Archive for December, 2009

Hope. But Not Change.

Hope, October 2005:

The keen interest of the media, and by extension, the public, in the future of house price growth in the United States centers on the question of whether there is a house price bubble nationally or regionally. Even among those who concede that a bubble per se may not be present, many worry that they may experience a decline in home prices in their metro area due to the very high and unsustainable rise in values over recent years in many parts of the United States. We examine this potential by forecasting the likely change in prices under three models – one that asserts a mean reversion correction on regional markets to return the national average gain in prices to the 50-year annual growth rate of 5 percent over the period 1998-2010; the second and third base future regional and national home price growth on economic fundamentals.

We also discuss recent findings by Chang, Cutts and Green (2005) and perform a simple extension of their work applied to 22 major cities. In all cases, we find the predicted worst-case outcomes to be much less dire than the “doomsday” predictions reported in the mainstream press and elsewhere.

Written by the then-Chief Economist, Frank Nothaft, and Deputy Chief Economist, Amy Crews Cutts, at Freddie Mac.

Last week, the current heads of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae received news of 7-figure bonuses at the same time the government threw their corporations an unlimited lifeline.  In fact, the government won’t even estimate how much money it’ll take to stabilize these companies.  Talk about too big to fail.

If the company was making decisions based on those employees who were responsible for “primary and secondary mortgage market analysis and research, macroeconomic analysis and forecasting,” and who had, “published studies in academic journals and books on such topics as the economics of subprime lending,” then it’s easy to see where they went wrong.

It would be a good thing, then, if those economists had found other employment.  Unfortunately, they haven’t (see end of page 2).  That’s right.  Four years after their tsunami detector found nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, please move along, and one year into the administration that was going to hold everyone accountable, the same economists are still there, turning out reports and advice.

I’ve commented before on the metaphysical impossibility of making the sorts of predictions that these economists were trying to make.  But in this case, their catastrophic mistakes contributed mightily towards shaking the world financial system to its core.  They stopped issuing commentary along with their tables of projections from August 2007 until April of 2009.  Apparently they figured that if they couldn’t find something nice to say about the housing market, they’d better not say anything at all.  Now it’s all back to recovery and bottoms and shrinking inventory.

It seems that working for Freddie Mac – either in management or research – really does mean never having to say you’re sorry.

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For Your Consideration

If things in Iran work out, there may be a movie with much greater world significance than Al Gore’s efforts of a few years ago.  Red County has learned, from sources close to the movie’s production, that The Stoning of Soraya M has become quite the hit on the Iranian street, with copies being smuggled in to meet the demand for group screenings in private homes.  This is roughly the equivalent of The Magnificent Seven being shown on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

Such films serve an educational purpose in the West.  But in Iran, they stiffen resolve.  They remind the population what all that fighting in the streets is about.  It assures them that their overseas countrymen haven’t forgotten them, even as Iran tries to stifle debate in the West by threatening families left at home.  And it provides some hope that the US and the West might yet be roused to help these people.  Who knows?  Maybe the Ayatollah Khameini saw the film and glimpsed his future, which would explain his sudden 100-hour check on his personal jet.

Of course, since the Iranian government is in bed with the Chinese, maybe it could prevail on them to cut a few hundred thousand pirate copies to satisfy demand.  I doubt the movie’s producers would object.

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Movies & Parliaments & CFCs, Oh My!

Boy, you don’t see that very often.  TCM is usually the paragon of accuracy, but they just credited some actress named, “Celeste Holmes,” when they meant Celeste Holm.  Yes, she’s been married 5 times, but not to anyone named Holmes.  I’ve never seen them do anything like that before, especially with an actress who’s not only still alive, but still working.

It also turns out that, contrary to popular mythology, beagles do not like blueberries.  At least one beagle doesn’t.

