Sunday, August 17, 2008

An important new blog... and news from Worldcon and the high plains...

First off... we've all just returned from a high plains family odyssey -- from Denver (the World Science Fiction convention) to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil's Monument and several cool caves (a family interest of ours.)

The Denver World Science Fiction Convention was a bit small (they are steadily getting smaller) but charming, friendly and one of the sweetest I ever attended. (My first worldcon ever was Denvention II in 1981.) Among the highlights:

1- SKY HORIZON received the Hal Clement Award for best science fiction novel for Young Adults.

2- I got a chance to do this fabulous panel with much-talented artists Frank Wu and Teddy Harvia, in which I essentially did stand-up storytelling improv with images or elements shouted from the audience while Frank and Teddy sketched. It got rather rollicking and manic, with Frank & I standing on the tables doing surfer moves, then leading the audience in chants and songs, then getting REALLY silly. There must be a dozen blog entries and youTube postings about that one event.

Now, on to important matters...

-----

An important announcement: Russ Daggatt has finally started a blog. A truly insightful fellow, Russ is a great source of collated political data and common-sense "ostrich-bait." It’s about time that his compilations became available to a wider audience. (Thus saving me the chore of frequently re-posting them!)Catch his entries at: http://daggatt.blogspot.com/ and do spread the word.

Oh, and an (apolitical/philosophical) aside: John Brockman’s THE EDGE site has posted my appraisal of Mark Pesce’s latest speech, siddling toward elitist cynicism and renunciationism. I think you’ll find both sides interesting.

*** A GENERAL/POLITICAL POTPOURRI ***

Here’s a good “ostrich” article on Salon.

Fearing I would go crazy and shoot the TV.

Oh, the June-July Armageddon Buffet is online! http://signsandportentsofarmageddon.blogspot.com/

The Bush Administration has ignited a furor with a proposed definition of pregnancy that has the effect of classifying some of the most widely used methods of contraception as abortion.

-------
One angry investment specialist and champion of transparency is Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management (http://www.hegcap.com/). Via John Mauldin, I’ve been reading Lewitt’s cogent comments on the continuing efforts by those in authority to bail out the system (especially their cronies), along with insights on the deal by Merrill and the woes at GM. Lewitt is scathing about how the rules have been tweaked and the civil servants distracted, allowing the development of... ”...beggar-the poor, boost-the-rich policies... or a capitalism-for-the-poor, socialism-for-the-rich economic model that American financial authorities have adopted over the past two decades.”

All of which reinforces my belief that our problem in recent years is not so much that we have had bad shifts in “law.”Rather, what we’ve seen is a near abandonment of law, with a civil service that has been crushed, cowed, suborned, distracted, or bullied into not doing the jobs that they were hired to do. Indeed, I’d be interested in a comparison of regulatory enforcement actions that were taken by New York State vs the SEC, on a yearly basis since 2001. My impression is that New York State engaged in far more supervision, auditing, accountability and law enforcement than the federal agencies that are supposedly our main line of defense.

---
This is pretty big. In May this year, the multibillion-dollar oil giant Exxon-Mobil acknowledged that it had been doing something similar [to the tobacco lobby]. It announced that it would cease funding nine groups that had fuelled a global campaign to deny climate change. Exxon's decision comes after a shareholder revolt by members of the Rockefeller family and big superannuation funds to get the oil giant to take climate change more seriously...

...and that's enough for now. Just keeping my hand in. Do look for a local tight race to help with. That's where the real action is.

db

82 comments:

Tony Fisk said...

Well, you were wondering what the superannuation funds were doing...

Welcome back. Enjoy the vestiges of your break while they linger.

Cool news dept: Phoenix takes the first atomic force microscope image of martian dirt.

Travc said...

Dr Brin, if you haven't been to Crystal Cave in Sequoia NP, it is pretty nifty (and Sequoia is very nice in general). It is a marble cavern, and as such a bit different from the limestone norm. Amazing what a bit (well a lot) of heat and pressure can do to the minerals.

Stefan Jones said...

After much thought, and running into several too many self-satisfied jingoists, I've come to believe that wooing ostriches isn't the answer to ensuring a Democratic victory.

I think the key is getting out the vote. It means registration drives and, perhaps most difficult of all, convincing people who have burned out and given up to vote. There are more citizens who don't vote that might be persuaded to than conservatives who could possibly be convinced.

Stefan Jones said...

Oh!

I saw "Dark Knight" yesterday.

I'd put off going for a couple of weeks because I'd heard it was awfully grim and cynical.

But there's a bit, quite near the end, that struck me as quite wonderful. A victory for decency.

If you've seen the movie, you know what I mean. If you haven't, you'll know what I'm talking about when you do.

Matt DeBlass said...

Stefan, I saw about two thirds of the movie, but then the fire alarm went off and we were evacuated (false alarm, but we missed the end)
I do want to see the end, but it's so darn long to sit through (trying not to give too much away, the film went off right after the lights went out on the ferry).
From what I saw, though, while Heath Ledger's much-vaunted performance was very good, the best, and most likely to be overlooked, work in the movie was done by Gary Oldman. Unfortunately, the very thing that made it great (you never saw Gary Oldman in the movie, all you saw was Jim Gordon, the man is a master of his trade) is the very thing that makes it likely to get missed come award time.


That bit on "birth control as abortion" is more than a little disturbing, and opens the door to all sorts of possible abuses, I think.
While on paper I'm pro-choice, my personal feeling is that abortion should be the last, least desirable option. I'm very, very much pro-contraception and this seems a somewhat insidious attack on rationality to me.

Tony Fisk said...

I guess this would make failure of a fertilised egg to embed in the uterine wall the leading cause of infantile death through natural causes (unless you count the failure of a sperm to fertilise the egg in the first place)

At the other end of the journey, Pratchett criticises drugs ruling making Aricept unavailable for prescription until Alzheimer patients are at an advanced stage.

Runaway Serfer... said...

Welcome back! It must have been a fun convention, since my guy hasn't come back yet!

An amendment: Armageddon Buffet's website address is www.armageddonbuffet.com.

Doug S. said...

(trying not to give too much away, the film went off right after the lights went out on the ferry)

Ouch. You're missing out.

Anyway, explain to the theater staff what happened, and they'll probably let you walk into a showing in progress, so you probably won't need to sit through the entire film again if you don't want to.

David Brin said...

I don't disagree with Stefan, actually.

I have been emphasizing "ostriches" for several reasons:

1- It is aggressive. It takes the attack to the enemy's coalition, sowing doubts and (ideally) creating dissidents within their movement.

2- It offers those of our fellow citizens who are honestly conservative - in an older/better sense of the word - a chance to rebel against monsters for the sake not only of America but saving something from the ruins of their movement

3- It is an act of sincerity, proclaiming our belief in conversation and negotiation, rather than fighting an endless "culture war."

4- It offers a way to turn it from a mere victory into a total rout.

Note that Obama himself is doing this, by reaching out to the new generation of calmer evangelicals, which he did rather well at the Saddleback Church gathering, last week.

Nevertheless, I agree with Stefan, that we can only go so far by trying to raid a few tens of thousands of ostriches from Rove's coalition. That may make a memic difference, and help get us past culture war...

...but if Red A,erica insists on a Culture War, then primary effort has to go to winning it. And voter registration, get out the vote and all that will be crucial. Indeed, this is why I recommend that folks find a worthy (and close) local assembly or state senate or congressional race to help. These are the people who can hand out local tasks before and on election day.

David Brin said...

SEe:
http://daggatt.blogspot.com/2008/08/recommended-reading.html

Gilmoure said...

The Infamous Brad has an interesting blog on oil and the U.S. economy: Those Who Forget the 1970s Are Doomed to Repeat Them

Make me wonder if the last 20 years has been all about manipulating oil prices, by both U.S. companies and OPEC.

zorgon the malevolent said...

My own sense of the ostriches that most of 'em have already converted themselves. True ostriches like John Cole of www.balloon.juice, guys who voted for the drunk-driving C student in the White House not just once, but twice, seem to have mostly come to their senses. The headlines woke 'em up.

Many of the other folks who present themselves as moderate reasonable Repubs really aren't. Oh, they speak politely and use carefully modulated tones and sound superifcially sensible... But, like our friend the kook who dropped in here a couple of months back, when you scratch the veneer of surface rationality on these guys, you get wild-eyed crazy talk like "Democrats are traitors who are selling...western civilization down the river to radical Islam."

A lot of the failures people are reporting in reaching alleged ostriches probably result from the fact that most of the Repubs who come off like moderate are really 27 percenters in disguise. They think the Iraq war is peachy, the economy is dandy, Peak Oil is a myth, global warming is a fantasy cooked uy by Mr. Ozone, and $10 a galloon gasoline ain't no big thang.

I would guess most of these 27 percenters who present themselves as moderates are probably making tons 'o money in oil-price-resistant and global-warming-resistant and subprime-meltdown-resistant industries like private prisons or oil refining or apartment complex ownership or flood cleanup. If you're employed by the oil industry, times are great. If you're a Halliburton exec, life is peachy. If you're in Blackwater, business has never been better. If you run a private prison, the world's your oyster right now. Trying to reach these guys just ain't gonna work.

The stats seem to show catastrophically low rates of Repub voter turnout this year. Repubs seem to be dispirited and apathetic. They've watched nearly all of their pet ideas get put into practice, from privatization of government services to preventive war to deregulation of finance, and it's all blown up in their faces. Every single Repub plank (except for an abortion ban and theocracy) has been tried and shown not to work. That's just taken the wind out of the Repubs. So the polls appear to show they're mostly staying home this presidential cycle.

Last but not least, the news from the evangelical front is most encouraging. The extreme right-wing evangelical megachurch preachers have been so discredited that their own congregations are now shunning them. The hot trend among fundamentalist Christians is apparently "earth stewardship," not anti-abortion. This has deprived the Repubs of a huge part of the base they built up over the last 14 years.

Of course, the news reports that have now surfaced about Rove an company privately ridiculing fundie Xians while pandering to 'em in public also haven't helped. The fundie Xians appear to have woken up and realized that Rove et al. talked the talk but never actually acted on any of the fundie Xian agenda, like forcing prayer in schools or banning abortion nationwide or launching a massive nationwide federal crackdown on homosexuality or premarital sex.

Indeed, a lot of the fundie Xians are starting to realize that American society as a whole has simply accepted gay rights and a woman's right to choose as a given, so it's counterproductive for the Christian right to agitate against this stuff. Our society has simply decided it's a done deal. There was a sense among fundie Xians in the late 90s, I think, that it might not be too late to turn the tide on gay sex or abortion or porn. Today, I suspect the cultural conservatives realize they're in the position of ants trying to move a boulder. The cultural tide is now running against them and the general public simply isn't energized by anti-gay or anti-abortion or anti-porn spiels the way they used to be in the 80s and 90s.

I mean...man, there was a time when the Repub base got really cranked up about banning Hustler magazine in 7/11 stores. Remember that one? That was around 1987, if memory serves. Today, thanks to the internet, Hustler magazine represnts the extreme mild end of porn...and any kid can access all the raunchy porn they want, just by having their junior high school girlfriend send 'em some snaps from their cellphone camera. Technology has just pushed things way, way, way too far for cultural conservatives to roll the clock back at this point.

Tony Fisk said...

My own sense of the ostriches that most of 'em have already converted themselves.

That's about the only way conversion ever happens. So why debate at all, especially with wingnut kooks, however polite?

It's for the audience. My reason for engaging with our friend was to get him to clearly state his opinions and reasoning in his own words. Without interpretation. Without recourse to the 'strawman' defence.

