Saturday, February 13, 2010

Coming Soon to the USA.

The "value added tax" (VAT) will be our national deficit reduction tax. VAT is ubiquitous in the European Union nations. In Britain, the VAT is soon expected to increase to 20% (from 17.5%).

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Blue Beast.

Walter Mead has an excellent and concise blog post today on the breakdown of the "blue social model." It is the central domestic political issue and it is tearing up the Democratic Party.

An Insurable Interest.

The argument against Credit Default Swaps (CDS) centers on the issue of "insuable interest." I can't buy insurance on my neighbor's house because I don't have an "insurable interest." The incentive for someone who doesn't have an insurable interest is to burn the place down. Which is why everyone on Wall Street is attacking Greece.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Google's Ad Sense

Google's little ads in Gmail are very good at reflecting back what I've already purchased. I bought the new sneakers and I bought the new khakis. Which means I don't need little ads from Zappos and Sierra Trader's Outpost telling me about sneaker sales and khaki stores. Been there, done that.

Wouldn't it be better if Google simply asked me what I needed today, this week, next week, next month and then advertised accordingly? That would work for me. For instance, in two months I am going to need golf balls. I would like Google to provide me with links to the cheapest sites for Titleist, Srixon and Bridgestone golf balls. Right there in my Gmail account.

It will never happen. It will only happen after I do the search and find those places myself. And by then, I will have already bought the golf balls.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Grand Narrative.

Mickey Kaus has a funny piece about "saving" the Obama presidency. It was written after this piece appeared in The Financial Times. The point being that "fixing" presidencies follows a time-honored script and that the last box checked, at least in consensus media circles, is "hire David Gergen."

I have no idea if President Obama is properly staffed or not, but he has surrounded himself with serious people. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, Tim Geitner, Ben Bernanke, Hillary Clinton, et alia, are all capable hands and they have been there and back. Their experience gives the Obama Administration real heft. The White House senior staff seems thin and parochial (and weirdly controlling) but they are where they are because the President wants them there. If he didn't want them there, they'd be beavering away over at the Democratic National Committee.

It's not a staff issue that is causing the President's political deflation. And it's not a communications issue (as in: if only the Obama Administration communicated their ideas better, everything would be okay). It's not even a political issue; the GOP doesn't have a national act to speak of and Democrats continue to hold solid majorities in both Houses of Congress. The Obama Administration's problem is narrative.

Specifically, the Grand Narrative of our time is The Reckoning and the Restructuring. The Reckoning is all this debt coming home to roost. The Restructuring is what we're going to do about it.

The Reckoning is plain for all to see. Consumers are broke, companies are reeling under massive debt loads, and the US government is underwater as never before. Compounding these problems is an avalanche of unfunded liabilities that will soon come due. To cite just one small example, for the first time in its history, Social Security will run cash negative this year. The cost of Medicare is set to explode as baby boomers retire. You know all this. There's no point repeating all the scary numbers.

The Reckoning requires restructuring. Restructuring is not avoidable, it is inevitable. The sooner we do it, the less painful it will be for all concerned. Specifically, we must decide how to make our pension system (Social Security) and our current national health care system (Medicare and Medicaid) sustainable. We must restructure our debt. We must get 15% more performance out of our military on 15% less budget. We must get 25% more performance out of all other government services on 25% less expenditure.

In addition, we need to think about what taxes to raise, whether we sell land, whether we acquire nation-states or territories (Africa states? Siberian land?), whether we merge with Canada to form a more robust (and energy independent) mega-nation. These are the big issues of US restructuring. And they are all on the table.

Except they are not. The Obama Administration keeps talking at us like its 1998 and we can have a "green" jobs program and national health insurance and "cap and trade" legislation and $250 million criminal proceedings for homicidal Islamic psychopaths in downtown Manhattan. We don't have $250 million for the KSM trial in Manhattan. Everybody knows that except, apparently, the Obama Administration.

Until President Obama engages the Grand Narrative of our time, and makes it his own, he will remain disconnected from the broad national interest ("interest" in the sense of what people are interested in and "interest" in the sense of what is best for the country). This is not just another recession. This is not just a fraying at the ends. This is a crisis of high throw weight and terrifying potential consequences. It's important that we muddle through. It matters. The President needs to start the restructuring by talking openly and honestly about what it might entail.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Well, this is nice. But the larger issue remains "decontenting." And its impact on Toyota quality. "Decontenting" began in the mid-1990s, and fixing it will take a long time.

Monday, February 08, 2010

An Implicit Guarantee

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae are now explicitly in the business of losing money. How can that be? Read on.

Well, At Least We're Not Greece!

This could become the new rallying cry for California. Bad as things are in the Golden State, they're probably worse in Greece.

The Collapse of Nevada's State Government.

What happens when a state government is so mis-managed that it could fire every single employee and still be in the red? Welcome to Nevada. (via Paul Kedrosky)

The Trial of KSM in New York City.

President Obama doesn't seem to understand why holding the KSM trial in NYC is so contentious. In yet another television interview, he says he has not ruled out going forward with what might be called the Holder Plan. You can watch the video here

Let's review the bidding. Option #1: Adjudicate KSM's "case" with a military tribunal. He has already confessed. He has asked to be tried in a military court as an enemy combatant. Grant him that request and, after a formal hearing, off he goes to life in prison. Cost? Not much.

Option #2: Try him in a criminal proceeding in New York City. Result: the cost escalates to as much as $200 million. Lower Manhattan is incredibly inconvenienced for months (and months). Manhattan's economic activity declines. Tourism declines. All at a time when the city is struggling to regain its economic footing and when the city and the state (and the Feds) are dealing with massive deficits.

How can it be that Option #2 is even under consideration?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Red Army

Hockey enthusiasts can hardly wait for the upcoming Olympic Games. Many believe that the Russian National Team may well be the most explosive offense ever assembled under one flag. A preview of all the medal-contending teams is here.