I’m the last person on this and several other planets to realize this, but the Internet is, quite simply, the most amazing tool ever devised by the mind of man.  Thirty-fice years ago, my father took me to a movie, a cartoon.  I remember exactly one thing about it: something standing on a keyboard, saying that it was going to commit suicide and “go to that big typewriter in the sky.”  Now 35 years ago, when you got to the theater at 12:30 for an 11:45 showing, you walked in, sat through the last half, and then sat through the first half, eventually uttering the words, “this is where we came in,” and left.  That scene, the one with the suicidal something standing on a typewriter, was where we came in.  So it’s also where we left.  So it’s also the only thing I remembered.

I won’t say it kept me up nights.  Lots of other worries to do that.  And B.I. that would have been the end of it.  But I would google the phrase every once in a while, and maybe some keywords like, “typewriter movie cartoon.”  Nothing.  Until finally, something.  Which something is available streaming on Netflix.  So I watched until I got to the scene I remembered, shouted “Aha!” in joyous triumph.  And then I said, “this is where I came in,” and left.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the un-repealable sections of the Senate’s Health Care Assimilation.  Let’s be clear – there is no such thing as an un-repealable law.  Parliaments can’t bind future parliaments, and Congresses can’t bind future Congresses.  The Democrats are claiming that this is merely a routine alteration in Senate procedure, as opposed to Seante rules, but in either case, the courts are unlikely to intervene.

But there it is in black and white: any attempt to repeal the rationing panels will “not be in order.”

Not so fast there, Slots.  When the Republicans have retaken both houses, presumably the Senate and House parliamentarians will rule that their repeal measures are out of order.  The chair will so rule.  Or the chair will rule the other way.  One side will move to over-rule the chair.  At that point, all hell will break loose, but a vote will be taken.  If the Republicans try to overrule the chair, then the Dems will try to grind process to a halt to avoid a vote.  If the Dems are ruled against, the chair had better be damn sure he has the votes before making the ruling.

As of 2005, the chair can be overruled by a majority vote:

Appealing Rulings of the Chair. By House tradition, the presiding officer’s rulings on points of order raised by Members are seldom appealed. As a result, the House has a relatively large and consistent body of precedents based on rulings of the chair. If the chair’s ruling is appealed, the full House decides by majority vote whether to sustain or overrule this ruling. Because this vote is viewed as a serious test of the chair’s authority, it is typically settled along party lines, with the majority sustaining the chair. In contrast to the Senate, there are only a few situations when the House’s presiding officer does not rule on points of order.

In the Senate, the presiding officer’s rulings on points of order raised by Senators are frequently appealed. The full Senate votes on whether to sustain or overrule the ruling. Under Rule XX, the presiding officer has the option of submitting any question of order to the full Senate for a majority vote decision. He is required to submit questions of order that raise constitutional issues, and those concerning the germaneness or relevancy of amendments to appropriations bills, to the full Senate. Senate votes on appealed rulings of the chair, and on points of order submitted to the full body, often turn on the political concerns of the moment rather than on established Senate practices and procedures. As a result, the Senate has a smaller and less consistent body of precedents than does the House. Yet, because the Senate usually operates informally, it is a more precedent- than rule-regulated institution.

There’s a scene in Barbara Tuchman’s, The Proud Tower, where the Speaker of the House forces a debate on the so-called, “silent quorum,” where the minority could prevent a quorum by just refusing to answer the roll.  It’s transcendent political theater, with a Texas congressman whetting his knife on his boots, other representatives storming the podium, congressmen vocally denying their presence.  In the end, Speaker Thomas Reed (R-Maine) had his way.  If this bill passes with such a provision, I for one would feel cheated if I didn’t get to see a similar scene play out on C-SPAN.

This is why it is critical that Republicans not just wash back into office on a wave of popular anger of what the bums have done.  They have to win with a mandate to roll this thing back.   They have to go in having made it politically palatable to vote that way, and they have to tie Obama personally to this legislation, and keep tying him to it.  The large jump in Rasmussen’s “strongly disapprove” rating for Obama was almost certainly a result of the first cloture vote.  The Dems aren’t operating inside a Beltway Bubble, but in an underground steel-reinforced titanium Beltway Bunker.  But if the Republicans don’t promise to undo the damage, it may well end the party within a few election cycles.

