Sunday, November 30, 2008

TARP and Rent Seeking

I was not sure that the TARP fund was a good idea. But I am really not supportive of using the TARP to bail out all sorts of industries. The auto makers in the US are trying to make the case that their financial problems have been caused by the problems in the financial industry.

This is while most analysts argue several cases which make that plea nonsense. For example, most financial analysts suggest that the (not so) Big 3's labor costs are way out of whack with the rest of the auto industry either in this country or around the world. Most believe that the current dealership system in the US has way too many dealers. Most think that while the Big 3 have made some improvements in their production and design that they need to do more. And then the CEOs of these companies jet to Washington to ask for a handout.

The Mayor of Lansing was on the radio making the stupid case that a) the Chrysler loan of a couple of decades ago was a good deal for the taxpayers and b) that if we let the companies go into bankruptcy that all sorts of devilment will reign down on our country. The Mayor should understand a couple of things. First, the Big 3 are less important than they once were and if they do not restructure significantly they will be even less important than today. Second, most of what he says is baloney. What needs to happen is the Big 3 need to work on their products and their management and their labor contracts and they could better do that without a bailout from the government. I say let them restructure under the bankruptcy system rather than becoming wards of the state.

Grant Bosse at NH Watchdog comments "Bailing out the Big Three is subsidizing failure. And you only subsidize something when you want more of it."

Smaller Towns in Mexico

On Friday night we went downtown in Xalapa to walk around the central part of the city (either called Centro or the Zocalo depending on the region). Xalapa is the capitol of Veracruz and so has some prosperity. And it is a city of universities (often called the Athens of Southeastern Mexico) so it has a lot of students. But it also has characteristics of a small town. We had been downtown to take my wife to a friend's restaurant (Kukiaio - which I have written about before and now has a sister restaurant specializing in homemade Gelato and Pizza called La Diabola).

But after a great mid-day meal we walked around. Mexican lunches as one of my good friends told me, often run into the late afternoon (starting a bit later than American lunches and lasting a bit longer - although that is changing all over Mexico). First we went up a shopping lane where a group of vendors offered their trinkets. Nothing extraordinary but lots of variety. But what struck me about this particular Friday afternoon was how central the center of the city is in towns like this. Families were in the central park looking at a raft of plants for sale and just generally hanging out.

There were the food stands - but not with the noisy hawkers like you would often find in Mexico City but still doing a brisk business. We watched one mother with a daughter of about 8 and a very young daughter, holding the younger one and playing ball with the older one (who showed real delight in the game). We saw an Abuelo pushing his young grandson around in a stroller, while the boy's parents watched the sun dip over El Perote - which dominates part of the skyline. It was a relaxing afternoon.

On other afternoons the center of the town becomes a focal point of activities with generations coming down just to hang out. It is hard not to like that relaxed atmosphere.

The Extremes of Opponents of Prop 8

Some of the opponents of Proposition 8 have suggested that those religious organizations that supported the initiative should lose their exempt status. For example, one San Francisco activist named Sharone Negev said "The Mormon church overstepped its boundaries by being a tax-exempt organization. They clearly are not supposed to be involved in political activities."

There is pretty good law on the other side which suggests that while churches cannot endorse candidates they can indeed become engaged in initiatives especially ones which challenge fundamental doctrines.

I wonder whether, if this issue starts to move forward whether the congregation of All Saints Pasadena, the Episcopal parish which faced an IRS assault a few years ago for the remarks of its retired priest, will join in defending the churches which chose to support the initiative. In that fight, several conservative churches defended the right of the retired priest to espouse thoughts that the IRS was alleging violated the acceptable bounds of activity for churches. The parish argued that the retired priest’s remarks were more in the context of defending religious doctrine than in endorsing a candidate.

In both the All Saints issue and this one, religious institutions need to have some latitude in expressing their beliefs. In the case of All Saints, I thought the retired priest came awfully close to stepping over the line. In the case of the two church organizations that supported Proposition 8, I thought they were in bounds. In both cases I disagreed with the position taken by the religious institution, but in both cases I would support defending their position.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Small Hotels in Mexico

Over the last couple of years I have been in several small hotels in Mexico (12-28 rooms). The most recent was along the Costa Esmeralda. It is called Hotel Suspiro. Twelve rooms and a beautiful setting. Each room is well appointed. Close to the beach. A wonderful place to relax. If you want high speed internet and a hundred cable channels and lots of discos this is not the place for you but if you want a wonderful place to relax - this is it. The staff is wonderful and helpful. There are a couple of local restaurants near. It is a great place to be.

The Canon G-10

For a long time I have preferred Canon digital cameras. I realize camera brands are like other preferences and thus some people like Nikons or other brands - but I prefer Canons. I have moved through the line of point and shoots and then when the 10D SLR came out to that. I then moved to the 30 and then quickly the 40. Like many amateurs I have accumulated a set of lenses (and lust after a lot more).

But one of the problems with SLRs is their weight. When I have shot important family events and things which I want to work on the photos a lot, I prefer the SLR but when I am traveling I want something lighter. But as with many things in life, there are tradeoffs. A good point and shoot camera has some serious limits.

