Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cholera death toll continues rising in Haiti

Two Google spreadsheet charts. Same data. Different chart types - slightly different story.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Our Housing Dreams

Dreams sure do die hard. Not only subconscious dreams--a la Freud--but dreams that define us as a culture.

Great orators--John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs--can move us, tapping our dreams.

So can great salesmen--be they of used cars or quack medicine.

I do not know how the mortgage industry--which in the past some could have called a usurious occupation--came to adopt "the American Dream". But, it's sure had a good run with it. And, in a feat of magic, we could not only now buy a house, but then could sell it back to ourselves through our 401k.

Both the Democrats' and the Republicans' critiques are right: it was deregulation and Fannie Mae--in a Brairite "third-way" compromise--which created this monster.

Much has been written on deregulation, the chart on the left--from a (now) ironically titled publication "Tracking the American Dream" (Census Bureau, April 1994)--sheds light on the government's role.

By next year, only the latter of the two is likely to remain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

RIM strikes... and misses

Engadget's Joshua Topolsky offers the best quip on Blackberry's less-than-stellar attempt at a touchscreen:
"For casual users, the learning curve and complexity of this phone will feel like an instant turn off, and for power users, the lack of a decent typing option and considerable lagginess in software will give them pause. RIM tried to strike some middle ground between form and function, and unfortunately came up short on both.... Going into this review, we really wanted to love this phone."
Better luck in v.2!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good news

Boy, the world needs a lot of good news just about now.

But, first the bad news

We're facing a medium-term recession, whether or not a "surge" of borrowed taxpayer dollars will help ease the pain of Wall Street, General Motors, or foreclosing "home-borrowers" in the short-term. The reason? We have lived well by depleting our assets for years, Henry Bloget points out in a great chart on Clusterstock:

Alas, a cynic could say, the strength of U.S. consumer spending--the genius of American economy over the past decade--was simply a charade of "fudge"-priced assets, similar to those backing Enron's investments in the early 2000s or fueling MMM's meteoric rise in Russia in the early 1990s.

We are now taking on a new charade: propping up today's economy by using a mythically unlimited capacity of U.S. government to--someday--pay back debt.  Demand for treasury bonds is creating unprecedentedly low interest rates, despite the total surpassing $11 trillion.

(Data: Federal Reserve)

It's as though the U.S. government is a Latin American country in the 1980s. Or, a condo "fix and flipper" couple in 2004. Or, a Carlyle-Blackstone-KKR-Bain Capital in 2006.  It's ready to borrow, plop down money on "underpriced assets", turn them around, and flip them for a profit a few years later. Foreign investors, once again, are happy to try their luck.

Let's be very careful with this trust. I hope Bush, Obama, and Congress are both prudent and bold in their stimulus and crisis response.

So, what's the good news?

Thanks to American institutions, we have the most competitive, and the eighth freest economy in the world.

And, American democracy is literally on the march, with Tom Palmer's publication of DeTocqueville's "Democracy in America" in Russian.

If little else, do keep these two in mind.

GOP's New Slogan

"Sarah Palin--well, that was awesome for about two weeks!"