Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quotes of the Day

I haven't had a lot of time to blog recently, so in a coming-back event, here are not one but multiple quotes of the day, spanning a variety of topics.

Richard Russell, editor of Dow Theory Letters, on January 31, 20007, in what now looks remarkably prescient given today's stock market carnage:
China is in a stock-buying super-frenzy with people mortgaging their homes, taking out loans, doing anything and everything to get in on that wild ride on the Shanghai Exchange. From below 1,000 in June of 2005, the Shanghai Composite has tripled to a current 3,000. The Composite has gone parabolic ... The price of the composite is an astounding 36% above its 40-week moving average. If you're looking for international trouble, you might start looking here. The Shanghai Exchange is on fire, and it's hard to know what to expect next. What would a stock crash in China mean? It would have worldwide implications, and it would be deflationary, particularly for commodities. By the way, the Chinese authorities are now actively warning the populace about over-speculating ("irrational exuberance"?)

Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group that focuses on women's rights, on the Newshour on PBS about the new trend for states to mandate HPV vaccines on kids as young as 11 to eliminate their risk of cervical cancer:
About a little less than 4,000 women a year die from cervical cancer. About 36,000 people a year die from the flu, but we don't mandate that each person get a flu vaccine.

P.J.O'Rourke, author of "On the Weath of Nations" speaking in a must-watch interview with Paul Solman of the Newshour on PBS:
I've never been able to get it straight about what these people who are worried about the trade deficit are worried about. When they say that we're buying too much from overseas, that we're sending too many dollars overseas to get all these goods and services they got, they're saying that the American dollar is too strong and that is hurting our economy. And the result of this will be that the American dollar will get too weak, and that will hurt our economy. Well, make up your mind! What are you worried about? Are you worried that the dollar is too strong? Or are you worried that the dollar is too weak?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Myths about the Bush Tax Cuts

The conservative Heritage Foundation takes on myths about the administration's tax cuts in a piece titled Ten Myths About the Bush Tax Cuts. While you should read the whole article, here's a sampling to whet your appetite:

MYTH: Tax revenues remain low.
FACT: Tax revenues are above the historical average, even after the tax cuts.

Tax revenues were 18.4% of GDP, much higher than the 20-, 40- and 60-year averages. We're getting enough in taxes ... deficits are because spending is out of control. And the spending we need to be concerned about isn't just defense spending, it's mostly entitlement spending. Here's another chart from Heritage Foundation, from a different source.

MYTH: The Bush tax cuts substantially reduced 2006 revenues and expanded the budget deficit.
FACT: Nearly all of the 2006 budget deficit resulted from additional spending above the baseline.

In fact, 90% of the deficit is attributable to spending increases. Take that, John Edwards and other tax-increase craving liberals!

MYTH: The Bush tax cuts are to blame for the projected long-term budget deficits.
FACT: Projections show that entitlement costs will dwarf the projected large revenue increases.

Here's another version of the entitlement chart, but showing how little tax cuts matter in the deficit picture:

Oh, and save the best for last ...

MYTH: The Bush tax cuts were tilted toward the rich.
FACT: The rich are now shouldering even more of the income tax burden.

I have complained previously that the rich pay a disproportionate amount of their income in taxes, but turns out the tax cuts have actually exaggerated that further (never have guessed from the populist rhetoric, would you?) For the record, I'm one of the impoverished taxpayers who contributes relatively little to the Federal revenue stream.

So the next time a populist politician like John Edwards or John Kerry tells you that the tax cuts helped only the top 1%, tell them you're too smart to be fooled by their dishonest propaganda!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Contemplating Death ... and Life

The last 24 hours have been filled with thoughts on the end of the road. No, I'm not suddenly missing my Prozac or any such event that may cause concern. Rather the current state of introspection has been triggered by the news of the passing away of a former fellow graduate student, who I'll refer to simply as L for privacy.

L was a charming young girl from Africa, greeting whom was part of my morning ritual when I got in to work. That someone in that position, a seemingly heathly woman no more than a few years ahead of me, could have her presence so suddenly terminated is enough to jolt you. And that got me thinking, if I could look back at my life, in some other world, if you will, what would I see? I remember reading somewhere that death is a funny event, because you know it will come, and yet you're never ready for it. But at least people of a certain advanced age spend time contemplating the issue. Here I am, in what might consider the prime of my life, and yet who knows what fate awaits me.

No, this isn't some depressed cry about not wanting to go. Rather it is a realization of the somewhat sober fact that my life hasn't amounted to that much. If I were to pass, how would the world be without me? Save my family, I dare say not by much. To be sure, friends will expend some tears remembering how life was, but as time goes by, I wouldn't expect too many people to notice much of a change.

And maybe that's how it's supposed to be. People die all the time, life is about moving on. I try to live my life trying to make sure that people never shed a tear on my account, so why should death be different? Ah, but I think that's where some of us have the same affliction as presidents, the need for a legacy!

Knowing death is coming has an interesting effect - it gets you to contemplate life. This idea is not new; in fact, it's one of the reasons I love the book 'Tuesdays with Morrie' (which you have not read is an absolute must-read!) But the death of someone so much like you tends to get your attention and make you focus. There's a Hindu prayer that seeks the Knowledge to transcend from death, not in a bodily sense but rather to transcend the body. So maybe in that spirit, it's only fitting that death of a body becomes a catalyst for renewal. What more fitting memorial than a pledge to reform your life?

"Reform your life" sounds like something an evangelical might say in a religious context. And yet the reality is that the vast majority of us, including yours truly, are living immensely mediocre lives. Now the vision of a reformed life might differ - reactions to the impending mortality of our existence triggers pronouncedly different responses. Some choose to embrace their passion, be it art of sport, choosing to leave their imprint for generations to come. Others opt instead to live every remaining moment seeking out the greatest joy that can be sought, in the form of food, spirit, adventure, or embracing the unaccepted.

The way forward for me, I believe is to try and improve my societal footprint. That word has been used in an environmental context, and certainly that is important, but the idea that mortality could come sooner helps me realize all those aspirations I once had, eventually consigned to the heap of impractical, as I embraced society's ideas on money and love, and the sensual paradigm (our contemporary emphasis on sense pleasures, rather than higher ideals). The character Justin Moreward Haig, in the not-truly-fictional novel 'The Initiate', advises a man who has left his wife of many years for her infidelity, that a fool is one who, because of his vanity, doesn't mind being considered a hero, while a hero is one who, because of his lack of that attribute, doesn't mind being considered a fool. What then do you call a man who throws his beliefs for the voice of "reason"?

Of course, the great challenge is memory. Moved by the death of a close friend or loved one, it's easy to pledge action, but as anyone who has ever made a New Year's resolution knows, a pledge isn't really that much...