I recently bought a G-10 Canon which is a compromise. The camera actually has more megapixels than my 40D. But it also has a 5X Optical Zoom. What I have found most interesting about it is it also has a lot of features on the camera that can be controlled. Smaller Canons also have many of these features but not as simple to operate. For example there are wheels for both white balance and ISO (two ways to control exposure).

On my most recent trip to Mexico, I have tried to push the camera in a lot of ways. Each time it seemed to respond well. This is not a pocket camera but I find it to be a very good addition to my other cameras and a good compromise when I don't want to tote along my SLR. The three shots are from the site of Cortez's landing near Antigua in the state of Veracruz. I reduced them a bit to fit into the Blogspot guidelines for photos - the originals are even better!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Green is in the eye of the beholder

The Green Party of Mexico has proposed legislation "allowing execution for kidnappers who are or were police officers and who kill or mutilate victims." Gee, that does not sound like something the Greens in Europe or the US would sponsor. I guess hope springs eternal in a politician's breast - consistent policy is of secondary importance. But then we knew that didn't we?

The "Fairness" Doctrine

There is talk among some democrats about reinstating the "fairness" doctrine. That former rule (which was abolished during the Reagan Administration) was established to assure opportunity for airing of diverse points of view on the broadcast bands which were allocated by the government(as a scarce resource) and thus in theory subject to monopolization.

The Reagan FCC recognized correctly that since the doctrine was originally established a couple of things had happened. First, and this is even more true now, there are numerous opportunities for airing points of view. There are not only more channels (virtually hundreds of channels in the spectrum of cable) but also new types of channels (Blogs and Youtube for example) There is plenty of chance to get your point of view heard.

After the FCC decision, talk radio grew up - first with people like Rush Limbaugh and then with a raft of others. Most of them are conservative. In this last election, some of them got pretty partisan. And at the same time attempts at liberal alternatives (Air America, for example) have for the most part been a bust. They went bust because, unlike many of the conservatives, the liberal talk shows weren't entertaining. But that should not encourage government to step into the supposed breach. Some have argued that the Congress or the new FCC under President Obama should reinstate the policy.

That is bunk. There are plenty of opportunities for a rich public debate. One wishes at times that channels like Fox and CNN and the other 24/7 purveyors of "news" would be a bit more balanced in their coverage. But if the last election is any example, people have plenty of chances to hear all sorts of thoughtful and even silly ideas. No need to rebalance here. Fairness comes out in the election results and from most observers, we did not lack any understanding of what the candidates were offering.

The Archeologist's Dilemma

We are in Mexico visiting a friend and for me to give a talk on the American Election and the Credit Crisis. But I wanted my wife to see Tajin - which is one of the most impressive archeological sites in Mexico. We lucked out yesterday - the day was marvelous. The last time I was there it was 100° and about 200% humidity. In the three times that I have been to Tajin - this is the first time I thought it was actually pleasant.

Tajin is an impressive site with a lot of edifices uncovered as well as a lot that they know is there but not uncovered. The area is known for its niche architecture (a good example is in the picture). Our friend was discussing the problem facing archeologists. Uncover an area and the elements will get to it, if other forces do not get to it first. So many archeologists are ready to go slow on uncovering these treasures around the world. The climate in Veracruz is very humid, and when combined with the pollution these ancient structures tend to get worn out.

And yet I am always amazed at what I learn when I go to one of these sites - about technology of the time; about the underlying culture. Some think that a lot of the constructions that archeologists make can be fanciful. And indeed, even in the time that I have been working in Mexico some of the assumptions about various sites have begun to change.

I am reasonably convinced that even with the risks that for the advancement of knowledge we should be working on these sites, uncovering them and documenting them (with photos and videos). And if indeed they fall to the elements we will still have uncovered more about the human condition. If you want to see more of Tajin look to my Flickr Site and for the set called Tajin (I have two on there).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eternal hope and politicians

It now looks like Governor Bill Richardson has landed a job. You may remember that he ran for President, when it was clear there was no chance of the electorate choosing him this politico stoadied up to both Senator Clinton and Obama in a desperate search to become their VP nominee. When that failed he touted himself in an important cabinet post. Looks like he got Commerce. Richardson has a BA and MA from Tufts and served as the UN Ambassador under Clinton. But his search for a new job, after he won and was re-elected as New Mexico's governor seems to have finally paid off. There is not much indication he knows anything about the roles in his new job - but then what does the Commerce Department do anyway (besides collecting some important statistics)?

New Ideas for the Republicans - A response to the Economist's Lexington

Lexington is the pen name for a columnist in the Economist who covers US Politics wrote a column for the November 13 Column which was titled "Parties Die from the Head Down." He goes on to argue that the GOP needs some new ideas. I believe his basic argument is unsound on several counts. He says "but high on the list is the fact that the party lost the battle for brains." I am not sure that the results show that.

