29 February 2012

The Dirty Secret of Government Debt

If the federal debt were suddenly set to zero, there would be no Treasury bills. Greenspan fretted about this when we got a surplus under Clinton. Without T-bills, investors lose an important government guaranteed investment.

If a central bank like the Federal Reserve keeps inflation low, T-bills are a nice way to preserve wealth. They are not a particularly good vehicle for creating wealth, but they are generally safer than real estate, stock, or gold that can collapse by tens of percent with little warning. 

One of the unspoken truths about government debt is that there is strong demand for it. Demand from, among others, people with wealth and power, people who want to preserve both.

You might think it is irrational to argue for lower taxes without offering any real cuts. It is not. Lower taxes that create debt helps the wealthy twice. First, it lowers their taxes. Second, it gives them a safe - government insured - place to park their money.

The Arithmetic is Easy - the Politics are Hard

Today Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke before the House. Essentially, they were upset with him less for anything he was doing with monetary policy than the fact that he wouldn't force them (yep - them as in Congress) to do a better job with fiscal policy.

"Don't you think that we should lower deficits," they asked him.


"Well, why don't you make us?"

"I do monetary policy. You do fiscal policy. This is something you'll have to do yourself."

"But ..."

And so it went.

The math is easy for a (roughly) balanced budget: you either cut spending, raise taxes or do some combination of the two. In Ezra Klein's words, we spend most of our money on old people, poor people, and defense. If you don't raise taxes (or only raise them a small amount), you have to cut spending on one of these three. The math is easy. It's no so easy to tell retired people that they'll have to give up their retirement or to tell the homeless that they'll have to give up their homes or to tell the military that they'll have to give up their guns. The American people pretty much insist that you lie to them before they will elect you: the only safe answer is, of course, to promise to make government more efficient.

The math of balanced budget is easy; it's the politics that are hard.

26 February 2012

Are Your Politics Most Defined by Tolerance of Sins of the Group or Sins of the Individual?

There is no precision in life. No certainty. Particularly in the realm of policy for communities.

Everyone wants the same ideal: help those who need it, force those who don't to fend for themselves rather than allowing them to leach off of the rest of us; imprison those who are unrepentant and dangerous, those who have caused harm, and free those who have paid for their crimes, are no longer a threat, or who were falsely accused. We don't differ in that.

Instead, what we differ on are the errors we would rather make. Given you can't be sure who really deserves help and who is malingering, would it bother you more to think that someone is taking advantage of your kindness or that you are ignoring someone with real need? Given you can rarely be sure of real guilt, much less future threat, the real question when it comes to crime is which sin you think is worse: the individual who commits a crime free of any consequence or the state that falsely imprisons someone who deserves freedom.

Are you more tolerant of sins by the individual against the group or by the group against the individual? I wonder if that alone most defines someone's politics.

25 February 2012

The Politics of Contraception

I'm surprised that the religious leaders haven't spoken out against the GOP's criticism of contraceptives. The fact that Muslims, Catholics, and Mormons encourage large families has helped them to have far greater representation than, say, less reproductive secular humanists. If no one much used contraceptives, birth rates might converge and the percentage of religious fundamentalists in the general population would fall.

Heaven or Hell

What if you'd already been sent to heaven or hell and the only difference is what you make of it?
After all, if eternity is forever it must have already begun.

24 February 2012

In Defense of Sarah

The AP ran an article today about when Sarah Palin retired from the job of governor of Alaska. In emails leading up to the decision she decried the expense  ($500,000 in legal fees) and distraction of defending herself from what were essentially blind attacks from the media looking for dirt of some kind. It was the same kind of harassment Clinton faced and it's ridiculous. This kind of media is inevitable because we're all interested in personalities.

But this sort of investigative reporting also misses the point. The illegal things that one person can do is no match for the legal things that a government can do. Policies make far more difference to people's lives than do scandals. If Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton steal millions it is trivial in comparison to how they allocate billions and trillions in budgets.

The challenge isn't finding a personal story that people read about; the challenge is finding a way to write about systems issues in a way that makes them personal. But as Stalin knew, the murder of one person is a tragedy, whereas the murder of a million is a statistic. A really gifted reporter would know how to reverse that, and rather than dig for secrets that no one knows would write about the consequences of something everyone knows in ways that they'd never thought about.

