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August 20, 2011

policy-induced slowdown

As inured as we are to the financial turmoil that surrounds us — whether the flailing markets or the fiscal failings of friends and family — last week was BLEAK.  I don't know how many articles/posts flirting with calling the recession that we know we're in but reluctant to admit an actual depression, but eventually personal depression won out and I posted nada.

But one thing that I did notice, on one level at least, is the tension between most everybody, on the one hand, and consensus, on the other.  Because what most everybody knows is that the political fearmongering and ideological vapor lock of a political party is directly responsible for worsening prospects of the global economy.  Standard & Poors said it in writing when they downgraded the US credit rating, and JP Morgan said it when they downgraded the global growth forecast, which ignited the most recent sell-off starting Thursday.  Here's Ezra Klein summarizing the JP Morgan report:

In other words: Growth is weak and policymakers are hurting rather than helping. The debt-ceiling debate hurt. The dithering response to the euro zone’s debt crisis hurt. And the expected austerity in both the United States and Europe is going to hurt even more. J.P. Morgan notes that one reason they think the United States might tip back into recession is that in the first quarter of 2012, there will be “an automatic tightening fiscal policy if, as our US team currently assumes, this year’s fiscal stimulus measures will expire.”

The point of this is not to score political points.  (Though if they are there for the takin', take 'em.)  The point of this is, it would be really good if the politicking that is endangering the global economy would stop, because you may not be interested in the economy and everything that goes with it, but you certainly have to live in it, and an actual depression is not such a fun thing to live through.  This world is already not a fun place — try to guess how many American kids are growing up in poverty right now?  One in five.  That's not so good for the Greatest Country Ever U-S-A! U-S-A! now is it?  And it can get worse.

The frustrating thing is that we're dealing with an objective reality that is just not filtering into consciousness.  And you can scream about the mainstream media (if you do, read Frank Rich on News Corp. for starters), but really the best thing you can do is keep repeating the facts.  Become the consensus.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:20 PM

August 19, 2011

the rush to justice

I'm having a bit of conversation with Kevan over in London concerning the immediately previous post and matters related, and he is largely agreeing with me that the "rush to justice" is ill-considered, and he points out that it will no doubt lead to appeals and reversals of sentences.  Like, say, this one, where a lady was sentenced to five months, not for rioting, but for picking out a pair of shorts from the loot of someone who did actually riot.  The justice hearing the appeal remarked that the initial sentence was "wrong in principle," which is like, well, duh.

Kev adds: "What annoys me is that the accused are such assholes, and this cause, although necessary is so unheroic."  Which is as good a point as any, as the disenfranchised rioters-of-opportunity are pretty much by definition people hard to feel sympathy for.  Such as, they weren't even committing crime in a committed fashion, instead lolly-gagging around the broken glass of a Vans shop, or nicking a flatscreen here or there.  But this also is the point: the underclass in question is so left behind, so forgotten, that they can barely be roused to riot properly.  It is a societal problem, and a common side-effect of leftish endeavors: the lack of cooperation of those to be caught by the social safety net (if not the outright refusal to be so aided - Hi, Tea Party!).

Let's go ahead and call 2011 the Year of the Slow-Motion Train Wreck.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

August 18, 2011

uk: creating the next generation of career criminals

The fallout of the UK riots is now becoming evident, as David Cameron is leading the charge to get tough on the scofflaws who set London on fire.  Courts are working round the clock to, well, not so much try those arrested, but to sentence them.  Take these two young men, who have been sentenced to four years apiece.  The crime for which they were nipped?  Posting incitements to riot on Facebook.

I know that there is little sympathy for the rioters, just as I suspect that there is a dark side of England that is quite authoritarian and secretly loves to get a little Judge Dredd on miscreants sometimes.

