Friday, August 22, 2008

Alex Jones... interesting... intelligent... paranoid

So I discovered the typhoon of paranoia that is Alex Jones yesterday, and I had to share. Jones runs a radio show/website/news nexus called "Info Wars" out of Austin, TX. He primarily writes and speaks about "New World Order" plans for world domination, the establishment of a police state, and a variety of Ron Paul stuff (the gold standard, tainted food, 9/11 conspiracy theories, etc.). So I kinda approach him like a Ron Paul on steroids - I'm totally with him on a lot of basic stuff... but he goes a little over the edge with it. For example - I totally buy the idea that the Bush administration deliberately twisted the evidence to start a war in Iraq... but the idea that they orchestrated 9/11 (which Jones and others on his show suggest), is obviously ludicrous.

Its the same way that I approach a lot of alien/UFO research that's out there, or the Templar stuff. They make really interesting points that we don't have good answers for (UFO people in particular), but they mix in a lot of unfounded assertions in there as well. So you just can't join the list serve -you can't even order their book... its just too out-there to touch. But I do enjoy tuning in and listening to a You Tube post every once in a while.

I also think someone out there needs to be suspicious and digging this stuff up. Its important to know that if Alex Jones ever uncovered a document that was credible, he might actually get the word out.

Speaking of credible documents... Ron Suskind has provided evidence that the CIA was directed by the White House to forge letters that (1.) connected Mohammed Atta to Iraq, and (2.) suggested that Iraq was buying uranium. In other words, this isn't just "bad intelligence"... this was "forged intelligence". Big deal - if this came out a year or two ago they might even be talking about impeachment... its awfully late, so I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't happen now, but this is still a big deal (and more credible than Alex Jones's pronouncements, I'm guessing).

Some are contesting this... perhaps we'll get more info in the future.


So the BBC is reporting that Obama's VP selection will come within hours. This is smart - it would be crazy for him to miss a day or two of press. Now, all the online news sources will have it on the front page all day, nightly news will have it tonight, and the print news sources will still have to print it front page tomorrow morning, even if the news is "old" by then. Then the convention starts and Obama will get coverage all over again.

Anyway - the other thing the BBC reports is that he says he has chosen someone who will help him to strengthen the economy. That almost certainly means no Biden, which is interesting. Probably safe too - Biden has a lot of baggage. It could definitely mean a Kaine selection. Bacon's Rebellion had a post up today talking about how Obama's economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee (I saw him speak at the Urban Institute) considers Virginia to be a model for modern economic development - a pro-market, pro-business state with a government that is still willing to make strategic investments (except for infrastructure now, it seems). That bodes well too.

But someone like Hillary Clinton - who would also strengthen him on the economy - is also not ruled out by this new announcement. I don't think she's got a snowball's chance in hell, but there has been chatter about her lately, so I have to bring it up.

The other front runner is Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. I don't know much about him, but I looked at some of his background and he has no record that I can tell on the economy.

I think this little tidbit that Obama announced makes Kaine significantly more likely as the VP choice, especially because it will be today.

The Washington Post reports that Obama has no campaign events today - nothing until his appearance in Springfield, Illinois tomorrow where he says he will appear for the first time with his VP. That means Obama spends 48 hours in Virginia, takes a much deserved Friday rest before announcing his VP and then appearing in Illinois with him or her. No visiting Indiana or Delaware in the interim. Interesting...

By the way - I checked Kaine's schedule. Unfortunately I didn't find any clues like "Appearing in Springfield Illinois with Obama"... oh well :)

Well, I've said this before folks. If this happens that means Kaine in the White House, and Webb and Warner both in the Senate. What a boon for Virginia!!!!

I should really work on and write that "Job Flows and Unemployment in the Upper Tidewater" paper... give the Obama team some more insights into Virginia's economy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Short Meeting with Kaine

Obama had a 15 minute meeting with Kaine in Richmond today... good or bad for his prospects? The Post seems to think bad. Who the hell knows - we'll find out soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VP Thought

So Obama's VP selection sounds like it's iminent... but perhaps could wait until as late as the weekend. Of course I'm pulling for Kaine, but would also be happy with Biden.

I had another thought today... what about a surprise selection of Wesley Clark? Nobody is talking about him anymore, but everyone was very impressed with him previously. He would bring the foreign policy experience that Biden offers, but without the "old politics" sort of baggage that Biden would bring to this ostensibly post-partisan campaign.

Plus he's an old white man - which would reassure some people.

Not sure if this is even on the radar, but Clark is one of those guys I forget about and then happen to see him on TV again and remember how great he is.

Interaction effects

Interesting new post in a really uncreatively named blog ("Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science") that I found recently on interaction effects. The author is critiquing a post by Jeremy Freese that essentially cautions against over-interpretation of interactions.

I think the point the author makes is obvious - you never want to go fishing for significant terms and stake your claim on whatever pops up out of the hundreds of regressions that you run. Of course this applies as readily to interaction effects as it does to anything else included in the model. But I think the author misses a major point that Freese makes - and that is understanding when to expect insignificant interaction effects. Freese suggests that when the categories you are interacting involve very small groups, the risk of pulling out spurious effects increases dramatically. This is because any single sub-group member with an unusual outcome can skew the effect much more easily.