22 February 2012

From Choice to Design - the Evolution of Democracy

Today is George Washington's birthday. The most remarkable thing about the man is that he was the very first president in the history of the world.

Over the last couple of centuries we've seen a remarkable evolution in government, which has become more democratic nearly everywhere. Even as late as 1848, democratic revolutions were suppressed across Europe. Democracy is new and I believe it's only begun to evolve. Changes in media, the shift from newspapers to social networks, have laid the foundation for this.

Democracy as we know it is essentially freedom of choice. We can vote for candidates from a variety of ideologies and platforms. And there is - by any historic standard - enormous freedom in this. But I suspect that a higher level of democracy will emerge in our lifetimes, a democracy of design to complement the democracy of choice.

Imagine that rather than just choose between candidates or parties, citizens were involved in brainstorming what sort of community they wanted. What if democracy meant involvement in citizen groups that defined  public areas, rights or freedoms, means of transportation, education, means to grow, distribute, and prepare food, and dozens of other things?

Design - actual involvement in defining and choosing among possibilities - offers far more freedom to the individual than does mere choice. And it would also give possibility far better representation than it has now. Group forums in which people argued for and explained what was possible because of new technology or ideas would have a better chance to be heard, give them a better chance to be heard over top the tired debates that often originated decades - or even centuries - ago.

Citizenship might transform from mere voting to something akin to jury duty, people called from various walks of life to participate in these community design projects. This might be something expected of everyone, an exercise of active imagination to create a public good rather than passive judgment between the lesser of evils.

The media to support this has already evolved. During the last couple of decades, newspapers have massively shriveled while blogs, tweets, social networks, and talk radio has exploded. Why? Media has transformed from a platform from which the community is informed to a platform from which it is heard. Newspapers originally emerged along with democracy as a means for communities to hear about options they'd choose between. Now, we have the infrastructure in place to begin the next phase, the phase we've seen glimmers of in the Tea Party and Occupy Wall St. In this phase, democracy will become something we define through our own voice rather than by listening to the voice of others.

This could be fascinating.

20 February 2012

George Jones Meta-Fiction

This is my admittedly whimsical attempt to pioneer what I'll call meta-fiction: reviews of books and CDs that don't actually exist.

County music genius George Jones' new album, "Haikus in High Places" is subtitled "because Japan is a country too and it’s so far to the west that they call it east."

He quickly dissuades the listener from expectations of anything fancy in the opening lines of the album.
“Ain’t no cowboy knows the rules of a Haiku,
but now that I got your attention shifted to me from you”

The second song is about a man struggling to understand love, opens with these poignant lines of hope,
"She’ll only says she loves me when she's drunk.
 But I'd like to think that's what she's always thunk."

The song, “Tammy Why Not?” shares his marriage proposal to Tammy Wynette, which convinced her to become his third wife,and includes tips any hopeless romantic would do well to learn. In classic George Jones fashion, he doesn’t make any unrealistic promises about love but simply points out that the only thing more foolish than love is living without it. 

18 February 2012

Gotye's Monster Hit

Wow. 76 million hits and growing .... either there are a few thousand people absolutely obsessed with this video or I'm the last to know about this song. If it is the former, then here's a song that you might like. If it is the latter, you can chuckle and wonder if I won't next "introduce" you to this song Good Vibrations by the Beach Geezers.

And then there is this fabulous cover.

17 February 2012

Guns for Drugs Program

25 Mexicans are killed every day by guns purchased in the US. (Guns are illegal in Mexico but there are – rather conveniently – 6,700 gun shops along the Mexican border. All, of course, on the American side.)
The difference between our countries? Mexicans see the flow of drugs into the US as a problem, one they are trying to address. Americans, by contrast, don't see the flow of guns into Mexico as a problem and aren’t even trying to address it.

Here is an interesting article on President Calderon’s attempt to raise awareness of this.

Whose Rights?

We've been here before.

