Thursday, June 28, 2012

About Right

Near the end of this report is an unsurprising finding:
Quinnipiac calculated Obama's approval rating among voters in all three states who said they were undecided or intended to vote for someone other than Obama and Romney. In each state, those uncommitted voters (around 15 percent of the electorate in each case) expressed strongly negative views of Obama's performance. In Florida, just 33 percent of them approved of his performance. In Ohio, just 27 percent approved. Pennsylvania was toughest of all: just 23 percent approved.

The saving grace for Obama? Those voters today think even less of Romney. Among these undecided voters in Florida, just eight percent view Romney favorably-compared to 41 percent who are unfavorable toward him. In Ohio, the ratio is 10 percent to 47 percent; in Pennsylvania, it's 12 percent to 45 percent. Obama's favorable ratings aren't much better with those voters, but they are higher in all three states. Both men today appear to be standing in a hole with the voters who could ultimately decide which one of them gets over the top in November.
So "undecideds" think Obama sucks and Romney sucks worse.  A fair assessment.  I'd venture that the same belief is held by many Obama "supporters" and that reversing the roles of suckeyness would get the opinion of a fair number of Romney "supporters".

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Extreme Politics...

I'm a bit perplexed by this article by Mark Thoma: Extreme Politics Will Make US the Biggest Loser.  I don't really disagree, and a lot of the Republican side is so self-evident that only the clueless or willfully stupid (who probably won't be reading it anyway) would not already be aware.  I'm perplexed by his final hearkening for a time that never really was, and that really shouldn't be--people have differences in opinion and politics reflects that: but today only Republicans fight for theirs--but even more so by his description of a major difference between the parties with the Democrats thinking: activist government is necessary to keep markets functioning, and to smooth economic fluctuations. Without government oversight, markets would be captured by monopoly power, consumers would be at the mercy of unscrupulous producers, there would be distortions from adverse selection, information asymmetries, moral hazard problems, and so on. In addition, if government does not take action when a recession hits, the downturn will be much worse and much longer than necessary.
Now, I know a lot of Democratic voters are of such a mind, it's pretty clear that most of the truly left leaning pundit class thinks that way, and there do seem to be a handful of  politicians that would agree, but Obama's been in office since 2008, and for the first two years had large majorities in the House and Senate and we didn't get anything like that.  I know, the Senate is a clusterfuck of a governing body, and no matter how much in their heart of hearts they may have secretly wanted those things, there was no chance of them happening. 

But they didn't really try, there were no bills that came to the floor that matched the above description of Democrats, that were then watered down by the legislative process into weak tea.  All the bills started out as watered down, pathetically weak compromise bills that may as well have been written by Republicans...then they got worse.  This was true of health care, financial regulation/reform, immigration and energy legislation (which got so bad as to not exist!).

So, while, yes, Republicans are bat-shit insane, no, there really is no stark policy contrast.  The Democratic party hasn't really done much to deal with any of the issues raised, and seems more afraid each year to even mention them.  The Obama campaign sort of goes after Romney's record with Bain, and Corey Booker and Bill-Fucking-Clinton step out in defense of those misunderstood, and improperly maligned financial wizards who destroyed our fucking economy and have not had their lives altered in any meaningful fucking way!

Infrastructure spending?  Like the tiny fraction of the now spent stimulus that Dems showed no willingness to go back to?

Climate change (global warming), or at least the energy initiative?  Maybe Obama's policy to drill for more fossil fuels than W did?  Or how about the GOP cap and trade plan that never got passed because of the GOP obstruction?

For a party that supposedly believes in these things they are really fucking shitty at actually doing anything related to them.