So, I paid him some rope. It was within his power to make a turk's head or a hangman's noose out of it, for all to see. We got the following:

'The democrats are selling Western civilisation down the river.'
because...?
'..they will not accept that we are in an existential war with radical Islam.'

In other words, we now have the assumption which forms his attitude to the dems.

I was going to demolish it by pointing out that 1. he needn't have specified 'radical' Islam since the opinion of the average ME muslim about the West is pretty low, but that 2. the opinion of muslims who actually *live* in Western countries is much more positive. In short, the answer is more likely to be improved communications; a quality in short supply when a state of war exists.

(wrt strawman defence: although I tried to focus on specifics, you may recall that H still reflexively denied my paraphrasing when asked to confirm it, but I couldn't see any other interpretation, and I doubt anyone else could either. So, he was left clutching at straws?)

Just wanted to get that off my chest. Sorry to go over trampled ground, I know some folks got a bit exasperated with me for not just cutting him off.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Brin is right, though (that macro again) about continuing to try to engage conservatives. The big problem with the culture war is that it has led Americans to shun one another, when we're all in thise together.

Engaging people in debate helps show them we're not monsters, and shows us that they're not monsters. It's a lot harder to demonize your neighbor when you constantly engage hi/r in friendly debate, even if you despise hi/r political views.

And on the surrealism front...

This is just getting ridiculous!

The FBI has now done a complete 180 and claims that the anthrax was not weaponized by milling to insure that the spores were 1 to 3 microns in size, and did not have an electric charge to hold the particles apart, making 'em more lethal. Nor were the anthrax particles encased in glass particles, as claimed, nor was bentonite used, as claimed.
Link.

At this point, I have to say this is just preposterous. The FBI and the DOJ publicly and repeatedly announced that the anthrax was weaponized, and in a very specific way. If they now expect us to believe that it wasn't...well, their credibility has become nil.

Travc and I are probably the only ones still following this story, but I have to tell ya, it gets more bogus-sounding by the day.

Prediction: next, the FBI will announce there never was any anthrax. Puh-lease.

Travc said...

Zorg said:
Brin is right, though (that macro again) about continuing to try to engage conservatives. The big problem with the culture war is that it has led Americans to shun one another, when we're all in this together.
Engaging people in debate helps show them we're not monsters, and shows us that they're not monsters.


Amen brother (or sister, you can never really tell online.)

BTW: That is why I think Obama doing the Saddleback Church thing wasn't a huge mistake. It really did elucidate the candidates' relative "spiritual maturity" (or immaturity in McCain's case).
--

As for the anthrax stuff... Backing off on the specific "milled" claim happened a good while back, and may have been a misstatement or oversimplification to begin with. There are various methods to get the particle sizes into a pretty tight range. And freeze-drying (doubtless with subsequent steps) is one of those.

The rest of the stuff is BS. They are backing off the weaponization evidence since they can't show (much less prove) means for their suspect/patsy.

Cliff said...

Last I heard on Ivins and the anthrax case was that the FBI changed their timeline of events, once it became clear that their original proffered timeline was self-contradictory:
http://tiny.cc/YSrmb

Tony Fisk: Huxley's whole "Democrats are traitors in our existential war on Islam" thing was incredibly ridiculous.
My favorite part, though, was when he waved his hand at evidence of corruption in the EPA and DOJ and said, "Politics as usual."

Tony Fisk said...

@cliff: Well, yes. I thought that 'dems are traitors' was an astonishing statement. But, it was his belief, and I can see how it would logically follow *if* you thought they were ignoring an existential war waged by Islam. (An extraordinarily big if which splits in two: is there a war? If so, are the dems ignoring it? I think not)

Anyway, 'nuff said on that topic. I thought I posted the following earlier, but something ate it.

This week's cute cetacean uplift segment comes from Adelaide, where it appears that wild dolphins have discovered the joys of tail walking (The theory being that an injured 'fen picked up the trick while convalescing in the local Marine World.)

TwinBeam said...

Stefan Jones:

Assuming you're talking about the "ferry" scene, yes, decency (barely) triumphs.

But my thought, as I watched the "angry conservative" character make his decision, was "I'll bet the Joker is lying, and switched them."

In fact, I'd wonder if that wasn't how it was originally scripted, but they decided it was just TOO grim and cynical - it'd send the message that the Joker is right after all.

Sociotard said...

Okay Zorgon, why is banking deregulation laid at the feet of the republican party? As far as I can tell, Clinton had a fair amount to do with it. This was back when the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 was passed. Granted, the repubs had congress at the time, but Clinton signed it, and the overall thrust of the bill had near universal support.

I'm not going to deny that conservatives have a lot of responsibility in the matter, but don't liberals also? So why would you say "[Repubicans have] watched nearly all of their pet ideas get put into practice, . . . deregulation of finance, and it's all blown up in their faces. "

Hasn't deregulation blown up in Democrat faces too?

And while I'm on the subject, I object to calling theocracy a Repub plank. If by "theocracy" you mean allowing prayer in public schools and keeping the word 'God' on currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance (which I'll agree are bad ideas), then you are engageing in annoying hyperbole. Perhaps you were refering to the endorsement of Faith Based Initiatives? (I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to figure out what you meant by "theocracy") I personally am wary of faith based initiatives, but I'm willing to give the idea a chance for a bit longer.

I took the liberty of looking up the official 2004 Republican Platform:
We applaud President Bush’s efforts to promote the generous and compassionate
work of America’s faith-based and neighborhood charities. The President established the
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House to coordinate
federal, state, and local efforts to tear down barriers that have prevented religiously
affiliated groups from applying for government grants on an equal footing with secular
organizations. While the federal government must not promote religious activity,
advocate on behalf of any religion, or fund any organization that discriminates on the
basis of religion when providing taxpayer-funded services, no organization should be disqualified from receiving federal funds simply because it displays religious symbols,
has a statement of faith in its mission statement, or has a religious leader on its board.


I gotta tell ya man, that doesn't sound like panging for theocracy.

I also looked up the 2004 Democratic platform. It didn't make as much of a deal about faith based initiatives, but it did have the following line:
We will meet these challenges
together—parents, teachers, principals, educational support professionals and paraprofessionals,
along with universities, community-based and faith-based organizations.

. . . which still sounds like it supports the idea.

Do you say theocracy because only mainstream Christians can be elected President in this country?

You know what? I give up. None of the things I've mentioned sound like they could be attributed to you. Why don't you tell me why you think the Republican platform endorses:
1. a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.
2. a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.
3. a commonwealth or state under such a form or system of government.

(full disclaimer: I'm going to vote for Obama and I don't like Bush. I do lean to the conservative side. I just don't think some of Zorgons lines are fair.)

Stefan Jones said...

Twinbeam:

I expected it to turn out the way you describe. That's what the Joker would do.

But the joke was on him. And it actually works better that way.

Travc said...

Sociotard,
Just for the record, Clinton (and the DLC) are standard 'pro-business' center-right. They promoted very few 'liberal' policies, and all of those I can think of were social. Not surprising he/they didn't put up much of a fight over deregulation.

Not that there is anything wrong with liberal economic policies (in moderation of course). We really do miss out from not having a significant center-left voice/party/caucus in our government... the few who are there have little power and end up just being 'voices in the wilderness'.

As for the 'theocracy' thing. The powers-that-be are basically kleptocrats who keep the actual dominionists and other such loonies just close enough to get their votes.

Having major political players exploiting authoritarianism on a fairly grand scale is scary enough in it's own right. However, it also lays the groundwork for true nutjobs or even more amoral exploiters to push it farther. Theocracy is one historically very popular way this sort of situation can go. I'm not loosing sleep, but we all should be wary.
--

Just finally saw Dark Knight. Pretty good flick, though I agree twinbeam about the ferry situation resolution... a bit of a cop-out to give the movie at least some sort of feel-good ending.

About switching the detonators, that was my first thought too... but the psychological aftermath would be greater otherwise, and sowing psychological discord is what the Joker is all about.

Actually, Dark Knight made me retroactively disappointed in Batman Begins. Scarecrow should have been much more diabolical and disturbing.

tacitus2 said...

Zorgon

Drat! You have seen through my facade of reasonable moderation! Honestly, I take more than a few scratches around here and do not feel I have gone wild eyed yet...

The following are merely my own opinions. You want eternal verities shop elsewhere. But I am going to decide this election, not you.

Oh, not me personally. But voters who do not have a strong party attachment, and who can and do vote Repub or Dem as they deem best for the country.

Obama does two things very well. He is a ferocious primary campaigner and he does prepared speeches with eloquence. And perhaps that's his entire repetoire.

He has basically never run anything big (say a state or corporation) in an executive capacity. He has never even really won a contested general election. (as an aside, if you visit Barack's Wiki page it has been tidied up recently to remove mention of a variety of, ahem, atypical incidents in his electoral past!).

He has made several campaign errors that are starting to catch up with him.

Agreeing to public financing then bailing out. The continuous fund raising lessens his image of Change, and makes him look more indebted to all sorts of people. Yes, yes, small contributions, I know. But not all small or perhaps stringless.

Signalling that joint Town Hall appearances with McCain were a fine idea and then bailing out. Seriously, if he is worried about holding his own against "that white haired wrinkly guy" how is he going to fare with Aminadijab and Putin?

Personally I break this election down to two questions.

Who is better qualified.
Probably McCain.

Whose presidency will be better for the country.
I have not seen enough to decide yet. Despite your preconceptions I am still an undecided.

Sorry to go pure political here, I have been away a while and miss the banter!

Tacitus2

David Brin said...

The financial calamities we have seen are only a little based upon deregulation... though certainly deregulation bills passed by Republican Congresses always contain inbuilt sweetheart licenses to steal. Clinton shares some blame for signing the banking deregulation bill without demanding greater accountability measures.

Still, what we are seeing is not about specifics of the law. It is about the abandonment of law. You guys are talking as if policy matters here. But it is a nearly insignificant factor. As is left-vs-right.

What matters is that we are being raped by an active and relentless criminal gang that made its first and primary objective the suppression of the United States Civil Service, with the clear goal of ensuring that the laws that exist are not enforced.

For all the hundred or so reasons not to vote for John McCain, one is simplest and most overwhelming. This "maverick" has made clear that he will RE-appoint a very large fraction of the foxes and wolves who are currently chomping their way through our chicken coop.

He pals around with the same general establishment of lobbyists and lets the same coterie of monopolists write his policy statements as wrote them for the Bush White House.

Again, this is not about classic left/right. McCain's preference for crony-monopolists over actual competitive free enterprise should make bona fide conservatives JUST as angry as liberals! The fact that small business thrives under democrats while monopoly surges under Republicans should matter to honest citizens who claim to believe in a competitive marketplace.

Get over airy-fairy armwavings at this or that rhetorical blunder! Gut-level reactions to the candidates and fretting superficialities? That's for boobs. The basic facts - spanning 50 years - speak for themselves. If you want a healthy economy, lower deficits, efficient government, a booming stock market, competitive markets, a healthy military, friendly allies... in fact, everything that a non-fundamentalist conservative should want... then vote democratic.

But it is even more basic. The GOP is currently run by a criminal gang. If any honest republican wants to save the party and the Conservative Movement, he or she must actively strive for a landslide Republican defeat, this fall, across the board. Only that will allow honest men and women to wrest control back from today's monsters.

David McCabe said...

I know this has probably been covered before, but this blog's archives are a lot to read through. Hard evidence for the wolves and foxes, anyone? Thanks.

