The Closet Moderate: November 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Top Gun

Apparently Tim Geithner is in at Treasury (and the markets rejoiced). While I'm not particularly familiar with Geithner, what I've read about him suggests that he's a pretty good pick. To review my criteria from my inaccurate prediction of Bloomberg as SecTreas:

1) Intimately familiar with Wall Street. The NY Fed (which Geithner was president of) deals extensively with Wall Street, and Geithner was heavily involved in the various bailings-out that Treasury and the Fed have undertaken. Grade: A

2) But not a Wall Street CEO. In fact, as far as I can tell, Geithner has never been paid a dime by any Wall Street firm. Grade: A

3) Somewhat non-partisan. Geithner was a moderate Republican in 1988 when he started working for the Treasury Department and became an Independent when he was working for the Clinton administration. Grade: A

4) Incorruptible. Here, he's got a bit of a leg down on Bloomberg. While I doubt he's going to pack the 0.7 teradollars into his suitcase and abscond with it, as a career public servant he ain't Bloomberg rich. On the other hand, as a veteran out-bailer from the Clinton years, he's presumably faced and overcome his share of absurd bribes. Grade: B+

Overall, an excellent pick.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why deflation sucks

Having been prodded by my co-bloggards, I will now explain to the blog-reading public at large why deflation sucks.

I will first note that if you google "why is deflation bad", you'll probably get better explanations than the one I'm about to lay on you. But if you truly value getting taught economics by a someone with a nom de plume from The Muppet Show, this may your best resource.

There are a number of stories that can be told about this, depending on how you think the economy works. I'm going to go with a simple story, called "sticky wages".

What "sticky wages" mean is that, in many circumstances, nominal wages (that is, the number of dollars that get deposited in your bank account on a biweekly basis) do not adjust very nimbly. For instance, if GM sells fewer cars one month than it expected, it doesn't suddenly reduce the wages of all its workers: for one thing, those union workers are under contract, and their contract doesn't allow management to suddenly cut wages.

So, ignoring the causes of deflation for the moment, imagine prices of all goods dropped by 90%, so GM's cars now get sold for 10% less. Suddenly, GM is making a lot less profit per car. In a world with perfectly non-sticky wages, GM (and every other company) would cut nominal wages by 90% across the board, and the world would gone on as if nothing had happened, just moving the decimal places on all their checks one over. But if wages are sticky and don't shift, suddenly GM is losing a lot of money on each car it makes, and it has to cut production and lay off workers until its profitable again, which is a big blow to what economists like to call the "real economy", which deals directly with objects built rather than with money earned, because we've got a lot less cars being built now. And, of course, those workers who just got laid off are also the guys buying stuff, and they're not inclined to spend when they're unemployed, which means that companies need to lower prices in order to sell things, and because of sticky wages, that means they need to lay off more workers, until everyone in the country is unemployed.

So, when Bloomberg tells you deflation is coming, that is one reason to know cold, cold fear in your heart. Enjoy!

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Personality

I entered this blog into Typealyzer and it told me that we are, collectively, of Myers-Briggs personality type ISTP, or "Mechanics." According to the site's description:
The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
So, if my fellow bloggards and I ever form like Voltron into a single, obnoxious super-bloggard, we would likely drive race cars with fire hoses and go on moderate adventures.

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Deflation is great!

Mostly as a way to taunt more economically savvy members of our blog, I would like to list a few reasons why deflation is awesome. Feel free to join in in the comments:

1) Inflation = Bad -> Deflation = Good!

2) This five dollars I have in my pocket will soon buy me a house.

3) Better traction in desert environments, less chance of blowout at altitude.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thought for the Day:

Fuck Chuck Klosterman.

Dear Chuck,

About GNR: if you like GNR, when you hear an awesome GNR song, you don't immediately shove three fingers up your butt and use your other hand to write a long-winded review of the album. Acceptable alternatives to the Klosterfuck?

1. Drink Heavily
2. Air Guitar
3. Uh, Drink Heavily?

(If you must meta-appreciate, play Sweet Child of Mine on Guitar Hero or watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Work in #1-3 as circumstances permit.)

If Axl Rose is who you say he is, I hope the two of you meet in a dark alley someday and engage in a loving 69 of forward-looking musical/critical insecurity. Maybe have John Woo nearby to release some pigeons at the moment of climax. You know, for gravitas.

Chuck Klosterman: History's Greatest Monster?

"At this juncture in history, rocking is not enough."

FUCK. YOU.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Team of Rivals Cont'd.

