Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Well, I'm in albania and tripadvisor was right about the traffic noise
in Tirana, the sound of the cars passing almost overwhelms the sound
of the call to prayer from the mosque down the street. The lack of traffic
noise at 5 am means the morning call to prayer sounded like it was right
outside my window. Too early, I don't think I have it in me to be so devout.

From what I've seen today, the entire country looks like it's under construction,
things are definitely booming. The strangest sight was the number of bunkers,
nearly every house out in the countryside has what looks to be a machine gun
pillbox left over from the communist days when america was going to attack any
day. It did make me yearn for the days of yore when the carter administration
would gobble up small countries and grind their bones for our bread.
[update: they were worried about the soviets invading too. yeah us!]

I'd bet in 10 more years this will look like any other european country that has
a mediteranean seafront. The people here have advantages; everyone speaks
Italian and some english, they'll zoom ahead of the rest of the eastern european

(updated from vienna)
I walked around Tirana a little
before flying out, the town is much
better looking than Bucharest,
just because the Mayor took the
initiative to have buildings painted
different colors. Same drab
communist buildings...all
dressed up.

Albania will be banging in
5-10 years. (buy now)

Now I'm in Vienna, and after 2 beers ready to pass out. Sono stanco.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Devils at deem and pass

Watching the political machinations in washington as the deemocrats
sneak the healthcare bill through, it looks to me like the economy is going to
have to get much worse before it can get better. They are finally going to
kill the goose that lays the golden eggs of american exceptionalism.

Every country has smart, well educated people with new ideas, but what I think
made america different was that small percentage of innovators that combine
that education, intelligence and new ideas with ridiculously hard work that
in most countries doesn't pay off so it doesn't happen.

Here in italy people are smart, elegant and well educated, but once you reach a certain
level of income one has to pay 45% income tax plus 9% health care tax. If one has
a choice between working hard or going up to the mountains and skiing with other
beautiful people, most people here go for the skiing, the beach, the museum or
the 4 hour lunches.

Another component of america's exceptionalism is fear. If you know that you are
working without much of a net, or the idea of going on hands and knees for a handout
sickens you then working extra hard to make sure that you stay employed and get
ahead is normal. As the government becomes the source of all things, healthcare, mortgage payments, and discount cars it will become much easier to not work extra hard to get ahead but to take up the 'they pretend to pay us so I'll pretend to work mentality'.

These effects will happen much more rapidly than expected, as soon as people start
to get paychecks with less than half of gross income productivity will decline, tax revenues
will then decline leading to higher tax rates with everything spiraling downward pretty fast to
default on a debt that is pretty unpayable at this point anyway. So maybe things will
work out for the best.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Long strange trip

I'm traveling this week and I think I overdid it and have lost
the will to travel ever again. I went to Bucharest-Ploesti-Constanta-
Bucharest-Istanbul-Ankara-Istanbul-Bucharest-Forli and just
today I've been through a security checkpoint 5 times.

I was just so tired that when I checked in here in bucharest I thought
there was a mirror behind the counter, instead it's see-through to the other
side, the girl on the other side of the counter just looked almost like the
girl in front of me with her back turned towards me. Finally, the girl on
the other side of the counter turned around and in a split second before
I realized there was no mirror, it looked to me like the counter girl in front
of me had seperated from her reflection. I guess I'm tired.

But heading home now.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A good beginning

A link from The Big Picture led me to a column from Senator
Ted Kaufman of Delaware that lays out a plan for rebuilding
the financial system. It sounds pretty sensible to me, this whole
idea of Too big to fail should mean a company needs to be broken up
before it fails.

It's too long to excerpt, but here's the highlights:

The Volcker Rule: A Good Beginning
Glass-Steagall for the 21st Century
Size and Leverage Constraints: Cutting the Mega Banks and Shadow Banking System Down to Size

Hopefully something will be done to wind back the clock to the 1970's, if
there's another financial crash I don't think the USA has much left on it's credit
cards to do another bailout.