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October 30, 2008
How Swede It Is
I had the pleasure of chatting with Carl Kangas of the Swedish Social Democrats this evening on the Sharf for Colorado Blog Talk Radio show. Carl is with the communications staff of the party, and is over here looking specifically at ways to leverage the Internet for direct contact with voters.
During the broadcast, I mentioned some trade figures for Colorado exports to Sweden. Here's the source. (You want to click on Export Product Profile to a Selected Market.)I also mentioned the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom. For more basic information about the country, here's Sweden's World Fact Book entry.
After the show, I called Mr. Kangas to thank him, and we had a further discussion about the Swedish electoral system. While Sweden has public financing of campaigns, there are no actual restrictions on party fundraising, and the ruling Conservatives (one can't properly call them, "Tories") have raised about $10 million over this election cycle. To put this in perspective, Mr. Kangas noted that about $15 million would let you compete effectively as a party in national elections.
He also mentioned that Sweden has a closed primary system, so only party members choose the candidates, and that the long-ruling, now-brooding socialists, only have about 100,000 members nationwide. He said that one delegation was in Orlando, studying the use of volunteers, and the possibility of students getting college credit for pushing socialist ideas during election time. Hmmm. How novel.
We also got to discussing the differences between his party and the ruling Conservatives. Mr. Kangas noted that they had successfully positioned themselves to the middle, by appealing to workers. He also mentioned that the top marginal tax rate was probably about 45%, quite high by US standards. But then, the government consumes 56% of GDP, and the country has been able to get by with only 1.5% of GDP going to military spending. (This means that yes, Sweden has a navy, but that it's not exactly responsible for fending off pirates through the Straits of Malacca.)
Thirty minutes wasn't nearly enough time; I would have liked to ask him about differences between Sweden and the other Scandanavian countries, something about Swedish history, immigration, and the modern Swedish economy. Ah well, maybe when I do the remote from Stockholm.
October 29, 2008
Tails From the Trail
So I see where we've passed 7,000 voters visited. At this rate, the the Dow and I will pass each other by Election Day...
I also checked the site statistics for the campaign site. Turns out that the number one search phrase leading people to the site is, collectively, variations on "colorado ballot cheat sheet." Number two is "Joshua Sharf" or "Josh Sharf." Gives you a little sense of perspective...
Phone calls are almost as good (almostl, but not quite). If you keep it short, and don't try a hard sell - which I'm not any good at, anyway - people seem genuinely pleased that you called. This is good, because people don't open their doors after dark, which is geting earlier and earlier...
Village Inn has done a nice job of remodeling their interior. Kind of like what Howard Johnson's would do now...
The Third Jihad
Last Thursday, I had a chance to join the Jewish Republicans for a special screening of The Third Jihad, the sequel to the film Obsession. It's largely narrated by Dr. Zudhi Jasser, staunch opponent of political Islam here in America, and friend of my District 6 campaign, for a variety of reasons. (One of those reasons was seated directly in front of me during the screening, but more about that another time.)
Today, at 3:30 PM, on a special edition my Blog Talk Radio show, I'll be interviewing Tom Trento, one of the
producers and promoters of the film.
October 27, 2008
Tony Hillerman, RIP
Tony Hillerman, author of the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries, set on or near the Navajo Indian Reservation, has died at 83.
I started reading these mysteries when I moved out here, as Colorado's far southwest corner includes both old Anasazi ruins and the Southern Ute reservation. Hillerman's trick, common to many mystery writers, is to make
descriptions of his real subject matter - the remote land, and the Navajos' relationship to it, and their attempts to adapt to modernity - palatable by mixing them in with a gripping story and interesting characters. (Certainly, the notion of Jim Chee as a sort of "modern orthodox" Navajo had some personal resonance; the best characters are the ones that are like you in some way, but different enough to permit some distance and objectivity.)
In b-school orientation, we did a childish little "multicultural" exercise where we were each given slips of paper describing one of two different "cultures." One of the cultures was very loud and in-your-face, the other tended to avoid eye contact and be more reticent in general. The extreme contrast reminded me of the Navajo aversion to eye contact and willingness to let conversational silence go unfilled (but that could just as well have been a New York-Minnesota culture clash as well). Naturally, the lesson had long since been learned.
