Friday, December 19, 2014

Spy who was brought in from the Cold War

Quietly, and a quarter century after it ended. While the press was busy hearing Alan Gross--if Cuba's medical care is so good, how did he lose all those teeth while confined on Fidel's island paradise?--say how he supported President Obama, the real hero slipped into the United States to be debriefed;
He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.
Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of the swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday.
Apparently he wasn't executed, as most traitors to the Castro cause have been, because his parents were both high officials in the Cuban government. We eagerly await the memoir.

Shucks and darn!

You know that Washington's Governor Jay Inslee just hates that this is necessary, but...
Gov. Jay Inslee wants more money for schools, mental-health treatment, state worker salaries and more in a two-year budget that would spend 15 percent more than the last one.
He wants to finance it mainly with a tax on high income from capital gains and a charge on large emitters of greenhouse gases — two years after he ran for governor on a no-new-taxes pledge.
“I have hoped to avoid this route. I have tried to avoid this route. But we now have an obligation to our children,” he said of his reversal, adding that he had tried to raise revenue by closing tax exemptions but the Legislature has failed to “muster the gusto” to close about $500 million worth of loopholes the past two years.
Then there is the little problem that Bill Gates II (pere) failed, in 2010, to pass an initiative that would have instituted an income tax on high earning Washingtonians. An ex-football player, Gov. Inslee must appreciate the end-run made around that failure this fall, by first getting voters to support an initiative calling for downsizing class sizes in public schools...without saying how the state would come up with the funds to hire more teachers to enable it.

Spend first, tax later! Those devils made him do it.

Read more here:

AHIP; No hurray for Cromnibus

Elise Viebeck reports in The Hill that the health insurance industry has had its apple cart upended by Republicans;
America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) blasted legislation changing ObamaCare's "risk corridors" program and predicted that it would raise healthcare costs for families.
"American budgets are already strained by healthcare costs, and this change will lead to higher premiums for consumers and make it more difficult to achieve affordability," said Clare Krusing, AHIP spokeswoman.
What, you ask, are risk corridors?
Risk corridors, a commonly used tool in public policy, were included in the healthcare law to spread risk among insurance companies participating in the new health insurance exchanges.

Firms that do better than expected in 2014, 2015 and 2016 pay the government, and firms that do worse than excepted can receive those funds.
Which funds were to come from where, if more insurers do worse than expected? The American taxpayers through the backdoor. But, according to the Dept of Health and Human Services, the law just passed ends that possibility.

Bunker mentality

At the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Nick Bunker tells us;
The clear winner for the most cited mathematical formula of 2014 is Thomas Piketty’s famous inequality: r > g. The relationship concisely summarizes the argument at the heart of his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”— the difference between the return on capital and the growth rate of the overall economy is a powerful force for economic divergence.
We beg to differ. Because r > g isn't a formula at all. And when it's followed by a prediction about income inequality (i.e., economic divergence), it's a non-sequitur.
r is a price--the price an entrepreneur needs to pay to use other people's money to bring his idea to fruition--it's not a rate of growth. g on the other hand, is the opposite; a growth rate (of GDP), not a price. So, when Nick Bunker follows with;
In the months since the book was published in English, economists and others have fought about the Paris School of Economics professor’s relationship.
One of the reasons for the intensity of this debate is that Piketty’s argument doesn’t seem to mesh with widely cited models of economic growth.
He's simply missing the point about why Piketty's argument doesn't seem to mesh. It's because comparing two dissimilar things makes no sense. Even when you can pin a number, expressed as a percentage, on those two different things.

Bunker goes on to cite a new paper;
A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper [by Charles I. Jones, Pareto and Piketty: The Macroeconomics of Top Income and Wealth Inequality] argues that the relationship between r and g can be best understood in the context of the Pareto distribution.The distribution is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who wrote about the unequal distribution of land.
So we'll cite one we think makes a lot more sense, by Deirdre McCloskey; Measured, Unmeasured, Mismeasured, and Unjustified Pessimism: A Review Essay of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twentieth Century. In which the interested reader will find a 55 page, detailed, explanation of what we said above.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Smile for me, Argentina

La hermana grande will be nagging you from now on;
Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner announced on Monday that her speeches will be mandated for airing on prime-time national television. The measure, she claimed on December 15, will help disseminate important information that would otherwise be disregarded by the media.
What's so important that Argentines have to miss their telenovelas?
Kirchner used her first televised address to announce a new public dental plan dubbed Argentina Sonríe (Smile Argentina). The project envisions free treatment and the extended use of mobile clinics. She further announced grants of AR$387 million (roughly US$30 million) for schools nationwide.
Which took her 20 minutes.

Bon anniversaire

It's been a decade since French communists discovered the benefits of capitalism, and allowed the private sector to build a bridge. And what a bridge the Millau viaduct is;

As Wiki put it;
The bridge's construction cost up to €394 million...with a toll plaza 6 km (3.7 mi) north of the viaduct costing an additional €20 million. The builders, Eiffage, financed the construction in return for a concession to collect the tolls for 75 years, until 2080. However, if the concession yields high revenues, the French government can assume control of the bridge as early as 2044.

ONE of France's most impressive modern architectural achievements, the Millau viaduct, is celebrating its 10th birthday this week.

Inaugurated by then French president Jacques Chirac on December 14 2004, the tallest bridge in the world carries almost five million vehicles a year over the Tarn river in Aveyron and is due to welcome its 50 millionth by next summer. - See more at:

They'll make it up on volume

What's a little corruption among comrades;
...the Kremlin has introduced a bill to decrease fines for small-scale graft — because nobody pays them anyway, a presidential envoy said.
....The initiative apparently stems from the lackluster performance of the anti-corruption measure. Only between 15 and 20 percent of fines imposed over lesser bribes are actually paid, presidential envoy Garri Minkh said earlier in comments carried by the TASS news agency.
....Russia ranked 136th out of 175 countries in Transparency International's latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which was unveiled earlier this month. The watchdog estimated losses from corruption at $300 billion in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available.