I was going to post about the somewhat ill-considered love for the "team of rivals" concept, but it turns out Steven Teles @ JHU has already covered that ground. I don't have a doctorate, he does, read it.

Also, it helps put Mike Allen's report that the Obama team is exasperated with the Clinton drama into context.

h/t: Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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Ask The Tims: The Herpes Happening

Dear The Tims,

I have just met the most unbelievable man and have fallen completely in love. On our second date, he told me that he caught genital herpes in college. (He married the woman who gave it to him, and they have divorced.) At first, I was shocked and considered writing him off, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn't know what to do. I kept in contact with him, and every time we spoke or saw each other, I knew this was someone I wanted in my life. We have decided to hold off on being "completely intimate" with each other until the time is right. My concern is that the time may never be right. I truly love him and would never want to hurt him. Please help.

- Helpless


Dear Helpless,

Girl, please. I think he should get laid for being honest. I mean, shit. When you say "completely intimate," do you mean hitting that dick without preconditions? Because there's the crazy old man around my neighborhood right now going off about pre-conditions and a nuclear Iran, while occasionally sputtering out something about Hanoi... anyway, if anyone's lost their dad, please come pick him up in Berkeley. Back to the case at hand...

When you say "completely intimate," do you mean unprotected sex? Because if you have "fallen completely in love," as you say, having sex with him wearing a condom is the very definition of "acceptable risk." Yes, eventually you'll want to have unprotected sex, but by then they'll have some sort of laser that you can shove up your nose to cure all illnesses, and you'll have nothing to worry about. However, if, in fact, you decide to hit it raw dog, and shortly afterward, either of you decide to bail, you will be stuck with some extra luggage.

So yeah, I don't know.

- Tim



Dear Helpless,

Yes, unbelievable sounds about right. He certainly did not marry the woman who gave it to him. If he knew who gave him herpes, he would have beaten her ass, not married her. The woman in question was most likely a hooker from his Spring Break trip to Tijuana or some sorority skank he boned in a forgettable night of sloppy, clumsy drunken sex.

He does deserve some credit for telling you about his herpes on the second date. But that makes me question you. I doubt this came up over a fried mozzarella appetizer at Appleby's. I'm guessing he told you this in now regrettable fit of honestly in a moment of passion. Way to hold off until the second date, whore. Now instead of getting in your pants, he has to suffer and wait as a reward for his honesty.

If he is really that special and you "truly love him," just make him wrap it. I mean come on, were you going to let him go bareback right away anyway? Just avoid sex during outbreaks. Whore.

- Tim

Need advice? Send your questions to askthetims@gmail.com.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hillary to State?

So, there's been a buzz that Hillary could be Secretary of State. I'm not in love with any of the candidates who've been floated for State.

Structurally, it's unclear how a Secretary of State under Obama/Biden is going to function. Joe Biden's knowledge of international affairs is pretty impressive, and he's already said that his decision to join the ticket was conditioned on Obama's promise that he would have a role in governing, shades-of-Cheney style. I suspect that may play out with Biden taking over a portion of what has traditionally been the SoS portfolio, since that's his strength and Obama's weakness.

Assuming we're looking at a situation like that, it sets up a potential turf war between Foggy Bottom and the White House. I could see Biden taking over some of the policy aspects of SoS while Hillary is the face of the administration. That said, one of the things that handicapped Powell as SoS was the perception that he didn't really have the President's ear. He was sort of a public-diplomat-in-chief, who made sales pitches to the world but wasn't necessarily effective at relaying their needs back to the Oval Office. Obama would have to manage the overlap very carefully, lest his loudmouth VP undermine his SoS.

Then there's the issue that Hillaryland seems to be a wilderness filled with type-a psychopaths. While the candidate acquits herself well in the linked article, there's the issue that she essentially allowed herself to be steamrolled by a bunch of lunatics. I don't have a good idea of how much capital those people still have with Hillary, but her unwillingness to have them fall on their swords is a concern in any high-level executive position.

Finally, I know everybody's high on the "Team of Rivals" idea, but I'm also a little worried that the three names floated thus far are all former candidates for the presidency. In Clinton's case it's a particular liability as she was a serious contender this cycle and her husband was the last Democratic president. I'm no Washington guy, but I think it's pretty clear that Washington is a place where there are established channels and then a whole lot of informal person-to-person politicking. So Obama would be appointing a SoS whose husband jumpstarted the careers of many of his most senior staff and cabinet members. That seems like it could be problematic, even if Bill has no formal role within the administration.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Fuck Joe Lieberman!

