one industry or not in another?

I Agree With Obama?

September 22, 2009

I’m sure friends and family will be surprised to read this, but I’m a fair guy.

I’ll give President Obama two points.

Point 1: I saw him on a news show this weekend correctly state that the discourse around health care isn’t about his skin color, rather about what people think the proper role of government is in society.

Point 2:  Today I read this quote from one of his TV appearances over the weekend:

“I think, that frankly, the media encourages some of the outliers in behavior, because, let’s face it – the easiest way to get on television right now is to be really rude,” Obama said on ABC’s Sept. 20 “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “If you’re just being sensible and giving people the benefit of the doubt and you’re making your arguments, you don’t, you don’t get time on the nightly news.

I agree with that too.  I find that goes for debates at the office and family living rooms around the country as well. We are TERRIBLE at constructive conflict.  We take things too personally. We call each other names.  We misrepresent our opponents’ viewpoints.  We get mad and frustrated.  We shut down when we hear something that might challenge the way we think.

In many debates, we have precious little time to make valid points and question our opponents position before the powder keg ignites.  We’re too caught up in winning, or at least making it appear that we are the victor, than bringing the best ideas forward and addressing the valid points, fair criticisms and trade-offs and getting others to think about the very things that successfully formed our mindsets.

That’s too bad.