Now it’s the CFCs.  Funny, but about 20 years ago, a friend of mine named Ron Bailey wrote a book called, Ecoscam.  The one credible threat that the enviros were tossing around was CFCs and the ozone hole.  We did ban CFCs, and while it’s take a while for the last of them to waft their way up to the upper atmosphere, there to interact with radiation and destroy ozone, by 2000, CFC levels had begun to decline.  Along with the earth’s temperature.

I don’t know if Prof. Lu is correct.  But I do know that the jokers over at CRU were making it up, and that NASA was covering for them.  I’m not willing to pay Physics Reports $31 to see a paper I’m not qualified to review.  But it’ll be interesting to see what the scientific reaction is.  So far, it’s all been blogs and newspapers.  Eventually, we’ll see whether or not the establishment has learned the right lessons from Climategate, or whether they try to pretend that this paper, along with their own malfeasance, never happened.

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Lt. Governor Penry?

Since this possibility has been raised, I think maybe some ideas from outside might be helpful to avoid groupthink.

In my opinion, this move carries significant political risk, and will not likely achieve its intended objective.

Josh Penry as Lt. Gov won’t placate the Tea Party people. It may well infuriate them even more. It won’t raise McInnis’s standing any, and they might well label Penry as a sell-out, based on a fairly pedestrian career move.  He’ll be passing up staying in the state Senate where he could have held McInnis to his promises, for an opportunity to run interference for him. And it will totally freeze out Dan Maes, who at this point is their only opportunity cast a vote before everything’s decided.

Ironically, Jane Norton’s candidacy probably hurts this decision’s effectiveness, as one of her main liabilities is her tie to Referendum C & D. If she had no choice but to support them, then Penry will have no choice but to support McInnis, who hasn’t yet proven anything about himself to the Tea Partiers.

From Penry’s point of view (and the party’s, I think) it’s a waste of his talents. Go back and look at a list of lieutenant governors. Yes, Gail Schoettler came within a thousand votes or so of making something from the office. But other than that, you have to go back to McNichols and 1956, 52 years, to find anyone who got elected to high office from being #2. McInnis ought to know that better than anyone, since Mike Callihan failed against him for Congress after being Lt. Governor.

In fact, Lt. Governor has been pretty much an unmitigated stepping-stone to obscurity.  Nancy Dick lost to Bill Armstrong for Senate.  Mike Callihan lost to McInnis.  Schoettler lost to Bill Owens, and Joe Rogers placed out of the money in the Republican primary in the 7th Congressional District’s inaugural run. So if Penry just sacrificed a gubernatorial run in order to preserve that bright career, he may be on the verge of tossing that away, too.

I realize it’s easy to carp from the outside.  But it’s also sometimes easier to see that what looks like a really good idea based on traditional politics probably isn’t as hot as it sounds.

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Merry Christmas, Garrison!

From Powerline, Garrison Keillor’s latest column:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don’t mess with the Messiah.  (Emphasis added, but hardly needed – ed.)

I sympathize with Keillor’s disdain for the secularization of Christmas.  But White Christmas, The Christmas Song, and Rudolph are harmless enough.  I might as well complain about Sunrise, Sunset being played at Orthodox weddings.

But what on earth does the secularization of Christmas have to do with the religion of the songwriters? Nothing.  Mel Torme, Johnny Marks, and Irving Berlin were part of a wave of Jewish popular songwriting in the last century.  But there were plenty on Christians writing secular Christmas music, amd the Christians who recorded all these songs didn’t seem to mind.

I used to like Garrison Keillor.  He loved, recreated, and advanced the art form of radio.  I listened to Prairie Home Companion through college and until he retired from it.  He was largely single-handedly responsible for the revival of storytelling in this country. The audio version of WLT, a Radio Love Story was great company on long road trips.  Some of his work will live forever, and deserves to.

But he has long since traded his wistful, sweet notalgia for a poisonous bitterness driven by a country he can no longer understand, and spiced with a political nastiness all too common on the left.