Gilmoure said...

There's a good article in NYTimes this week, on how Obama appears to be approaching economic policy from both left and right: How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy

To understand where Obama stands, you first have to know that, for 15 years, Democratic Party economics have been defined by a struggle that took place during the start of the Clinton administration. It was the battle of the Bobs. On one side was Clinton’s labor secretary and longtime friend, Bob Reich, who argued that the government should invest in roads, bridges, worker training and the like to stimulate the economy and help the middle class. On the other side was Bob Rubin, a former Goldman Sachs executive turned White House aide, who favored reducing the deficit to soothe the bond market, bring down interest rates and get the economy moving again. Clinton cast his lot with Rubin, and to this day the first question about any Democrat’s economic outlook is often where his heart lies, with Reich or Rubin, the left or the center, the government or the market.

In practical terms, the new consensus means that the policies of an Obama administration would differ from those of the Clinton administration, but not primarily because of differences between the two men. “The economy has changed in the last 15 years, and our understanding of economic policy has changed as well,” Furman says. “And that means that what was appropriate in 1993 is no longer appropriate.” Obama’s agenda starts not with raising taxes to reduce the deficit, as Clinton’s ended up doing, but with changing the tax code so that families making more than $250,000 a year pay more taxes and nearly everyone else pays less. That would begin to address inequality. Then there would be Reich-like investments in alternative energy, physical infrastructure and such, meant both to create middle-class jobs and to address long-term problems like global warming.


***

And then there's the article about economist Nouriel Roubini: Dr. Doom.

On Sept. 7, 2006, Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, stood before an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced that a crisis was brewing. In the coming months and years, he warned, the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Throughout the decade, one emerging economy after another was beset by crisis, beginning with Mexico’s in 1994. Panics swept Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, in 1997 and 1998. The economies of Brazil and Russia imploded in 1998. Argentina’s followed in 2000. Roubini began studying these countries and soon identified what he saw as their common weaknesses. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs. Most of these countries also had poorly regulated banking systems plagued by excessive borrowing and reckless lending. Corporate governance was often weak, with cronyism in abundance.


***
Whoever gets the Whitehouse next year, man, they have their work cut out for them. I hope they're up to it.

Travc said...

Tacitus2, welcome back.

You criticisms of Obama seem a bit naive. On the specifics, I'm sure you know the concept of a poison-pill. The 'town-hall' debates and public financing were both spiked by McCain. The former a bit less clearly, but format details do matter. And on public financing, keeping that non-promise promise would be utter idiocy for Obama given 'independent' expenditure groups aligned with the GOP (Freedom's Watch and their ilk.)

As for "He has basically never run anything big (say a state or corporation) in an executive capacity"... And McCain has? The closest McCain comes is his one and only military command back in 1976, 1 year in charge of a Navy training air squadron of about 750 people in Florida.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92308526

McCain has been in Washington politics since 1977 (first as a Navy senate liaison, which even McCain admits is very much a political job (think lobbyist for the Navy)). None of that time has been anything remotely 'executive'.

And on elections, McCain hasn't exactly had much success with real contested elections.

If you want pure organizational / political evidence of competence, look at the campaigns. Moreover, the campaign organization is the primary source for an incoming administration's political appointees.

You may want to look up a bit of info on how Obama's campaign organization is put together... it is pretty amazing. Try google 'Obama ground game' for a start.

In short, right now Obama is running a very large and highly effective organization built from the ground up. Contrast with McCain's campaign (run by GOP loyalists, ratfuckers, and K-street) which as gone so far as to say that McCain doesn't actually speak for the campaign ;)

BTW: Anyone know an alternative term for 'ratfuckers' (which is a bit impolite). It is a term-of-art for ruthless 'dirty-tricks' political operatives... and I think it actually comes from what the college Repub leaders called each other back in the day.
--

In related news, apparently a moment of honesty overcame McCain.
John McCain hears town hall attendee say: "If we don’t reenact the draft I don’t think we will have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell," says "I don’t disagree with anything you said."
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2008/08/drafty-by-dday-john-mccain-hears-town.html

Joy. I don't really want an all expenses paid trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, or Russia (really probably Georgia or Poland) just now. More seriously, I don't think it would be in the interest of the US either.

Cliff said...

Holy crap, Gilmoure, that's terrible news. That pretty much describes our situation to a T, from what I understand.

Travc said...

Gilmoure, nice catch... I've seen that before but never quite so clearly.

There is a real foreign policy / 'image' angle to this too. It isn't really about China deciding to destroy the US by cutting off our credit... it is more about the wider world loosing confidence in the US. IMO, we are dangerously close to that point.

Just think about it, how willing you would be to loan money to a crazy drunk uncle who keeps picking bar-fights and never pays his tab? Yeah, there are lots of moving parts in economic and trade relations, but confidence in the reliability of the borrower is a big factor.

SteveO said...

Back at Tacitus...

Since the political lamp is on...

There are a variety of reasons to vote against McCain (leaving aside for the moment voting for Obama). But I will tell you - at first I was pretty upset that McCain seemed to be off in another Bush-type bubble, lying about how he walked around in safe Baghdad neighborhoods and how General Petraeus drove out in Baghdad every day without protection.

But more and more recently, I am feeling very sorry for him. He is not the same man he was 8 years ago. Take a look at recent town halls he has done. If he can belt out the stock speech or phrases, he does, ahhh, terribly, but better than if he is asked a question. He is confused, self-contradictory, can't remember his own votes, and has a ghoulishly uncomfortable giggle when he makes the inevitable mistakes. Right now, I feel sorry for him. He is not in control any longer (his handlers have barred him from talking to reporters on the "Straight-Talk" express). He can't even string together words intelligibly. I really don't think he is lying - I think he has lost his memory and is saying what he wishes would be true.

It is just sad - really sad - since at one point I thought McCain was the best chance to reform the Republican party for the modern era. Maverick no more.

My prediction: he will never be allowed to go to the debate. Short of amphetamines, I don't see how the person he is today can do anything but drop 20% or more in the polls after being forced to talk in front of a non-handpicked public. I predict (prediction registry?) he will be "ill" or worse and will not participate in the debates, sending his VP in his stead.

Tony Fisk said...

If SteveO's assessment is true, then McCain is not fit for office, and the GOP are in a truly sorry state.

The choices of VP are going to be very interesting.

tacitus2 said...

Well, yes, fitness for office is a big question regards McCain. And it is a very fair question as to how free an agent he actually is/would be.

I won't take offense at "naive". It is in some ways the opposite of cynical. I think an uncritical belief that Obama will be able to solve all our woes is a rather more prevalent form of naivity.

A mumbling incoherent debate performance sinks McCain. A foolish VP choice does so too (I see Mitt's name tossed around, and to me there is that same phoney, plastic sense I got from Edwards).

One should not forget that Obama is not an immortal either. The actuarial tables for a 48 year old black man who smokes and had a parent die young are not light years better than a 72yo whose mother is mid 90's and sharp.

I'm just not in a real partisan mood tonight. I think the two candidates this election are notable improvements over the last couple of cycles, and the debate is good for the country.

Tacitus2

Travc said...

tacitus2...
I won't take offense at "naive".
Thanks, it wasn't meant to be an insult. It wasn't quite the right word, but neither was 'ignorant' and I picked the one I personally find less derogatory.

Just wanted to point out that there is a lot more information to be had with respect to the things you pointed at.

I don't think Obama walks on water... hell, I think progressives better get their act together (organize) to force an Obama admin to actually implement important policies (and won't win every fight).

Others have all made fine points... but I'd like to reiterate my POV on judging the quality of candidates.

A candidate's campaign organization is the clearest indicator of what their administration would look like. Unfortunately, you need to dig beyond ads and the media narrative to get a good idea how those campaigns actually operate... but there is plenty of 'inside baseball' info out there to be had.

For the McCain vs Obama case, I think it amazingly clear.

Tony Fisk said...

At the risk of comparing cabbages to cauliflours, I find there are interesting parallels (and differences) in McCain v Obama, and Howard v Rudd.

I summarised Howard vs Rudd in a ramble of my own.

Rudd was, like Obama, a clearly intelligent, but unknown quantity.

Judging from the way the polls swung, people seemed to think 'Never mind, we *finally* have an alternative!'

Howard was an able leader and politician. He did, at least, have a good economic record to point back to. Nevertheless, he still lost.

Since then, Rudd & co have made a few amateurish stumbles here and there, but have also:
- signed the Kyoto treaty as a matter of priority
- apologised to the stolen generations
- withdrawn Australian troops from Iraq (but *not* Afghanistan)
- encouraged peoples' input to assess what the national priorities should be.
- re-introduced the term 'zhengyou' (english trans: CITOKATE* ) to the chinese.

Seachange.

Whether or not Obama brings a similar breath of fresh air remains to be seen. McCain may yet remember where his Aricept prescription has gotten to. I hope he does, not just at a personal level, but so any wipeout of the GOP isn't just because their presidential candidate was MIA.

---
* More formally: a friend/advisor who tells you things you don't want to hear.

Travc said...

This XKCD: Voting Machines is great... (though most of them are).

Just had to share since I've had the same thought, though less amusingly put, many times.

Anonymous said...

Trav
If a successful campaign is to be the standard McCain is apparently a genius. In a year when polls consistently point to a DFL sweep, and an environment where the media has all but annointed Obama----he is still competitive.

It has always seemed a bit unfair that Democrat candidates always get the credit (or sometimes blame) for how their campaigns run, but for Republicans its all their sinister campaign managers pulling the strings.

But this is all transitory. I still give Obama about 70% odds. And I differ with our host, I think a close election would moderate potential excesses by the Party which would then control 2/3 of the sytem and be working on the rest.

The romans, ever practical, sometimes had a general win a great victory. At his parade through the streets with the entire populace cheering the man of the hour they took a precaution. There was a slave standing next to the general in his chariot whispering over and over "Remember, you too are mortal."

Tacitus2

Jester said...

As far as life expectancy is concerned, try weighting for affluence. Black males in Obamas income bracket live only a couple years less than white males in the same bracket. He quit smoking last year, BTW.

Black men don't have some "die young" gene.

Proportionately, more of them live in poverty and lack access to regular preventitive health care.

I highly doubt that Obama is likely to have his life shortned as a result of the hereditary ovarian cancer that killed his mother.

You've engaged in a missuse of statistcs here that resulted in a statement that I would call a lie, if it wasn't for that fact that I think it's probably just something you heard somewhere and are repeating without critical thought.

William_Shatner said...

Room for hope:

California and other states throw out the "on armed bandit" voting machines. Who will count the punch cards? Well, at least changing the vote like the flip on Max Cleland that let Saxby Chambliss in the gates is a lot easier than messing with punch card readers -- and you can still go back and look at the card -- hooray!

Exxon stops funding Astro Turf groups because of shareholders? At last, some of the wealthy who are there by merit and not too greedy, are starting to stand up -- I think Brin was saying they would. Great news.

Rachel Maddow, an actual Progressive-Liberal, is going to get on the MSNBC TV box. Go take a look and see what an actual Liberal looks like, and compare that to the rest of the media. Anyway, now there isn't just Moyers, The Daily Show, and Keith Olbermann as the last enclaves of the Mohicans.

Gas is getting cheaper! Of course, I will predict that it will reasonably go back to it's $4.50 price immediately after the elections. But this at least gives a great headline so that people can point to new drilling rights as the solution. Then explain why the gas got more expensive, even with the new drilling. If it costs $2 a barrel to get it out of the ground in Saudi Arabia and $25 per barrel in the US -- how do we get the savings passed onto us from a mega global company? Anyway, someone will write a book one day, and tell us how they bought the oil from themselves to raise that price to $150 -- and in that future day and age, people will think that only those primitives from 50 years ago could fall for such nonsense.