So really, if the GOP wins big this November, don't expect any meaningful change...even for the worse.  There was a time when I thought that it might wake up the remaining Dems and get them to fight back, but then 2008 came and gave them a win, and they went full in for Republican policies and talking points as well as bipartisan fetishism.  Fuck em.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Random Aside

Read frustrating column.  Came across this comment that reminded me of another post about this:
One of the things I don't get is that in the 2004 election campaign, the Republicans successfully made a lot of noise about John Kerry being a "flip-flopper," waving flip-flops around at political gatherings and generally tarring him with that label, because he changed his mind about a couple of things. Meanwhile, Romney contradicts himself constantly, and, first, the Democrats don't start doing silly stunts like waving flip-flops around and, second, the Republicans don't even notice his lack of consistency. I have to say I'm glad that the Democrats don't indulge in such childish actions, but, OTOH, the stunts do seem to have a real impact on a large segment of the voting public.
(I don't remember where the other post was)

There seems to be some noise from Dems who want [Obama] to attack Romney as a flip-flopper similar to 2004 against Kerry, and I really don't.  The attacks on Kerry were really indicative of stupid, small-mindedness.  People change their minds on things.  Smart people, who are confronted with evidence are even more likely to change their mind.  Only neanderthal, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing morons like the last president can keep believing the same thing no matter what.

This isn't to say that Romney isn't craven.  His "changes of mind" seem far more pandering and opportunistic than, say, Obama's recent return to believing gay marriage should be allowed, and there is a big difference between actually changing opinion and just stating whatever garbage you think the appropriate demographic wants to hear.

Still: attacking people for changing their minds--for flip-flopping if you will--is a petty attack by small minded people.  And we seem to hear it far more often from Republicans.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

US Currency

Just about every time I travel abroad I am reminded of how stupid our currency setup is here.  I got back from Israel recently.  The smallest denomination coin: 1 NIS (~US$0.26), the largest: 10 NIS (~$2.60).  The smallest denomination bill: 20 NIS (~$5.20).  Also, the bills are made of plastic, not paper.

We have a bizarre sentimental attachment to pennies and dollar bills here.  It makes no fucking sense, and people get strangely paranoid when someone suggests getting rid of them. ("If we got rid of pennies, the poor making cash purchases would be screwed over by businesses!")

We should abolish the penny, the nickel, and the dollar bill, up the minting of $1 coins and add a $2 coin.  We should at least switch the bill material to plastic, which is much longer lasting and possibly a bit harder for forgers to reproduce.  Of course all these things make financial sense so there's a good chance Republicans are more opposed than Democrats, but the real blame on this lies with average citizens.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Meh of Casinos

I'm going to second this post on how uninteresting casinos have become.  I remember enjoying going to places with a casino because of the novelty.  I enjoy blackjack (and poker, but that takes too much time in a casino) but the last conference I went to in Vegas, I really didn't care much, and when we hit up a nearby casino at a bachelor party I think we spent a total of an hour and a half there, and most of that walking around looking for something to play (no one wanted to drop $25 a hand on blackjack and slots are boring).

There are casinos everywhere today.  Gambling is no longer some exotic activity.  Why would anyone want to go to Atlantic city today?  There are much nicer stretches of beach/shore, and if you want to spend time in a windowless casino, why there's probably one nearby.

The other downside of gambling (including both casinos and the lottery) is the upward transfer of wealth. Basically, the gubment wants money, but taxes is bad so Gambling = Win!  The problem is that the bulk of gambling revenue comes from poor and middle class people (I'll grant there is a subset of wealthy idiots who throw lots of money away at casinos who would never buy a lottery ticket). And, the government revenue comes out of the massive profits the companies make.  Basically gambling as revenue stream for the government is the equivalent of a regressive tax plan, combined with a giveaway to rich people.

I'm not actually opposed to casinos and lottery, but I think that it should be balanced against a highly progressive income tax. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Death of TV is Greatly Exaggerated

Or something.  Sony and Panasonic (and really Samsung too) definitely have some problems in their TV divisions, and it's a combination of several things happening the past few years, bad economy probably chief among them.