To this day, ideological remnants of the Civil War cling to conservatives when they talk about states' rights. The notion is that the state is sovereign and able to do what it wants with regards to welfare programs, schooling, business regulation and - even - slavery. It is not for DC to dictate, these conservatives say. And now, of course, Rick Santorum joins the chorus to add to this mix the right to ban contraceptives.

This is - at best - disingenuous, at worst just absurd.

When "DC" claims that no state has the right to enslave people, the point is not to ignore states' rights. It is to ensure individual rights. And so it is in the domain of voting, equal access to public schools, or contraceptives.

Institutions do not have rights. Instead, they ensure those rights for individuals. And in my mind, it doesn't matter if the institution is something generally considered sacred - like family, church, or state - or more often labeled inept and bumbling - like the federal government.

Individuals have rights. They have these rights whether they are in an abusive or loving family, a conservative or liberal church.

Individuals have the right to attend church or not and avail themselves of all or none of that church's teachings. Churches do not have the right to limit the rights of its members or employees, even the right to finance medical care that includes control over when a woman might choose to start a family. This right to contraceptives is anything but trivial, because to say that a woman cannot control her own body is about as fundamental a denial of rights as one can think of. And to further say that most women should be able to afford contraceptives on their own is to admit that it is the poorest women who will most be hurt by this policy, the women who can least afford contraceptives the ones who are most likely to become mothers of children they can least afford to raise.

This contraceptive issue is an issue of rights, but not in the way it has been framed in GOP debates. It is a question of whose rights are more important: the church's or the individuals it employs.

15 February 2012

Celebrate Your Wealth Day

Well sure, Valentine's Day is over but don't think that the pressure is off.

Today is international wealth day, a day to write sappy poems to your portfolio, post pictures of you with your cash, and let the world know just how much wealth you have.

Don't feel badly if you don't have wealth. There are, after all, credit cards and lottery tickets.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Porcupines & Love

Now that Valentine's Day is over, this seemed appropriate. (The more I learn from her, the more I like how Gilbert thinks.)

09 February 2012

The Limits to Progress

From Uncommon Genius, by Denise Shekerjian

Denise Shekerjian wrote a fascinating and insightful book years ago based on her interviews with MacArthur Foundation winners (commonly known as Genius Award). Here are some excerpts from the book to mull over. 

“Let the bird sing without deciphering the song.”
-          Emerson

“If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I?”
-          the Talmud

“My resiliency comes from the process of the work itself, and the hope of making a difference.”
- Dr. Joan Abrahamson

“Do we assume that to be creative we are condemned to a life eked out of the hard-bitten territory of alienation and desperation? Must we prepare ourselves for the possibility that our work will be cast in the dubious critical light of an ambiguous legacy?
“There are no sure answers to these questions, as each man’s life spins on the axis of his own idiosyncratic bundle of talents and experiences, triumphs and petty failures. There are as yet no firm conclusions as to the relationship between the creative process and psychic disorder, but there is one small serviceable observation that we can draw from the testimony of these creators: if you’re interested in pursuing creative work and in having it recognized and even rewarded, you had better cultivate an ability for self-renewal, an ability to be resilient.”
- Denise Shekerjian

“It’s not that creativity and madness are necessarily linked, but rather that creativity and deviance (sometimes heroic, sometimes reckless) go hand in hand.”
- Denise Shekerjian

“Good science and good art are always about a condition of awe. This may seem to you like a large theme, but the best science and poetry at its greatest are not smaller than that. I don’t think there is any other function for the poet or the scientist in the human tribe but the astonishment of the soul.”
- Derek Walcott

Instinct presents the creator with a range of possibilities; judgment is how he selects among them, keeping what is useful and turning aside that which clutters, distracts, and causes static in the mind. …
Judge too soon and a new, imperfect, and fragile thought born from instinct or from some even hazier impetus may be cut off before it has a chance to mature and withstand scrutiny.
- Denise Shekerjian

08 February 2012

Hard to Conceive But Santorum Has a Sex Scandal

Sperm and egg are the flotsam and jetsam of life. Like hair and fingernails, they are alive but they are not human life. They don't deserve any rights. Some time between the moment just before conception and the moment just before birth, though, a miracle happens: human detritus becomes precious life.