Hillerman's later novels suffered a little from age, I think, although I kept buying them. The perpetrators were usually obvious by mid-book, the Navajo story line itself a little played out, and the personal stories of the characters seemed to have settled to conclusions of sorts. But that doesn't obviate the value of his earlier work, even until 2000 or so.
October 25, 2008
Boy, you never know what's going to come up as a candidate, do you? Turns out that next Sunday, I'll be chatting with what looks like the largest Swedish expeditionary force since Gustavus Adolphus, a delegation from that country's Social Democratic Party, who will be here to observe the tail-end of the US election campaign up close and personal.
Yes, that's right; I'll be spending next Sunday morning talking with a group of actual, real-live socialists. And I didn't even have to contribute hundreds of dollars under an assumed name in order to do it!
They're sponsored by the State Department, the Swedish embassy, the local branch of the Institute for International Education, and something called the Meridian International Center (whose DC home is right next door to one of my favorite parks in the city).
Actually, we probably won't be talking much about policy. This particular group is especially interested in our use of new media, including the radio show, the Blog Talk Radio show, the blog, and our use of social networking. I'm still hoping to lasso one of them for an appearance on the BTR show next week, but nothing's definite yet.
It was a beautiful fall Saturday in the Shennandoah Mountains. What a shame to ruin it with Virginia football.
That was from 1978, when Navy beat U.Va. 32-0. My whole family went to Virginia, and I grew up with a tradition of winning basketball and losing football. See for yourself.
So when they started out this year losing to USC, Connecticut(!), and Duke(!!) by 128-20, it looked as though the good old days of the 70s were back in style.
But tonight, behind Cedric Peerman's running, the Cavaliers beat No. 18 Georgia Tech in Atlanta, 24-17. This comes after a 16-13 win over then-No. 18 North Carolina last week, and a 31-0 win over Maryland that got things rolling 4 weeks ago. Virginia's now 3-1 in conference, and in 1st place in the ACC's Coastal Division. They're not going to be playing for the national title any time soon, but it's a welcome change.
What happened? They found a quarterback and hurt running back Peerman returned to the team. The starting QB is off the team for academic reasons, and his replacement got caught violating probation by drinking (drinking? At Virginia? Say it isn't so!), so the red-shirt freshman Verica needed some time to adjust to playing actual defenses.
The team still has four games to go, including the season-closer in Blacksburg against Va. Tech. But ya never know...
Right to Work
Readers of the blog, and those following the campaign, know that I'm a fan of Right to Work, and therefore a proponent of Amendment 47.
I just saw an anti-Amendment 47 ad, claiming that Right to Work would both lower wages and cost jobs. I suppose these are truly bipartisan ads, in that neither Hoover nor Roosevelt seemed to think that employment had anything to do with the cost of labor.
October 24, 2008
Put this down under Things Learned While Walking. While walking this evening (er, last night), I met a major supporter of Rocky Mountain Honor Flight, a foundation that takes surviving WWII veterans on a weekend trip to DC, to take in the new WWII memorial, the FDR memorial, meet with former Sen. Bob Dole, and generally see the sights. These guys came home to a job market and a housing market that had adjusted to their absence, and had yet to readjust to their reappearance.
Our war memorials pretty much got built in reverse order, with Vietnam and Korea coming before WWII. (I know it was the first war with an integrated military, but I wish the Army didn't feel it necessary to point out the race of the soldiers depicted therein.) With only one surviving WWI veteran, it's unlikely that we'll ever see one to those troops, although DC does sport a memorial to its own WWI vets and a memorial to the AEF, with a statue of Pershing and some pretty neat color maps of his effect on the Western Front.
Rocky Mountain Honor Flight is part of the national Honor Flight organization, so if you're not in Colorado, consider helping to underwrite a flight, or starting a local chapter in your state, if it doesn't have one already.
October 23, 2008
October 20, 2008
October 19, 2008
On The Trail
So Friday evening, I came home, fed the dog, lit candles, and lighted out for the Cherry Creek Homeowners' Association wine tasting. Parked the car someplace less likely to get a ticket for staying parked over Shabbat, and headed over to the Bank Farthest Away From Where I Live.
