Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tom Friedman on the gas tax and more

Tom Friedman returns to the New York Times op-ed page with a bang, scrutinizing not only Senators McCain and Clinton's support to a gas tax holiday this summer, but also congressional ITCs (investment tax credits) for clean energy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kristof on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Nicholas Kristof makes the point that Congress should pass the U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement because, unlike most other trade deals, it will only lower tariffs on American exports to Colombia, and not on Colombian exports to the U.S. This is because tariffs on Colombian exports are already piratically zero, thanks to an older anti-drug trafficking law from the elder Bush administration.

So, the risk to American jobs from this agreement is minimal, since any outsourcing to Colombia has mostly already happened. On the other hand, lowering tariffs on exports to Colombia should help America's trade deficit, since it will make its exports more competitive compared to exports from other states around the world.

Rating Agency, Downgrade Thyself

This Sunday's New York Times magazine has an excellent piece on the rating agencies (i.e. Moody's, S&P, Fitch) and their role in the current credit crisis.

One thing that the article does not mention is that in addition to all of the conflict of interest and underlying data problems, the rating agencies also could not keep up with the plethora of new structures being created. They could not adequately model each and every new structure, and so we were forced to make even more approximations when determining default profiles for securities.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

West Wing meets Clinton/Obama Brokered Convention

Former West Wing producer and congressional staffer Larry O'Donnell wrote a hilarious script for an Obama/Clinton brokered convention. It's worth a read.

Pennsylvania Primary Predictions

In today's long-awaited Pennsylvnania primary, Hillary Clinton will win, with a margin of 5-10%.

Obama and trains

Last Saturday, Senator Barack Obama (and Senator Bob Casey Jr.) held a whistle-stop tour campaign tour of eastern and central Pennsylvania. The campaign rented a train car at the back of an Amtrak train, made up in the style of President Harry Tuman's whiste-stop tour 60 years ago.

Their first stop was the Wynnewood train station, where a crowd of 6500 gathered to hear Obama. This station, along with many of the others between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has been in nearly continuous operation for over 150 years. It is now on SEPTA's commuter R5 rail, which carries commuters to and from downtown Philadelphia every day.

Obama gave his standard stump speech at the event, which was nothing short of electrifying. If he wins Pennsylvania today, it will be on the backs of these suburban supporters who will likely turn out for him in droves.

However, Obama missed an opportunity at this rally. One solution to this country's energy problems is to re-invigorate its trains. Trains have the lowest carbon footprint per passenger-mile than any other form of transportation, and dollar for dollar are often the most comfortable.

At the very least, we need a high speed train line between Washington DC and Boston, which can rival air travel for efficiency. Other countries have had high speed trains for years, yet the American ones travel only twice as fast as they did one hundred years ago.

Beyond this, faster local trains can link communities currently only linked by car. The trains around New York City are the best example, but the ones around Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington also serve their purpose of efficiently transporting commuters from near their homes to near their offices. Cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami could drastically decrease their carbon footprints by investing in rail infrastructures.

It's time that a presidential candidate make upgrading the nation's train structure a campaign priority. Obama has put energy policy in the center of his campaign. It's time to add trains too.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cabbie and GPS navigators

In the good old days, cabbies were renowned for their ability to get anyone anywhere faster than any other motor vehicle (and perhaps some small aircraft).

Today, however, every cabbie seems to have a GPS navigation device (often Garmins). Beyond that, many still even ask for directions. Two weeks in a row, Philadelphia cab drivers have been unable to get from the Airport to the suburbs, and even find themselves asking for directors once they get near their destination, unable to trust their Garmins while unable to get to their destination.

A colleague of mine even had a New York cabbie who couldn't get from the east side to La Guardia airport. He turned on his Garmin and subsequently began making following its advice to make seemingly random turns that got him even more lost.

The art and skill of cab drivers used to be instantly knowing the fastest route to your destination and being able to lightning-quick in game changes whenever needed. Today's cabbies seem to be one step up from a guy with a rent-a-car and Garmin.

High skill immigrants need not apply....

The Economist's Lexington column has an excellent piece on how absurd the United States' high skill immigration policy is, and with all of the talk about low skill immigrant and amnesty and bigger fences, we lose sight of the immigrants who can add an enourmous amount of value to our economy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Do you want to switch doors?

The New York times has a great demo and explanation of the classic Monty Hall problem, as well as a few other more difficult problems.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sen. John McCain, circa 1997

Here's a link to an old New York Times Magazine piece on McCain from back in 1997, when McCain had just come off of campaign as a Bob Dole surrogate, and was beginning his quest with Sen. Russ Feingold for campaign finance reform.

One fascinating point toward the end is McCain's warm relationship with fellow Arizonian Democratic Rep. Mo Udall.

This is a great glimpse at McCain before he began his first run for president.

Urge Yale to influence China to peacefully resolve Tibet crisis

Yale sophomore Eli Bildner has been building a campaign urging Yale to use its newfound influence with China (from recently ramped up collaborative programs with univerisites and government official) to speak out against human rights abuses in Tibet.

