Friday, March 27, 2009

Little Oscar wonders whether he needs to worry about hyperinflation in his future

Little Oscar Wonders If There's Hyperinflation in His Future
Little Oscar is troubled about the financial news. He has seen far too many references to the word "hyperinflation" in the media. He doesn't know a lot about economics, but he knows that some pretty nasty things have happened to debtor nations in the past, and he knows that the U.S. will be borrowing more than ever to pay for bailouts and the stimulus package. What if China pulls the plug?
China holds more U.S. treasury bonds than any other country -- $681 billion in November. But the Chinese are worried that the unprecedented spending plans of President Barack Obama and the Democrats who now control both houses of Congress will cause serious inflation and drastically reduce the value of their dollar holdings.

If China dumps all or most of its dollars, Japan, the second-largest holder of U.S. treasury bonds, will follow suit, and the United States could find itself bankrupt overnight with a nightmare hyperinflation comparable to that of Zimbabwe today or of Weimar Germany in 1923.

U.S. officials, therefore, are trying to convince the Chinese to keep investing in treasury bonds. That was why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Beijing and Tokyo her first destinations after taking office.
Or what if the Fed decides to inflate its way out of debt by printing too much money and triggers hyperinflation? Little Oscar worries that he may one day have to take his rapidly shrinking retirement savings to the grocery story in a wheelbarrow the way they did in Germany in 1923. This is what keeps him awake nights. He probably just needs to get more exercise.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Health insurance reform won't work without a public option. It's that simple.

During the campaign, Barack Obama supported roles for the insurance companies and a public health insurance option as well. Once the jockeying for position really begins in Congress, any proposed reform will be attacked by powerful, howling wolves, as well as wolves in sheep's clothing (liberals counseling caution, keeping our eyes on the big picture, etc.) The public option is sure to be attacked as unfair because, you know, government provides unfair competition to private insurers, and all that.

That's why I was surprised to see Ezra Klein in his blog at The American prospect say that Howard Dean was wrong to concentrate on preserving the public health insurance option.
According to Greg Sargent, Dean means to throw his considerable weight behind a Democracy for America campaign "to build support for the public insurance option in Congressional districts across the country." Arshad Hasan, DFA's executive director, puts it pretty starkly. “We’re drawing a policy line in the sand," he said. "We’re saying that if the public option is not included, it’s not real health care reform."

That's a bit of a weird line to draw. Dean's health reforms in Vermont did not include a public insurance option. His health reform plan in the 2004 campaign did not include a public insurance option. As a matter of policy, I should say that I strongly favor a public insurance option. But it's hardly the main determinant of real reform...
He goes on to say the public option is far from the most important issue in gegotiating a plan, and that Dean could make better use of his time. I disagree. Without a public option, healthcare reform will simply fail. We need a public option to keep not only the insurers and the politicians but also --perhaps more important -- the regulators, honest.

One reason the insurance companies are so powerful is that they are regulated by the states (be great if that changed as a result of the financial meltdown, but don't hold your breath). Back in the day, when the early 20th century Progressive reforms still lingered on, Wisconsin, as well as a few other states, had a state insurance program. I think in Wisconsin it only sold term life, and the rates were very reasonable. They weren't allowed to advertise, but word got around. Insurance companies had to compete against that as a benchmark, and regulators used it as a yardstick.

Not so coincidentally, Wisconsin at that time was widely regarded as having one of the best insurance commissions in the country. Eventually, of course, we lost the state insurance program in the deregulatory, free market mania that swept the nation. And we know where that led us.

We must keep the public option and mobilize public support for it. Without it, insurance interests and their friends and facilitators will bend health insurance reform so far out of shape it won't even be reform in any meaningful sense.

Big Bird in Madison's Law Park

Big Bird in Madison's Law Park

There's some kind of giant bird in Law Park, west of Monona Terrace. It's not a Great Blue Heron, not a Sandhill Crane, not even a Canada goose. It's Seabird, a kinetic metal sculpture that moves in the wind, created by Madison artist Kent Hutchison. Isthmus commented last November when the sculpture went up:
Madison claims very few kinetic sculptures, so we've got our eyes wide open ready to see what this recent UW-Steven's Point graduate did with a little wind, some steel, and ball bearings. Seabird, is created in homage to lakefront waterfowl that live in Wisconsin and often make Monona's shores in Law Park their temporary resting ground.
Seabird is just west of Timekeeper, the abstract sculpture by Robert Curtis that went up in 1983, and which celebrated its under-appreciated 25th anniversary last year. In contrast, Seabird is designed to be temporary. It's one of the Madison Arts Commission's BLINK temporary public art projects, and it comes down next November.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? A Poignant Question.
A more poignant question than it may seem -- especially if you're the chicken. Little Oscar is haunted by regret, besieged by a vicious circle of if only's and why's. Why did he cross that damn road? If only he had not been so heedless. He would still have his left wing, instead of this useless wind-up prosthetic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tulip time lapse sequence update

Tulip Time Lapse 5
Not a lot of action so far on the tulip time lapse sequence I started on Flickr the first day of spring but, hey -- they're tulips. I imagine they'll really start making some progress once they've had a chance to absorb the rains of the last couple of days and the weather turns warmer. You can keep up with them here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bubble that broke and went splat

Bubble that Broke and Went Splat
Tim Geithner rolled out his latest plan to clean it up today.

A sunset visit to Allen Centennial Gardens in the spring of their 20th anniversary year

Sunset Visit to Allen Centennial Gardens
This is the building on the UW campus known to many as the "Fred House." The Victorian Gothic building was one of the first built on the University of Wisconsin's Agricultural College campus. For many years it served as the residence of the dean of the College of Agriculture. The last of these, Edwin P. Fred, continued to live there after he became president of the UW and, later, during his retirement. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, saving it from being torn down for campus expansion. Not long after, the Horticulture Department began constructing a horticultural teaching garden on this site. It was dedicated as Allen Centennial Gardens in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the UW College of Agriculture.

Sunset Visit to Allen Centennial GardensWe visited late Saturday afternoon, looking for signs of spring. Not too many, but we did find these snowdrops that had pushed up through the earth, the first flowers of the season. The ponds were filled with water again -- and with koi. But for the most part the gardens still looked brown and autumnal. It was a setting that made the ornamental grasses really stand out, their complex, pale stalks photogenic against the background of encroaching shadow. For other photos of our visit, see this set on Flickr.