ITEM: Two books you really, really should read are Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, both by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. These are outstanding works that deal with the real-world implications — such as the massive financial meltdown that we’re in — of human ignorance or misunderstanding of probability. Both books were written before the meltdown; Taleb now talks about how to avoid a repeat performance. Example:
6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning. Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.
ITEM: You should also read (and it will only take a few minutes) Joshua Stanton’s piece over at the New Ledger on “The Myth of Soft Power: Ten Effective, Non-Military Options Obama Won’t Use Against North Korea“. Example:
7. Expand U.N. sanctions to ban the sale of North Korean gold — some of it likely mined in concentration camps — on the international markets. Even if China blocks U.N. sanctions on North Korean gold sales, most of this gold is sold in the capitals of U.S. allies Thailand and the United Kingdom. Thus, bilateral diplomacy would be an effective alternative to the U.N.
ITEM: Great news! The ceiling credit card interest rate has been lowered to 12.5%! Oh, wait — that’s over in Taiwan. Here in the States, Congress is atttempting to raise payday loan interest rates to 391%.
ITEM: Obama is losing, or at least annoying, John Dickerson over at Slate. The reason: Obama’s propensity to use exaggeration and overstatement (and, let’s face it, though Dickerson is too polite to put it in these terms, outright lies) in characterizing his critics and watchdogs (emphasis mine):
He’s also a nuance-free exaggerator. In Turkey, he told students, “Some of my reporter friends from the States were asking, ‘How come you didn’t solve everything on this trip?’ ”
A politician is always on safe ground charging that the press has gone overboard. But no one was asking that question.
Nor was anyone saying what Obama said some people were saying in his press conference last month: “We did a video, sending a message to the Iranian people and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And some people said, ‘Well, they did not immediately say that we’re eliminating nuclear weapons and stop funding terrorism.’ ” No one said that. But it helped Obama make his pitch for patience.
For me, that’s a sign of intellectual dishonesty (or, at least, laziness) and indicates that Obama may think that his arguments and actions can’t stand on their own merits. Note that other people were pointing out this same tendency in Obama’s comments well before the election last fall.
ITEM: Like it or not (and a lot of people don’t), your Social Security number has become, in effect, your universal identifier. But for most of us, our SS card is a flimsy, plain piece of paper buried in a file or drawer somewhere. So the design firm Frog has proposed a 21st century Social Security card that incorporates photographic, anti-forgery and biometric features. But they seriously need to work on their marketing; their name for this proposal is the “Troika” card, a word that has strong (and negative) Cold War-era connotations.
ITEM: How bad is the mortgage fraud crisis here in America? So bad that the Feds just indicted a group of 24 people down in San Diego led by a street gang member for at least $9 million in mortgage fraud in the 2005-2008 period. Like Willie Sutton said, it’s where the money is (or was).
ITEM: Speaking of fraud, here’s a bit of news to reassure a public wondering where all this stimulus money is going (emphasis mine):
The federal government will soon send more than $300 million in stimulus funds to 61 housing agencies that have been repeatedly faulted by auditors for mishandling government aid, a USA TODAY review has found.
Yeah, that’s going to work out well, don’t you think? And Treasury’s creation of the P-PIP Fund may open the door to lots more financial shenanigans.
ITEM: Speaking of piracy, it appears even the Somali pirates want to test President Obama. This is the first ship with an all-American crew that the Somali pirates have seized. Coincidence or opportunity? You decide. Of course, this comes just as Joe Conason tries to argue (with a straight face) that Obama represents an extremists’s nightmare.
ITEM: Creeping socialism/fascism alert: I somehow missed this little gem from Treasury Sec’y Tim Geithner:
“Accordingly, we recommend that all advisers to hedge funds (and other private pools of capital, including private equity funds and venture capital funds) with assets under management over a certain threshold be required to register with the SEC. All such funds advised by an SEC-registered investment adviser should be subject to investor and counterparty disclosure requirements and regulatory reporting requirements. The regulatory reporting requirements for such funds should require reporting, on a confidential basis, information necessary to assess whether the fund or fund family is so large or highly leveraged that it poses a threat to financial stability.”
Yeah, regulating venture capital funds is going to help stimulate the economy. Talk about a flight from investment, and right when we need it the most.
ITEM: Creeping socialism/fascism alert (part 2): Steve Malanga has a well-written piece on the “reawakening of corporatism” thanks to the Obama Administration:
But a version of corporatism also emerged in the 1920s in Fascist Italy, where Mussolini conceived of syndicates in numerous industries composed of labor leaders and businessmen helping direct the Italian economy in the service of Fascism. Hitler’s solution was more thorough, to eliminate those organizations and associations within Germany that opposed him and to smother individualism by instituting a corporatist regime of forcible coordination among trade unions and business groups.