In the 1970s I was a leader in a group called the Ripon Society (President of the Washington Chapter) which was a collection of young intellectuals in the Republican party that produced a series of issue papers that helped to change the party. Almost 40 years from that I find that my former colleagues have dispersed widely - so some are now liberal democrats, some libertarians and some conservative republicans. But a good core of them stayed around through the 1970s and contributed to the Reagan Revolution.

Ronald Reagan came into office with a set of principles that helped guide his administration. He wanted to defeat the Soviets (or communism) and he wanted to lower tax rates. He also wanted to reduce the size of government. On two out of three of those goals one could make a credible case that he was very successful. On the third he was not. But clearly since Reagan the GOP has not been a wellspring of a coherent set of ideas.

From my point of view, the same can be said for the democrats. Obama's campaign was based on a notion of change - although it was poorly defined. The McCain campaign had an even less stunning coherency. While I believe his health care plan was better, McCain proved unable to defend or even explain the idea. McCain seemed to flitter from lousy idea to lousy idea on a lot of things (including the battery subsidy and the gas tax holiday) and where he had good ideas (for example immigration and health care) he was unable to defend them.

Supporters of Obama have suggested some very bad ideas such as card check (the elimination of secret ballots in union elections) and increasing restrictions on trade. They also seem too inclined to bail out the auto industry. But at this point, it is unclear whether the President elect will chose to support all of those ideas.

Both candidates should have been rightly criticized for the incoherency of their proposals. Both were somewhat successful in attacking their opponents for their inconsistencies.

In my next post I will try to lay out several key issues which either party could adopt which I think might come up to Lexington's standard.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A follow up on the right and rite of marriage post

On Sunday the Rector of All Saints Pasadena gave a sermon on Proposition 8. There are some things in the sermon that I disagree with, for example, I believe Reverend Bacon does not differentiate between civil and religious society. You can find his sermon as a Quicktime movie (look for the November 16 (titled For the Bible Tells Me So: Equipping Ourselves to Talk Across the Divide) and it will be published in the next week or so. I thought it was an interesting and provocative statement.

His basic message which argues that the first obligation of Christians is to their fellow human beings is both strong and correct. All Saints describes itself as the "gay" church - I think that is a bit limited - it has a very expansive view of its community - so a better definition might be as an inclusive congregation. A key message of Rev. Bacon was that we should be willing to appreciate differences. From my perspective, I think that means two things. If the congregants of All Saints decide that their religious tradition wants to accept the principle of a religious rite which sanctions same sex marriage, then so be it. Likewise if other churches, by reviewing their interpretation of scripture decide they cannot make the same decision, they should be given the opportunity to make that judgment.

My concern about his sermon rests with a fuzzy recognition between a rite in the church and property rights conveyed by California law which until the passage of Proposition 8 were both called marriage. He seemed to equate them, and from my perspective, I am not ready to do that. Ultimately, probably the best alternative for the state at this point - which could begin to recognize the unique and profound differences on matters of public policy and should probably become agnostic on marriage. They could, as they have already, create a series of legal provisions which are neutral on the issue of same sex relationships. Those things would convey rights to property and health care and inheritance and other issues. At the same time they could recognize who want to solemnize a relationship in a religious ceremony could also choose a congregation which either accepts or rejects the doctrine which Rev. Bacon wants to impose but which a small majority of Californians seem not ready to do. That would fulfill both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment's Free Exercise clause and might begin to allow more civil discourse.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hunting Dogs

As one of my relatives used to say "That dog don't hunt" - Yesterday's congressional appearance by the (not so) Big 3 CEOs was a remarkable demonstration of a number of things. First, it demonstrated that the automakers and their UAW colleagues don't get it. Their coming in private jets to ask for a bailout seemed to be a wonderful contrast. At the same time the comments of people like Jim DeMint were telling - the South Carolina Senator disputed the claim by the automakers that the American auto industry is in the dumper - he pointed out that companies like Honda and Toyota were actually in pretty good shape. The problem is with the current labor agreements with the Big 3.

There are some pretty clear indications that the (formerly) Big 3 (GMs book value in inflation adjusted dollars is actually less than it was in 1929) are part of a worldwide over capacity. Why should we as taxpayers "invest" in that? It suggests a wider problem of how and what government can do to improve the current problems in the credit markets. This may be a real test for us in the coming six months.

A sign of the times

On Sunday night I landed in Charlotte and then picked up a car - came to the checkout booth and found that the checkout agent was doing his Moslem prayers. It added about 10 minutes to the checkout procedure but I was quite content to wait. When he finished he thanked me for my patience.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Members of the democratic caucus of the world's most famous deliberative body meet today to consider sanctioning one of their own for breaking ranks on the presidential race, by secret ballot. Those Senators are the very same who ardently support "card check" which would strip employees of the right to secret ballot when confronting union organizing drives. Who says Harry Reid is not a comedian?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is there a "right" to marriage - or is it a rite.

I voted against Proposition 8, the attempt to introduce a definition of marriage (as between a man and a woman) into the California Constitution. But I have been concerned by the actions of some of the opponents of the measure after it was adopted by a 52-48 margin. Three issues seem important.

