Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Great Depression of 1920??

Everybody knows about the Great Depression, beginning with Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the secondary crash in the late summer of 1930, and an initial recovery beginning in 1933. Unemployment peaked at about 25%. Recovery was lackluster, with a secondary recession occurring in 1937. Unemployment stayed high through a weak economic recovery, still at 15% just before the war machine cranked up for World War II in 1941.

Although war production boosted GDP, the standard of living stayed depressed throughout the war years, with widespread rationing a major cause. Society as a whole didn't really recover until after the war ended in 1945. In total, the Great Depression significantly impacted the standard of living for most Americans for a period of 16 years.

Many people aren't aware that there was a depression almost as severe in October of 1920. The impacts in the first few months were on the same level as those of 1929, with the market down 33%, industrial production down 30%, GDP down 17%, and a spike in the unemployment rate from 4% to almost 12%, all occuring in a short time. Nor are they aware that by the fall of 1921 the recovery from this major crash was well underway.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Delegate Count Media Misinformation

The Wall Street Journal and FOX credit Mitt Romney with 123 delegates to the Republican Nationa Convention in Tampa, Florida in August. CNN says no, it's 127, unless it's 106. CBS argues it's 111, the New York Times 105, Quinnipiac 102, RealClearPolitics 98, and National Public Radio says it 73. Every news source seems to disagree just as widely about the counts for the other three candidates as well.

Everyone seems to agree there will be a total of 2,286 delegates, and it will take 1,144 to win the nomination. Everyone also seems to agree that there are four remaining candidates. That's about where the agreement ends, however.

Reviewing the table below, you'll find that there's very little agreement among news outlets as to the current delegate count.1 I'm sure I could check a few more sources and find a few more sets of widely differing numbers. Why all the confusion?

CNN calculator106373527
CNN scorecard127373827
New York Times105712918
Real Clear Politics98443220
Wall Street Journal123723219

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Perils of Paper Money

Over at The Atlantic, David Wolman has written A Short History of American Money, From Fur to Fiat, which might better be called An Apologia for the Bernanke-Krugman Philosophy of Turning Paper into Gold. What was left out of this commercial for fiat money and the Federal Reserve is much more telling than what is included. Later columns will be devoted to the important parts of history that the article passed over, but in this essay we'll deal only with the most glaring of many problems I see: an inverted understanding of the purpose of money that ignores the fundamental purposes of money itself.

Money has three fundamental functions to perform: to act as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value.

A lack of understanding of the importance of the third of these three functions is apparent in this statement, describing the Bretton Woods Agreement, which the author interestingly never mentions by name:
Bizarre as it may sound, a small group of men sitting around a table determined that a 1-ounce nugget of gold would be worth, not $34 or $36.75, but $35.
This is a total inversion of the concept of sound money. The decision was not that "a 1-ounce nugget of gold would be worth $35," but rather that the value of a dollar would be fixed at 1/35 of an ounce of gold. While that may seem to be an arcane difference, it really speaks to the heart of the matter. Since gold could be depended on to hold its value relative to other goods, and history has repeatedly shown that ink on paper cannot, this decision was intended to maintain relative stability in the value of the dollar against material goods -- what we speak of as "sound money."

Don't Throw Away Your Vote

How often have you heard it said that voting for anyone but a Republican or a Democrat is "throwing away your vote?"

There's the "lesser of two evils" argument, which declares that if you "throw away your vote" the candidate who's worse than the candidate you should vote for will get elected.

There's the "wasted vote" argument, which declares that if you don't vote for a candidate who the pollsters say has a chance of winning, you might as well not bother voting, because your candidate won't win anyway.

Then there's the "half a loaf is better than none" argument, suggesting that it's better to vote for a candidate who supports a few of the issues that are most important to you, and who has a chance of winning, than voting for the candidate truly aligned with your ideals, but who can't possibly win.

And finally, there's the "winner vs. loser" argument, wherein the voter who chooses the winning candidate gets a license to boast about it, at least until that winner starts implementing policies the voter absolutely detests. While this last example represents an argument with real payoff when placing bets with a bookie, it seems extremely short-sighted when it comes to choosing a leader.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Is Gary Johnson a Threat to the Two-Party System?

Theo Anderson, writing at In These Times, makes a good case for Gary Johnson's impact on the Presidential Race as a third-party candidate running as a Libertarian.

First, he points out that Gary Johnson holds a lot of the same positions that Obama supported during the 2008 election cycle, but which he has failed to deliver on.
Gary Johnson is, in some important ways, the candidate that the Left once hoped Barack Obama would be. He vocally opposes the death penalty, the use of torture by the U.S. military, and the indefinite detention of people charged with a crime–even suspects charged with terrorism.