But I also know this: to take a disenfranchised underclass and then further disenfranchise them by taking away their council flats, or throwing them into prison (which is nothing more than finishing school for lawbreakers) is to transform that underclass into an actually criminal underclass.  Which is a mountainously stupid social policy.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:57 AM

August 17, 2011

welcome rick perry

Let's get the "Welcome Rick Perry" out of the way.  Perry, as you now know, is a long-time Texas pol, governor for the past decade, who announced his run for president the day after the Iowa straw poll.  He is a handsome cuss, and while he's a bit light on policy he is verbally agile — you may think that you've got one on him, and then he Aw-Shucks you to death.  But he loves to work a crowd, and he's good at it.  In fact, three days after announcing, he's already considered by some to be the new front-runner for the Republican nomination.  (Which maybe has more to do with the quality of the field?)

However, a certain portion of the Republican establishment, namely the portion that Karl Rove still has command and control over, loath Rick Perry for perceived apostacy, slamming the Bush Administration during Bush's second term.  That's a powerful enemy to have, at least behind the scenes where the checks are cut.

Also remember that Perry is straightforward and charming, he is also a dangerous idiot: holding arena-sized prayer sessions to end droughts, bragging about a Texas miracle that is no more than a bit of good luck with energy prices and a whole lot of minimum wage jobs.  He begins every other sentence with, "Now I'm no [expert]..." and then launches into some popularly held untruth that would not look out of place on a sampler hanging in the bathroom of Charles Koch.

He will be an entertaining fellow to watch, and he is easily the most genuinely charming candidate still in.  He's probably (probably) a bit too conservative to have a chance of winning the White House, but he's certainly making more than a few ripples.

So please make him feel at home by imagining him president and then shrieking like a banshee.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM

August 16, 2011

alan richman on m. wells

This is an interesting thing to read, this restaurant review by Alan Richman, if any aspect of the food culture interests you.  Richman reviews NYC indie darling M. Wells, enjoys the food, and ends up with a peculiar story to tell that I will not spoil here.

Ethical questions are raised!  And, believe it or not, the issue of KIDS THESE DAYS, specifically those gastrohipsters, is addressed glancingly, and once you've read it you will want to email that one friend you have that will go with you to that dingy little noodle shop on East Broadway and talk about it.

I've not been to M. Wells myself, but it would be unfair of me to pretend not to be a fan at least of the pedigree, as the spiritual forefather of the eatery is Montreal's Au Pied du Cochon, which is my favorite restaurant ever.  And I was planning on making a breakfast run to M. Wells in the next couple weeks, before it closes temporarily.  Now, not so sure.  And not necessarily because of the Interesting Events detailed in Richman's review, but maybe because I'm reminded by Richman that I personally am uncomfortable with gastrohipsters when there are more than five of them in the room.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

August 15, 2011

warren buffett wants to pay more

You could read Warren Buffett this morning, who wrote an op-ed for the NYT entitled, "Stop Coddling The Super-Rich," which is fairly indicative of the content, I'd say:
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

It's an easy point to make: these super-rich are not 'job creators' or whatever Orwellian appellation Grover Norquist comes up with — they are financiers and hedge fund managers.  In fact, in the case of the super-rich specializing in LBOs, they are job destroyers.  So a couple more points on their tax rate is not going to hurt them, and will definitely help everyone else.

Who was it that was imploring some sane super-rich person to lead the way in agitating for a slightly more progressive tax policy, a return to an actual shared sacrifice and not just a sacrifice shared by the middle and lower classes?  Was it Krugman?

I forget, but I'd say Warren Buffett fits the bill.

[Edited to correct the spelling of Warren's name, b/c I am a yutz.]

Posted by mrbrent at 9:26 AM

August 14, 2011

the crazy-person straw poll

When I started making fun of Michele Bachmann all those years ago, I had no idea that her career would lead her to winning the Iowa Straw Poll in 2011.  Who would have expected an unadulterated appetite for television camera and historic misstatement could prove to be so politically popular amongst the GOP caucuses of Iowa, long known for their level-headedness and probity?

All I can say is congratulations, Michele Bachmann.  Keep saying crazy shit.  And congratulations to her highly-paid team of advisers, for realizing that counseling her to not say crazy shit is not only a difficult goal to achieve but also a hamstring of her current appeal to Iowans.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:01 PM