Some people think that this miracle happens at the instant of conception. While it is - at some level - hard to argue that material that could be discarded at one instant is suddenly endowed with rights at the next, this point of conception is a very clear and simple moment to choose for the start of life.

Most Americans think that human matter becomes human sometime between the third and seventh month after conception. About two-thirds of Americans support abortion in the first trimester, and about half support it in the second. It seems more reasonable to assume that the transformation from stuff to a person is not instantaneous, but one weakness with this is that any point between conception and birth is bound to seem arbitrary. 

The problem I have with Rick Santorum is not that he thinks life begins at the moment of conception. I think that's a defensible position. My problem is that he wants to force this belief on people who think that human life begins at a later point - another perfectly defensible position. Nobody is forcing Rick Santorum to treat a pregnancy as terminable in the first four months; he ought not to force anyone else to treat it as sacred. It is not his beliefs that offend me. It is his insistence on forcing his beliefs on others. 

His opinions offend me for another reason. Rick Santorum claims to be a Christian yet he reserves the right to have different opinions about religion than Christ. Christ made it clear that the people who would go to heaven would be those who clothed him when he was naked, fed him when he was hungry, and visited him in prison. When people ask, "When did we do this?" he will reply, "When you did this to the least, you did it to me." Christ's teaching repeatedly emphasized that how we treat others is how we'll be judged. Santorum shows no interest in these teachings of Christ but is very animated about issues like homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion - issues we've absolutely no record of Christ addressing. Again, I don't have a problem with Santorum treating issues as important that Christ did not speak to and ignoring others that he did address; I do, however, have trouble with Santorum using Christ's name as an excuse for his agenda,  arguing that this is a Christian nation. His religion's is different from Christ's and because of this he has about as much right to his views as the guy at the next stool over at the diner counter. (And you could easily make a similar point about Santorum being Catholic. Santorum supports a state's right to ban contraceptives, a position that would make the pope happy. However, Santorum discounts human made climate change, which the pope warns against, and is more than ready to start another war with Iran, wars that the pope opposes.) Even if you wanted to live in a country where the laws are defined by Christ's teachings, Santorum's policies would not be your answer. Calling his policies Christian is like calling a Big Mac health food; you might love it but you ought not to kid yourself about what it actually contains.

To repeat, I have no problem with Rick's beliefs. This nation was founded by Protestants who had a variety of beliefs and had learned from protracted religious wars in Europe to be tolerant of different beliefs. Catholics like Santorum are as welcome here as are Jews, Muslims, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, and everyone else. But they - like all the rest - are only welcome to practice their beliefs, not impose them on anyone else. 

04 February 2012

Obama - Just Like Reagan

When Obama won the presidency, the economy was in free fall and many people hoped that his policies would be more like Clinton’s than Bush’s, returning us to a time of robust growth in job creation and market indices. As much as it may horrify Democrats and Republicans alike to hear this, his presidency may turn out to be more like Reagan’s than Clinton’s. For one thing, they’re the only presidents since World War II who have had to deal with a double digit misery index.

For decades before Reagan, economists generally agreed that there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. One could pump more money into the economy and stimulate spending and job creation, but pay the price of higher inflation. Or, conversely, one could fight inflation by limiting the growth of money and government spending but risk higher unemployment. Then, oil prices rose, simultaneously triggering price hikes at the same time that production costs shot up, making it harder for businesses to compete: suddenly, inflation AND unemployment were rising together.

High unemployment and high inflation alike make people miserable, so economists began to track the misery index, the sum of these two.

The reasons that Reagan and Obama had to deal with double-digit misery indices are similar. Both men had to deal with a faltering global economy (the catalyst in Reagan’s time was the oil-shock and in Obama’s was the financial crisis). Both managed to offend opponents who thought that their policies just made things worse.

In spite of offering a message of hope, things seemed to get worse under the charismatic Reagan. When he took office, the misery index was only 8.3 but by the second half of the following year, it was persistently above 10, staying at 10 or above for 14 months (peaking at 10.7). It was not until the middle of 1983 that the misery index fell below double-digits, and it continued to drop until, by the November of 1984 when he was re-elected, it had fallen to below 8. His vice-president, HW Bush, inherited an economy with a misery index roughly half of what it had been during its peak during Reagan’s tenure.  Reagan inherited something bad, made it worse, and then left it far better.

