Links 8/28/09

Scientists Find “Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch” National Science Foundation As reader John D. points out, the existence of the patch is well known, but has not been researched by scientists until now.

Study Argues C.F.T.C. Overlooked Oil Speculation Andrew Ross Sorkin (hat tip reader Michael)

Bonus Guarantees Can Fuel Risky Moves Lucien Bebchuk, Wall Street Journal

What’ C Worth? Bruce Krasting (hat tip reader Scott)

Dive in business investment raises fears for recovery Independent

Japan reports record unemployment rate for July MarketWatch (hat tip DoctoRx). Deflation is up too, yet the Nikkei rallied.

Squandered Honeymoon: How Botched Bailouts Hamper Healthcare Reform Rob Johnson, Huffington Post

Peak Water Jim Quinn. Today’s must read

Antidote du jour:

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  1. attempter

    Re Obama:

    He could have relied on the people that he inspired to elect him.

    That's the saddest line. That's what I've lamented since day one.

    The whole piece captures the essense of Obaman cowardice and betrayal. One would think Obama had set out as the ultimate starve-the-beaster, to provide the ultimate object lesson in why you can never trust government.

    (The piece still assumes Obama wasn't actually lying all along, but rather that he did have good intentions and just bungled miserably. I no longer believe that.)

    By now there's little left for reasonable people. The options are:

    1. Try to figure out how to achieve revolutionary change;

    2. give up and try to be happy in your impoverishment and servitude.

  2. Richard Kline

    So attempter, there's still:

    3. the power of prayer.

    Seriously, though, Obama is betraying no one. The sad fact is that most who voted for him fooled themselves. He is by an large, especially in large things, doing very much what he said he would do on the campaign. It's just that too many thought these were 'code words' to hide his 'real program,' or didn't bother to read the details at all.

    Obama was the most Republican leaning candidate in the lot. That was strategy, but also remains re-election strategy, and clearly denoted his temperament. Nothing in his record or remark indicated he had the slightest stomach for tough choices or a fight. He never said he would withdraw from Occupied Territory Two, and indicated plainly that he'd show he had mettle by escalating in Occupied Territory One. He said he wanted less stormy dealings with Russia, Iran, and Korea, and so he proceeds. His health care proposal was a pro-industry pastice which clearly indicated he expected to keep the insurance companies well-fed. Now he _did_ make noises about asking Big Pharma nicely if they would accept lower profit margins, but see above regarding 'no guts,' which he at once demonstrated decisively on this issue. Obama did not reveal clearly on the stump his enormous pro-financial industry bias, but really kiddies, did anyone do their homework on this? His crucial financial backing early was large and all-in from Hedgistan. And those folks do their research: does anyone think that they were going to give the decisive push to someone whose servility they doubted? And Obama voiced numerous platitudes regarding how much he like the tenor of Chicago economics. He's lived down to the worst quartile on this issue, but he's coming in on the money from where he should have been expected to be: Big Money's Caddy.

    The Obama Phenomenon is really about the public's love of personal charisma. That Prez O has in abundance, and he's a smart, smooth man. What he isn't is a liberal, a reformer, a leader, an agent of change, nor, as we are finding, a success. But to call Obama a betrayer is not, in my view accurate: he said who he was and what he meant to do. People wanted someone other than that, so they heard what they wanted to hear, and being a professional politicial on no small skill Prez O let them go there and shook their hand all the while. And I guarantee that the public will learn nothing from this, either.

  3. attempter

    You don't need to convince me, Richard. I always recognized all that, and never believed in this guy (I thought he'd be somewhat better, but not much; turns out I was wrong). Now I'm just trying to convince decent people to give up on the Democrats once and for all.

    You are morally wrong about one thing. While Obama may have been able to chuckle to himself about how he was fooling all these people, and how by the letter of the law he wasn't "lying", he knew damn well that they were believing not in the letter but in the spirit of what he claimed to represent, and he wanted them to believe that.

    The people in question were shell-shocked by eight years of the Bush nightmare and were now being clobbered by a financial crisis which they hadn't seen coming. You could say they were operating under diminished capacity (which is saying alot, given their normal capacity). Again, Obama knew this and capitalized on it.

    So his was indeed one of the most treacherous and despicable performances of lying in American history, precisely because it was both not run-of-the-mill political lying, and because it went so cosmically beyond that.

    Now, if you want to say that mass democracy itself is a stupid idea, fine. But it's incoherent to say on the one hand, democracy is a good thing, and the people deserve to be an electorate, but at the same time to cynically say the people are idiots who get what they deserve every single time.

    My opinion of "the people" is pretty low, but even I feel some sympathy for them this time.

  4. Anonymous Jones

    I like this thread between attempter and Richard. My one qualm, and this could probably be applied to every comment thread out there, is that "showing that a system has a problem is not the same as showing that such system should be denounced or jettisoned."