After two weeks, Levin et al. finally responded ( The work, however, is far from done. Please nudge Yale to keep up the pressure on China by signing Eli's petition at

Why unions should be pro Colombia FTA

Interesting opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal about how the US-Colombian Free Trade Agreement, would actually help US jobs, since it would make US exports to Colombia more competitive in the global market.

Cleaner Jets

Excellent piece in today's New York Times on how to build cleaner jet airplanes.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Presidential campaign article round up

The New York Times on how Warren Harding may have been the nation's first black president.

A fascinating analysis comparing the Pennsylvania presidential primary to the last competitive Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where now Gov. Ed Rendell beat now Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Ironically, Clinton does well in places where Casey did (who supports Obama), and to win, Obama will have to replicated Rendell (who supports Clinton)'s concentrated success around Philadelphia.

Finally, a piece about the making of the Kennedy/Johnson ticket, which could be a forebearer of an Obama/Clinton ticket.

Krugman on food pieces

Paul Krugman, in a return to his chosen profession of economics, has a an excellent piece in today's New York Times about how world food prices have gotten so high.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

American Pie: Wholesome Monogamy?

After watching American Pie: Beta House, the sixth American Pie movie, and third to go straight to DVD, American Pie looks a bit more wholesome.

There are two reasons for this shift in viewpoint. First of all, the gross out gags with bodily fluids that were so out of control ten years ago now look relatively tame by comparison.

The second, and more interesting reason, is the prevalence of monogamy through the series, and especially in the last movie. For the most part, each character only has sexual relations with one other character. There is next to no infidelity on the part of anyone in the major cast of the movies. Despite all of the nudity and high school/college antics, each character remains true to his or her sweetheart.

Aside: The other interesting thing about the movie is that the traditional frat boy's nemeses are not the administration. They are the members of the geek fraternity. However, this is the non circa 1990s geek as seen in Saved by the Bell. These are geeks with a better house, more money, and more attractive girls. Perhaps in a 21st century era of Google, hedge funds, private equity, being a big geek isn't so bad after all.

Patriot Act: Bringing down politicians one prostitute at a time

Last night on his HBO show, Bill Maher made a great point. Despite allegations that former NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer violated 80+ year old anti-prostitution laws, the actual law that snagged Spitzer was none other than the US Patriot Act, which provides banks the legal groundwork to monitor private financial transactions.

It has been well known for a few years that the Patriot Act has been far more effective at fighting prostitution and other more mundane crimes than terrorism. In the wake of the Spitzer scandal, however, this is now a pattern when the Patriot Act has been used to bring down politicians, including Spitzer and former AL Gov. Don Siegelman.

In most of the these cases, the perpetrators are criminals would should be brought to justice. However, most of these are cases where under pre-9/11 consensuses about privacy and civil liberties, they would not have been caught. The question remains whether the waning of civil liberties that the public agreed to in the wake of 9/11 is justified for fighting non-terrorism crimes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

World Science Festival in NYC

This is exactly what America needs to kick start its recent lagging in scientific education and achievement.

Tickets go on sale April 8.

Stuff young Jews like

Great new blog. Check it out.

Obama leads in PA

Read about the poll here.


"Obama is narrowing the gap with white voters, trailing just 49-38, while maintaining his
customary significant advantage with black voters. He leads that group 75-17.
Obama also leads among all age groups except senior citizens, with whom Clinton has a
50-34 advantage. The poll shows the standard gender gap with Obama leading by 15
points among men while trailing by 10 points with women."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Major PA Jews back Obama

Read their letter here.

Ancient Mechanics

Excellent piece in today's Science Times about the overlap between science and classics and understanding how ancient scholars understood the physics behind everyday technology.

Cleaning up Bush's mess has a spectacular new ten-piece series on how to fix the damage the Bush administration has done. The first four pieces on education, technology, foreign policy, and the military are up.

Bob Reich on why we need more regulation

Bob Reich says it all:

"Some of the dollars I'm sending to Washington are now being used to backstop Wall Street investment bankers, hedge fund and private equity managers, and anybody else associated with a borrower that's too big to fail. The reason they're too big to fail is they've borrowed so much from me and from you - from our pension funds and money-market funds - that if they went bust, our savings would disappear. Even the danger of them going bust might make us so anxious we'd demand our money, which would close down the entire financial system.

"The reason they've been able to borrow so much from us without putting up much of their own capital is they're unregulated, and don't have to put up their own money. The tax code also rewards them for borrowing rather than investing, by letting them deduct interest payments on the money they borrow. The tax code also allows them to treat the earnings they get on the investments they make with the money you and I lend them as capital gains rather than ordinary income. So many of them are paying taxes at a lower marginal tax rate than you and I are paying.

"Finally, when the risky investments they've made with our money go bad, we get a housing crisis, and the value of our homes - our biggest assets - plummets. And our pension funds get socked. Yet most of them continue to pull in whopping incomes. James Cayne,the former CEO of Bear Stearns, left the company with a $232 million pay package. That's because when they place risky bets that pay off, they get the windfall, and when their bets go bad they're bailed out with our tax dollars.