Unlike if a conservative had said these things, there’s no likely recourse here.  Good luck getting the ADL to condemn these comments, and don’t hold your breath waiting for the many Jews (or the management) at NPR to ask for a “clarification” of his remarks.

This casual enabling will have long-term consequences for Jews, none of them good.  One hesitates to discern a pattern based on two data points, but this is the second time in a week that liberals have gratuitously brought up the Jewishness of someone whose activities they didn’t approve of.  Jonathan Chait of The New Republic and Lee Siegel of The Daily Beast both attributed Joe Lieberman’s opposition to the health care bill to his Orthodoxy, without a shred of evidence.  (In Siegel’s case, religion was less a vehicle for an attack on Lieberman than Lieberman was a vehicle for an attack on Orthodoxy.)

If Jews are unable to take certain political positions, indeed engage in certain common cultural activities without having their Jewishness attacked, it represents a watershed change in the American political culture, one that is not “progressive” in any positive sense, but “regressive,” back to the culture of Europe that so many of our ancestors fled.  These attacks are coming from the Left, and it’s up to the Left to clean its own house, although I suspect they consider this a feature more than a bug.

And just in case Keillor happens to be visiting any public space or listening to any music radio in the next few days, I wouldn’t want him to enjoy a Christmas song under the delusion that it wasn’t composed by Jews.  So here’s a list:

  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
  • Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed the World)
  • Holly Jolly Christmas
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas
  • It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
  • Santa Baby
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • Silver Bells
  • Sleigh Ride
  • There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
  • White Christmas

Merry Christmas, and happy listening, Garrison!

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Sean Duffy Interview

Earlier this week, I sat down with the Sean Duffy, the Communications Director for the Scott McInnis for Governor campaign. We discussed a number of issues, from state budget issues and small business, to his sometimes contentious relationship with the Tea Party movement.

I post the interview here, without my own editorial comment, but soliciting your own.

Platform for Prosperity
Fox News & the Tea Parties
Outreach to the Tea Parties
Impressions of the Tea Parties
Federal Encroachment
Stimulus Money
State Revenues
The Car Tax
Small Business
Health Insurance
Comprehensive Budget Plan

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The Prospects of the Platform for Prosperity

Quite good, actually.  The platform is a smart one.  Sticks to fiscal issues and personal liberty, in an election where those issues will come to the fore.  It’s a platform that I can endorse wholeheartedly and without reservation.

Still, there’s the issue of the messenger:

But Nikki Mata, a conservative activist in suburban Denver, said that such a strategy misses the point of the tea-party movement. Endorsements and platforms matter less to her and her fellow activists, she said, than their gut feelings about whether a candidate would shake things up — or would cave in to the establishment.

Ben and Michael have already hit this, but there’s more to be said here.

I like Nikki a lot; she and Lori Horn hatched the R Block Party in the wake of last year’s debacle, and it’s one of the highest-profile, best-attended activist groups in the area.

McInnis needs not to underestimate the amount of work he has to do here. Republicans have not forgotten the damage done to the party’s core values by Bill Owens’s support for Referendum C.  McInnis already finds himself defending his “clarifications” on the massively unpopular FASTER car tax.  Asking Republicans to push those doubts aside in the name of “unity” is likely to ring hollow.  That McInnis currently holds no office works against him with this group in two ways: first, he has no chance to demonstrate his credibility now, and second, he held office during that period when Republicans lost their way.  He’ll have to show that he wasn’t part of that herd.

If not persuaded – and it behooves them to be persuadable – , Sondermann is half-right.  They have no place to go, but home.

I hope that McInnis realizes that simply putting out a platform – under pressure from wanting Josh Penry’s endorsement and the threat of a Tom Tancredo candidacy – isn’t by itself going to satisfy those who are looking for someone who truly believes.  So far, I haven’t seen much evidence of this, but it’s possible that with the nomination apparently in hand, McInnis can now turn his hardball tactics towards Ritter, and genuinely reach out to the activists.

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