Sunday, July 20, 2008

I just saw The Dark Knight at the IMAX. It was good. Afterwards, I was tempted to be a complete asshole and shout to all the people in line for the next showing 'Hey, Bruce Wayne is Batman!' Completely spoil the movie for them. But I didn't. I'm too nice.

Anyway, this isn't much of a blog post, but I needed to post it. Trying to make sure I get a full 12 dollars of utility from that ticket.

I probably did. Good film. Mediocre blog post. Answer other than 'washed dishes' for when people ask me if I did anything fun over the weekend.

I don't know why some people think washing dishes isn't fun.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yesterday Bush declared that the economy is 'strong and growing'. It took my friend Michael several minutes before he could stop laughing.

But that Bush is insane is nothing new, and neither is his ability to make us laugh whilst dooming us to the grave. I'm here to talk about something else.

Senator Jim Bunning is insane. This might be news to you because who the heck has heard of Sen. Bunning? He's the guy who had this to say about the proposed Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac buyout option:

When I picked up my newspaper yesterday, I thought I woke up in France. But no, it turned out it was socialism here in the United States of America and very well, going well. The Treasury secretary is now asking for a blank check to buy as much Fannie and Freddie debt or equity as he wants. The Fed purchase of Bear Stearns assets was amateur socialism compared to this.

I'm very glad we have Senators protecting us from the Red Menace, but perhaps there's a different sort of red menace facing us than there was thirty years ago. If Frannie and Feddie go down, it's not just people who signed mortgages they can't support who get screwed. We all go down with the economy.

The economy is, contrary to what certain lunatics claim, not strong and growing. It's weak and getting weaker. Losing F&F would be a major blow to a thriving economy. To one shedding jobs at >50 000 per month, inflation soaring, and--oh, yeah--housing prices dropping and foreclosures exploding and mortgage lenders barely alive, it's just not an option. (And that doesn't mean 'let's not think about it and hope it doesn't happen'. It means 'Let's do something to prevent it.')

Someone--probably Bunning, but I'm unsure--pointed out out that the request for authority caused a drop in share prices of the two companies.

Duh. The request signified the Treasury Secretary's lack of confidence, which would obviously prompt lack of investor confidence. But insisting the economy is 'strong and growing' will not give any sane person confidence. What does is saying 'Oh, yeah, we see the big glaring problem right in front of us and we're preparing to deal with it', and in the long run (if the preparations aren't blocked by Commie-fearing morons) will strengthen investor confidence and possibly even make it unnecessary to follow through.

Other options should be thoroughly explored, but ranting about the fact that we're daring to consider doing what could end up necessary is stupid. Refuse to sign the 'blank cheque' if you must--I'm rarely a fan of giving Bush more authority, after all--but signify support with at least a limited amount, perhaps with only contingent authority.

Though if we do let the dollar completely die, it would show those damn Commie investors in China. Prop up our economy for us, will you? Well all your investments in us are now worthless, so there!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A few weeks ago, I finally joined MyBarackObama just so I could join the 'Senator Obama - Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right' group. I muchly favour Obama over McCain and Hillary. I figured I'd also donate a bit of money to him iff he got it right.

Apparently, somehow the registering failed and I didn't join the group. Fail. But at least my fail wasn't epic. Obama's was.

If you live in the US, you should be aware that Obama said that he 'unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies' and that he would 'not be among those voting to end the filibuster'. And he didn't vote to end the filibuster--he was absent from the vote, even though he 'supports a filibuster of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same'--but he did vote FOR the FISA Amendment Act, a bill giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. Gee, that phrase seems familiar.