First, is there a "right" to marriage? Marriage has both religious and civil implications. So there is a difference between the rite of marriage and the right to marriage. In the civil arena it conveys a series of property rights to people who have the status. Married people can more easily transfer property and look after loved ones health needs. At the federal level married people are given special (although not always positive) treatment in the tax code.

But there is also a religious connotation to marriage. The religious covenant of marriage represents differing traditions in different denominations. In many conservative Christian traditions it recognizes that only a man and a woman can create a child and that act has broader implications for society. That theology makes no statement about the worth of other living arrangements - different here is not necessarily unequal.

I do not believe there is a right to marriage any more than I believe there is a right to government sponsored health care. But I do believe that the state has the ability to make definitions for its own use which do not conform to religious traditions. (which are the rite side of the equation) For example, devout Catholics cannot divorce, except under certain exceptional conditions. But civil society has recognized that it is perfectly appropriate to allow divorce under civil law. American tradition has put a high reliance, although not an absolute one, on encouraging the free exercise of differing religious beliefs.

The second issue is what are the limits of civil authority? Here I go back to the standard "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." Clearly some supporters of gay marriage would like to extend the principle beyond civil society and punish religious institutions that do not conform to the civil standard they want to enact. That is just as narrow minded as the beliefs that the supporters of gay marriage ascribe to conservative religious traditions.

Third, why has the passage of Proposition 8 caused such a kerfluffle? Thirty states have had the opportunity to opine on a definition of marriage and thirty states have voted in the same way that California has. At this point only Massachusetts and Connecticut seem to support the concept of gay marriage - and both of those came about not because of a vote of the people but because of interventions in the court. The California vote was necessitated, in part, because four justices of the state's highest court wrote an opinion on a set of cases brought by opponents of traditional interpretations of marriage. I believe that the supporters of expanded rights for gays should concentrate on a couple of arenas before they attempt to again overturn a vote of the people. In my mind, those should extend the property rights and civil union standards to other states. In California, a huge majority of the voters support that. I suspect they would in other states. In addition, they might work to change the federal tax code to more appropriately reflect the idea of civil unions.

But they should never forget the rights to free exercise of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment. I fear some of the opponents of Proposition 8, care little for those standards, which are indeed enumerated rights in the Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union and some of the other supporters of the suits against Proposition 8 consistently ignore the "free exercise" part of the First Amendment.

In Sunday's Bee, Dan Roth, who was the founding president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, argued "And most importantly we need to listen instead of yelling." That sounds about right to me. I am not sure whether I represent a significant part of the electorate or not. I really don't care. But if I do represent a large fraction, it might be smart for the supporters of gay marriage to consider a clearer separation between civil and religious expression and to look less at terminology and more at the substance of the law.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bonney Plumbing

A constant advertiser on one radio station is a plumbing company in Sacramento called Bonney Plumbing. We've used them as a plumbers for a couple of years and have always had excellent service. But this Fall we used them for something where we were less than satisfied. They've just gotten into heating and air conditioning and we had a problem which they did not successfully fix. Bonney advertises consumer satisfaction and so we contacted the company and raised a complaint. And the owner of the business responded in a positive way. We told him we were not satisfied with the service we had received and he tried to figure out how to resolve the issue.

Almost all professional service companies know a lot more about plumbing and air conditioning than I do. Any service business depends on its reputation. Bonney lived up to theirs. It is very satisfying to see a company live its values. We had a plumbing problem this week (after we had spoken with the owners of Bonney on the other matter) - no need to guess who we called.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


About a month ago I bought a Kindle for my wife. She is an avid reader. The Kindle was brought out by Amazon about a year ago as a competitor to the Sony E-Book. It has a couple of features that the Sony product does not. First, it has a permanent wireless connection (over the Sprint network). I think it also has a larger number of titles to choose from. Plus it has some added features that are not present on the Sony device. She liked it - it allows you to read books in an electronic format that is pretty good. If you read as many things as my wife and I do - that means your bookshelves won't get cluttered. The device can hold as many as 180 books at a time. The battery life is great. The screen is wonderful. It has a primitive web browser and a bunch of other features including the Oxford Dictionary and Wikipedia.

The E-books are a bit cheaper than the print editions plus you can clip and mark passages for future reference. It is really handy.

I decided this week to try the device out and I liked it too. I took it on a business trip and read two books on trips to Chicago and Burbank. Thus, this week we ordered our second Kindle so both of us could have one.

Say it isn't so...

About a decade ago I met a guy who was a member of the California Student Aid Commission. He had a very compelling story. He eventually became chair of the Commission and I watched him develop what I thought were pretty good political skills.

His day job at the time was a deputy sheriff in Orange County. He eventually ran for and won the job as the elected sheriff. I thought he was a natural for advancement. Soon into his career the county suffered a kidnap murder of a kid and the Sheriff coordinated an aggressive campaign to first find the kid and then apprehend the kidnapper. He showed great leadership skills in that situation and I thought - here is a guy who could go beyond his first elected office.