It was a fun event, even though I could have neither wine nor chocolate, enjoyed meeting people, most of whom don't make nearly enough for Diana DeGette to think they need to worry about capital gains or dividends.
Did I say Diana DeGette? She was actually there, and we had a pleasant conversation, a little about our respective races, and then some about the gold standard. She seemed like a genuinely pleasant person, although for some reason she expected me to disagree with McCain's assessment that Obama's a socialist. Someone please name one Obama policy that any left-wing party in Europe would disagree with. If you can find any left-wing parties in Europe still in power, that is.
(Side note: a promo for Life on Mars, wherein someone from our decade gets the joyous experience of reliving the 70s, apparently to teach all of us how far we've come since then. And yet, how far we have left to go.)
And today, it was walk walk walk. Which, on a torn calf muscle, I gotta tell ya, was just great fun. I walked home Friday night, and probably aggravated some mis-step I made when looking at the walking list instead of the sidewalk.
It's funny how much you remember from when you walked the neighborhood the first time, in the primary. I'm meeting Independent voters and reminding Republicans, and I remember a surprising number of people I met the first time through. Often it's the name, often it's the house, and sometimes it's a combination of both. It's almost always someone I had an actual conversation with, and I can frequently remember the question they asked me that started it off.
You wouldn't think that, meeting literally thousands of voters and constituents, any one would stick in your mind like that, but they do. So I guess there are lessons here for both candidates and constituents. if you want to be remembered, ask questions. And if you want to get elected, pay attention.
Synergies in Free Speech Suppression
The Wall Street Journal gives a preview of coming attractions should the Democrats build a veto-proof majority in the Senate. Two items caught my eye, although the Journal lists them separately:
...the Fairness Doctrine is likely to be reimposed either by Congress or the Obama FCC. A major goal of the supermajority left would be to shut down talk radio and other voices of political opposition.
Google and MoveOn.org would get "net neutrality" rules, subjecting the Internet to intrusive regulation for the first time.
The "Fairness Doctrine" is aimed squarely at talk radio. It would require broadcasters to give "equal time" to opposing viewpoints, as though there were only two. It was the law of the land until 1987, until repealed by the Reagan Administration. Here's a more thorough discussion of the problem:
"Net Neutrality," broadbandly-speaking, means that internet service providers would need to provide uniform service to all comers. The economics of this are more-than-questionable.
But the immediate threat is in harassment lawsuits, claiming that providers are discriminating against carriers of certain political viewpoints. After all, if talk radio is denied to conservatives, the next logical move would be to internet radio. Net Neutrality, combined with a liberal reading of the Fairness Doctrine, could provide cover for interfering with carriers such as Blog Talk Radio.
Given the FCC's approval of the Sirius-XM merger, a legal argument exists that applying the Fairness Doctrine solely to broadcast radio would be to discriminate against a medium with plenty of competition. That would be a slender reed, indeed, though.
October 17, 2008
That seems to be the Democrats' favorite game this year. In Ohio, the Democratic Secretary of State has persuaded the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court requirement that registrations actually be validated by election day. While the Supreme Court - possibly correctly - argued jurisdictional issues, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was claiming that it wasn't necessary to validate up to 200,000 registrations with irregularities. I say, "possibly," because I'm pretty sure that a Colorado state court ruled on certain aspects of HAVA four years ago, but it's possible that the issues at stake here are different, and non-justiciable by a state court.
Secretary of State Brunner has already allowed up to 3000 questionable registrants to vote electronically early, making it impossible to retrieve their votes should there turn out to be fraud. But Let's Pretend all those votes should count.
ACORN's been very active in Ohio, registering individuals, both existent and non-, multiple times. But since it'll be hard to make sure all these voters are entitled to the franchise, Let's Pretend there's no problem here, nothing to see here, move along, move along. By dodging the problem now, the Court has set itself up for a much bigger headache later on.
Likewise, my Democratic opponent, Lois Court, on Tuesday, defended the notion of Single-Payer Mandatory Universal Health Care (abbreviated backwards, that's "CHUMPS") by claiming that "I define 'public good' to mean something that's good for the public."