He’s pro-choice. He calls for deep cuts in the defense budget and an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and from many of our military bases around the world. He unequivocally supports marriage rights for gays and believes that legalizing marijuana–rather than building a wall–is the key to solving illegal immigration. He also favors a two-year grace period for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, so that they can obtain work visas and continue living and working here.
He goes on to point out that the threat isn't so much that Democrats might abandon Obama, but that Johnson's message has great appeal to independent voters, those in the middle who, in the final analysis, will choose the President in the 2012 election.
The danger for Democrats isn’t that Johnson will win a significant percentage of the Left’s vote. The danger is that he’ll peel away a sizable share of the much-prized independent voters, who tend to be fiscal conservatives and social liberals, and who might feel, understandably, that Obama hasn’t played it straight with them. He backed away from his early-career support for gay marriage rights, for example, and endorsed civil unions when he became president. His position is now reported to be “evolving.” Does anyone know where it has evolved to, or when he might come to a definite conclusion? Or where he’s at on immigration reform? Or on the drug war?

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics Redux

Earlier this week, I did a column on the differences between official government statistics and those available at Shadow Government Statistics, where changes to the official reporting methods over the last couple of decades are backed out to present figures that are comparable to those from earlier times.

Now, thanks to the fine efforts of one of the posters at the previously-mentioned Absolute Write Politics and Current Events forum, we have survey numbers courtesy of Gallup that appear to back up ShadowStat's assertions. Here's the pertinent chart again.

Monday, February 13, 2012

You Might Be a Terrorist If...DHS Edition

Having apparently learned absolutely nothing from the Missouri Information Analysis Center fiasco of 2009, when their report "The Modern Militia Movement" leaked and stank up the blogosphere for a while, the Homeland Security Science and Technology Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division (now that's a great bureacracy name, isn't it?) has issued a report titled Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008.

Of course, the fact that it's 2012 doesn't speak too well as to the timeliness of the report. But give them a break, they're a massive bureaucracy, after all, and can't be expected to react to myriad threats in a timely manner.

The report is actually produced by START, otherwise known as National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, based at the University of Maryland. Aren't those government acronyms cute?

After a thorough reading I am now completely convinced that the authors were paid by the word (why else all the redundancy and round-about modes of expression?) and per scholarly cite, as well as a hefty bonus for colorful charts and graphs.

I think this report is certainly worthy of reasoned, scholarly analysis in the manner of Jeff Foxworthy, so to that I dedicate these humble efforts. Now remember, after reading each of these bullet points aloud, you should encourage those around you to join you in the chorus: "you might be a terrorist!" It will provide the most entertainment if you read it in a library, on public transportation, or beside an open window in a crowded apartment or office complex.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Santorum Theocracy

In 1940, noted science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein's short novel "...if this goes on" was first published. The story was set in a future theocratic American society ruled by a "Prophet." The first of these "Prophets" was Nehemiah Scudder, a backwoods preacher elected to the Presidency in 2012. No elections were held in 2016, the Constitution having been disposed of in the meantime.

Perhaps equating Rick Santorum with Nehemiah Scudder is a bit harsh. He's no backwoods preacher, after all. He's a big government (voted for No Child Left Behind), big spending (voted twice for Congressional pay raises, voted to increase the national debt limit five times and voted for the Bridge to Nowhere), liberal (opposed right to work legislation and repeal of Davis-Bacon, voted for the prescription drug entitlement), buddy of Wall Street (supported the airline bailouts), but he's no backwoods preacher.

Whitney Houston - Drug War Victim

It was no secret to anyone that Whitney Houston had a major drug problem. If drug abuse were treated like any other illness, family and friends would have encouraged her to check herself in for treatment and stick with the recommended regimen just as anyone faced with a life-threatening disease is prone to do, and perhaps she would have taken to heart the magnitude of her disease.

Instead, we've made criminals out of drug users, and consequently, out of addicts who are in the grip of a disease they can't fight on their own. The poor ones end up overdosed in an alley somewhere, but the rich ones earn an outlaw cache, an attitude that some have expressed as "I don't have a drug problem. I can afford all the drugs I want."

As long as we have a criminal attitude toward drugs, we're going to treat drug addicts as criminals, the rich ones will achieve outlaw status, and we're going to continue to lose people with an illness because as a society we treat them like criminals.

It's reminiscent of the early days of AIDS, when the assumption was that if you got AIDS you were engaging in illicit if not illegal behavior. The stigma that created in the minds of the public delayed serious response to the AIDS crisis and cost the world dearly. Yet today we invest drug use with the same stigma and fail to see that it's costing us much more than AIDS ever did, in sheer volume of victims alone.

RIP, Whitney. You chose the path you chose, but we failed you as a society as well. You were ill, but we invested you with outlaw chic and splashed your illness across our media, treating it as entertainment. Perhaps we should have listened when you sang.

Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

...and that's all I have to say about that.