But then came the crap. Michael Corona is now on trial for a number of illegal activities and for some issues of moral turpitude. It turns out that a guy who I thought was a pretty good public official did all sort of nefarious activities while he was Sheriff.

It is a surprise and a disappointment. As always, I am ready to see if the charges are true. If they are he should be punished. But a great career as a public official has been ruined. That is too bad.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oxford compiles list of top ten irritating phrases

At the end of the day, those folks at the Oxford Dictionary created a fairly unique list of the 10 most irritating phrases in the English Language. It's a nightmare to hear these phrases popping up. With all due respect,at this moment in time, I personally believe they shouldn't of spent the time even though they work 24/7 helping to build our level of understanding of the language Absolutely it is their right but afterall,it's not rocket science.

I've highlighted the top 10 to see if anyone has any additions. At this point in time (as opposed to moment) is my personal favorite.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Wisdom of Speaker Pelosi

Speaker Pelosi commented for the Chronicle - "Unfortunately, I think people thought they were making a statement about what their view of same-sex marriage was. I don't know if it was clear that this meant that we are amending the Constitution to diminish freedom in our state."

I voted against the Amendment but the Speaker is involved in fantasy if she does not think the voters knew what they were voting on. The short title, which was constructed by the Attorney General said "ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME–SEX COUPLES TO MARRY.
INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT." The Attorney General had some controversy about the ballot title because supporters of the initiative wanted the title to simply be definitional. But Brown's redefinition made it very clear what the voters were deciding on. The first line in the short title of the Amendment - which voters saw immediately said "Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California." Evidently, the Speaker did not bother to read the ballot.

An Odd NPR interview

This morning as I was going to the airport and listening to NPR they had two successive interviews on the election. The first was with Jesse (Obama had been talking down to black people and added: “I want to cut his nuts out.”) Jackson who in July was caught on camera talking down then Senator Obama's candidacy. Jackson, ever trying to insinuate himself into the halls of power used his unique brand of gibberish to try to spin himself back into the role of pundit. It seems absurd that any news organization would seek him out, except for the comic relief.

But then came two people, a white and a black, who voted for McCain but who were were on a panel in the summer asked about whether Obama's race would have an effect on the contest for president. It was a valid question before November 4. what interested me about both voters was their candor and their hope. Both had voted for McCain based primarily on his experience. But both expressed hope that Obama would prove up to the job that faces him. The story was a hopeful and realistic expression. Let's hope we hear a lot more from voters like the two in the interview and Mr. Jackson gets relegated to the dustbin of a prior time.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some interesting local results

The Sacramento Bee put together an Interactive Map on the local results for Proposition 8 and Proposition 4. I came away with three conclusions - two on the results and one on their availability.

The vote on Proposition 8 was fairly predictable. The outlying suburbs voted for the proposition but as you moved into the neighborhoods of Sacramento city, the measure was voted down. Not surprisingly Davis and Downtown Sacramento voted almost 3:1 against the measure. What struck me most about the margins was that in the blue areas (the Bee chose a light blue for the no position)the margins were higher than in most of the red areas save Davis and Downtown. Overall the area which includes Placer and Eldorado counties voted 55:45 for the measure but some of the outlying areas supported the measure by margins approaching and exceeding 60%.

On Proposition 4, the numbers changed a bit. The overall vote in the area was closer 46.2:53.8. But a number of areas changed from Yes to No. For example, the Granite Bay area which voted for Prop 8 by almost 2:1 voted slightly against Prop 4 a shift of almost 10 points. Fair Oaks switched from 55:45 for Prop 8 to 55:45 against Prop 4. One would assume that choice voters were the ones who switched.

Finally,the Bee's service here is substantial. It offers something that is not available in print. The trick for the Bee is to figure out how to monetize the value of that service. Newspapers, at least the print editions, are going through some gut wrenching changes. The old economic model of selling papers at a discount by providing advertisers a place to show their stuff is not working the way it once did. But making this kind of information easy to access and available is something that all of us should value and be willing to help support.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Public Policy Panderers

Our Lieutenant Governor, John Garamendi immediately called for lots of new taxes well beyond what the Governor has proposed. The key line in the Bee story was "Garamendi, who is running for governor in 2010. Garamendi evidently did not study economics at UC (where he was an undergraduate) said the additional taxes in the middle of a recession were ultimately good. His proposal for more taxes would be "recycled back into the California economy" through state government spending.

Both Republican leaders in the legislature also showed little recognition of the depth of the problem facing the state, rejecting out of hand any addition of new revenues. While I disagree with the GOP position at least it has some basis in theory. There should be questions about whether raising taxes now will increase revenues or whether those moves will delay recovery. But taxes may come into the final solution that is crafted for California's budget - either temporary or permanent.

There are a couple of principles here. First, in this kind of budget problem, the range of options needs to be wide. We've worked in narrowcasting for too long. Second, like Chuck Schumer in the US Senate, never stand in front of politicians before they have a chance to speak before a microphone especially when they are trying to run for their next office.