I also find it interesting that they're only talking about interaction effects as a method of sub-group analysis. I've always been most interested in interactions of two continuous variables, rather than a dichotomous and a dummy variable - looking at a sort of cross-effect. I know if you want to look at the difference of an effect between men and women or blacks and whites, that's just not appropriate - but I imagine that the significance of these interactions is substantially more reliable.

We're working on a report for the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation right now, that not only has a host of interactions - but also has interactions in a two stage model. Now that is REALLY tough to get your head around. You'd think it would be easy - just an extension of a one-stage model... not really.

Samuelson on China

Robert Samuelson has a great op-ed out today on what we should really worry about when it comes to China. He argues that concerns that the Chinese economy will surpass ours are silly - there is no possible way they can't surpass us, and they'll probably do it by the 2020's. That doesn't mean that Chinese per capita income will exceed that of the U.S. - we will probably lead there indefinitely.

More importantly, though, China risks destabilizing the global economy, rather than dominating it. Samuelson parades the usual suspects: trade, oil, and exchange rates. For the most part, I think he's dead on. He's a little timid when it comes to trade - pointing out that the ones China hurts most with its trade policies are other low-cost labor economies that can't compete with the Chinese. I'm not so sure they're the only victims, but OK.

He also highlights the risk posed by Chinese energy consumption - and that's the important thing to consider. The rise in oil prices in the last couple years hasn't really been a symptom of decreased supply (although my understanding is that we're flat-lining) - its that demand has been propelled by developing countries - particularly China. Now I agree with those who are calling for safe offshore drilling - there's no reason we shouldn't benefit from higher oil prices by producing more ourselves. But that alone is not the solution to the problem. If China's demand for energy shows no sign of quitting, we can't just beat them at their own game - we need to get into other energy markets that are not threatened by this increase in demand. I'm personally intrigued by the prospects of wind farming in the U.S., and the so-called Pickens Plan.

Samuelson also brings up China's currency reserves which have developed over years of aggressive exporting. He only really raises the issue of the Chinese buying up U.S. companies and a nationalistic U.S. response... I find it odd that he doesn't highlight the possibility of currency instability in general caused by China's massive reserves and our massive debt. Samuelson raises the prospect of a "resource war" (to which I'm forced to respond "sure - what's new?"), but he doesn't even consider the possibility of a "debt war". Could that ever happen? Let's say McCain is elected and we dig in deeper in Iraq and Afghanistan while cutting taxes and not doing much of anything about Social Security or Medicare - and lets say this current slump lasts a little longer than we expected. Suppose we start to have trouble paying off our debt - and some coalition of lending nations demands our compliance with a strict payment plan... and we refuse. The value of the dollar drops even farther than it has over the last couple months, and the Chinese reserves begin to evaporate. If the U.S. is sufficiently weakened, could there be a debt war, where the Chinese insist on a part in the management of the most valuable asset they own - a sizable chunk of the U.S. government? Probably unlikely. China is more likely to implode than explode on the world scene. But the risks involved in the U.S. national debt can't be stressed enough. And I'm a fan of both Hamilton and Keynes - I think there are very valuable uses for a government debt... but even then, you can go too far.

Finally - I was absolutely shocked by a statistic that Samuelson cited. Apparently, 17 million people a year move from the country to the cities in China. Urbanization is progressing at break-neck pace. 17 million! That's like a new New York City popping up in China every single year. That is absolutely unbelievable!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Rick Warren and the Candidates

Just listened to the first part of Rick Warren's forum - where he interviewed/questioned Obama and McCain. The first part was Obama. It was really good - I was impressed with both Obama, and also Warren. Warren put to rest all fears that the forum would be inappropriate, or that he would be a demagogue, etc. He asked the regular questions you'd expect him to, but then he also asked some questions that were very personal to him. It was great, because they were questions that won't ever be asked by anyone else - so it was good to hear him ask them.

Here's the link for the first of six videos for the Obama interview. You can follow each subsequent part from there. Obama made a few good jokes... I'm already 3 minutes into McCain, and he's already made two bad jokes. But that's ok! Humor isn't everything :)

.... update

So it's interesting - McCain's style is very different from Obama's here. Obama was conversational, detailed, and "long-winded". Not in a bad way - he just gave more of an essay. McCain was much quicker and forceful with his answers. I guess it sounded more like a traditional debate response for him than for Obama. And that's not bad either. For one thing, it was easier to figure out what McCain's answer was! It will be interesting to see how both those responses play. McCain's is more accessible, but I felt like I didn't hear anything new. You had to pay a little more attention to Obama, but he had some really great, sincere things to say.

... update 2

GAAAAH I thought I was over blogging about South Ossetia. So McCain just finished talking about that. He's so manipulative in how he talks about it. For example: "there's an oil pipeline that goes across Georgia that up until now was not controlled by the Russians, and energy, my friends, is a tremendous lever that the Russians are using against the Europeans"

On one hand this is true - up until now the pipeline was not controlled by the Russians. However, the pipeline is STILL not controlled by the Russians... go figure. And nice mention of Russia playing hardball with Europe's supply of oil. Too bad to date they've been playing hardball with other pipelines that don't even go through Georgia!

He also cites villages being burned in South Ossetia and people being killed... never mind that its the Georgians that are doing the killings inside South Ossetia. Good Lord! I was liking this forum for awhile...