Seriously, fuck that guy.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up on the Saga of Lieberman, he endorsed John McCain on December 17th, 2007. If you're keeping score, that was way before McCain even looked like he had a shot at winning, which I guess means that Lieberman had the courage of his convictions. Chief among those convictions is that we shouldn't be backing out of our hideously tragic, financially ruinous war with Iraq. I'm sure Joe has his reasons, but no matter what your premises you should never be able to argue yourself into putting your penis in a blender, much less keeping it there once you've punched the "liquify" button.

So Joe, lover of national-dick-in-blender foreign policy, gave a speech at the GOP convention, hurled a lot of slime at Barack Obama, and skulked around in the background during McCain's concession speech. In other words, he chose poorly.

Now he's trying to mend fences, and hopefully continue to drape his saggy posterior over the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee. Barack Obama has appealed for a less vindictive solution that keeps Lieberman in the Democratic Caucus, and Harry Reid is in talks with Benedict Joe. As Kos points out, there are essentially three outcomes for Joe:

1. No comeuppance--Joe keeps his chair, keeps his seniority, gets to pick Harry Reid's nose.
2. Some comeuppance--Joe loses his chair, keeps his seniority, has a good sulk before the new congress convenes.
3. Maximum comeuppance--Joe loses his chair, loses his seniority, is dragged down 1-95 by a sled team of cannibals.

Joe, with typical prescience, has indicated that everything except option 1 is unacceptable. That's essentially the equivalent of putting all your money on "Harry Reid is a wuss. D'you hear that Harry, you big wuss?!" Unfortunately, Lieberman's bargaining position is highly dubious. With an absolute majority short of 59 seats in the Senate, the Democrats need for a little Joementum has never been less acute. Of course, Joe has the weapon of last resort: he can hitch his wagon to the party that's compared BHO's volunteer corps to Soviet forced labor practices and the Holocaust. Oh, and let's not forget the incoherent GOP ravings about some sort of Obama-sponsored Marxist gestapo.

Yeah, that'll get him re-elected.

There is an alternate possibility. I'm sure Rahm Emanuel is pulling for option 3, possibly in the hopes of rustling up a replacement finger. Barack Obama may be burnishing his huggy bipartisan credentials while encouraging Reid to hang Lieberman out to dry. When Lieberman eventually walks the plank, Obama can be gravely disappointed while acknowledging the legislature's right to police its own. Reid gets a much-needed spinal graft, Obama isn't seen as vindictive, and Joe Lieberman and Ted Stevens can give each other reacharounds in hell.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Strategy and Tactics

One of the recurring notes throughout this campaign has been the invocation of jargon like "strategy" and "tactics" as a way to establish foreign policy chops. John McCain attempted to do this during a presidential debate when he asserted that "Senator Obama doesn't know the difference between a strategy and a tactic." It would've been a real zinger if he hadn't thereby implied that THE SURGE was a strategy.

You can think of any large-scale military endeavor on a couple of levels. First, there are the tactical minutiae of combat: how do I kill those guys 300m away using the capabilities I have at my disposal? You can expand the lens of tactics to larger scale considerations as well, including securing an area so that supplies can move freely, and so on and so forth.

We can conceptualize a strategy as an overall plan for victory. A solid strategy contains an internal logic that propels it toward the accepted definition of victory for the current conflict. Because of its broad nature, a strategy influences decision making at many levels, from battlefield tactics to logistics.

This is all a little arcane, so let's take a look at these concepts in (hot, napalm-y) action: the Vietnam War. General Westmoreland implemented a strategy of attrition according to which the massive US military machine would be used to drive up costs on the North Vietnamese until they decided "fuck it, this communism shit just isn't worth it" and leave South Vietnam alone. Victory! All of the horrors of the war were to some extent connected by this strategy. Everything from the Rolling Thunder campaigns to free fire zones, from kill counts to My Lai could be seen in the context of a war of attrition. It didn't really matter who you killed, because murdering the fuck out of anyone would make life worse for the North Vietnamese. Anyway, you can see that the strategy was driving the tactics, and the strategy itself was pointing at a condition that we (mistakenly!) believed would cause N. Vietnam to break off hostilities.

As an aside, much like strategic bombing campaigns, these "morale breakers" didn't really work. When you slaughter the fuck out of someone's village, the survivors are A) completely dependent on the government and B) hate you with the fire of a thousand suns because you just destroyed their livelihood and their family. When there's a ready-made national unification movement for them to hitch their wagon to, things tend not to go so well for you.