This is the BEST insight I've found on the stock market and our current economic travails so far; http://market-ticker.denninger.net/

I like Denniger's take on how to fix our current market; do everything to LOWER the price of homes to about 3X the average wage in an area. Basically; if you want people to have something they take care of -- make it cheaper, if you don't want people as a society to use or have something, make it more expensive. Also, do everything to increase wages. If wages don't keep up with productivity -- you know the middle class is getting screwed. I highly recommend reading huge amounts of his blog. He paints a very clear picture that there was nothing accidental about the situation we find ourselves in. I think there are two forces at work; the greedy and clever -- but not wise people who drank the "free market" cool aide, and the greedy and smart people who have been trying to destroy the middle class.

>> But I'm pushing positive news today -- so I think it is a race to the finish. While I'm leaning towards the belief that McCain will beat Obama, due to rigged elections and a blind-folded media on crack. I would point with great hope towards indictments forthcoming in CIVIL court, against Karl Rove, and his hacker buddy Mike Connell, who runs various websites for the government. (http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_3565.shtml) , and helps Rove read every Democratic email, and also rig elections. Take these two guys and their co-horts down, and there won't be the great organization to manipulate votes this November. http://thejournal.epluribusmedia.net/index.php/state-news/ohio-news/121-ohio-attorneys-to-assert-rico-claim-against-karl-rove-for-orchestrating-theft-of-2004-election

Rove won't be taken down by a compromised congress -- but the winds of change are heating up the tar and feathers.

Connell is blinded by his desire to "save unborn babies." As technically astute as he seems to be -- he seems not to have noticed that while the laws and purse strings are moving more against abortion, under the Bush regime, people are having a lot more of them. Sex education, contraception, and good economic times reduce abortions -- like in the "roaring" 1990's.

>> I'm going to be moving my bank account to a local credit union -- I recommend it.

William_Shatner said...

Room for hope:

California and other states throw out the "on armed bandit" voting machines. Who will count the punch cards? Well, at least changing the vote like the flip on Max Cleland that let Saxby Chambliss in the gates is a lot easier than messing with punch card readers -- and you can still go back and look at the card -- hooray!

Exxon stops funding Astro Turf groups because of shareholders? At last, some of the wealthy who are there by merit and not too greedy, are starting to stand up -- I think Brin was saying they would. Great news.

Rachel Maddow, an actual Progressive-Liberal, is going to get on the MSNBC TV box. Go take a look and see what an actual Liberal looks like, and compare that to the rest of the media. Anyway, now there isn't just Moyers, The Daily Show, and Keith Olbermann as the last enclaves of the Mohicans.

Gas is getting cheaper! Of course, I will predict that it will reasonably go back to it's $4.50 price immediately after the elections. But this at least gives a great headline so that people can point to new drilling rights as the solution. Then explain why the gas got more expensive, even with the new drilling. If it costs $2 a barrel to get it out of the ground in Saudi Arabia and $25 per barrel in the US -- how do we get the savings passed onto us from a mega global company? Anyway, someone will write a book one day, and tell us how they bought the oil from themselves to raise that price to $150 -- and in that future day and age, people will think that only those primitives from 50 years ago could fall for such nonsense.

This is the BEST insight I've found on the stock market and our current economic travails so far; http://market-ticker.denninger.net/

I like Denniger's take on how to fix our current market; do everything to LOWER the price of homes to about 3X the average wage in an area. Basically; if you want people to have something they take care of -- make it cheaper, if you don't want people as a society to use or have something, make it more expensive. Also, do everything to increase wages. If wages don't keep up with productivity -- you know the middle class is getting screwed. I highly recommend reading huge amounts of his blog. He paints a very clear picture that there was nothing accidental about the situation we find ourselves in. I think there are two forces at work; the greedy and clever -- but not wise people who drank the "free market" cool aide, and the greedy and smart people who have been trying to destroy the middle class.

>> But I'm pushing positive news today -- so I think it is a race to the finish. While I'm leaning towards the belief that McCain will beat Obama, due to rigged elections and a blind-folded media on crack. I would point with great hope towards indictments forthcoming in CIVIL court, against Karl Rove, and his hacker buddy Mike Connell, who runs various websites for the government. (http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_3565.shtml) , and helps Rove read every Democratic email, and also rig elections. Take these two guys and their co-horts down, and there won't be the great organization to manipulate votes this November. http://thejournal.epluribusmedia.net/index.php/state-news/ohio-news/121-ohio-attorneys-to-assert-rico-claim-against-karl-rove-for-orchestrating-theft-of-2004-election

Rove won't be taken down by a compromised congress -- but the winds of change are heating up the tar and feathers.

Connell is blinded by his desire to "save unborn babies." As technically astute as he seems to be -- he seems not to have noticed that while the laws and purse strings are moving more against abortion, under the Bush regime, people are having a lot more of them. Sex education, contraception, and good economic times reduce abortions -- like in the "roaring" 1990's.

>> I'm going to be moving my bank account to a local credit union -- I recommend it.



*******


Zorgon,

You and I need to do a radio show together. Brinn seems to be heading where you and I have been.

To append my "reason for hope" bent (hoping that BushCo doesn't manage to get some nukes fired off that they've been selling), this one you pointed out is pretty big;
Last but not least, the news from the evangelical front is most encouraging. The extreme right-wing evangelical megachurch preachers have been so discredited that their own congregations are now shunning them. The hot trend among fundamentalist Christians is apparently "earth stewardship," not anti-abortion. This has deprived the Repubs of a huge part of the base they built up over the last 14 years.


Yeah, as I've always said, that if we can mobilize the right-wing fundies, we would have no better ally in saving the planet. Liberals have ideas and talk -- but these folks DO. Their stubborn-ness is a survival trait, and while annoying, and totally adverse to ideas outside their world-view, these salt-of-the-earth folks are going to trample the Republicans because they will be stampeding over them towards becoming Green.

I've seen wind of it with a lot of the more wacko fundies I know. They are embracing the idea of "stewardship." The community organizing that is necessary for the new "eco-survivalism" brings back more of the sense of community we have all lost. Instead of nagging people about morals, they will nag people about run-off and not having rain barrels. These folks are always going to be emphasizing "community" and nagging -- this is just the way of things. But I'm much more enthusiastic about being chastised for not recycling, than video games with raunchy characters.

Amen brother.

Things are going to get a LOT WORSE economically, but if the Society rejects the Reaganomics snake oil we've bought for the past 50 years, then digging out of this mess is going to be a lot more spiritually uplifting, than when we were "biggie-sizing" our way into it.

William_Shatner said...

Sorry, I had a cut and paste error and reposted a previous comment with the next one.

Genius said...

Seems to me what ends up happening with political debates is that you reveal the person you are arguing with as a (to use the term) "ostrich" by getting them to repeatedly ignore an obviously relevant fact that doesn't support their world view.

For Huxley, that seems to have happened when I and a number of others pointed out that surveys in general and the survey in particular that he used gave the opposite impression to the one he wanted to portray, he did not dispute any of those details but he STILL used his section of it as 'evidence' in later posts. that is about as clearly an ostrich as you can get.

Sociotard said...

Oh, Zorgon would love this.

Youtube video of XREP

From Wikipedia:
Wireless long-range electric shock weapon
Taser International recently said they had finished developing a long-range wireless electro-shock projectile called XREP (eXtended Range Electro-Muscular Projectile), which can be fired from any 12-gauge shotgun; its range is currently 100 feet, but the U.S. Department of Defense, which has funded development of the technology, expects delivery of a 300-foot-range projectile of this type from the company in 2007.

Tacitus2 said...

Jester

Pont well taken regards affluence and early demise.

I am not so uncritical an observer to believe that ovarian cancer increases his risk of death or that black men, once you make allowances for increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and prostate cancer, die younger.
And a very carefull read of the story suggests the man is still trying to quit smoking. More power to him, it is not easy.

I have been a physician for many years, and have seen play out more scenarios than you can imagine.

Good preventative care can, well, prevent a lot.

I expect both men will live long and prosper.

But be careful who you call disengenious or frivolous. They might actually know a few things.

Tacitus2

zorgon the malevolent said...

Dr. Brin is as usual correct. That said, I also have to extend his comments about our current financial crisis since, as we all know, Brin's expertise in economics lags far behind his authority in other fields.

It's certainly absolutely true (as far as it goes) that an outstanding hallmark of the current post-Cold War financial era is simple illegality. Moreover, the people in power have been remarkably consistent about shutting down oversight, de-funding regulators, stocking regulatory agencies like the FEC and SEC and FDA and EPA with industry lobbyists who basically hate the entire idea of financial (and any other kind of) regulation and do everything possible to stymie oversight and evade accountability.

That said, we also have to remember that the current global financial crisis isn't just the simple result of massive thievery. There's a lot more going on in the global financial markets than mere fraud, and it's a lot more bizarre and worrisome than simple white collar crime, and Nouriel Roubini touches on it.

Over the last 15 years, the financial options market has grown explosively. We're not just talking about a few hundred billion dollars of stock options --we're talking about tens of trillions of dollars invested in insanely complex debt instruments like CDOs and many other much ore arcane exotic derivative-type instruments, that are designed by mathematical physicists who've gone to work for Wall Street, and which interact in such a complex way that no one, not even their creators, have any idea how these derivative financial instruments will actually react in extreme financial conditions.

The total amount of money now zipping around in these exotic derivative instruments is staggering -- it's around 10 trillion dollars.

And to top it all off, because these are entirely new types of financial instruments nothing like any familiar stock or bond or option we're familiar with, they don't fall under the jurisdiction of any current banking regulations or financial laws. As a result, this colossal amount of money in derivative finnacial instruments is now completely unregulated -- and has been, for the last 15 years.

Fantastic amounts of money has evaporated from these exotic derivative financial instruments, just blown up and gone away, because these exotic finanical instruments tend to go haywire under extreme market stress. This represents a large part of the subprime crisis, as Nouriel Roubini and Warren Buffet and Bill Gross have been warning everyone for years and years and years.

In effect, we now have a huge "shadow" financial market that's just as big and contains just as much money as the ordinary regulated global financial market, except [1] the worldwide "shadow" financial system is based on weird hypercomplex debt instruments no one really understand, and which are so copmlicated, often designed with partial differential equations by mathematicians, that their behavior in a financial crisis is completely unpredictable; and, [2] this worldwide "shadow" financial system is unregulated, because the financial debt instruments on which it's based are too new...our regulations haven't caught up with them yet.

There are signs that the global financial community is now reining in this gigantic global "shadow" financial market and starting to regulate it. However, they're damn late. The warning signs were screaming out at us back in 1997, when the meltdown of the hedge fund Long Term Capital threatened to evaporate a trillion dollars of capital and capsize the world finnacial system.

The "shadow" financial system didn't arise because of fraud. None of the the huge half-trillion-dollar losses in the "shadow" financial system were due to direct criminality. Instead, you got unexpected multiplier effects and unforeseen synergies between exotic debt instruments. It's a classic example of innovation racing far ahead of laws and regulation. A lot of these exotic new debt obligations are computerized and act like complex cellular automata, almost like Conway's game of Life, but burning through dollars instead of pixels on a computer screen. No one ever imagined financial instruments that complex before the 1980s and 1990s. So of course no one ever wrote laws to regulate financial debt obligations that sophisticated. Existing laws don't apply to these things, because they're not stocks or bonds or regular options...they're something completely new.