Never mind that that's not what it means, either word-by-word or as a phrase. Let's Pretend that it is. Let's pretend that the only cost is the cost of delivery, not the cost of the product itself.
The problem with Let's Pretend is that sooner or later Mom, or as she's known in this case, The Real World, calls you in to get cleaned up for dinner.
The other side likes to style itself as, "Progressives." They are. They're Progressively More Expensive, Progressively More Intrusive, and Progressively More Restrictive.
It's Not What You Know...
In fact, it's not even what you make, it's who you know:
An ailing Democratic fundraiser has obtained an experimental cancer-fighting drug through the Mayo Clinic, according to his son, despite the drug maker's refusal to sanction the treatment.
Fred Baron, a prominent political donor linked to the John Edwards mistress scandal, received the drug Tysabri after a "legal basis" for its use was found, his son Andrew Baron said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. He didn't elaborate.
Baron has described Tysabri as a "last chance effort for life" in his 61-year-old father's battle with late-stage multiple myeloma. Doctors last week gave Fred Baron only days to live, his son said.
Tysabri is approved for people with multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease, but is only in the early clinical trial stage for multiple myeloma.
Patients can seek to use drugs outside the authorized use under what the Food and Drug Administration calls single-patient investigations. But permission must ultimatelyBiogen Idec Inc., which manufactures Tysabri, didn't grant permission to treat Fred Baron with the drug, company spokeswoman Naomi Aoki said late Thursday. Biogen has maintained the regulatory risks of giving him special access to Tysabri are too great.
The company stood by its decision despite appeals from such prominent figures as former President Bill Clinton and cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Andrew Baron said the Mayo Clinic, working with the FDA, found a legal basis for using Tysabri on his father.
come from the drug manufacturer, said Judy Leon, an FDA spokeswoman.
Look, I have nothing against Fred Baron. I hope the treatment helps and I hope he lives. But this article contains an entire critique of our treatment of drugs, and another critique of the economics of health care.
A company has developed a treatment that has the potential to save a man's life. He's likely going to die, anyway. Why on earth should the company be held liable for its effects on him, if doctors say there's a chance it will help, and he's requesting the treatment? Let him sign a waiver, and maybe he will live. And maybe we'll discover something about the drug, or the disease, that will save lives down the line.
More broadly, doesn't this show that medicine is a scarce resource, not a "public good?" Medicine, in extremis, like any other product, will have to be rationed. Right now, we ration it through the ability to pay, either directly or through insurance. The result of a socialized system will be bureaucrats making the decisions about who's "deserving" of care.
What is more "fair" about rationing it though political connections?
October 16, 2008
The JCRC Candidates' Forum
To be honest, mostly a yawner. Diana DeGette did, however, commit the clear howler of the night when she showed herself ignorant - willfully or not - of the investor class. She professed that the people she knew who were making under $250,000 a year weren't the ones worried about capital gains taxes and dividends.
Apparently, the 75% of American households who own stock don't live in her district, which is weird, because they sure live in mine.
Former Senator Hank Brown, a friend of my own election campaign, has been campaigning publicly for Amendment 49, a proposal that would end the government's role as bag man for unions and their recycling of public dollars into political campaigns. It wouldn't prevent anyone from giving to their union small donor committee, it would just make the unions responsible for their own collections and accounting.
In any event, Hank appeared on the Mike Rosen show to explain why this Amendment is such a good idea for Colorado's political process, and Ben DeGrow has uploaded the most salient clips and blogged about them:
Naturally, the left is having a fit. It's almost as though we were asking them to play by the same rules as everyone else, or something.
October 10, 2008
Ways to Help Without Amendment 51
We all agree that there's a huge role for the state government in taking care of developmentally disabled individuals. While we need to guard against mission creep - identifying marginally disabled as needing the full range of care, for instance - we wouldn't even be talking about making these folks productive members of society if the state hadn't begun deinstitutionalizing 20 years ago. So the state has a historic role in helping these individuals, and shouldn't be shirking that.
That said, if this is more important than other things we've been spending money on, we ought to take money from those less important things and fund the waitlist, rather than raise taxes going into a recession.