Valerie Plame Wilson

Last night while working out I listened to a podcast from the National Constitutional Center which was recorded before the 2006 election. Many of the NCCs podcasts are interesting and informative. This one was not. Wilson used the forum to promote her book and to also promote her view of the world. Most political apologia are not worth the paper they are printed on - they turn out to one last shot to influence history. Plame's description of her part in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq was remarkably one sided. All of the questions were fawning. I would have loved to hear the following question:

"Ms. Plame-Wilson, notwithstanding your assertions about the sinister people in the Bush administration, would you comment on the assertion in Lawrence Wright's book The Looming Tower, that the CIA and most other US intelligence agencies generally missed the boat on the growth of Islamic terrorism?"

Thinking in Monoliths

The Bee and several other papers carried a story this morning that Black voters who came out for Obama also voted heavily for Proposition 8, the measure to constitutionally enshrine a definition of marriage. (As noted in an earlier post I voted against the measure.) I wonder why this result was a surprise. IMHO it exposes a racist opinion of Black voters - that because they are Black that all of their opinions will be liberal. But if you go into many Black churches you find conservative theology.

What amuses me on this issue is not that Black voters are not monolithic in their beliefs but that the members of the media would make that assumption.

Note the following groups voted for Prop 8 in high proportions - (over 60%) - * The elderly (65+) Republicans,Conservatives,
People who decided for whom to vote in October (but not within the week before the election), People who were contacted by the McCain campaign,Protestants,Catholics,White Protestants,Those who attend church weekly, Married people, People with children under 18, Gun owners,Bush voters, Offshore drilling supporters,People who are afraid of a terrorist attack,People who thought their family finances were better now than 4 years ago,Supporters of the war against Iraq, People who didn't care about the age of the candidates,Anti-choicers,People who are from the "Inland/Valley" region of California. McCain voters. Unlike the media's characterization of Black voters - many of the groups in the list above have cross overs. But again all Catholics are not elderly neither are they Gun Owners.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Titans of American Capitalism

Steve Ballmer discussing the Google strategy for Android - "I don't really understand their strategy. Maybe somebody else does. If I went to my shareholder meeting, my analyst meeting, and said, 'hey, we've just launched a new product that has no revenue model!'...I'm not sure that my investors would take that very well. But that's kind of what Google's telling their investors about Android."

Sometimes Mr. Ballmer makes it too easy. The chart looks at Google's performance for the last five years versus Microsoft's. I wonder what Mr. Ballmer has been telling shareholders, investors and analysts about his strategy. Ballmer has not been able to grasp much in the last five years about open source software (which the Android platform is built on) or music players or even operating systems. In those five years, Ballmer's "leadership" has produced an 18% decline in value, while Google's strategy has produced a 215% increase. Does Ballmer think that corporate strategy is like golf - low score wins?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Placer University Project

Yesterday, in a unanimous vote the Placer County Board of Supervisors gave preliminary final approval to a development plan for a new private university in the county. This has been a long time coming. I started to work on the project in 2000, with one of the donors. The first hearing before the board was in October 2003, only one of the supervisors serving now was on the board then. The process of getting this approved has been long and complex with a lot of fits and starts. One would think that it would not be hard to accept a gift of 1100 acres to create a new resource for the community. But the ultimate work of the county staff has resulted in a proposal which I think is better than when it was originally proposed.

For me, one of the highlights of this entire process, besides the enthusiasm of the major donor, Angelo Tsakopoulos, was getting to know one supervisor who was an early supporter but did not live to see its final approval. Bill Santucci was a down to earth guy who understood the potential for the region to have a major new university. He retired from his position on the board, and then unfortunately had a heart attack before the proposal came to conclusion. But during the process he taught me a lot about how to advance an idea with principle and without rancor.

Assuming the board takes it final final action on December 9, we will then have five years for Drexel University to decide whether the opportunity to build a new campus from scratch fits within its long term plans. Drexel is a wonderful match for the region. It was a pleasure to be a small part of the effort to get this resource committed to our area.