    We see this everywhere. Someone finds a $1000 toilet in the defense budget and thus, QED, government is inefficient and should be kept out of all procurement matters. I know most people won't even accept what I'm going to say next, but nevertheless, this type of statement is nonsense and there is no unbreakable logical thread to the conclusion reached. Given that choosing among potential solutions is often a relative judgment and appears to be almost always (from my limited experience) a choice among theoretical suboptimals, this type of argument is vacuous, and it seems to be precisely the type of leap that over and over again allows even extremely intelligent humans to hold diametrically opposed views on a subject.

    I encourage everyone to constantly challenge their assumptions and their heuristics (yes, this encouragement is often futile…I have in fact noticed that). Anyone who has struggled over an extremely delicate proof for a mathematical theorem for days can tell you it's often just one small mistaken assumption somewhere in the faulty proof that prevents success. You go over the proof again and again, and it seems right, dammit, but there is just one thing you forget to question and finally after days of pounding your head against a table, if you're lucky, you will finally think to go back far enough to question something that seemed like the most obvious given days ago ("I couldn't have made a mistake in that part!").

    Am I just meaning to paraphrase Churchill here? I guess I am. He said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others," right? *I don't necessarily believe that particular statement*, but it is the *meaning* behind the narrative construction in that epigram that I want to highlight. It is not incoherent to say that democracy is a good thing and always, always gives the idiocracy what it deserves. It would only be incoherent if the speaker believed there was a better alternative. It may be good *and* always give you the worst possible elected official. You have to prove that this is not logically possible before you can posit that the statement is incoherent. For instance, the mere appearance of democratic participation may yield a "better" societal result even if the leader elected is worse (again, I do not necessarily believe this statement; I am only discussing logical leaps here).

    Regarding Obama, yes, he is not a liberal messiah. So what? Who was the better electable alternative? I have been disgusted with the political process for decades; so it doesn't matter to me, but sitting back and watching from afar, I'm confused as to all the hand-wringing on both sides. What really would have been different with any other electable candidate? Financial regulation…that ship sailed decades ago. You gave those people the money and power; you're not getting it back without violence. No election is going to help us there.

    Anyway, (and this is in no way directed at Richard or attempter), perhaps some of the other commenters here would be less angry if they, just for a moment, accepted that they might have made a logical leap somewhere and that they may not have *actually* stumbled onto to the absolute truth and that that the reason that some people may disagree with their "absolute truth" is not necessarily stupidity.

    It is sometimes difficult to show a man that he doesn't understand something when he doesn't understand it in the first place. And you know what, that man may be *you.* You will never know.

  5. Hugh

    I like Robert Johnson. He isn't saying anything new here but it is a good recap. Obama's rhetoric was progressive. His policy positions were center-right. Since taking office, his actions have been solidly conservative, occupying a political space that Republicans used to occupy back in the 70s and 80s. Did Obama lie? Yes, of course, he promised us change we, not he, but we could believe in. He clearly has not delivered on that. And yes, if we had all parsed what he was saying we would have known this. Still I have to say that I broke with Obama in July 2008 over his reneging on his pledge to filibuster the FISA Amendments Act if it contained immunity for telecoms (which it did) and actively used his presumptive nominee status to get it passed. I was equally appalled by his pushing for passage of the TARP and post-election his choice of Summers, Geithner, Orszag and Goolsbee for his economics team. Yet even so, negative as my opinion was of Obama going in events have proved that my assessment was nowhere near negative enough.

    Amy Myers Jaffe is a petroleum analyst at the Baker (as in Bush I's Jim Baker) Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston (aka petroleum central). In fact, I think she heads up its oil section. In any case, this is just to say that she is a pro-oil, not liberal kind of person. I think she has made similar pronouncements to those made in this report in the past. I would agree that excess speculation by non-commercial traders, not supply-demand issues, resulted in the spike in oil prices last year. But I think it is important to realize that this kind of speculation divorced from market fundamentals has been around since 2004 and been responsible in driving up year over year prices in every year since but one (2006 if I remember), and that it is also the cause of the current run up in oil prices: in the $70 range when supply and economic activity would suggest a price in the $30s.

  6. Hugh

    The peak water story and the peaking of other commodities in general are themselves part of a larger story which is the defining phenomenon of this century. We humans have exceeded the planets carrying capacity to sustain our numbers. There is a simple formula which describes this. My version of it is

    PT = ER

    where P is population, T is technology level, E is environmental degradation (global warming, species extinction, pollution), and R is resource consumption. Under current trends, there will be 7 billion of us by 2015. 9 billion by 2050. We are already in the plateau area of peak oil. Peak energy is not that far behind. Countries like China with its huge population are eagerly seeking to catch up to our high energy consumer ways. What the equation describes is a crash, our crash. By 2100, there could well be less than 1 billion humans on the planet. This is not tinfoil type stuff. It is math, simple, inexorable math.

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