Obama, too, seemed to have made a bad situation worse. Not only did unemployment jump when he took office, but the deficit soared to record levels. For him, the misery index peaked at only 10.2, but it did so in his first year. And even his supporters admitted that it persisted for too high for too long.

Most people now see the recession and unemployment in Reagan’s first term as unavoidable in the quest to drive out inflation. Had Reagan heeded the call of critics to adopt policies that lessened unemployment, he would have risked triggering inflation before it had been tamed.

Similarly, it is hard to see how Obama’s attempt to reduce the deficit during a recovery could have done anything other than risk triggering another recession. (And in fact, the bright David Cameron, Britain’s PM, has done just that, putting austerity ahead of full employment; Britain’s GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2011 was 0.)  Just as Reagan had to first deal with inflation and then unemployment, so did Obama have to deal first with unemployment and then the deficit, in spite of criticism from people who could only see what he was doing wrong.

Reagan was also seen as the man who brought back the country from excess. While everyone admitted that there needed to be some regulation and government spending, most felt like it had gone too far. The perception at the end of his term was that he’d given the economy a more solid foundation, less dependent on bad policies that hampered businesses and left everyone perpetually uneasy about inflation.

While conservatives seem perpetually convinced that a turn to the right will get us where we’re going (and liberals a turn to the left), in fact the moderates who swing elections realize that a country is as likely to run off the road in either direction.

Obama, like Reagan, is seen by his supporters as a man who brought back the country from excess. While everyone admits that corporations need some freedom to pursue policies disdained in DC and taxes would ideally be lower, many felt like deregulation and tax cuts had gone too far. If Obama manages to better regulate Wall St – and all of corporate America – while getting tax revenues back up, he’ll be seen as giving the economy a more solid foundation, less dependent on debt and bad policies that left businesses unaccountable and everyone perpetually uneasy about job loss and growing income inequality.

There are differences between the two, of course, but if this recovery continues it wouldn’t be surprising if Obama becomes a new model for future politicians on the art of using double-digit misery to promote substantial change. 

03 February 2012

The Stealth Recovery

Excuse me for writing more about job creation, but I really do think that something big is happening here. Curiously, while traditional surveys of companies revealed that 243,000 jobs had been created (itself worthy of a small cheer), the survey of households revealed that 631,000 jobs had been created. (Itself revised downwards from 800-some thousand to adjust for changes in population and labor force estimates.) That's nearly triple the reported rate. See the table below for the differences between this household survey and the traditional measure that gets reported when the government releases "the jobs numbers" to report the latest number of jobs created. For the past few months the household survey has (mostly) been considerably off from the traditional measure, more than double over the last four months.

The household survey better captures the effect of start ups and other entrepreneurial ventures that are not reported on by established companies. To the extent that a recovery is starting at a grass roots level rather than from existing companies again hiring, the household survey is more accurate than is the traditional measure.

Why report on this? It might just be that the recovery is already far ahead of where economists think it is,and they are only now seeming to catch on to the fact that this recovery is real.

Misery Index Compared

Although rarely reported now, the misery index was once considered an important measure of economic health. It is simply the sum of unemployment and inflation and the idea is that high inflation or high unemployment make people miserable, and it is not enough to understand discontent by looking at just one of those measures.

Here are the numbers through the first three years of the last seven administrations. Notice the two outliers.

Job Creation Come Back

As Obama was sworn into office, the global economy was melting down. In his first year in office, the US economy lost 4.2 million jobs, one of the worst years in our lifetime. Just last month, job creation numbers came in to complete his first three years in office, and it is interesting to compare the economy's performance during his 2nd and 3rd years with that of other administrations.

Compared to the performance under Clinton, Obama's total of 3.1 million jobs created is not particularly stunning, but it is 1 million more than under Reagan and nearly 4 million more than under the first Bush. Not so bad, in this context.

And as you can see in this graph, the trend seems to be moving in the right direction. The last few months have shown a strong uptick for job creation and if the trend continues, job creation during Obama's fourth year could outperform that of the three previous administrations. This is, in some ways, even more impressive given the uncertainty in European - and by extension American - financial markets through most of last year.