So while what Brin is saying about the existence of lots of outright criminality is perfectly correct, that's not the entire reason the global financial system is in crisis right now. Remember that there's also this huge shadow finnacial global community, equally as large as the regular global stock markets of all countries, but until now entirely unregulated, that has grown up because of the intersection of computers and high-end mathematics, and to some extent because a lot of matheamtical physcists got downsized out of their government research jobs after the end of the Cold War and they wound up going to work designing insanely comlpicated financial instruments for Wall Street.

That plus the outright criminality make our current financial situation unprecedented since the Great Depression. Actually, you could think of the criminality as a small voltage and the hypercopmlex financial instruments designed by Wall Street ex-physicist "rocket scientists" as a transistor, with the result that relatively small losses in unexpceted parts of the global financial system can have gigantic amplifer effects and threaten huge parts of the global banking system with collapse.

See this excellent report from January 2008 by Bill Gross (widely acknowledged as the world's greatest bond trader) at PIMCO on the global shadow financial system, as well as this illuminating article on the domino effect of titantic losses in the global shadow financial system that allows a failure of a small firm like Bear Stearns to threaten the entire global financial infrastructure.

Travc said...

Tacitus, you miss my point about campaigns a bit. The measure isn't simply 'success'... The way a campaign is run (and the people running it) are a good indication of how their administration would be structured and run.

As for 'sinister campaign managers'... well, a candidate chooses their campaign managers. Mark Penn (among others) were my primary reason against Hillary. Oh, and don't forget that many of the campaign managers go on to jobs (or advisory positions or lobbying work) in the administration if they win.

BTW: Take all the "it's very close" poll results with a bucket-full of salt. There are many benefits to close race narrative for the messengers. Even an ethical pollster or pundit (if such a thing exists) would pick and choose the 'interesting' states or demographics to talk about. Anyway, we are still too far out for polls to be very informative.

Travc said...

@William Shatner,
I've been using credit unions for years. Many (I'd go so far as to say most) businesses make much more sense as a not-for-profit. That doesn't mean they can't expand, pay their employees well, or offer good service... in fact, that is exactly what a not-for-profit business does... as opposed to for-profit corporations which have to put increasing shareholder profits above the sensible priorities.

Proprietorship businesses can be perfectly fine too. So long as their owners aren't amoral greedy bastards or looking for a big payoff by going public. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs these days seem to be driven by exactly that goal.

Travc said...

Zorg, you are right about the shadow financial sector, but perhaps a bit off on its rise.

I was at Caltech in the early 90s as an undergrad, and had many friends who got jobs at financial service places. One friend described his job as 'moving numbers around and money magically comes out'.

The first wave was doing modeling of existing capital and derivative markets. LTCM was of this sort. One big problem was that the people doing the model designs were not cognizant of emergent behaviour or complex adaptive systems (too many physicists and traditional mathematical economists). Yeah, computers were critical for developing the models and actually plugged into the markets to execute them, but that wasn't the core problem.

The core problem was that big time investors had far too much confidence in the models. Some of the people making the models did too, but others didn't... no matter, the company's PR department would make sure doubters were shouted down effectively.

LTCM crashed and lots of other funds hit 'unexpected' conditions. Enough people woke up and started listening to computational economists (and others like control theory folks) that claims of new models which could predict the markets were viewed skeptically (as they should have been in the first place).

Unfortunately, that left a lot of money looking for a place to go... feeding directly into the next boondoggle. "new investment devices"

Most of these were not derived by physicists or mathematicians. The first wave came out of mathematical economics 'breakthroughs' (Nobel prize winning in some cases). Followed up by a huge number of 'me too' products/devices. Even the good mathematical economics work (most is pretty crap IMO) was misapplied, ignoring necessary assumptions and assuming applicability across a broad set of circumstances.

These new devices should have been viewed as a promising curiosity at best. However, once again, credulous people believed the seller's hype and bought in. With demand and values shooting up, the positive feedback loop was established and it became conventional wisdom that device X or Y was really worth what the seller's were claiming.

Most of this wasn't fraud per se. Most of the sellers probably actually thought the real value was at least in the ballpark of what they were asking (since they were getting buyers). Insurance companies got into the act, providing a nominal backstop and 'independent' valuation. And corporate credit ratings and asset valuations reflected the claimed values (because after all, it was insured).

In general, people believed that other people were collectively acting rationally and the market was correctly valuing things. This is very much a systemic failure.

I'm of the opinion that the total value of all non-standard financial papers should be capped at a pretty low level. Not sure exactly how to do this, but there needs to be some mechanism for innovation (and proven non-standard devices can become standard after a couple of decades.)

There are perhaps more clever ways than an actual cap (like not providing insurance of unproven devices and/or skeptical independent valuations), but those have failed miserably. Another approach would involve completely upturning the insurance and accounting sectors; making it very highly regulated or even socialized. That is politically much harder, but has other possible benefits.

Oh, and people should listen to computational economists. They normally don't offer nice formulas or precise predictions, but they tend to be correct with respect to the dominating and possible pathological dynamics much more often than traditional or mathematical economists.

PS: I don't think you mean the same Bill Gross as pops into my (and probably Dr Brin's) brain. Wikipedia distinguishes them by calling the one you are referring to "William H. Gross".

David Brin said...

Zorgon is right that direct theft - while horrific - has not damaged us as much as the mega-arrogant armwaving financial nonsense and the legal but insane selling of fantasy/funny money.

But the Bushites do not get off the hook. After all, IN ORDER for them to steal their hundreds of billions, they first had to cripple the United States Civil Service.

So yes, that also crippled the guys who might have detected and acted upon the multi-trillion$ fantasy spree as well.

tintinaus said...

McCain must be heading towards a win the Democrats are trying to assassinate him.

White powder, threats sent to McCain offices

zorgon the malevolent said...

travc:
Thanks for the additional details. You're right that there's a systemic problem involved. The accountants and auditors didn't know how to value these weird new debt instruments, so they bought into the hype and agreed to the mythical value dreamed up by the investments houses like Bear Stearns that were issuing these things.

Personally, I think we simply ought to eliminate these exotic new financial instruments. Stocks, bonds, and options offer plenty of opportunity for all of us to go broke. We don't need to dream up exotic new collaterized debt obligation things to help us go broke even faster.

Businesses and investment banks will scream that this would slow down the economy. Hey, the American economy grew plenty fast during the 1950s, when none of these bizarre CDS or CDO things existed. If we didn't need these weird new debt instruments for the U.S. American economy to work then, why do we need 'em now?

I'm intensely skeptical about the value of any kind of economic models, whether computational or plain old classical differential equations, in dealing with extreme market conditions in the real world, though. Nassim Nicholas Taleb's point about black swans reminds us of the limits of conceptual models.

Travc said...

Zorg, I generally agree about both exotic financial devices and economic models. Though every so often a new financial instrument that is actually reality based and useful seems to be invented (discovered is probably a better word actually). There is also the basic issue of freedom to buy and sell whatever you want... which is justifiably limited (in a liberal nation at least) only when harm is shown. Regulating them is tricky, and injecting some well deserved skepticism into the system may be a better way to go (though is politically very tough).

As for economic models, all the computational economists I've met (just a handful, but there aren't very many in the first place) don't even pretend to understand macro level behaviour. A particular market under particular conditions is all you can really grok. What makes them more interesting and useful is that computational economists normally delight in emergent behaviours, especially pathological ones that other models fail to predict.

I wouldn't say any economic model is good enough to catch even fairly common weirdness that can occur in real world markets. Few traditional economists and very few mathematical economists seem get this basic fact. (Don't even get me started on business majors.)

Anyways, I just felt a reflexive need to defend the rocket-scientists... since I knew some of them (not just the undergrads and grad-students I mentioned). Most of them actually realized they were just making slightly better models than most of Wall Street was using, but flawed all the same. And the rise of the shadow financial sector (built on exotic devices) has very little to do with them.

William_Shatner said...

I see that much of the esoteric financial market is the end result of "unchecked wishful thinking."

When you make a lot of money at something -- you think it is real. It is REAL GOOD -- that's for sure. Try to say to these people; "What do these esoteric shifting of paper actually do for anyone? Other than Venture capital and your first influx of money -- the rest of this is just betting on a symbol of something that has value."

Reading at http://market-ticker.denninger.net/ and Urbansurvival.com, it comes clear to me that we are in what is called the "great delevering."

Hedge funds have been allowed to play with vast sums of money, because "they know better" and because money has been good to them. I think everyone has become drunk with the size of their own paychecks, and thinks they can do magic with "value" because everyone else nods their heads -- you made money, you must know better. But you cannot CREATE VALUE with financial products. If a company is worth more -- then there is more value. When more money moves into this, because money was made -- at what point do you say; "This fund really cannot support this value." ?? Well, never, if you've gotten used to the good life.

So the hedge funds use 3% to control vast sums of wealth -- derivatives. This is great when things are going up (right, Bear Sterns?), but say the value of this goes down 10%. Well, even if the underlying fundamentals are sound on a company like Fannie May, the hedge funds cannot come up with that missing 7% because their magic wands have been waving huge and powerful forces of hot air. They have to sell at a loss, a good chunk to another hedge fund -- which continues to devalue their over bloated fund, as there is a cascade from one fund to another hedge fund. Every time you have to sell something to make up the money you don't really have -- you devalue the product that your value is based upon.

So YES, the drunken financial magicians, have done more damage than the larcenous crooks that deregulated these industries so that they could steal in the chaos. They steal billions, while markets create trillions in hot air.

They even have companies making payments on properties that have foreclosed -- because making fraudulent payments on dead accounts, is less of a loss than admitting to defaulted properties.

>> I remember working with a startup many years ago, that was going to be funded with Zero Coupon Bonds, on some Latin American Country's infrastructure project. It looked like the country was going to default on the payments so the Bonds became worth pennies on the dollar. Swooping down and taking some of the bonds, a financial angel said; "we have this group with lots of money that will provide a secondary letter of credit to support the payments" and all of a sudden, the bonds were worth something again.

It turned out later, that these were people running a scam, and they didn't represent the well funded group they were pretending to. The scam was worth about $4 Billion -- back in the days when that was a lot of money. You never heard about this, because I imagine the Banker in Latin America, realized that, if the government never defaulted on the payments, the bonds would never call that secondary letter of credit.

I realized, with Big, Big numbers, there are fewer people authorized to "watch the store." That to lie big, is safer, because more heads are on the line. Magnify an incident like that a thousand times -- there is vapor credit, most likely, supporting a lot of this "value" in the trillions of Dollars held off shore, and in hedge funds. Nobody will know that debts have been sold and turned into credits as long as nothing big, challenges the actual value supporting this hot air.

Well, the house of cards is falling. This is how a company valued so highly like Bear Sterns, can suddenly be worth a few dollars on their stock. They CONTROLLED Billions, and siphoned off profits, but they had no actual value or assets in the game.

William_Shatner said...

@travc said
As for economic models, all the computational economists I've met (just a handful, but there aren't very many in the first place) don't even pretend to understand macro level behaviour.

The problem with all the mathematical models, is that they deal with the numbers. When someone is lying about the numbers in the first place -- things are distorted.

As soon as any mathematical model can predict a trend, someone takes advantage and distorts that trend. This isn't randomness or chaos -- it is opportunistic chaos. You can model this but never predict it. Any simulation you could create to show millions of entities trying to take advantage at the same time, would come up with a different winner and loser every time.

