The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Friday, September 08, 2006

At Long Last

No more missed meetings for me. No more rolling into the office at 9:20. Why not, you ask?

They finally fixed that half-assed atomic clock.

The current standard clock will neither gain nor lose a second in 70 million years. The new clock pushes that figure out to 400 million years.


No word on whether it comes with a programmable snooze function.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lot of people don't have too much food on their tables

But they got a lot of forks and knives
And they gotta cut something.

- Bob Dylan

If you want to know What's the Matter with Kansas, a good first place to look is Brad DeLong's blog. There's a lot I like about his Semi-Daily Journal - the blend of the intellectual with the geeky, the often-informative discussions, the occasional digressions. But what drives me insane is that, despite his role in the Order of the Shrill, despite his repeated demands to "Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now," is that, deep down, he's just another Neoliberal economist, fiercely loyal to policies, ideas, and usually the politics, of the worst of the Clinton Era.

One of the interesting things about Paul Krugman is that, for the first few years of his Bush-induced shrillness, he stuck with the basic underlying economic beliefs that so pissed me off when he contemptuously dismissed the WTO protestors in Seattle in '99. But somewhere along the line - I would peg it around 2003, after it became clear that Enron wouldn't change anything - he beagn to come around. I'm sure he's still well to the right of, say, Dean Baker, and certainly Max, but I'd say that he now Gets It: he understands that this really is class war, and the wealthy are the only ones waging battle.

Today, Krugman calls for "smart populism," and DeLong recoils in horror:

What populist policies that we can think of would be smart? And how can we make our high politicians allergic to populist policies that are stupid?

Lyndon Johnson, yes. William Jennings Bryan, no.

And this is, to a T, why we had to spend last week discussing how could we have this curious result that the rich have gotten richer, and the rest of us (as in, the other 99%) have gotten next-to-nothing. All due respect, but liberals like Prof. DeLong don't merely bring a knife to a gunfight; they deny there's a gunfight, and struggle to explain the shrapnel felling their comrades.

Republicans are already using the worst aspects of populism - xenophobia, racism, and implicit anti-Semitism* - to further their anti-popular economic policies. Hell, if Dem populists wanted to use unsavory populism to abet economic populism, I'm not sure they'd be able to wrest the Know-Nothing appeals from Republicans' cold, dead hands.

As Tom Franks suggests in the Times today, let's win now with policies that help the 75% of Americans falling behind, expressed simply, and fret about the decadent era of our policies when it arrives, if it ever does.

* Nearly every adjective applied to liberals and the media - coastal, cosmopolitan, elite, etc. - is identical with universally-understood anti-Semitic code of just 60 years ago.

[PS - much of this is a comment I posted over at DeLong's]

Worse than I thought

It astonished me when I read about people switching to Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) a few years back, just when it should have been obvious to anyone that interest rates were headed upwards (while I may pay more attention to such things than most, how could any American be unaware that interest rates were sitting at a 40 year low; you don't need to be Alan Greenspan to understand that what goes down must come back up). I know that there was a class of people - first-time buyers, or people stepping up from starter homes that had appreciated enormously - to whom ARMs offered otherwise-unattainable home wealth. But even so, those people were taking a huge gamble - not even a gamble, since no reputable bookie would have given them odds.

What's worse, though, is people who refinanced their perfectly solid, 5.1% fixed-rate, traditonal mortgages into ARMs for existing houses. I went to college in the early 90s, so I have no personal history of mortgage rates, but I understood well that 5% for any kind of stable mortgage is an incredible deal - that 12% was considered a good rate in the late 80s. So what fool would throw one away for something that was, by definition, riskier?

What I hadn't realized, and just learned through Atrios, was that these ARMs (I don't know if it's all of them) have enormous pre-pay penalties - that you are essentially locked-in. Part of the amazing thing about traditional mortgages is that you can almost always get out to seek a lower interest rate, but the bank can't kick you out to charge you a higher one. Instead, we have millions of Americans in suddenly-overpriced homes, falliung behind on escalating montholy payemnts, and with no way out save default.

This is going to get ugly, people.

"[L]ike the neutron bomb," says George McCarthy, a housing economist .... "It's going to kill all the people but leave the houses standing."

PS - And never forget - Uncle Alan told people, at exactly the moment when he knew that he intended to raise interest rates every 6 weeks until retirement, that ARMs were a good idea. The man deserves tar and feathers, if not worse. And I am completely serious about that.