Televisions are not yet entirely commodity, however, and there is good room for growth in the future, provided some meaningful changes occur.  Large, lightweight, low energy screens have massive potential.  For gaming and watching movies, of course, but that's just what we do now.  Think about the benefits of having a wall sized screen, that when turned off, looked like a wall with some art on it, or even better a picture window Imagine if anyone could convert an entire wall to a screen that would, when powered "off" present as a picture window with a live view from somewhere else in the world...

To really do this at a level where every new house/apartment would be built with a display wall would require a few changes: lower energy use chief among them.  Really, though, we are pretty nearly there in terms of cost and screen capabilities.  The biggest issue is setup and control.  I would envision a bank of modular panels, each one an HD display, and any 2x2, 3x3 and maybe 4x4  of which could be grouped together to form a larger display, with other panels around the selected group being "environmental" (typically black, but with the occasional one on the web).  Separate panels make repair easier, and less costly, and greatly enhances versatility--watch TV on one side while someone browses the web on the other.  

The technology exists today to do this, but the energy costs and the installation costs really keep it from becoming viable.  To do this today would require lots of computing and graphics power--we want to be able to have these managed all together--though relays could help reduce the cost of external connections like game consoles.  Still, it's cheaper by far to build an in home theater.

The Other Way Actually Isn't

This column is mostly fine, but this just isn't [quite] correct.
Nobody has to pick up any of the bill. The ECB can print free money and give to whoever they want, including the banksters. Now I get that there might be existing legal and political barriers to doing such things, but conceptually it is completely sound. Everybody gets a do-over! Huzzah!
Atrios is referring to another column saying that Germany would have to pay most of the bill to rescue its neighbors.  He's right that nobody has to "pay the bill" but the effect of the ECB printing money would not be nothing.  One of the ways that this would function to keep everything balanced is to push German inflation higher so that lower, but still positive, inflation in the periphery would allow the balance of accounts necessary to right the ship (more or less per Paul Krugman's frequent discussion of this).

Again, German inflation would be a good thing for the zone as a whole, and as Germany has benefited quite a lot from the Euro thing, it is fitting, but it isn't cost free, and German citizens probably wouldn't look kindly on it.  They would be paying, not through tax dollars but through a shrinking of their spending power over time that was faster than that in the periphery.

I want to clarify: I think that the inflation targets are far too low (historically it seems 4% may be a better number...lower is fine iff overall economic growth and unemployment are in good places), but inflation is a real cost, and not only to those with accrued wealth.  Higher inflation will hurt people who have little to no upward wage mobility (e.g. fixed incomes, and people in the US on minimum wage).

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Surprising Obliviousness

So I read through this story on college grads "kids" moving back in with their parents and how it is a good thing for them.  On the face of it: duh.  In a crappy economy with very expensive cost of living (housing and student loan debt in particular), the ability to move back in with mom and dad is a sensible thing to do and a very smart move from a financial/career perspective.

But the professor author, who should really know better, makes this seem like a good thing.  It isn't.  It's something that happens when the job market sucks, the rent is too damned high, and students (and their parents) have to take on crippling levels of debt to go to college...which is pretty much required as the job market for college grads is only crappy and not non-existent.

The bigger problem with the piece is this however:
Both parents and children understand that in a world where the young are saddled with debt and find it difficult to quickly enter a career, parental support — where possible — is indispensable. [my bold]
It isn't always possible.  In fact grads and students with more debt, with less family support and therefore with greater need to get a job (any job) as soon as possible are most likely to not have this family support available.

The entire piece seems to say "it's okay that your son/daughter is at home, they aren't loosers, they are clever and will have better futures as a result" but the "your" in this case isn't struggling families. It's families that can afford to have their adult children live in the house and sponge off mom and dad.  Yes, the economy sucks, and it sucks for the children of upper middle class and higher parents, but is this professor unable to comprehend that it may really, really suck for those of his students who don't have that luxury?!?

Rather than console those who don't really need the economy to pick up too badly he should use his post to educate those parents as to exactly how bad things are and encourage them to maybe do something about it.