The problem is, that we have a basic "belief system" that there is any value in letting people make money from money.

Companies and society cannot sustain 15% year over year growth. Much less this idea of inflation, which is due somewhat to the fact that we rent our money from a privately held company called the Federal Reserve.

If someone studies the history of the USA and money, they realize that the "Dollar" is a pretty short term piece of paper. We've had various currencies in the past. When someone tells you "bull and bear markets are cyclical" they don't tell you that market collapse is cyclical as well.

We may have to declare "Jubilee" when all is said and done -- another great wisdom from the bible.

William_Shatner said...

@travc,

I'm talking about Credit Unions, because the "Reserve Requirement" is in negative territory right now.

Meaning, that money that banks are supposed to have on hand with the FDIC to insure accounts, is itself BORROWED.

I like local credit unions, because they keep cash locally. The more money and water that stays in the community if falls in, the better. Money going directly to Mega-Banks, or WalMart, is just like the fast run-off we get from having too many streets and not enough bogs. We've eroded our economy and we've eroded our soil -- in much the same way.

Swamps, and local pools of money are very good things.

William_Shatner said...

This is really MUST READ material folks -- from; http://market-ticker.denninger.net/

"
See, this is where we've come to. We are now beyond "moral hazard" and "too big to fail"; we've now transmorphed the entire financial system into a mechanism to literally rob the people as institutions intentionally place themselves in harms way and then demand that the government cover a bet they knew was bad when they placed it.
...
Fannie and Freddie have been running one gigantic hedge fund for the last couple of years. They bought about $500 billion worth of trash ALT-A paper in the 2005-2007 time frame between them, with a goodly amount of "Option ARM" and "Interest Only" loans included. In addition they took in over a hundred billion dollars more from Countrywide and Indymac, most of which was done using "automated approvals" and are in fact stated income loans, although they're called prime paper.
Institutions like PIMCO, The Chinese and Japanese Central Banks, and others all knew this. This is NOT a surprise to any of them.
They all invested knowing full well that these firms were running with leverage ratios far in excess of anything that could be reasonably called safe. In addition they knew these purchases of garbage mortgages had nothing to do with "sustainable housing" or any such claptrap. Fannie and Freddie were "levering up" and "chasing yield" just like the rest of these market participants and the buyers of their paper knew it.
"

>> And what the media doesn't cover, because they have interlocking boards of directors with these financial institutions, and with military industrials, and with big energy, and with health care, etc., is that Fannie May and Freddie Mac used to be government institutions that bundled mortgages and helped out low income folks, and it ran with minimal overhead and fuss. After it was privatized, the genius financial wizards took a lot of that value and hedged it on high-return, High risk paper.
What did the industry learn from the S&L bailout of the 1980's? Profits are private, but if you lobby a lot, failure is Public.

Travc said...

WS, good info and the reserve requirement and locality points about local credit unions are very true.

I do think that we have gotten into very dangerous territory with pure financial manipulations becoming a ethically acceptable and routine 'business'. The assumption that making a profit = doing something useful is quite broken.

I wanted to hit the larger point that business models have been getting more and more divorced from 'greater social good' and reality. I've floated the idea of actually requiring a social good as a condition on granting a corporate charter... have no idea how this could possibly be implemented (probably can't) but it was the norm for a long time and has quite logical justification.

Yeah, some of those biblical ideas have some merit. Strictures against usury are pretty good too.

BTW: Computational models (agent based ones at least) are poor at prediction. They tend to be quite good at disproving other (especially analytical or statistical) models though.

PS: Freddie and Fannie should have never been privatized. There is absolutely nothing wrong (per se at least) with socialized enterprises. Especially considering the normal implementation, which is essentially a private company with the government (or clients in the case of a co-op) as sole or at least majority shareholder. Most insurance, finance, and utilities tend to make much more sense as socialized institutions or co-ops IMO.

William_Shatner said...

travc,

The new popular term sweeping the nation is; "Privatized profits, Socialized losses."

It means that the Banksters can sit back and make speculative loans, and rake in the dough, but when it comes time that their folly leads to an inevitable overextension, and their leveraged investments collapse into hot air -- they get their paid off politicos to bail them out. Did the banks from the S&L crisis pay back the taxpayer for bailing them out? No.

Institutions should be "privatized" when there is no benefit to profit. When they are a vital national interest. And when a monopoly is the most efficient way of running them.

In the early days of this union, they dealt with corporations by not having them passed on to others, dissolving them in 20 years. And only allowing them to operate on one or two products.

I'd say at least, that we should not allow ANY companies to operate as multinational entities. That would solve the issue of Globalism and foreign companies manipulating our banks and such.

Genius said...

the solution to global companies is not to make all companies local, it is for governments to cooperate as opposed to just competing.

Travc said...

Digby has a post including a very good figure describing the tax plans put forth by McCain and Obama. It is really very clear.
here

William_Shatner said...

genius said...
the solution to global companies is not to make all companies local, it is for governments to cooperate as opposed to just competing.


How exactly does that happen? If a corporation is allowed to hire a politician or "donate" to his election -- you are only a few hundred thousand dollars away from that politician -- or some politician, giving away the store to the corporation.

The return on investment is about 1,000 to 1. The best investment there is -- buy a politician.

If the powers of corporations are limited -- so is their influence. If a corporation gets a certain amount of power -- they are going to be running governments. Notice the USA recently?

Genius said...

How exactly does that happen?
well with great difficulty but it is more likely than an individual country smashing all of it's corporations into little bits and I suggest causing massive capital flight whilst making themselves uncompetitive.

As to why the US has a problem - I think they have a system prone to corruption. It is a matter of fixing the leaks in the house rather than stopping it from ever raining.

Sociotard said...

*groan* Biden isn't a bad choice for VP (well, not the worst possible choice anyway), but he just commited a pet-peeve grammar error:

"This is the most opportune moment to be President of the United States. The next President has the opportunity to literally change the direction of the world."

No, Senator Biden, he does not. He has the opportunity to change the direction of the world metaphorically. (maybe) Literally changing the direction of the world is the province of heroes from Krypton.

"Literally" is to be used to mean "I am not using metaphor or hyperbole, but speaking plainly". There's nothing wrong with hyperbole or metaphor, I just detest using the word the opposite of the way it is supposed to be used. This is very nearly a Bushism.

Travc said...

Sociotard... The 'literally' thing bugs me too, but what is the proper word/phrase to use? (I really want to know.)

It gets misused so often because it is useful to rhetorically signal a case where the metaphor is more apt than normal.

David McCabe said...

Verily?

Man, threads on this blog always double in length when you're away, no matter their previous length.

zorgon the malevolent said...

More good news:

Here, for your delectation, are some 1983 calculations showing that uranium extracted from seawater as an energy source in breeder reactors would last for 5 billion years at double the current world electricity usage.
Link.

Speaking of extracting uranium from seawater...Japan plans to extract 195 million tons of uranium from seawater uisng genetically modified seaweed. Here's the pdf:
Link.

New measurements of carbon nanotubes show them to be as strong as theoretically predicted. Good news, since earlier measurements incorrectly showed them to be much weaker than predicted. Plus, irradiating carbon nanotubes makes them stronger. This might produce a material strong enough to build the space elevator. Once we get space elevators, it's off to the races. The price of putting a pound in orbit drops to the approximate cost of electricity required to lift it, somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 per pound at current electricity prices.
Link.

More revolutionary new cancer treatments announced. Also, new arthritis vaccine looks promising. I'm no expert, but it looks like the radical new cancer breakthroughs have shifted gears from once every five years to once every few months. Starting to look like we've exited the flat startup slope of the biotechnology exponential curve and we're now starting up the sharp knee of exponential progress.

Scientists have stopped the aging process in an entire organ for the first time.
Link.

The World Bank estimates that the global middle class will grow from 430 million today to 1.15 billion by 2030. Here's a striking statistic for you: today the developing world accounts for 56% of the world's middle class, but by 2030, it will account for 93%. Gee, d'you think corporate marketing is going to change over the next 20 years...?
Link.

Oregon-based semiconductor startup announces 3D chip breakthrough.
Link.

New flat-panel refrigerator works by periodically applying an electric field to long-chain polymers.
Link.

You really know you're in the 21st century when you hear about a protest organized against spychips in your underwear.
So I guess we'll all be spending the evening with a hammer bashing our girlfriends' undies to smash up the spychips. Until, of course, they make it illegal to walk around sans functioning spychips in your underwear.
Link.

Listening to music can boost your immunse system and help fight off disease.
Link.

Here's a great article about the likelihood that augmented reality will wind up infested with spam and malware. Great news insofar as it injects some common sense in discussions of Augmented Reality, unlike the absurdly rosy-eyed novel Rainbows EndL by the abysmal fool Vernor Vinge.
Link.

The workers may soon own the means of production, but not by taking over the factories -- they're doing it by using rapreps.
"Browse the catalog on the left to find a design you like. View the design in the interactive 3D Viewer. Customize it in the amazing 3D Customizer. Share your customized design on the site. Buy the object, and we'll make it for you with our fantastic 3D Printers!"
This is obviously a crude early stage using flimsy plastic. At some point in the foreseeable future, these rapreps will start using carbon nanotubes, and then it's off to the races, and farewell to capitalism as we've known it for the last 250 years.
Link.

Open-source replacements for hotels and buses: AirBed and breakfast and iHitch.
At present iHitch remains just an idea, rather than a real open-source project, but as gasoline skyrockets toward $10 a gallon, it's inevitable that something like iHitch will turn into reality. ON a smaller scale, various cities around the U.S. have already started metro carpooling websites.

Emerging cognitive neuroscience and related technologies: an overview.
Link.

And here's a skeptical contrary view of current neuroscience imaging techniques.
Link.

The RAND corporation published essays on 11 overlooked issues on the horizon soon to wreak a huge impact on our society. These eerily prefigure the subjects I've been raising here:
Link.

Jury nullification in non-violent drug trials seems to be an idea whose time has come. But now a judge has taken the extraordinary step of identifying a "problem" juror who appeared to be refusing to accept anti-drug statutes as legal, replaced him, and got the verdict desired by the prosecution.
As Scooby Doo would say: "Ruh roh!"

In the fight to shut down America's crazy war against drugs, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win (as Ghandi remarked). This is good news insofar as it suggests we've reached the "then they fight you" stage of pushback against the insane and unusustainable war against America's bill of rights (misnamed the "war on drugs").
Link.

An increase in unjust and/or unconstitutional laws in recent years has produced a big jump in the number of trials ending in hung juries. In some jurisdictions, 20% of all trials end in hung juries.
The most concrete sign of the trend is the sharp jump in the percentage of trials that end in hung juries. For decades, a 5 percent hung jury rate was considered the norm, derived from a landmark study of the American jury by Harry Kalven Jr. and Hans Zeisel published 30 years ago. In recent years, however, that figure has doubled and quadrupled, depending on location. Some local courts in California, for example, have reported more than 20 percent of trials ending in hung juries. Federal criminal cases in Washington, D.C., averaged 15 percent hung juries in 1996 (the most recent year for which data were available), three times the rate in 1991.
A hung jury is simply one in which the 12 men and women around the table disagree over whether to convict or acquit. But judges, lawyers and others who study the phenomenon suspect that more and more differences are erupting not over the evidence in these cases, but over whether the law being broken is fair.

Link.

Federal court rules prosepctive passngers can challenge the no-fly list. How this is possible when the law itself is secret, they haven't explained.
Link.

