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January 14, 2012

henry blodget is right on the internet

I keep finding myself in the strange position of agreeing with Henry Blodget, he of the Business Insider website which is an unqualified success, what with its content aggregating, author misrepresentation and slideshow crimes against humanity.  The reason why is that, despite his Wall Street background, he is one of the few that line up behind Paul Krugman in Krugman's insistence that the Friedmaniacal austerity being proscribed to the economies of the Western world is a wrong thing.

Take this aside in this rhetorical question posed to Krugman concerning debt loads:

The U.S.'s public infrastructure is in an embarrassing state of repair. It's also about a half-century behind the state-of-the-art. Spending a few trillion dollars over the next several years to bring our infrastructure up to date would help the country for decades. It would also put millions of Americans back to work and pump trillions of dollars back into the economy. It would help ALL Americans, not just those in specific industries or socio-economic groups. And unlike debt incurred to prop up consumer consumption, the new debt incurred for this infrastructure buildout could, in large part, be secured by the infrastructure itself.

Granted, the piece is a (gentle) objection to the concept that debts don't matter, given how current situations do not resemble those of the past, but even in that it's more a hand raised during a lecture than it is a screed.

And as to the point of a massive investment in infrastructure, that one's a giant duh, and it's a crime that such a thing is so virulently opposed by the GOP in general. : Do they do so on the grounds of opposing anything that would help a pre-2012 election, or because any public employment is a bad thing?  Not sure if there's a Republican honest enough to say so out loud.  But as to the first, the thought that there's no political price to pay for that down the road is Newt Gingrich-levels of juvenile, and as to the second, even David Koch's limos gotta drive on something, and if you want an example of the efficiency of markets as applied to infrastructure, drive the length of the Indiana Turnpike and tell me how much poorer you are.

It is a time of strange bedfellows, and as much as I can't imagine agreeing with Blodget on much, he's pretty spot on when it comes to reacting to the Great Recession.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:12 PM

January 13, 2012

the three demandments of david brooks

While ostensibly trying to determine the likelihood of Mitt Romney being a good president, this morning David Brooks developed his Three Demandments of Presidentiality!

They are:

Not being crazy!

Good at winning elections!

And having a secret tragedy to be uncovered by biographers!

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that these Three Demandments of Presidentiality, while certainly unimpeachable for presidentiality (naturally!), might also apply to certified public accountants.  Or maybe even... David Brooks himself!

(Though the fact that he did not include punctuality as a determining quality makes me suspicious.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

January 12, 2012

arthur brisbane is kinda right

Today's inside baseball firestorm is brought to you by the Public Editor's Journal, wherein the public editor, Arthur Brisbane, asks the question:
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

This of course has been met with mocking and derision, with mockers/deriders ranging from my favorite media outlet to one of the more respected.  And I understand the reasoning behind the head-shaking: what the hell is the public editor of the most newspaper-y newspaper in America doing asking whether reporters should report facts or not?

But at the same time, I'm not entirely sharing the burning need to laugh Brisbane off the Internet.  Sure, the answer is obviously that reporters should always report facts and only facts, and if public figures stoop to mendacity, then it is the reporters' jobs to call them out on that.  But I don't think (especially after reading his entire post instead of just the bit pull-quoted in all the mocking/derision) that Brisbane is asking the question quite so blithely.

I think it's subtextually evident that Brisbane actually agrees with all of us.  But the question does raise a number of topics that are worth conversation among the sorts of people that report things.  Like, exactly how many words should you devote to this effort?  Considering political speech, there aren't many fifteen word sentences that wouldn't require a fifty word disclaimer.

Additionally, "truth" is fungible, absolutely.  (I work in contractual law; I know this to be "true".)  In other words, to what level of mistruth must a statement rise before it gets slapped down?  If a statement is worded to be permanently misleading, does that get the treatment?  If facts are cherrypicked to give an untrue overall impression, does that?  And what about hot-button statements of "fact" that are violently argued over, such as, "Life begins at conception?"  Should a reporter get involved in that.