So, what to do? Well, for those of you looking to make private donations, Jewish Family Services and Catholic Charities each run local group homes.
That helps now. But many parents of developmentally disabled children face the distress of knowing their child will have to face the world without them one day. The Wall Street Journal this morning discusses estate planning especially for such families. Most, after all, are middle class, and should be doing estate planning anyway. They provide a few links for families who want to set up special needs trusts:
- Academy of Special Needs Planners specialneedsanswers.com
Professional group of lawyers knowledgeable about estate planning, government benefits and other disability-related concerns.
- MassMutual SpecialCare www.massmutual.com/specialcare
Program provides financial products and advice for special-needs families. Agents get special training in disability planning.
- MetLife MetDESK www.metlife.com/desk
MetLife's Division of Estate Planning for Special Kids offers products, financial advice and resources for families with disabilities. Web site also features a cost-of-care calculator.
- Special Needs Alliance www.specialneedsalliance.org
Nonprofit group that provides referrals to experienced special-needs lawyers and other disability resources.
They won't obviate the need for a safety net, but they can certainly reduce the number of people who'll need it.
Special BTR Today
I'll be doing a special noon-time BTR show today about the financial crisis with King Banaian of SCSU Scholars, and William Polley of, ah, William Polley.
Hopefully, we'll all learn something.
One of the villains of Amity Shlaes's The Forgotten Man is uncertainty. Markets hate nothing more than uncertainty, which paralyzes decision-making and freezes capital. Typically, market uncertainty is nasty, brutish, and short. Typically, government uncertainly is agonizing and long.
At the end Roberts's and Kling's podcast, Kling points out that there are vulture funds waiting to buy distrssed securities and properties in order to re-sell them at a profit, but that the holders are waiting for a better deal on a bailout. (Something like this may have happened with Citigroup and Wells Fargo fighting over Wachovia.)
This is bad for about 100 different reasons, but I'll pick 5 ways this royally screws up market operations:
1) It prevents mark-to-market rules from working, hiding losses when there effectively is no market
2) It keeps distressed securities off the market, keeping markets illiquid
3) The lack of a market in certain securities makes it impossible to issue new securities of that type
4) It keeps the market from finding its level; something priced at 80 might sell for 50 after being dumped at 30; you'll never know the true value
5) It keeps the vultures from earning money while not capitalizing the guys holding onto the assets
I could go on, but you get the idea. It all adds up to nobody knowing what anything's worth, and nobody being willing to take risks because they can't price that risk adequately. As a result it freezes capital and damages the real economy.
FDR didn't help this problem, he made it worse. He got the politics of it - he didn't need to suggest a solution to get elected, and he steadfastly refused to work with Hoover after he was elected. I don't see anything from the forthcoming Obama administration to suggest anything different.
Confession for Financial Regulators & Bankers
We have privatized profit and socialized loss;
We have over-regulated S&Ls;
We have demanded loans to people who can't pay;
We have mortgaged with low down-payments;
We have subsidized debt rather than down payments;
We have substituted credit scores for judgment;
We have masked risk with "insurance;"
We have used government to subsidize systemic risk;
For all these, forgive us, pardon us, grant us another bankroll to try again.
Best. Description. Ever
For those of you trying to figure out how the mortgage market evolved into this over-articulated dinosaur-like critical-care patient, Russ Roberts and and Arnold Kling trace the history from pre-Depression era mortgage markets to today. It's brilliant, detailed, and understandable to the layman.
And a little depressing as regards to the future.
Listen to the whole thing.
October 8, 2008
Can You Hear Me Now?
From the AP:
The Supreme Court appeared divided Wednesday over judges' authority to limit the Navy's use of sonar to protect whales.
The court heard arguments in a dispute between the Bush administration and environmental advocates over court rulings that restrict sonar in naval training exercises off the coast of Southern California.
The administration says the training is vital for teaching sailors how to find enemy submarines.
Are they out of their minds?
Look, I like whales. When I was in 3rd grade, I made a "Save the Whales" poster. I like sperm whales, killer whales. When I see one of those National Geographic specials, I never have even the slightest urge to root for the krill.