Now there are caveats worth mentioning. One, the labor force is the largest it has ever been so job creation would have to be higher (in total number) just to match (as a percentage of labor force). Two, we're coming out of a recession that destroyed millions of jobs and out of a decade in which job creation was negative. Because of this, it won't really feel like a full recovery unless job creation hits unprecedented levels; there is an incredible amount of lost ground to make up. Having said that, it is worth taking note that job creation under Obama's administration is actually quite strong.

02 February 2012

Unreported: Romney Supports Sweeping Tax Hike of 20 - 33%

Romney, like every Republican candidate, promotes tax cuts. Since Reagan, this message has put the gospel into the G of the GOP. No Republican would ever let himself get cornered with a question about what rate of taxation is low enough because the answer is always - of course - lower.

Yet federal taxes as a percentage of GDP are the lowest they've been in half a century: 15% of the American economy is paid into federal taxes. During the last half century, taxes have ranged from about 18% to 20% of GDP and spending has ranged from about 18% to 21%, resulting in chronic but sustainable deficits. Between Obama and Bush, taxes were drastically cut and spending radically increased. The result is the biggest deficit in the history of the nation, with spending at about 24% of GDP at the same time that taxes are 15%. In a $15 trillion dollar economy, a gap of nearly 10% is huge - more than a trillion dollars. And so it goes.

The truth that no Republican will admit is that there is no way to eliminate - or even seriously reduce - the deficit without a combination of spending cuts AND tax hikes. And yet, in a comment that went completely unnoticed, Romney did just that the other night.

In one of the recent debates, Romney said that he'd support a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget at about 18% to 20% of GDP. Put differently, the man said that he would support not just spending but taxes (in a balanced budget the two are equal) of 18% to 20% of GDP - a sweeping rise of about 3 to 5 percentage points, or a rise of 20% to 33% percent over the current rate of 15%.

That, it seems to me, is a little detail worth talking about. Instead, we chatter about moon bases and whether Romney has the nomination sewn up.

Quoting Bill Gross Quoting Various Folks

Bill Gross (@Bill_Gross on twitter) is a fascinating fellow whose company makes companies and is destined to be seen as one of the major business innovators of our time because of it. Recently, some folks captured the most interesting 20 things he's recently tweeted (mostly fascinating facts from Davos), and I've downsized that to these tasty, "can't help but repeat it" morsels.


Tweeting into a New Year - Jan 2012

I think that I may use a pen name for my next book. I'll call it, Dale Carnivore's Who Needs Friends: Self Help for Hard Times.

When I'm king, rather than have a leap day, we'll just have a floating "Mulligan Monday" that folks can use for do overs after bad days

"Sainthood expected for 2 Americans" http://yhoo.it/upZQo3 Those just seem like such terrible odds.

Notice that it's only the guys with really catchy and unique names who are serious contenders in GOP primaries? Mitt. Newt. Ron.

Wonder how long Santorum's lead will last once Republicans realize that he is a good Catholic who thinks it’s ok to ban contraceptives.

@codymckibb, a pioneer in redefining work and lifestyle, wrote a delightful review of my book, The Fourth Economy. ht.ly/1gwYyZ

1,000 tweets. 1,500 blog posts. The idearrhea continues unabated. I probably owe an apology to someone for this.

1st biz idea for 2012: launch a website named huffandpuffingtonpost. We'll blow hot air about the issues of the day.

@trammel :) almost said we would do our bit to raise levels of fear and paranoia but given it is a media outlet, that seemed redundant.

Just got a call to lower my interest rate. As if the rate of interest in a recorded telemarketing pitch could get any lower.

Biz idea: line of toys with hidden magnets that you couple with strip around room. Flip switch and Pooft! Toys instantly "picked up."

Those lunatics on so Cal freeways who drive the speed limit. It's like they WANT to be rear ended.

Perry says Iranians will "literally move at the speed of light into Iraq." Why did Obama let them develop speed of light mobiles?

The new rule of social media is that if it takes you longer than a single tweet to explain yourself, then you probably won't hold people's

One of the harder things to know in life: when to persist, when to adapt, and when to abandon.