Voting for the FAA would have done next to nothing to directly harm popular opinion of Obama. It would signify that he's not a rightwing nutjob, but most people had figured that out. Fewer than 40% of Americans (or even 40% of conservatives!) supported telecom immunity. The 30-something% who support it probably aren't too keen on Obama anyway, so he wouldn't be losing their support. Presumably he's hoping for a big payout from the telecom industry. Or maybe he thinks he needs the support of Democratic politicians, who are apparently more rightwing than the average Republican voter (probably they get their money from the telecoms, wherewas the voters don't). But those guys will support him anyway because 1) he's their candidate and 2) they want to hitch a ride on his coattails into office.

Telecom immunity isn't the most important thing in the world, to me. I care more about the government telling companies to violate our rights than companies saying 'Okay. Sounds like fun!' But it's still a big deal. Even bigger, though, is saying repeatedly and specifically that you will strongly oppose telecom immunity and then voting in favour of it.

It's sensible that Obama is moving to the centre. The standard winning move is to appeal to your base in the primaries and move to centre for the general election, and I'm completely fine with him doing that. Sure, his supporters are liberal, but the change Obama has been promising is that he's the un-Rove, and that's what we care about the most--being centrist is good.

The left-to-centre shift, however, cannot rightly be done by making specific promises to appeal to the base and then switching to the opposite position. Work out a compromise (which the FISA Amendment Act was absolutely not) and throw a bone to the right/centre where you wisely avoided making specific promises. Don't reverse on earlier promises, especially those that are both specific and important to your base.

I still favour Obama over McCain (it's the economy, stupid), but we don't win by getting someone from the Democratic Party elected. We win by forcing that person to do what was promised. Most of his supports seem to have already let him slide on one major, major issue (campaign finance). We'd have to be pretty pathetic to let him continue to lie to us over and over again. Supporters of Obama should be the first and most vocal critics when he breaks his promises, because those promises were made to us to get our support, not to McCain and his supporters.

I guess one of my fails was epic. I failed to notice that 'change' is a synonym for 'flip-flop'. Obama, it's a shame you're not getting any public financing, 'cause you won't be getting any of my money either, and you won't get my vote either if you don't get your act together.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Last week, I was unfortunate enough to watch a bit of Fox News. It was immediately following McCain's energy speech, and they had BIll Richardson give a brief response. Basically, he kept saying McCain offered only 'gimmicks' while Obama had real energy policies.

Of course, this was a short talking point, not a real argument, so he didn't really explain himself. One central thing was McCain's prize:

McCain wants to offer a 300 000 000USD prize for a better battery for hybrid vehicles. This, says Richardson, is a useless gimmick, not a sound policy. Darn tootin'!

There are three problems with researching new technology:
* It takes a long time. (So no payout until success years off in the future)
* Your research might hit a dead-end, or another company might beat you to it. (So a possibility of no payout ever.)
* You might not be able to commercialise the resulting technology well. (So a possibility of only a small payout even if you eventually succeed.)

A large cash reward like the X-Prize, the newer NASA (+Google) Moon Landing prize, and McCain's proposed prize address only the third problem. They provide a big pay-off after you succeed IFF you succeed (and no one beats you to it). They DO NOT address the first two problems.

But an improved battery for hybrid vehicles doesn't suffer from the third problem.. You get a significantly better battery for hybrid vehicles and YOU'RE BLOODY RICH, 'prize' or not.

But it sure sounds nice. A quick 'gimmick' to sound like you're doing something while not actually addressing the problems. Take that 300 000 000USD and use it to fund the long-term, high-risk battery research that investors avoid. That addresses the problems with hybrid vehicle battery research. As it so happens, that's what Obama supports.

Rather than pushing an ineffective liberal spend-money-ineffectively energy policy, McCain should be pushing either Obama's liberal spend-money-effectively policy or--here's a bizarre idea--pushing a conservative DON'T-spend-money policy. Be a smart liberal or be a conservative--don't be a stupid liberal.

(I suspect that one of the other policies was the incredibly stupid Gas Tax Holiday, which--as every economist in the world will tell you--is too stupid and useless for words. McCain's fails economics every time he opens his mouth (autoplaying video warning).