I think it's a totally valuable conversation to have, especially in the light of deliberate GOP efforts to obfuscate and generally untether themselves from reality.

It was a leading question, so let's stuff it with the wisecracks and talk about this thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:26 PM

January 11, 2012

private equity

So New Hampshire is over and Bain Capital is still in the news, so I am so happy that I didn't even pay attention to which guy won.  (I think it was one of the Mormons?)

So instead of yammering endlessly and generally clicking my heels, here is a quick primer on private equity: What we are talking about when we talk about private equity firms are financial services firms that specialize in targeting investment in privately held companies.  This takes many shapes, but the aspect that's currently capturing the national conversation is acquiring entire companies, either with private capital or borrowed money, and then somehow changing it to make it more valuable, and then selling it at a profit.  This can also be described as, "selling it for parts," which is where the bad rap comes in, as sometimes the company being sold off was not necessarily foundering, but worth more in parts than as a functioning company.  Who gets screwed?  Why, the workers get screwed, of course.  This is not the only function of private equity firms, but it is not unfair to describe that as in line with the purpose and practice of private equity firms.

And finally, why call this private equity?  Is that not a bit on the vague side, a jargony way of saying ownership?  Actually, jargon is the answer: in business school/economics, private equity is the specific asset class that consists of equity securities in privately-held companies.  So the secret origin behind the moniker is as boring as the rest of B-school jargon (though they somehow avoided an acronym).

And finally, a nice piece on the nuances of the circular firing squad forming over the grave of Milton Friedman, read Alex Pareene in Salon.  It's real smart.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:54 AM

January 10, 2012

mike doughty: the book of drugs

My old pal Mike Doughty wrote a book!  And it is called, "The Secret Origin of Mike Doughty."  Well, not really.  It's called "The Book Of Drugs."  I've not read it yet, but it's his autobiography, so if it's anything like listening to Mike talk about his life, then it's already super double awesome.

To get a sense of it, check this interview with Mike in Black Book Magazine, which is a fine piece of interview journalism.  Then buy the book.  It makes a great gift, and Christmas shopping season is nearly upon us.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:45 PM

the autodefenestration of newt gingrich

Newt Gingrich is always an interesting figure, as he is made almost entirely out of self-conceit and is blessed with a mortal allergy to introspection.  Plus he was a four-year assistant professor at West Georgia College, so that means that he is preternaturally intelligent.

But for once he's doing something legitimately interesting and not ridiculous or ironic or mendacious.  Since some Romney SuperPAC money funded enough negative ads in Iowa to knock Gingrich back in the pack, he has decided that his only possible path to the nomination is one paved over the body of Willard Mitt Romney.  And in the midst of general bomb-throwing at Romney, Gingrich has attacked Romney's private sector career as one of the founding partners of Bain Capital, a financial services company.  What does Bain Capital do?  Well, it makes money by taking other people's money and moving it from one place to another.  Or, as Gingrich describes in a hypothetical question:

“You have to ask the question, is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of people and then walk off with the money?”

It's one thing for Gingrich to make his autodefnestration as interesting as possible with the gargantuan petulance and seething rage that only Newt Gingrich could muster.  It's an entirely different thing for Gingrich to lapse into criticism of the financial services industry that could conceivably be a direct quote from Matt Taibbi or Thomas Frank.

I don't think that this will have the kind of legs that one could hope it could — Milton Friedman's corpse isn't quite somersaulting in its grave yet — but every time that sentiment gets put out there another angel gets its wings.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:41 AM

January 9, 2012

tim tebow ick

Funny how vaguely suspecting that the Pittsburgh Steelers were a little too banged up to get past the Denver Broncos did not lessen the pain of watching the Pittsburgh Steelers not getting past the Denver Broncos.  Not because of the whole Tim Tebow thing, because God am I sick of being goaded into conversations about Tim Tebow, but more because I was scared I was having a Chronicle of the Steeler's Downfall Foretold moment.  (I was!)

And yeah, Tim Tebow, ick.

This has been the first and last professional American football post of the 2011-2012 NFL Season.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:37 AM