Anyway, Iraq is a bit atypical because we have no clear idea of what victory looks like. Yes, we'd like it to be fully democratic, pluralist and free, but it's a bit unclear how we use the Marines to do that. The problem is that the internal logic of our occupation was a bit weak. To wit:

1. Topple Saddam.
2. ...
3. Democracy!

There's obviously no purely military solution to our problems in Iraq, but we can understand the Surge (tm) as part of a unified political and military strategy to allow national reconciliation. The problem is, that with the election coming up relatively soon after the Surge was announced and the Iraq War, the President and the GOP deeply unpopular in the United States, the incentive structure for Maliki was, shall we say, skewed. Did pissing on fires all over Iraq give us any increased leverage over Maliki that might lead him to share power with the other factions in Iraq? Probably not. On the other hand it definitely improved the optics of the Iraq War at home in the United States, enabling John McCain to run on the "Surge=Victory" platform and eventually make it to a debate in which he idiotically called out his opponent for not knowing the difference between a strategy and a tactic.

On a larger scale, the problem with the Surge is simple. If I were a betting man in Maliki's shoes, and some unpopular lame duck came to me and said "I'm going to fill your country with soldiers, calm shit down and suchlike and in the meantime I want you to make nice with these other factions." My answer would be "Sure thing, Hoss! How much longer will you be running things over there?" Then, immediately after our conversation I'd set about entrenching myself in power and building alliances with people who share my interests so that once he's quenched the fires with American blood and gone home, I would be in a position to outmaneuver my rivals and run the country as I saw fit.

Obviously, the situation is a good deal more complicated than that, and nobody is sure exactly how it will play out in '09 and '10. I am prepared to offer the following bit of sound tactical advice to the readership: don't turn into a snake. It never helps.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Does something feel... wrong?

The election is over, and perhaps you feel something is missing. Something isn't quite sitting right with you and you can't figure out what it is. No, it's not that your party won (or lost), it's not that we aren't having recounts (et tu, Minnesota?). No, it's that Florida hasn't totally screwed the pooch.

Well, well, well, do I have a story for you.

So, it turns out, there exists a bunch of "Alien Land Laws" instituted in the 1910s and 20s (starting with CA - we are real trend setters out here), that kept Asian immigrants from owning land. Seems that Americans feared the "farming prowess" of the Asians. Regardless, all of these laws are now illegal under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the US constitution (Sei Fujii v. California, 1952). But, since some of them were written into the constitutions of these states, one remains on the books.

Enter our favorite, gator-eatin', gramma-lovin', mojito-drinkin', chad-hangin', bass-ackwards state, Florida.

It is indeed the lovely state of Florida has the last one of these laws in its constitutions, and put a ballot measure on this year to remove it, following New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas a few years back:

"Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship."

Well, since no one really had a dog in this fight no one spent any money supporting the measure, although no one was ever really against it. There were some people in the legislature who (erroneously) thought that the law could be used to fight terrorism, but they didn't spend much effort to push it either. Many people who knew about it were worried that they might not get the 60% needed to amend the constitution.

It lost, 52%-48%. Never trust your citizens with your constitution. Particularly if all your citizens are Floridians.

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The Utley Award

So, Newsweek has had this "Special Election Project" running for some time, where reporters were embedded with the campaigns and their reports embargoed until after election day. They seem to have unearthed some gems, including this one from our 44th President:

So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, "Well, I planted a bunch of trees." And he says, "I'm talking about personal." What I'm thinking in my head is, "Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I fucking changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective."

Collective, eh? Socialismo o Muerte! Seriously though, I'm very happy this guy is going to the White House. So on behalf of all of use at TCM, I'd like to congratulate Barack Obama for being the first recipient of the Chase Utley Award for Excellence in Dropping the F-Bomb.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 Election endorsement

In these troubled times, with political partisans raising the level of rancor to ever-higher levels, it is difficult for a group as diverse as the bloggards of The Closet Moderate to agree on a candidate whom we all endorse. The state, federal, and local races all offer a variety of candidates that at least one of us, for whatever reason, despises.

All except one, that is.

In the race for Montana House of Representatives (District 15), the bloggards of The Closet Moderate wholeheartedly endorse the candidacy of Frosty Calf Boss Ribs, a Democrat from Heart Butte, Montana. Mrs. Calf Boss Ribs, a long-time resident of the Heart Butte area, and a mother of four, promises to balance budgets and keep tuition down at state colleges. But what's more important is that she has the most bad-ass name of any representative in the history of this grand republic. So, if any of you live in the Glacier County area, The Closet Moderate implores you to cast your ballot for Frosty Calf Boss Ribs.

Mrs. Calf Boss Ribs is running unopposed.


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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Utley tells it like it is.

Phillies win! And Philadelphians celebrate, as only we can:




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