Alabama leads in points, but LSU is still ahead in arrests. [reference to national college football bowl]

Pretty excited. If Santorum wins, I'll no longer be middle class! - The Atlantic http://bit.ly/Ao3n4C via @AddThis

Huntsman's share of vote rose from 1% in Iowa to 17% in NH, which projects to 289% in SC. Finally, a candidate who can intimidate Putin.

T-shirt idea: Sorry. My funny t-shirt is at the cleaner's.

The GOP contest is getting ugly. Newt just threatened to quit the race to spend more time with Mitt's wife and family.

Sold out crowd at USD to hear @alfiekohn. Great anticipatory buzz. Refreshments before his speech and then we change the world after.

RT #1: Some chick asked me what I would do with 10 million bucks. I told her I'd wonder where the rest of my money went.

Product idea: low-rider pants. Blu light emanating from below the cuff. Hydraulics that lift the hem up and down.

Among Eli Manning's many annoying traits is his disregard for inevitability. Spoils Patriots perfect season in '08 and Packers near-perfect season this year?

Huntsman, liberals' favorite candidate they'd never vote for, and candidate who tested best in simulations against Obama, is dropping out.

Play calls I'd like to see: "Jones and Bigowski, you drop 10 yards then dance the Finale from Chorus Line."

@dmorey the original sports simulation must have been that electronic football game that vibrated the players to move them.

Tomorrow, Wikipedia protests #SOPA by going dark. Or, as legislators call it, "fact-free" Wednesday.

Just say "Arrr!" to the Stop Online Piracy Act #SOPA.

He'd met reality once. Didn't much care for it.

Wonderfully accessible and insightful conversation about finance :http://bit.ly/waUeLN (It's difficult to kill the gods)

Rick Perry dropped out without challenging anyone to a duel to avenge his loss? I thought he was most likely to Aaron Burr the primaries.

Best Twitter profile picture goes to @Austan_Goolsbee

@PeteDominick Newt's Health Care Plan: full coverage until expensive diagnosis, when your coverage goes to a younger, prettier patient.

Investors sell off GOOG upon realization that Google's earnings potential is finite.

The only reason there is a Republican front-runner is because there has to be.

Who knew that coming out in favor of open marriage was all it took to win in South Carolina?

http://bit.ly/yBIXWE 2011 - most jobs created in San Diego in a decade. Seems recessions and recoveries are initially ignored as anomalies.

Good news in San Francisco: the Giants will play in the Super Bowl! Bad news: Oh. Right. The Giants is the name of our baseball team.

RT @hotdogladies Actually, elitism is beneath me.

Theory about why GOP lead keeps changing: primary voters hate experts and will vote out of their way to confound pundit predictions.

So one billion+ people suddenly convinced it is the start of a lucky year. What a fascinating experiment in risk taking.

First Crofts now Klum. Poor Seal - yet another traumatic breakup. [Warning - this tweet contains decades old reference.]

Biz idea: apply clown car technology to mass transit and moving companies.

Kind of hope Obama's #SOTU is just blooper reel from GOP debates.

It's always darkest before the yawn.

Seeing congress (median age of 85?) at #SOTU perhaps the reason there's no cooperation is because they (literally) cannot hear each other.

Wonder how many times president,when exiting #SOTU has accidentally co-signed someone's mortgage.

"My pleasures are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting." - Nabokov (quote courtesy of @brainpicker

Absolutely gorgeous drive up the coast to Irvine today. Now sunny and 76.

"Orgasmic salad? That's disgusting." 
"Um, that's organic." 
"Oh. In that case I'll just have the soup."

Facebook going public raises privacy concerns .... (among headlines we'd like to see)

Laugh at Newt for his moon colony idea, but at least he's got a backup plan: if he doesn't win the presidency, he'll be space emperor.

Here's a project I helped a client to plan: treatment reduces patient injections by 330 per yr. http://bit.ly/y1tA0Y

Newt Gingrich: "Why do people take such an instant dislike to me?" Bob Dole: "Because it saves them time.

He was like a dogma with a bone.

Iran has the capability to maybe develop a bomb eventually? So this is now sufficient justification for attack?

Rejected GOP campaign slogans: "You have to admit ... it's gonna be Mitt."