Judge rules man can't be forced to divulge encryption passphrase to prosecutors to unlock his encrypted hard drive.
Link.

Huge win for free speech on the intrenet -- judge rules content owners must consuider fair use when calling for a DMCA takedown:
Link.

Repubs are now so far gone they've been reduced to fearmongering about the projected non-white majority in America by 2040. Apparently, America will be a sea of non-caucasian retards in 2040. Why do we even need The Onion? The Repubs make satire unnecessary.
Of course, the collapse of the middle class's earning power couldn't be because of the predatory loan practices and sadistic greed of giant corporations which have relentlessly outsourced high-paying American jobs while jacking up credit card rates in their corporate finance divisions, could it>
Noooooooooo, nooooooooooooooo, that's couldn't possibly be the problem with declining middle class earning in America. No, it's all the black peoples' fault because they're too stupid to make good employees. Them, and the alleged mental defectiveness of Latinos.
Hey, Repubs, way to go in your voter outreach to those non-white voting groups...

Insightful article about the Culture War.
Link.

Most spectacular beatdown ever penned of the wretched far-right intellectual whore David Brooks:
This wonderful article is the equivalent of not just watching David Brooks get convicted and sent to prison and having 50 black guys line up outside his cell to ass-pound him, but of having sold David Brooks to said gentlemen of colour for a carton of smokes.

A particularly provocative critique of Obama's supporters. Far lefties will hate it, the rest of us will find it illuminating.
Link.

"Why Goerge Orwell was wrong"
Link.

Joshua said...

Sociotard, while I agree that the world "literally" is at best unnecessary in that sentence (and is often abused), Biden didn't say "change the course of the _planet_". "The world" can refer to lots of different things...

...such as that part of the physical state of the planet which we usually refer to these days as "the environment". Which Obama (or McCain) is definitely going to be in a position to change.

Stefan Jones said...

George Orwell himself knew that Oceania wouldn't last forever:

The afterward about Newspeak describes the Party's plan for the language in the past tense.

And it is not written in Newspeak.

David Brin said...

The fundamental that folks fall back upon, when trying to convince Hallary supporters to get fired up for BHO, is the Supreme Court. Certainly, enough reason, by itself, to vote even for the proverbial Yellow Dog.

But I routinely mention something that I consider far more important, and an argument that should motivate conservatives, as well.

For eight years, THE principal project of the Bushites has been the repression, gelding and evisceration of the United States Civil Service. We hear of political hacks re-writing scientific reports and interference with US Attorneys. But this is the tip of a huge iceberg. Wall Street cheaters feared the state of New York (under state AG Spitzer) far more than they feared the SEC. The FBI and Justice have been cut off at the knees.

Every agency from the EPA to FDA to Agriculture has been stocked with more stooges - either moronically unqualified or outright venial - than at any point since Chester Arthur campaigned against the Spoils System. Even the US Military Officer Corps has been brutalized by clueless, meddling political hatchet men. It is this deliberate effort to systematically destroy the effectiveness of government that has to be reversed, asap.

Mind you, some might attribute this relentless campaign to ideology - a belief that government is bad, and therefore should be made to fail. I believe that's absurd. This effort has gone far beyond that, with only two possible explanations remaining. Either (1) a need for repressed government so that - like some predatory virus sneaking past an enfeebled immune system - thieves can rob us blind... or (2) direct treason, with the intent of harming the United States and its people.

The former is blatantly obvious. But dig it. Though it sounds utterly delusional/paranoid, the latter explanation is actually the only scenario that is utterly consistent with all behavior and facts. After all, mere thieves would want some rule of law, if only for America to be a decent place to live and spend money!

In any event, it is this one quest - to restore the civil service to functioning capably, efficiently, with high morale - that should take higher priority than any assertive legislative agenda that BHO might have. It won't be easy - many Bush political appointees have done the sideways shift - inserting themselves into protected Civil Service slots. It may take a fight to ease some of them out.

But this is an issue that can be put in front of decent conservatives as a reason to cut the Republicans off, whether or not they "like McCain." Because while you might fantacize he is a "maverick," you cannot be so deluded to imagine he won't pick appointments from the same pool of horrendous, monstrously corrupted ingroup shills, the names that K Street will present to ANY GOP president for rubber stamping, so the vampiric blood draining can continue, until America falls over, close to death.

Tony Fisk said...

Interesting point, Stefan.

I find the article about Uranium to be intriguing. Why has it been sat on for twenty five years? Has anyone demonstrated the actual extraction of Uranium from seawater?

And *why* does Japan need 195 million tonnes of the stuff? Is their government planning to adopt Vista or something?

Concerns about the waste products of breeder plants aside, I also have concerns about the centralised nature of these power plants. I think there is going to increasing social tensions as 'distributed' adopters of things like rooftop solar get 'encouraged' not to in favour of business as usual power bills.

This little storm in a teacup(?) is an example of what I mean. I suppose it's an example of the amateur vs professional thing.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Tony Fisk asked: "Why has this article [about nuclear breeder reactors using uranium extracted from seawater providing power for the next 5 billion years at double the current global energy usage while adding only 1% to current energy costs] been sat on for 25 years?"

Because of the anti-nuclear hysteria of the Anglo-American left.

Everyone focuses on the destruction of western civilization wrought by the far right, and indeed they have plenty to answer for, what with cronyism, corruption, creationism, hatred of rationality, etc. -- but the left has a lot to answer for too. They successfully killed nuclear power as an industry and fomented mindless hysteria against any kind of nuclear power. Breeder reactors as well as light water reactors, HTGC pebble bed designs that can't melt down as well as the older Hanford light water designs that can.

If you want to know why American and British troops are dying in Iraq, look to the Anglo-American left. If we'd cranked up nuclear power as described in that 1983 article to the point where we had enough cheap electricity to run electric light rail and electric cars and kick our oil addiction as Jimmy Carter proposed back in 1980, we wouldn't need to care about the middle east. We could let the fanatical Shiites and the fanatical wahabis kill each other and we wouldn't have to give a damn.

Thank the Anglo-American left for our current oil addiction. It's not popular to say that, but thems the facts.

Travc said...

Dr Brin, your argument about government professionals is getting better honed. I'd humbly offer a few suggestions.

In the list of agencies undermined, Interior, FEMA, and CIA should be included.

Interior is a bit wonky and not on most people's map, but the kleptocratic exploitation there outshines any other. FEMA is an obvious one. It went from being the model of effective good government (even Bush said so in the 2000 debates) to, well we all remember. And CIA is more of a symbol for the entire 'faith based' intelligence community BushCo (esp Cheney) created... an angle to the problem which should rightly elicit some outright fear.

Also, it would be good to mention that the minds which brought us the Liberty college DoJ and Brownie's FEMA are the same ones who created the one of the largest and most powerful government agencies ever to exist... DHS. Not only are their incompetents and political hacks to root out, the very structure of DHS is designed to fail (while fleecing the taxpayers out of billions of dollars).

Jester said...

Nuclear power isn't cheap, and the cash to build it costs a hell of a lot to access.

However, it's a waste of time to try to explain that to a blindly commited enthusiast. Somehow, magically, it would suddenly be cheap...athough it never has been...anywhere.

No, let's ignore the capital cost and only look at the operating cost, then call those who point out the flaws in our arguments paranoid leftist radicals.

On the political side -

Has anyone considered that

Clinton has demanded a floor vote

Bill will be speaking right before the vote takes place.

Florida and Michigan have now been given full votes and full delegations, penalty free

Obama will not even be in town when the vote takes place

Clintons "suspended" campaign has been going to great lengths to ensure all of her delegates are there?

Slim chance of an outright puscht, greater chance of Clinton trying to claim she "really won" the Pledged Delegate count and that SuperDelegates stole it from her, casting a smear on Obamas legitimacy.

We shall see in three days.

David Brin said...

Dang!

What's been done to Z! Did Brin send over his minions and replace him with a "militant moderate" pod person?

;-)

I'm starting to really like this guy...

Brian Claymore said...

I find the article about Uranium to be intriguing. Why has it been sat on for twenty five years? Has anyone demonstrated the actual extraction of Uranium from seawater?

Primarily because we have had plentiful and dirt cheap uranium from conventional resources and decomissioned nuclear weapons. Even into the foreseeable future, uranium reserves are sufficient and there will be no economic drive to seawater; although technically it is possible.

All due respect to Zorgon, but I think he gives the antinuclear movement far too much credit. While it certainly did not help, more of the reason nuclear power fell out of favor was really due to economics: slower growth combined with very cheap coal and natural gas. Of course, over the last 5 years or so, this equation has changed and hence the renewed interest.

Concerns about the waste products of breeder plants aside, I also have concerns about the centralised nature of these power plants. I think there is going to increasing social tensions as 'distributed' adopters of things like rooftop solar get 'encouraged' not to in favour of business as usual power bills.

As the decentralized technologies become available, we should definitely adopt them where economically feasible. However, this does not eliminate the requirement for reliable baseload power. Solar and wind work great for the residential and rural sectors. Things like nuclear, fossil fuels, and hydropower work great for industrial and urban sectors. In short, we will need both.

As for the waste issue, while great care needs to be taken, it is a very small problem compared to the waste produced from fossil fuels. Full lifecycle analyses of power sources show nuclear's footprint to be competitive with other renewables. Future recycling of used nuclear fuel will dramatically reduce the problem of disposal.

Nuclear power isn't cheap, and the cash to build it costs a hell of a lot to access.

This is definitely nuclear power's biggest disadvantage. However, the energy output and profitability of a nuclear plant are very high. The issue is that building one requires a high financial risk, especially in today's climate of a new and untested regulatory environment.

For this reason, I think loan guarantees (current US policy) are a suitable program to encourage business to invest in this technology. Of course, if fossil fuels had to pay for the disposal of all waste produced during operation as nuclear does, the equation would be totally different.

Travc said...

Zorg, 'meltdowns' are pretty low on the list of problems with nuclear power. Pebble-bed reactors don't address all the safety problems, much less the systemic ones. Leaks of irradiated heat-transfer agent, especially releases forced by overpressure are most 'accidents'.

And safety isn't even the biggest problem. The economics of nuclear don't work very well. It just isn't the most cost effective approach in most cases (even when just selecting between 'green' options.)

Waste storage is also an issue that is quite tricky to solve. Even if we used breeder reactors, there is simply massive amounts of low level waste generated along with small quantities of very nasty stuff. Dealing with the low level waste (stuff ranging from suits and gloves to tools equipment and even building materials) is very costly. The high level long lived waste we aren't even sure how to deal with (though there are decent ideas... they all have open questions left.)

Nuclear power isn't the bogeyman, but it isn't a silver bullet either. The known side effects of a massive build up of nuclear power generating capacity are pretty hard to deal with... the unintended consequences could well be horrendous.

BTW: IMO the greatest 'side-effect' of alternative power is diversification. This alone would be enough to argue against nuclear-power uberalis.

PS: I should add that the idea of France's nuclear power as some sort of energy production farsightedness is a bit silly. France really loved making and testing nuclear bombs not too long ago. A big part of their nuclear power industry is a spinoff of their weapons programme.

tintinaus said...

Coming from a country that is an exporter of uranium(Australia), waste is something that I am very conscious about. Our late govt was a believer in nuclear(egged on by the mining interests more than anything else), and part of the national debate was that countries we sold to were offering higher prices for the ore if we promised to take the waste back. If France, the US and Japan don't want to deal with nuclear waste instead choosing to dump it my backyard, that waste is a problem with a capital P.

Travc said...

tintinaus, good point. And the tailings from uranium mining itself aren't exactly nice either.