Ten Truths about the 2008 Election

#1 – Gordon Tullock's Thesis (see earlier post) is wrong. – In a number of races across the country the contribution of individual voters to the outcome was pronounced. In three Senate races, the victor will be declared by fewer than 2000 votes. In one congressional district the current outcome is less than 400 votes.
#2 – The evil influence of money in politics is a bit over-rated – In 2006 the GOP had a pretty large money advantage. In this election the democrats did. It does not seem to have changed the results materially. At one point democratic Senate Campaign chair Schumer boasted that they would get to 60 votes in the Senate and the people seem to have rejected his projection.
#3 – San Francisco voters are wacky, but not crazy. – they rejected measures to legalize prostitution and to name a sewage treatment plant after President Bush. While the City (as its residents call it) did not match the rest of the state, they also made some very sane choices.
#4 – President Elect Obama has a huge task, but started out well. I was impressed (as noted in a post last night) by both candidates’ statements. I hope this marks an attempt at new levels of civility in the public realm. We need it.
#5 – Californians love debt. – While we rejected the measures sponsored by outside forces, we adopted a very costly high speed rail bond (1A), more debt for hospitals (3) and for veterans housing.(12) Only the last one is self financing. The rail bond will cost the general fund more than $600 million a year in debt service. I thought (think) that was (is) foolish.
#6 – Gavin Newsome should learn some self-restraint. If Prop 8 eventually passes (and it is currently ahead by about 500,000 votes) opponents can thank SF Mayor Gavin Newsome whose image permeated the airwaves. He said, “whether they like it or not” gay marriage is a fact. Evidently, Mayor Newsome, they did not like it. But then, I don't like him and this just about finishes him as a legitimate statewide candidate. Politics is a business that requires some forward thinking; Newsome's playing to his local audience cost him and the cause he supported.
#7 – While Obama won a big victory, voter interest was not just in him. Turnout across the country was high. But in several instances, including in some very key Senate races the voters seem to have split their tickets. If the numbers hold up for Ted Stevens, I am not sure what to make of it.
#8 – There are only red dots in the Northeast. The Governor elect of Vermont becomes, along with the Maine Senators, one of a few remaining republicans in the Northeast. That is an imbalance that will not serve the region well. Even in California there is some ideological diversity.
#9 – The GOP should begin a process of thinking about what happened. The moves in the Senate and the House fell below the claims of the democrats but the GOP clearly lost ground. They lost some very reliable states in the presidential race and they lost some races (Liddy Dole comes to mind) where they were projected to win big early in the year. We've lived through two presidencies who believed in Triangulation. Politics should be an accretive not a divisive process. The GOP, especially some in the Bush White House, did not understand that fact; they need to.
#10 – While the victory for the democrats was impressive, they might benefit from looking to 1992. . Democrats when they run all three sides of elective office (the presidency, senate and house) have a tendency to over-reach. In this generation of leaders in Congress, they have a lot of very liberal leaders and few if any conservatives. If they follow them too closely, they will get blasted in 2010.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Three reflections on the election

#1 - My six year old grandson Mason called me tonight and told me he voted for McCain because he (McCain) likes Mexican food and because he has more animals than Senator Obama. That was not dispositive of either my grandsons eventual political beliefs now or in the future. But I appreciated the call.

#2 - Senator McCain gave an extraordinarily gracious concession speech. In level of depth of commitment to this country it was wonderful. But in comparison to the nonsense spewed out by Senators Kerry and Gore in the last two elections it suggests something very important.

#3 - Senator Obama's acceptance speech was inspiring. The combination of the two speeches give me hope that we could face some important new trends in American politics that will be fundamental to getting to the real work of government.

Figuring out the Failure of POTUS 43

On this election day it seems timely to speculate why the current president is likely to go down as one of our least competent. I voted for Bush twice, and would again if faced with the same candidates who opposed him. But I believe it is inarguable that Mr. Bush's second term has been seen by most Americans as something considerably less than stellar. One can argue about Iraq and whether the cause was a good or bad one or a good one initially poorly executed. But even if you take, as I do, that the cause in Iraq was an important one and that recently we have gotten most things right - there is a strong belief that other elements of Mr. Bush's presidency have been flawed.

As I have thought about it there are three possible explanations. The first is the GORE factor. There is a faction of the democrats who believe that the election was stolen from them in 2000 and so anything that Bush did as president was illegitimate. That is more a statement about their conceptions of power than reality. But I think the mythology helped to create a negative climate. In this sense Bush is a figure, caught in terms of a Greek tragedy. While that explanation has some appeal, I do not find it compelling.

The second is the CHENEY factor. A colleague suggested to me yesterday that keeping Cheney on the ticket in 2004 doomed the second term. Bush needed to look forward, she said, not backward. Cheney is a divisive figure in part because of his ideology and in part because of his outlook on Washington. I've never been a fan although I think the explanations that Cheney is some type of Svengali for Bush is baloney. Had Bush brought in a new person for VP he could also have made some large changes in his administration. I am a fan of Secretary Gates. I think he brings a lot of vision that Secretary Rumsfeld lacked. And I am a fan of Rice. (In part because of what she did as provost at Stanford.) One of the things that has bothered me most about this administration is that many in it have been more concerned with holding power than exercising it. The latter of course requires a consistent set of principles as a guide. In my view, the guiding principle of this administration was often just the 51% rule.

The third possible explanation is the TEXAS factor. I am not sure what it is about presidents from Texas but we have not had very good luck with them. LBJ exhibited similar characteristics to Bush in many ways - although he was a lot more committed to Washington. Both tended to define the world in the terms of us or them and brought together a set of advisors who were narrowly focused. The stories of LBJ journeying down into the war room during the Vietnam war are typical of this narrow vision. Margaret Spellings, who seems to know less about her field and function than when she entered the Education Department is an example of the kinds of people that Bush seemed to rely on.