As chilling as these authoritarian versions of corporatism sound today, in the 1930s they found admirers in the U.S., where the ravages of the Great Depression provoked public longing for a safer, more thoroughly planned economy without as much resistance and debate from recalcitrant business leaders or opposition party members who opposed the New Deal. Even today one occasionally hears a longing for a benign version of this elaborately planned economic world in phrases like “getting the trains running on time,” or in a recent column in the New York Times which suggested that Hitler’s wartime buildup amounted to a successful government stimulus in Depression-era Germany.
ITEM: Speaking of humorous fantasies — with Bush out of office, the market for Bush-bashing jokes, web sites and paraphernalia has plummeted. Of course, they could always start to make fun of Obama . . . naaah.
ITEM: And if you’re in the mood for some bad news — that is, besides all the items below — here’s a little something to worry about. However, the Bad Astronomer weighed in on it about a year ago, and we’re all still here.
ITEM: Well, the Obama Administration is now saying that “the government has spent, lent or set aside more than $4 trillion through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.” The mind boggles, and the unborn children weep.
ITEM: Keith Hennessy, who raised concerns about the lack of “free market” references in the G-20 summit statement, gives Obama credit for directly addressing the need for free trade while speaking in France, no less.
ITEM: VP Joe Biden says that former VP Dick Cheney is “dead wrong” on the safety of the United States. If I had to pick one or the other to protect the US — or, frankly, to carry out any task requiring executive competence — I’d pick Cheney, and not Biden. ‘Nuff said.
ITEM: Not everyone is buying the attempted rehabilitation of Eliot Spitzer. And why is it that only Democrats get this kind of pass? I’m surprised Obama hasn’t nominated Sandy Berger for some key position.
ITEM: Glad to see that someone continues to raise questions about Larry Summers and his income from Wall Street. And it’s the Washington Post doing it. I’m telling you — the WaPo is making the New York Times look like the Obama lapdog that it is. On the other hand, Woman On Fire Megan McArdle puts together a reasonable defense of Summers, though that may just be to tweak Glenn Greenwald (who had two New York Times Bestseller books!*).
*OK, in all fairness to Glenn, if any of my books had made the NYT Bestseller lists, you can be sure it would be mentioned prominently on this blog.
Despite blunders in the appointments process, Obama has shown a wisdom, intellectual clarity and moral humility that Jimmy Carter lacked, and that augurs well for dealing with the tremendous threats to US and Western security.
But he fails to provide any convincing evidence to that end, beyond his own admiration for Obama and his own wishful thinking. Stephen Morris is an Australian who, as far as I can tell, didn’t actually live here in the US during the Carter Administration. I’m an American who did (and was in the workforce with a wife and children to support). Beyond that, I have yet to see “wisdom, intellectual clarity, and moral humility” on the part of President Obama since his inauguration; quite the opposite, I’d say.
ITEM: Just a “helpful reminder” that the United States income tax code is already one of the most progressive taxes in the world. But Congress and Obama don’t think it’s progressive enough, apparently.
ITEM: Best headline of the overnight links: A Nuclear Hedge Against Aliens.
ITEM: Camille Paglia keeps making excuses for Obama himself, though she excoriates his staff. I sense, however, that she will not always remain so forgiving of the One. And, God bless her, she remains intellectually honest:
Yes, something very ugly has surfaced in contemporary American liberalism, as evidenced by the irrational and sometimes infantile abuse directed toward anyone who strays from a strict party line. Liberalism, like second-wave feminism, seems to have become a new religion for those who profess contempt for religion. It has been reduced to an elitist set of rhetorical formulas, which posit the working class as passive, mindless victims in desperate need of salvation by the state. Individual rights and free expression, which used to be liberal values, are being gradually subsumed to worship of government power.
ITEM: Gerard Vanderleun nails the main advantage (obvious in retrospect) of newspapers over new media:
Meanwhile, Jeff Javits over at BuzzMachine posts the keynote talk that he thinks the “angry, old, white men” at the Newpaper Assocation of America meeting should get (but won’t):
You blew it.
You’ve had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of – as you call them, Mr. Murdoch – net natives. You’ve had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn’t.
You blew it.
That’s just the warm-up. Definitely worth reading.
And remember — vote for prawns! ..bruce w..
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