Tony Fisk said...

Just to add to the fun, the tailings tend to get adsorbed preferentially into the environment.
(BTW before anyone downplays the hazards of Plutonium: while pure Pu is as innocuous as pure Hg, reactors tend to use PuO2, which is another kettle of poisson entirely)

Of course, if it was simply a choice between coal or nuclear... well, we know the backstory, and there wouldn't be a choice!

Since this little scrub fire was bought on in the spirit of good news I'll point out that, even if you dismiss solar, wind, tidal and gerbil power as too diffuse, there's still hot rocks

(which, I suppose, is nuclear in origin as well... but it's *natural*, see?;-)

zorgon the malevolent said...

Jester and the rest of you guys who complain that nuclear power is much more expensive than current alternatives:

You're not getting it.

This isn't just about dealing with Peak Oil. It's about ending America's oil addiction so we don't have to maintain a gigantic military apparatus to sustain access to middle east oil and twist our society all out of shape into a militarized garrison police state in the process.

Moreover, you guys aren't looking ahead. Economics is a dynamic system, not a static one. Building the kind of nuclear power plants we're going to need to wean ourselves off serious dependence on foreign oil, even if we start today, will take at least 20 or 30 years.

How much do you think a barrel of oil will cost in 30 years?

I don't know. And neither does any other economist. Anyone who claims they can make a reliable prediction is lying. But I can tell you this much -- economists predicted $120 a barrel oil 5 years ago, but only in the most wildly improbable "worse case" terrorism scenarios, far-out contingencies like terrorists blowing up the pipelines that supply oil shipping ports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 5 years ago, nobody ever predicted $140 a barrel oil.

If we don't get off our asses now, it's going to be too late 20 or 30 years from now, when the crunch really hits hard and we're completely out of options.

Don't tell me nuclear power is too expensive now. Prove to me nuclear power will be too expensive when our power plants come online in 2040 and oil costs $1000 a barrel and instead of being able to buy General Motors with 4 months of their Sovereign Wealth Fund income, the Saudis can buy General Motors with 4 hours of oil income.

Jester said...

Zorgon,

Genuinely meaning no offense, oil has F-all to do with electricty generation in the US, other than as a lubricant.

Most of the country could fully power an electric commuting vehicle right now during off-peak hours with no grid expansion.

Hell, we could prevent the need for half your projected plants just by getting the rest of the country to adopt Californias energy saving practices.

There is no getting around several facts, though, one of which is that SAFE nuclear power is expensive and requires massive capital outlay.

"Operating Cost" numbers pimped by pro-nuke outfits tend to entirely ignore decomissioning cost, waste disposal, and more.

I've got absolutely nothing against us getting a 50 MW pebble-bed reactor up and running, although the kind of centralization required to go "all nuclear" would not be a good idea.

One nut with a rifle or some homemade explosives can take 50 MW off-line for half a day. There is no getting around it.

Building them big is the only way they're cost-effective, and it makes us very vulnerable.

You get a lot farther by not assuming that all objections come from people with fantasies of power plants turning into A-bombs.

It's irrelevant to compare the cost of Nuclear Energy to the future cost of oil. We don't make electricty from oil.

The valid comparisons are natural gas and coal *IF* we're not talking global warming, but rather just cost. We've got both of them in spades.

Brian Claymore said...

Waste storage is also an issue that is quite tricky to solve. Even if we used breeder reactors, there is simply massive amounts of low level waste generated along with small quantities of very nasty stuff. Dealing with the low level waste (stuff ranging from suits and gloves to tools equipment and even building materials) is very costly. The high level long lived waste we aren't even sure how to deal with (though there are decent ideas... they all have open questions left.)

"Massive amounts" is really a loose word when referring to low-level radioactive waste. Let us not forget that nuclear medicine also contributes "massive amounts" of low-level radioactive waste as well. Realistically, this is not too strenuous of a problem to solve as it only requires short term isolation. While still a concern, it is something we are going to have to deal with from other industries (namely medicine) as well.

I agree, the longer term storage of spent nuclear fuel is a much bigger issue and unique to commercial nuclear power. The real issue of the used fuel is that it contains the following: uranium, fission products, plutonium, and minor actinides.

The first one is not really an environmental hazard as it was dug out of the ground initially. The fission products require isolation but have short (~days - decades) half-lives, but constructing engineered barriers for these are fairly easy. The last two are the real components with half-lives that are long, but short enough to cause a major concern.

The options are long-term geologic isolation or destruction in a fast spectrum reactor. The latter requires chemical separation, which is expensive and could have proliferation concerns outside major industrialized nuclear states. However, cycles are being developed which do not isolate pure Pu, the concern for proliferation. Also, as costs of other energy sources rise and extraction technology improves, the economics for recycling look better.

As far as long-term geologic disposal, there are two real options. The first is disposal underground. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, NM is located in salt deposits and does dispose of defense waste quite well and technical analysis shows it to be suitable for long-term storage. Another option is disposal of vitrified waste packages in subduction zones; extensive studies on the matter have shown the idea to be technically sound with minimal environmental impact. The disadvantage is that it would require modifications to current international laws.

While it is a definite and vital concern we cannot dismiss, the problem is not, at present, urgent and we have time to look for solutions. The current volume of used nuclear fuel (non-recycled) in the US would fit into a football stadium stacked the height of three floors of a typical office building or home. Getting off of coal (a real unmanageable waste problem) is a higher priority in my mind.

Just to add to the fun, the tailings tend to get adsorbed preferentially into the environment.

On the issue of mining, uranium tailings are a concern. However, when compared to the environmental impacts of coal mining, it is very small. Also, renewables still require mining as well. Solar PVs require the mining of exotic materials and even wind turbines require copious amounts of iron, chromium, copper, etc.

Conservation and efficiency are the only real "energy source" that does not require any mining. Nonetheless, it can only take us so far and eventually, we will need to expand the infrastructure.

As for PuO2 (a ceramic that is fairly insoluble), while I wouldn't want to be around large quantities for an extended period of time, it is hardly the most dangerous industrial substance we handle. First of all, it is (obviously) not mined but produced synthetically so we do not have the extraction impacts. Of course, we do the same with many materials far more toxic and in far greater quantities than PuO2 will likely ever exist. While, yes, we should handle it safely in any fuel recycle system, it is not something that presents overly difficult burdens.

Hell, we could prevent the need for half your projected plants just by getting the rest of the country to adopt Californias energy saving practices.

I am somewhat skeptical that we can continue to grow our GDP on these policies. The net result has been energy savings in California, but at a cost of displacing business. While I do advocate conservation where it is feasible, the California laws have really only caused corporations to move to other regions of the country, or other countries.

So yes, we do need conservation and efficiency standards. However, we must be careful that they do more than merely displace the problem elsewhere.

Most of the country could fully power an electric commuting vehicle right now during off-peak hours with no grid expansion.

Source? I have heard an energy analyst (I would have to dig up the name) disagree with this -- according to an LLNL (I believe) study, we would need to build over 100, 1000 MWe plants to sustain an economy where everyone bought a plug-in hybrid. Even at off-peak loads, we still have to account for the 24/7 baseload requirements.

"Operating Cost" numbers pimped by pro-nuke outfits tend to entirely ignore decomissioning cost, waste disposal, and more.

I'm sorry, but it does include these things. The price of (US) nuclear generated electricity does include a waste disposal tax and the decommissioning costs must be paid for during operation. Unfortunately, nuclear is the only energy source, to my knowledge, no other energy source in the US is required, by law, to do this.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Jester:

You're still not getting it.

Oil has little to do with electricity generation in the U.S. That's true.

What you're missing is the fact that the _only_ practical renewable alternatives to gas-guzzling cars are: (1) light electric rail, and (2) electric cars.

If you try to claim that ethanol or biofuels or whatever will let us power America's 150 million cars...forget it. Just not gonna happen. There isn't enough corn in America, not even if we planted corn on every available acre. There aren't enough biofuels, not even if we harvested every drop of vegetable oil used in every restaurant in America.

The only practical near-term alterantive is electric cars and light electric rail. And the only reasonable way to generate enough terawatts to run light electric rail and 150 million electric cars in America with technology that exists here, now, in the real world is nuclear power.

You can blow smoke about solar power, but it's all fantasy. This is not a real deployable large-scale commercial technology yet. Show me the operating gigawatt solar plants. Whoops! You can't. There are none. All we've got is a few tiny experimental solar pilot plants. There is no solar equivalent of the San Onofre plant that generates 1.03 gigawatts commercially for the city fo Los Angeles. Meanwhile, we have operating multi-gigawatt nuclear power plants on the ground, running, now, in multiple places throughout the united states.

We need to get off our asses and get started kicking our oil addiction NOW. We can't afford to start 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years now. 30 years from now is too goddamn late.

Show me the practical working alternative to nuclear power for providing enough electricity fast enough to power light electric rail and electric cars throughout the United States, and I'll jump at it. There isn't any. Nuclear power is it. If we want to move to electric cars and light electric rail as mass transportation in America, we musc build nuclear power plants, and lots of 'em.

The option other than moving out of gas-guzzling cars and into light electric rail + electric cars for personal transporatation and commuting in the United States is a much bigger job, and quite impractical in the near term. And we need to talk about the near term, the next 30 years is crucial. Fantasies and pipe dreams about technologies that might materialize 100 or 200 years from now are bullshit, it'll be too late then, because all the oil will be GONE.

The alternative is totally redesigning all American cities and suburbs to make it possible for people to use bicycles to commute to work or to make it possible for people to walk to work.

That's a gigantic job. It involves knocking down all big American cities and rebuilding 'em from scratch, also ripping up and plowing under all American suburbs and replacing 'em with urban dwellings situated so that you don't have to use a car to get to work.

That's not practical in the near term. I hear politicians talking about builoding nuclear plants and building electric cars and extensing light rail, but I don't hear any politicains talking abotu knocking down every large American city and every American suburb with a wrecking ball and rebuilding them all from scratch so we can live without cars. We don't hear any politicians talking about that because it's ridiculous in the near term, it's just completely unrealistic. Tens of millions of Americans are not willing to exit their homes and live in tent cities for 20 years while every American urban core and every American suburb is bulldozed and rebuilt. And that's the only other option to replacing gas-guzzling cars with electric light rail or electric cars. Either we knock down and redesign all our cities and suburbs so we can live without cars, or we switch to electric cars. That's it. Those are the ONLY two options.

Building 800-plus nuclear reactors in the next 30 years is a titantic job. Ripping down and rebuilding all big American cities and rebuilding 'em so we don't need cars to commute with within the next 30 years is a mind-boggling job, it's frankly just not realistic.

Show me how we get out of our oil addiciton using technology that exists right here, right now without using nuclear power.

You can't. All this blue-sky bullshit about solar-photoelectric and solar-selectric is great, but c'mon! Get real. Bulding even 1/10 of the solar-photoelectric panels we'd need would exhaust the entire world's supply of indium, and we don't even remotely have the battery technology to store all that electricity. A solar panel isn't like a nuclear power plant, you can crank electricity generation up and down with a nuclear power plant to compensate for changing demand. With a solar power plant, you generate electricty continuously when the sun shines and get nothing at night, so you must store huge amounts of electricity.

Solar just isn't here yet. It isn't anywhere near ready, despite what anyone tells you. The technology involved in solar is many many years away from being practical and production-ready to builod out all over America in commercial power plants. I would guess solar is at least 40 to 70 years away from being ready to ramp up into commercial large-scale deployment, and that's being generous.

Nuclear power is ready today.

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