Explanations two and three are more Shakespearean in scope - the flawed protagonist - and for me they are more compelling.
My suspicion is that the winner tonight will not face the first challenge, although if McCain wins expect a lot of weltschmerzing from some in the democratic party. And the second and third factors are not as likely, both McCain and Obama seem to have a slightly broader set of advisors than Bush amassed.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gordon Tullock on Voting - a Timely Video

Gordon Tullock on Voting - the clip (unfortunately WGBH does not offer an easy way to embed this video so you will have to click to see it) which you can click through to has a video of Gordon Tullock explaining why he does not vote. It is well worth watching and does an excellent job of explaining a key theory of Public Choice Theory in an amusing manner.

Tullock was the partner of 1986 Nobel Economics Prize winner James Buchanan. He should have also been named, although his academic training was as a lawyer. They jointly developed the field of Public Choice Economics which offers powerful explanations of behaviors in the public sector explained by both normative (what should be) and positive (proving what happens) theory.

When I was doing my doctorate, I was encouraged by a professor to send living scholars my papers on their work. Early in my study I got intrigued with Public Choice Economics and wrote both Buchanan and Tullock separate notes and even sent them a couple of my papers. Both were remarkably generous in responding to my inquiries. (This was well before Buchanan won his Nobel.) I have always appreciated both the clarity of their thought and the care that they showed to a doctoral student.

Movies today

One other comment about our visit to the movies yesterday. I am a big fan of movies but for the last year or so we have not been to see much in movie theaters. I was reminded yesterday one other reason why that is true. For the last several months we have not seen much we wanted to see. And the movie industry, like any other, goes through streaks.

But what also annoyed me yesterday was the assault of ads and reminders. In the pre-show slides we got a lot of local ads. Then came the patter from Sprint and even one from AT&T on turning off your cell phone. I too am annoyed when someone's cell phone goes off in the middle of a movie. But do we have to be reminded several times?

I can watch pretty close to first run movies in my home on TV, with commercials. Or if I choose can watch first run movies without commercials on cable or with a DVD (although even those are being infested now with ads). As I have choices not to be besieged with ads, the movie going experience, as an alternative, becomes less attractive.

The Secret Life of Bees

Yesterday my wife and I went to see The Secret Life of Bees. This is not a movie that I would expect to like. It is the story about a young white girl in the mid-1960s South Carolina who runs away from her abusive father and encounters a black family (of women who are all named for months of the year) that runs a honey business. The book is a little about the south of the time and a little about relationships and a little about finding one's identity.

But what makes the movie compelling are the performances. Queen Latifah is an accomplished actress. In this role she brings quiet self confidence. Dakota Fanning is also pretty good as the young girl. But what also makes the movie worth seeing is the ensemble for the rest of the cast. Each, from Fanning's friend, who is a black housekeeper who Lily pries from a jail cell; to the two daughters of August (Queen Latifah's character), to the lesser characters fit together quite well.

Like To Kill a Mockingbird, most of the characters in this story are not all well developed. I think that is especially true for the males and for most of the white characters. But even with that flaw, the movie is worth seeing.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Warning - Mobile Me PFISH

I received the following email this afternoon.


Thank you for choosing MobileMe. Unfortunately there has been a
problem processing your billing information for the month of November, 2008.

Did you recently change your bank, phone number or credit card?
To avoid suspension of your account please login to update your information.

Copyright © 2008 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.

When you log in using the button you get the following screen: But above it are working buttons for the Apple Store.


Chino Blanco and Prop 8 - A couple of developments since our last exchange

Chino Blanco sent me another post on Prop 8 in which he includes a You Tube describing Steve Young's opposition to the Proposition. Which is on You-Tube.

This has been an interesting race with lots of twists and turns. I am not sure whether CB also saw the editorial endorsement of the NO position by Ward Connerly. Let's see how the voters judge it on Tuesday. FInally, within the Adventist church there has been a spirited discussion with several prominent Adventists urging a no vote and urging their legal arm (the Church State Council - which has been prominent in FIrst Amendment issues) to reverse their decision to support the proposition.

A discussion for our times

Over at Jerome Cole's Blog there was a post titled Obama Derangement Syndrome has now arrived. From some earlier posts this guy looks like not an Obama supporter. (He is writing from China and actually has some interesting posts.) But it offered me a chance to comment a bit.

This election season has been extremely toxic. More so than at any time in my long memory. Ultimately, as Cole suggests, presidents are human. While it may be important to judge a person's character by looking at his associates (be they a radical former terrorist or a convicted former financier) the more important thing to look at is policy proposals. Not rhetoric but proposals. Bush ran in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative" whatever that means. In my view what it has meant is an administration that many times locked itself in a bunker refusing to listen to others and at the same time imposed a 40% growth in federal spending.

Whoever is elected on Tuesday should be judged not by their rhetoric or their friends but by their policies. I am not optimistic about that but I am hopeful. The country needs to take a breath, to analyze the proposals that are offered and to reject the ones that are outside the norm. Bill Bradley, in a book about a year ago, argued that the American system is divided between a concern for caring and one for personal responsibility and that inherently our political system needs a balance between those two extremes. For too long we have let the politicians slice and dice us into neat groups that serves neither us nor our political system.