I like the Smithsonian blue whale. I like Minki whales, batter-fried. I like Fudgy the Whale. I like the Wailing Wall and I like gunwales.
But the life of every whale on the planet doesn't add up to the life of one US Navy sailor.
The numbers involved are on the order of a few dozen per decade. It's not as though the Navy is using whales for torpedo practice, or for targeting practice, even for sonar practice. They just happen to be in the way.
ASW is a skill, it's an art, and it takes practice. And if the other guys are better at it than we are, because they don't give a damn about their whales, and would just as soon that they get the hell out of the way and head for the safe pastures of California, our sailors are going to die.
This, along with the stolen McCain/Palin bumper sticker, has convinced me that fears for one's property for having a Republican sign up in Denver are not unfounded.
Even paranoids have enemies.
October 7, 2008
"Mr. Sharf, this is D---- at the Echo Mountain Lodge, and we think someone has turned in your camera."
So apparently the raccoons got tired of trying to figure out how to retrieve the batteries, and left it on the trail for someone to pick up.
"No, he wouldn't leave a name or any contact info, just wanted to turn in the camera."
And Sunday morning was spent trekking out to Mt. Evans, to retrieve a hopelessly broken camera. After all the thing had sat out in the increasingly harsh weather for weeks, after having bounced down the side of the mountain. The optics would be out of alignment, if not outright cracked; the zoom motor might not even work. Maybe - maybe - the flash card would still be in there, so I might get back the photos.
So up early and off to the lodge. Too early. It was like a scene out of Casablanca: "I'll be there at 7:00." "We'll be open at 9:00." Which meant that I had an hour or so to kill hiking the same trail and taking time-lapse photos of the prior month's scenery.
Lo and behold! The camera didn't seem the worse for wear; although the zoom toggle had broken off, it was still useable. No batteries, so the crash testing would have to wait for home. But the flash card was there. And something I had forgotten about: the screw-in base for the tripod.
And, yes, the camera seems to be working fine. Maybe Lowell Thomas is available for a testimonial.
October 6, 2008
During last week's Blog Talk Radio show, I promised a whole bunch of links. Here they are.
First, I promised to link to information about solar and alternative energy IPOs, as well as a particular alternativ energy stock index. I can't find the particular index I mentioned right now, but there's a ton of informaion about Solar and Alternative Energy Indexes, so here are two of them:
One's an ETF family, which means you can invest directly, the other is an index, but I'm pretty sure there's an ETF associated with it as well. The laser company I mentioned, whose stock has gotten crushed in the last couple of years, is Newport (NEWP). Only a portion of their business is lasers, but they had been banking heavily on solar, as lasers and optics are used to cut the solar panels and solar cells.
Naturally, none of this is an investment recommendation. It's been a long time since I looked at Newport, and I've done little (er, no) research on either of the ETFs. But it's a good place to follow what the market thinks of solar and alternatives.
And no fair investing, and then begging the government for subsidies or special breaks. (Hear that, Mrs. Pelosi?)
The DOE also has a site on oil shale. I'd strongly recommend printing out and looking at the PDFs on the various issues, including reserves, recoverability, environmental effects, and so on.
And finally, amidst all the talk about the rescue plan, here's a contrarian view, not merely that it's a bad execution of necessary help, but that the whole idea is flawed. These guys are from the fast-rising George Mason University econ department. They're good, and worth reading on a regular basis.
For a well-informed read from the traditional, "we're doing this to prevent 1930-1940 all over again" point of view, which is clearly where Bernanke & Co. are coming from, you can't do much better than these guys.
I'm going to try, but can't promise to pull off, a discussion between these fellows with me as the moderator over on BTR.
And BTR is at a special time this week: 9:30 on Thursday rather than our regular 9:00. I need a little recovery time from the Yom Kippur fast on Thursday.
Power, Faith, and Fantasy
Six Days of War
An Army of Davids
Learning to Read Midrash
Deals From Hell
A War Like No Other
A Civil War
The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
The Wisdom of Crowds
When Genius Failed
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude
How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?
Good to Great
Built to Last
Financial Fine Print
The Day the Universe Changed
The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East
The Case for Democracy
A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam
Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory
Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures
Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud