Saturday, August 31, 2013

Any support in a Desert Storm

Now that smart-alec, back-of-the-class Vlad has asked for evidence of Syrian responsibility for chemical attacks on the rebels, will Barack Obama use some from the Bush Era (he's usually not shy about blaming the former Prez). Say this from a Frontline interview with General Mike DeLong;
[Q] And this debate about weapons of mass destruction and developing all that information, all the talk about whether the stuff existed, did that ever cross your field of vision while you were down here, both running Afghanistan and preparing for Iraq?
[A] Yeah, because we saw it in Iraq. We had people on the ground in all the different places, and we knew where the stuff was, and we also knew that the U.N. inspectors during this period of time had to tell Saddam a week ahead of time they were coming to place X. We watched trucks come in, take the stuff out, go to another place as the U.N. inspectors would go in. By this time now, this is 12 years that Saddam has been moving his chemical weapons around. So we knew there were weapons of mass destruction. Now, how much or what kind, [we] weren't sure.
But two days before we did go into Iraq, we watched truckloads of it go into Syria, truckloads of it. Now, these chemical weapons, you've got stuff here and stuff here that by themselves are not potent. You mix them together and you put them in the nose of an artillery shell or a bomb and you weaponize them, and it becomes a weapon. ...
[Q] You saw it how? How did you know?
[A] With people on the ground and with technical systems. We saw it. It wasn't a matter of speculation; we saw it happen. Now, are they ever going to find it in Syria? Hell, no. Is there still some buried in Iraq? Yes, there is. It wasn't too long ago we uncovered an artillery round with sarin gas in the nose. I mean, it was old, but why was it buried? You've got a country the size of California in square miles, and we now find MiG-25s, the largest fighter in the world. Occasionally, our guys with metal detectors will say, "Oh, there's something here"; we'll dig up one of these MiG-25s that have been buried.
[Q] So you still believe --
[A] No, this is truth. Whether they find it out or not, I don't know. But it went to Syria; probably some went to Lebanon; and maybe some even went from the south, went across to Iran. But we saw it go to Syria. ...

Not just playing around

Nor having much of a sense of humor, is the Consumer Products Safety Commission, according to the Wall Street Journal. It wasn't enough to bankrupt a company whose business was amusing bored office workers;
"In March of 2009, we ordered 100 sets of magnets from China. We literally put our last $1,000 each in the business," Mr. [Craig] Zucker says. At first the company filled a few hundred orders a day on its own website. But then Buckyballs made their way into the blogosphere. "Then very, very quickly other websites were calling to buy the product and resell it. We realized we had a really great brand."
In August 2009, Maxfield & Oberton demonstrated Buckyballs at the New York Gift Show; 600 stores signed up to sell the product. By 2010, the company had built a distribution network of 1,500 stores, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Brookstone. People magazine in 2011 named Buckyballs one of the five hottest trends of the year, and in 2012 it made the cover of Brookstone's catalog.
Maxfield & Oberton now had 10 employees, 150 sales representatives and a distribution network of 5,000 stores. Sales had reached $10 million a year. "Then," says Mr. Zucker, "we crashed."
Because someone (bored...too much time on his hands?) had a whim, costless to them, to pursue;
On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a "corrective-action plan" within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs' alleged safety defects. Around the same time—and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story—the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton's retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the "severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by" Buckyballs and requesting them to "voluntarily stop selling" the product.
Quickly they had no customers, as no business wants to put themselves at risk of offending the federal government. Except for the guys making the Buckyballs, they fought back, with ridicule;
On July 27, just two days after the commission filed suit, the company launched a publicity campaign to rally customers and spotlight the commission's nanny-state excesses. The campaign's tagline? "Save Our Balls."
Online ads pointed out how, under the commission's reasoning, everything from coconuts ("tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?") to stairways ("are they really worth the risk?") to hot dogs ("delicious but deadly") could be banned. Commission staff were challenged to debate Mr. Zucker, and consumers were invited to call Commissioner Inez Tenenbaum's "psychic hotline" to find out how it was that "the vote to sue our company was presented to the Commissioners on July 23rd, a day before our Corrective Action Plan [requested by the Commission itself] was to be submitted."
"It was a very successful campaign," says Mr. Zucker, "just not successful enough to keep us in business."
So, they dissolved their company. But, that didn't end it. Apparently you can't make fun of federal commissioners, if you know what's good for you;
The commission filed a motion requesting that Mr. Zucker be held personally liable for the costs of the recall, which it estimated at $57 million, if the product was ultimately determined to be defective.
This was an astounding departure from the principle of limited liability at the heart of U.S. corporate law. 
But, of course, government regulation couldn't have any negative consequences for job creation in the country. Could it?

He's no slouch

Speaking to journalists in the Russian far-eastern city of Vladivostok, Mr Putin urged Mr Obama - as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate - to think about future victims in Syria before using force.
He said it was ridiculous to suggest the Syrian government was to blame for the attack, calling it a "provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict".
....He said that the US failure to present evidence to the international community was "simply disrespectful".
"If there is evidence it should be shown. If it is not shown, then there isn't any," he said.
As Gerard Debreu said (in explaining his work upon receiving the Nobel Prize), In the real world, when you push people, they push back.

Patently ridiculous

As Palo Alto and Mountain View are to software engineers, so is Marshall to patent lawyers - a place where you can be sure of plenty of business.
Two of the town's most prominent attorneys, Michael Smith and Sam Baxter, acted as my guides to the place and its premier industry. Mr Smith acts mainly for defendants, Mr Baxter principally for the plaintiffs, but each has built a pretty lucrative business on patent litigation.
As we stood on the main square, looking across at the old courthouse, Mr Smith explained that it all started with a local company, the semiconductor maker Texas Instruments.
"They were looking for a place where they could get patent claims heard. And the federal courts in Dallas were buried under a lot of drug trials."
So they came to Marshall for a speedier hearing. "They filed the cases here for about 10 years and they were very happy with it. And then everyone else followed suit."
No pun intended? Anyway, everything is supposed to be big in Texas, and litigation is no different;
 It can cost anything from $6m to $12m for a trial, says Mr Baxter. "If you got that many lawyers in a courtroom and the meter's running on every one of them, it is probably not unusual for the clock to be running at $2m a day in a courtroom."
Which pleases the locals;
Just about everyone I met had some involvement with the patent business, mainly as jury members. They were all quite proud of their town and seemed bemused that anyone might think the patent system was not working well for the US. And of course there is an economic benefit.
"It's good for hotels, it's good for restaurants, it's good for lawyers," one man told me.

Hair today, mañana, adiós

Las Piranas - as the hair thieves are known - are mostly female. But violence is a much deeper issue in this country. According to the UN, Venezuela now has the fifth highest murder rate in the world. Kidnappings are so common that many well-to-do families share a fund with friends, so they always have easy-to-access cash if one of their loved ones is snatched. With such high levels of crime and impunity, it is understandable that thieves try to take advantage of what has become a lucrative market.
Hair extensions don't come cheap. A full head can cost as much as 10,000 bolivares - nearly $1,500 at the official exchange rate. This means a thief can earn up to $500 for a good chunk of hair.
The hair theft phenomenon isn't as simple as it seems. So far, no formal complaints have been filed. The news stories are based on testimonies of a few victims in local media. But here in Venezuela, paranoia is rampant. In Caracas, the capital, there have been no reports of the crime. But people are already worrying. The other night, a woman told me that she wasn't sure whether it was worse for thieves to go for her hair or for her wallet.
And some women are even choosing to cut their hair before someone else snatches it. Daniel, my hairdresser, says my short, basic cut may even become fashionable soon.
And fashion is what's important. Especially for millionaire Marxists.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Be a stranger

Not The Stranger. And let the door hit you on the way out, say Washington state Democrats to a former office holder of their party;
In an email thread making its way through Democratic Party circles, [Dwight] Pelz responds to an email about the Freedom Foundation's anti-union activities, by replying that"Brian Sontagg works for this union busting outfit." Which is true. Sonntag, the former "Democratic" State Auditor, recently took a position as the right-wing Freedom Foundation's "senior fellow for government accountability."
The Stranger columnist Goldy is down with that;
It's moments like this when I really love Pelz. Sure, he can be an asshole. But he'sour asshole.
As for Sonntag, I know the editorial boards love him, but I say good riddance!
We don't need no stinkin' accountability.

We'll always have Paris

Barack may not have a special relationship with perfidious Albion, but he's got his man Francois. Good thing we didn't return a bust of DeGaulle;
France is still ready to take action in Syria alongside the US, despite UK MPs blocking British involvement, President Francois Hollande has said.
He told Le Monde newspaper a strike within days could not be ruled out.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said after the UK vote that Washington would continue to seek a coalition.
Seek, and ye shall find!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

England expects every man to...

Do his duty; be a victim in waiting, (again) according to the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy;
To gun control advocates, England, the cradle of our liberties, was a nation made so peaceful by strict gun control that its police did not even need to carry guns. The United States, it was argued, could attain such a desirable situation by radically reducing gun ownership, preferably by banning and confiscating handguns. The results discussed earlier contradict those expectations. On the one hand, despite constant and substantially increasing gun ownership, the United States saw progressive and dramatic re ductions in criminal violence in the 1990s. On the other hand, the same time period in the United Kingdom saw a constant and dramatic increase in violent crime to which England’s responsewas ever‐more drastic gun control including, eventually, banning and confiscating all handguns and many types of long guns. Nevertheless, criminal violence rampantly increased so that by 2000 England surpassed the United States to become one of the developed world’s most violence‐ridden nations.
 New meaning to Churchill's distum that, Never in the course of human events have so many owed so much to so few.

Fewer guns, more murder

Harvard Law says that's the case for the former Soviet Union;
Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates.Since well before that date, the Soviet Union possessed extremely stringent gun controls that were effectuated by a police state apparatus providing stringent enforcement. So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now havefirearms and very few murders involve them. Yet, manifest success in keeping its people disarmed did not prevent the Soviet Union from having far and away the highest murder rate in the developed world. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the gun‐less Soviet Union’s murder rates paralleled or generally exceeded thoseof gun‐ridden America.
While American rates stabilized and then steeply declined, however, Russian murder increased so drastically that by the early 1990s the Russian rate was three times higher than that of the United States. Between 1998‐2004 (the latest figure available for Russia), Russian murder rates were nearly four times higher than American rates. Similar murder rates also characterize the Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and various other now‐independent European nations of the former U.S.S.R.
John Lott, call your office.


Many proposals add ever-more elaborate regulations to an already baroque regulatory system – one that is already unmanageable. We propose instead to make things much simpler.
ERNs [Equity Resource Notes] are a counterweight against pro-cyclicality. They make capital raising – and therefore lending – easier rather than harder in recessions. Counter-cyclicality also increases the credibility of the plan, because there will be no incentive to scrap it in bad times. Jettisoning complex capital rules, and simply transferring tail risk back where it belongs (with private investors) takes taxpayers off the hook and ensures that banks with profitable opportunities can use them.
In short, our system eliminates distortionary incentives for regulatory arbitrage and forbearance, facilitates counter-cyclical raising of unsecured capital, and clearly and credibly assigns losses to private investors where they belong.
While we rely on markets to determine banks’ risk capital requirements, our system is robust to the market being wrong, or less accurate on average than regulators’ or banks’ internal models. By contrast, current regulatory models will often lose money, and perhaps cause a crisis, if markets are right.
The simplest ideas are often the best.


Never comes (perhaps two years after mañana?) if you're waiting for medical care in Spain;
More than half-a-million people are currently on waiting lists for some kind of surgery right now in Spain. That's 1.2 percent of the total population, and the figure has risen by 120,000 people in just a year.
....Bernardo Pons Sintes (63), a patient from Menorca who is suffering from spinal stenosis - a narrowing of the spinal canal - speaks about his fears. "My back is in a terrible state," he says. "If it gets any worse, I could end up in a wheelchair." He has only been on the waiting list since August 23, but he is not expecting anything to happen anytime soon. "The doctor said to me, 'Your condition is very serious, but as there are no operating theaters, I won't be able to operate on you for two years'."
Neither of these cases are as extreme as that of Luis Canabal Ramón, a man from León who died waiting for an operation on an artery after nine months on a waiting list.
Well, at least they have health insurance.

The big business of low pay

No surprise, Dianne Furtchgott-Roth says today's labor movement has not much to do with the people who actually do the work, and everything to do with well-heeled pros at worker centers;
At Low Pay Is Not OK's Web site, people can download a strike kit (Download 15 Steps for $15/hour) and a strike letter ("This is to notify you that today [Today's Date] we're going on strike for one day to demand a $15 an hour wage, for the right to join a union without intimidation, and to protest interference with our protected workplace rights.")
....Fast Food Forward is funded by New York Communities for Change, which was set up in 2010 to replace the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN. ACORN closed down due to financial shenanigans and scandal, but NYCC has the same address and leadership. Jonathan Westin, a former ACORN organizer, directs NYCC and Fast Food Forward.
Speaking of the usual suspects (Service Employees Int'l Union);
The SEIU has contributed over $100,000 to NYCC, according to documents filed with the Labor Department. These documents also show that NYCC received $353,881 from the United Federation of Teachers between August 1, 2011 and July 31, 2012.
Unions are paying worker centers to do what unions are not permitted to do. On August 29, worker centers will use demonstrations, lobbying, and community organizing to bully and shame employees into submission, tactics that unions are not permitted to use.
Unions represent workers because officials are elected in supervised elections. Worker centers are not official representatives of workers, including fast food workers, because they have not been elected.
....Worker centers do not have to file financial disclosure firms to reveal the sources of their funds, as unions are required to do. Unions file LM-2 forms with the Labor Department so that members can see how they are spending union dues.
 Mostly to fund themselves.

[Thanks, once again to NC State's Craig Newmark.]

Cameron Diaz; strikebreaker

Nobless oglige? Solidarity with the schmucks who pay to see her movies;
An on-going protest by fast-food workers expanded dramatically Thursday as coffee shop workers joined the walkout in Seattle, and workers in several other cities joined in across the nation.
It's all part of a nationwide protest for better pay and the right to organize. The workers say they want enough money to pay for rent, housing and  clothing.
No way. Let them eat Big Macs;
The actress reportedly paid $1,000 for a McDonald’s feast to thank her co-stars, like Leslie Mann and Kate Upton, and crew pals for working around the clock to complete the movie.
A source tells In Touch magazine, “Everyone was there working hard to finish up the final scenes and they were famished, so Cameron gave her assistant $1,000 in cash and had her make a run to McDonald’s.
She wanted to thank all the little people who made it possible.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'Obamacare at last...Obamacare at last'

That's what the POTUS thinks Martin Luther King Jr. said a half-century ago;
 President Obama said that Martin Luther King, Jr. would like his signature law, the Affordable Care Act.
"I think he understood that health care, health security is not a privilege, it's something that in a country as wealthy as ours, everybody should have access to," Mr. Obama said in an radio interview with the "Tom Joyner Morning Show" that aired Tuesday. "And starting on October 1, because of the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- anybody who doesn't have health insurance in this country is going to be able to get it at an affordable rate."
The BBC, says it was about jobs and freedom. Though you'll search in vain for what Vice-president Joe Biden called the 'three-letter word', 'jobs', in the text of the actual speech.

Freedom, though, that was amply requested;
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi -- from every mountainside.
Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring -- when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children -- black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Not health care. Not jobs. Freedom.

Ill winds

And only the Central Park Conservancy can cure what ails the Central Park Model Yachting Club's races;
Only a handful of hobbyists turn out with their Marblehead class vessels—50 inches long with sails limited to 800 square inches—Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a series of 1.5-lap races around the pond.
....As spectators look on, the skippers' attention is trained on tree branches, the ripples on the pond's surface and the other subtleties noticed by experienced sailors.
"Wind has a texture," Mr. [Jon] Elmaleh said, guiding his boat back to the pond's starting line, denoted by two small buoys. "And out here you have to constantly be aware of how it can change."
Changing winds also get the blame for the group's shrinking ranks, the skippers said. The London Plane trees, which can grow more than 100 feet in height and have thick, stiff, maple-like leaves, block the natural winds that would otherwise blow across the pond, they say. Without wind, sails are stilled, and boats rendered nearly immobile.
.... Mr. Elmaleh said that three years ago he asked the park to make changes, pledging to replant three or four trees elsewhere in the park for any one that the city might remove. A representative from the Central Park Conservancy declined to comment on the request.
Well, the yachtsmen are mostly in their 70s....

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Komatsu U

Where, if you come, they will [teach you to] build it--because it's in their interest to do so;
Skilled drivers can be hard to find. Some construction firms fear hiring enough of them will become even harder as baby boomers retire.
So Tokyo-based Komatsu and its big American rivals, including Caterpillar Inc. and Deere & Co., are trying to make dozers and other machinery easier to run. ....
"Everybody is trying to make these machines easier to operate because it's harder and harder to find people" with the required skills, said Frank Manfredi, an industry consultant.
At stake is a global market for dozers that last year totaled about $5.9 billion, or 28,100 machines, according to Off-Highway Research Ltd., a London-based consultancy. The GPS control systems, which are much more elaborate than those in cars, come from such suppliers as Trimble Navigation Ltd., Sunnyvale, Calif., and Japan's Topcon Corp.
Which is an answer to Ezra Klein, though he probably won't recognize it;
Health care and education pose the same basic threat to the economy: How do you keep costs down for a product that consumers must purchase? 
You keep governments out of the provisioning of it--though they might have a role to play in helping people finance it, as with food stamps or education vouchers. Food, clothing, shelter...all the necessities of life get to us, not through the benevolence of their producers, but through their regard to their own self-interest.

That shouldn't be news, but it apparently is to the Washington Post. Or will be, if they ever hire a blogger who can think.

Das Huhn oder das Ei

Germany has ways of sorting the survivors;
...the German Greens party has called for an end to factory farming. During the industrial breeding of chickens, young chicks are often treated particularly badly, say critics.
They're known as one-day chicks – baby chickens that never grow older than a day. Thousands of them are killed every day across Germany. The reason: they are male, so they won't lay any eggs, so feeding them up simply isn't economically viable.
Nor is having to kill them, so they're working on a final solution;
No one, including the industry, actually wants to have to kill healthy male one-day chicks," says Maria-Elisabeth Krautwald-Junghanns, veterinarian and researcher at Leipzig University. She researches ways to potentially determine the sex of a chicken embryo even before it is hatched. She's hoping her research will mean that, in the future, only female embryos will be incubated.

Big Brother is watching you drive

Safety ala Francaise, mon dieu;
Instead of focusing on the vehicle itself, Teletrac has found a way to increase driver safety by through the use of driver behavior reporting analytics. 
....This year, the U.K.-based division of Citroen installed Teletrac’s Safety Analytics software in each C1 Connexion in their fleet. As a result, Citroen’s drivers have improved their safety scores and decreased unsafe habits. 
Safety Analytics Feedback Improves Driver Behavior 
The safety analytics software has enabled Citroen and its drivers to pinpoint safety lapses and take the necessary action to correct the issue. Since the beginning of the year, C1 Connexion drivers have been sent an email every two weeks with an automated safety score and are given access to the safety event replay viewer, which allows them to view and analyze the unsafe events as they occurred.
Having access to the event replay of these unsafe behaviors give a clear insight into improvement areas for their driving habits. If the driver’s safety score is above the established threshold, then the driver is given an official warning regarding their unsafe actions. Poor driving habits that aren’t corrected after repeated warnings can ultimately lead to Citroen canceling a driver’s insurance policy.
Will l'état be content to let it sit there?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Between The Rock and the hard place

A little taxation is a dangerous thing, according to its neighbor;
But is Gibraltar a tax haven? No, says the government. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has excluded Gibraltar from its list of tax havens after it signed 26 tax information exchange agreements with the EU. Although fiscal crime was previously only punished with three months in jail, since last January 1st the offense has carried up to seven years.
However, in Spain these arguments do not convince. "Here, a tax haven is a place that has a VAT of less than 21 percent, a marginal rate of income tax of less than 56 percent and a tax on companies that is less than 30 percent of their profits," says Paula Papp, an expert from International Financial Analysts.
What a difference a day trip makes;
In Gibraltar, the economy is a sensitive subject. The reason is obvious: it is doing very well. Last year, if it had been part of the IMF ranking of nations, it would have had the fourth-highest income per capita in the world, with 41,138 pounds (47,847 euros [$64,000 USD]) a year. In just one year it would have risen from ninth to fourth, driven by an economy growing at 7.8 percent annually.  
That's more than twice the figure for Spain.

¡Qué lástima!

Budgetary restrictions and the laying off of healthcare personnel have resulted in a record number of people awaiting surgery in Spain: 571,395, a 6.4-percent increase in a little over a year. Average waiting times have also gone up from 76 days to 100, the worst figures since the Health Ministry started recording these data in 2004.
Furthermore, the number of patients waiting more than six months to be admitted to hospital has risen seven percent, despite this time frame being the maximum permitted by law for certain types of procedure.
The figures were published on the Health Ministry website with no announcement and there has been no official comment on the data.
Funny that these National Health Services all seem to have the same problem; more demand than supply.

Rich man, poor man...the math

Thanks to Daniel Gros, we can see, algebraically, why capital flows from poorer countries to richer;
For advanced economies (as defined by the IMF) the investment rate is at present approximately 20% of GDP (and is expected to remain at that level) and real trend growth about 2%. This implies a steady state capital-to-output ratio of around 2.5 if, following the literature, it is assumed that the depreciation rate is 6%; the steady state calculation is that 2.5= 0.2/(0.02+0.06).
For emerging economies (emerging and developed economies in the IMF classification) the investment rate is at present about 30% and the trend growth rate about 6% (average to 2018). This also leads to a steady state capital-to-output ratio of 2.5 since 2.5=0.30/(0.06+0.06).
....given today’s growth rate and investment rates the capital-to-GDP ratio should be lower in advance nations, so capital should continue to flow from emerging economies to developed ones. 
The returns should be higher in developed economies. But;
When [Robert] Lucas wrote his seminal paper in 1990 the investment rate in emerging economies was much lower than today and they were running consistent current-account deficits – i.e. their investment rates exceeded their savings rates.
At the time puzzle was why there was not more investment in the capital-poor countries. Today the investment rate is more than 10 percentage points of GDP higher in emerging economies than in advanced economies. If their savings rate had remained unchanged emerging countries would be running very large current-account deficits and would thus be importing a lot of capital. However, their savings rates have increased even more than their investment rates and the real puzzle has become: “Why do poor countries save so much?”
Possibly because their governments can't afford to put policies into place that discourage investment and encourage consumption?


Saturday, August 24, 2013

'I'm going to Disneyland'

According to Ohio University's Richard Vedder, it's not only the Super Bowl MVP who can mouth that claim, but a lot of high school grads headed for college;
 "Colleges are an escape from reality. Believe me, I've lived in one for half a century. It's like living in Disneyland. They're these little isolated enclaves of nonreality."
For which, via the Wall street Journal's Allyshia Finley, he marshals some evidence;
Many colleges...are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for "Core Training": The course isn't a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the gluts and abs.
Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall (paid for in part with a $30 million tax-deductible donation by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman). The dorm's cost approached $300,000 per bed.
Universities, Mr. Vedder says, "are in the housing business, the entertainment business; they're in the lodging business; they're in the food business. Hell, my university runs a travel agency which ordinary people off the street can use."
 Following the money, Mr. Vedder says that it all began with;
... the Higher Education Act of 1965, a Great Society program that created federal scholarships and low-interest loans aimed at making college more accessible.
In 1964, federal student aid was a mere $231 million. By 1981, the feds were spending $7 billion on loans alone, an amount that doubled during the 1980s and nearly tripled in each of the following two decades, and is about $105 billion today. Taxpayers now stand behind nearly $1 trillion in student loans.
Right up to the 2009 'stimulus' bill that raised Pell Grants from $500 to over ten times that, while expanding eligibility. Making them into middle class entitlements. Thus, enabling colleges to raise their fees.

None of which came in for any criticism in President Barack Obama's recent speech on higher education...and probably never will.

Not rocket science

So, can't we all just ski along, Comrades;
North Korea has reacted angrily to a decision by Switzerland to block a deal to sell ski lifts to the secretive communist country.
The equipment - which included chair lifts and cable cars - was for the Masik ski resort project which is currently under construction.
But the Swiss government said last week the equipment constituted luxury goods and so was subject to UN sanctions.
North Korea's Skiers' Association said such equipment should not be banned.The resort, it said in a statement, was aimed at giving North Koreans "highly civilised and happy living conditions and make them enjoy all blessings.
"Cableway equipment for the ski resort do not produce any rocket or nuclear weapon," it added.
But it does offer recreational opportunities for those North Koreans who learned to ski while studying in Europe. One is a lonely number.

...wenn die Milch ist kostenfrei

Ecuador has a way of dealing with cheapskates; Drill, Baby, drill;
When Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced last week ... he had decided to allow oil exploration in parts of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest, Germany was dumbfounded. The German Development Ministry had long been opposing Correa's conservation scheme that asked developed countries to pay Ecuador for preserving the Yasuni National Park. According to Ecuadorian officials, the forest prevents about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from entering the atmosphere each year.
Correa wanted international donors to come up with $3.6 billion (2.7 billion euros) as compensation payments for not extracting the oil, but said Ecuador had only raised $13 million in actual donations and $116 million in pledges. Correa said the lack of support made it necessary to go ahead with oil drilling plans, despite the fact that the UNESCO biosphere reserve is home to rich biodiversity as well as indigenous tribes.
Rich Germans wanted the benefits, only if poor Ecuadorans paid for it. Arbeit macht nicht frei;
Germany played a crucial part in opposing the Yasuni project. ....
"We never ever promised to pay into a fund, because we think it's a totally wrong approach," Gudrun Kopp, [German Development Minister Dirk ] Niebel's parliamentary state secretary to the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), told [Deutsch Welle]. "We want to protect the forests, we would like to empower the indigenous people there and we know that the biodiversity in Ecuador is really unique. And we want to protect the environment by action and by reducing emissions. We don't pay for not drilling for oil." 
President Correa apparently not believing, ala the head waiter in Casablanca, that you give the Germans the best table, because they'll take it anyway.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cómo se llama

The 18th Duchess of Medinaceli, who has died aged 96, was nine times a duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 19 times a countess, four times a viscountess and 14 times a grandee of Spain — as well as head of a family whose members included three saints and two Popes.
She inherited her titles in her own right on her father’s death in 1956, and could not remember how many castles she owned in her native Spain; her best guess was between 90 and 100.
....The Duchess should, perhaps, have earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most titled human being on earth, but instead the accolade went to her colourful cousin, Cayetana, Duchess of Alba — a woman known for her valiant efforts to hold back the depredations of time with cosmetic surgery. It is said that when the publicity-shy Duchess of Medinaceli discovered that she was to be listed in the popular reference work, alongside assorted freaks and daredevils, she petitioned the king to be allowed to pass on 17 of her titles to her sons.
She felt that the Duchess of Alba, “with her English blood” (the Albas are directly descended from the Duke of Berwick, the illegitimate son of James II by Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough), would enjoy the publicity.
Surprised to learn that obituary is in The Telegraph? We didn't think so.

A couple of economists walk into a bar fight

The New York Times briefly mentions that two famous economists disagree with each other--All the news that fits! They being Nobel laureate Amrtya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati;
Mr. Sen argues that India, almost alone among emerging Asian nations, has failed to invest substantially in the health and welfare of its people. This failure could doom its economy and people, he says, because a country’s future growth depends just as much on its social infrastructure as its physical state.
India’s economy grew nearly 8 percent annually in the past 10 years, second only to China among major economies. This improved incomes for hundreds of millions and created a growing middle class....
But Mr. Sen argues that India’s growth has failed to translate into substantially better lives for hundreds of millions of others. 
 Followed by several paragraphs of how poor, malnourished, ill-educated are millions of Indians. Setting the stage for the Time's Gardiner Harris's claim that his rival is shrill, his verbal criticism is downright nasty. Well, judge for yourselves, thanks to Russ Roberts Econtalk podcast, out just this week.

Personally, we are of the school that thinks Bhagwati could quit his day job and make it as a writer for Jay Leno;
...this is a very important point, actually, the growth itself, as we doubtless know here, too, means that your revenues at any given tax rate are likely to go up. Once the revenues go up, then you can spend money additionally to improve the poor, not just by giving them gainful employment, but you can additionally improve their welfare by basically spending on health and education, mainly for the poor. So these we call redistribution, but they are social expenditures. And so that is the secondary impact. So that is something which we see in India right now, which is a lot of revenue has come in, enabling us finally to do something about health, education, etc., because the Prime Minister, who is a friend of mine from 60 years ago, we were at college together at Cambridge, he often would say: Look, I would like to spend more, but where the hell do I get the money from? Because you know, people like Amartya Sen and [?] used to just say, well we can spend money by reducing, you know, the expenditure [tanks]. If you don't buy a [tank] you can build 5 primary schools. But that is pure arithmetic. Go into the political process and say, I'm going to reduce defense? That's not always possible, particularly for countries like India which are surrounded by lots of--like Myanmar to our East, which is Burma, and then you've got insurgencies in the northeast, and the Chinese dabbling there and Pakistan on the other side. And then we've got Sri Lanka below, which also is being cultivated by the Chinese in a big way. But given all that, for me to go and say that we could reduce spending so we could have 5 more primary schools--they'll just tell me to go back to Columbia and teach there. Because that's not a valid thing. But on the other hand, if you are generating more revenues, that is really going to help. And that is what has happened. We see therefore a sequencing for large countries with too few rich and too many poor, and that applies to all the countries I mentioned. We first have to grow the economy. Then we come in, in a proper sequence, to spending more on social expenditures. Of course you can spend more at any time, but not significantly enough to make a difference to my argument.
....So any of my opponents, like Amartya Sen and so on, they don't have any such analysis on their side. They just assume that if it's growth, it's going to be for people like you and me and them. It's not going to be for the poor people. But that's not true.
There's quite a bit more evidence marshalled by Bhagwati that India's poor have had their lives improved by the growth that followed the elimination of the License Raj in the early 1990s. Evidence that the Times' reporter doesn't mention.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Listless...and energized

By a market in health care, in spite of the system. Dr. Jeffrey Singer spells out the consequences of third party payers in health care;
Hospitals and other providers make their "list" prices as high as possible when negotiating contracts with health plans and Medicare regulators. No one is ever expected to pay the list price. 
Then that 'list price' is negotiated down by the payer. This is not insurance.
...most people these days don't have health "insurance." They have prepaid health plans. They pay premiums to take advantage of a pre-negotiated fee schedule arranged for and administered by a third party. 
In this particular case (explained in the WSJ article), the patient actually had an insurance policy...that was too costly to use. So he didn't, and got, for $3,000, a hernia operation that was going to cost him $20,000 in co-payments.
The lesson;
It is the third-party payment system that interferes with true price competition, so "market clearing prices" can't develop.
Take the examples of Lasik eye surgery or cosmetic surgery. These services are not covered by insurance. Providers compete on the basis of quality, outcomes and price. And prices have continually dropped as quality and services have improved—unlike the rest of health care.

Okay Nancy, now we know what was in it

Opportunities galore for scammers, that's what. Thanks a heap;
Shortly after the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or more commonly, "Obamacare") was signed into law in 2010, scams linked to the programs began to crop up. 
....Obamacare scams come in a variety of forms. Consumers have complained about con artists contacting them by phone, fax, email and even in person. A common version of the scam involve fraudsters claiming to be from the federal government and directing consumers to purchase insurance cards in order to be eligible for coverage under the ACA. Scammers intimidate consumers to give them their bank account routing numbers or make a direct cash transfer by using words like “it is the law” or “the government now requires it.”
....according to a Houston Chronicle report, scammers have threatened consumers with jail time if they don’t purchase the fake insurance cards. ....
Another variation of the scam begins with fraudsters claiming to be “navigators.” Under the ACA, thousands of workers, called “navigators” are being trained to help consumers apply for the insurance coverage through state and federal exchanges. Scammers claiming to be navigators or Medicare officials, trick seniors and low-income consumers into divulging personal information and paying for fictitious insurance plans. 
Would a President Sarah Palin have produced this?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

All that Piano Jazz

Aged beautifully. Not the chat, there was always too much of that with Marian McPartland--dead at 96--but eventually she would play. As in this 1991 show with Rosemary Clooney. At the 38 minute mark, after reminiscing about Bing Crosby, they do one of the best versions of Cole Porter's Don't Fence Me in ever.

As always, the Telegraph does justice;
With the outbreak of war she joined Ensa, under the stage name Marian Page. In 1944, during the build-up to D-Day, she switched to USO, Ensa’s American equivalent, and was eventually sent to France, equipped with an accordion. “We were given fatigues and helmets and mess kits,” she recalled. “We lived in tents and ate in orchards and jumped into hedgerows when the Germans came over.”
She was playing piano at a jam session in a tent on the Belgian border when she met her future husband, Jimmy McPartland, an American cornetist with an already considerable reputation. They married at Aachen in February 1945.
The McPartlands returned to America in 1946, settling in an attic flat in Jimmy’s home town, Chicago. “One of Mummy’s dire predictions was 'If you become a musician, Margaret, you’ll marry a musician and live in an attic’. And that’s exactly what happened,” she recalled.

Soon there'll be a shortage of sand

They want Gibraltar to become part of Spain, not the other way around;
The Interior Ministry on Wednesday ordered the Civil Guard on the frontier with Gibraltar to prevent trucks laden with Spanish sand from entering the British outpost. The sand, which is being taken from the dunes at Valdevaqueros in Tarifa, is then used in land reclamation for a property development and the regeneration of the Sandy Bay beach on the Rock.
The prohibition was put into action after consultation between the Interior Ministry, Customs and Excise and the environmental arm of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It follows a complaint lodged by ecologists on July 17 against the municipal government of Tarifa, over which a judicial process has been initiated. The potential charges that could be leveled include “aggravated robbery” and falsification of documents.
They'll always have the Sahara.

Baguette Tell

One of the great symbols of French gastronomy is under siege. Renowned for its distinctive shape and crusty exterior, the baguette risks becoming known for something else, too: being undercooked and doughy.
Rémi Héluin, the founder of Painrisien, a blog about Parisian bakeries, estimates that 80% of the 230 shops he has reviewed underbake most of their baguettes.
"They've got to keep the customer satisfied," he says.Patrons have plenty of reasons for their preference—and they're not necessarily half-baked. For Camille Oger, a 30-year-old freelance reporter, eating a well-baked baguette can be a painful experience. "It's hard to munch," she says, "and it hurts your gums and palate." Less-baked loaves "won't break your teeth," she adds.
Actually there is a law, as David Marcelis lets on, and it's how France got to this point;
The baguette as we know it dates to the 1920s and was a byproduct of a protective labor law that prevented French bakers from working between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. That made it impossible to prepare traditional round loaves by breakfast time. Bakers had to turn to a new kind of bread, whose thin shape made it faster to prepare and bake. The baguette—French for "little stick"—quickly became a breakfast essential throughout France.
But maman et papa had to contend with supermarkets that can make and sell baguettes at a third the price of a corner bakers. Which didn't stop French lawmakers from trying to control things;
In a bid to protect the industry, French law dictates what ingredients can be used to make these baguettes (essentially, wheat flour, water, salt and yeast) and limits the use of the name boulangerie—or bakery—to shops where bread is made and baked on the premises.
But the law doesn't weigh in on one key diktat: how long the baguette should stay in the oven. 
And that turns out to be, how long the customers prefer. As usual.

Incentivos importan muchísimo

It seems to have become International Ladies' Day at HSIB, so, we answer the question, Chile, What have we exported to you lately;
Culture of ‘machismo’
According to [Teresa] Valdés [coordinator of the Observatory on Gender and Equity], there are cultural factors underlying wage inequality in Chile. 
“There is a chauvinist idea in Chile that women [should] earn a secondary income, that they merely complement the husband’s salary,” she said. “This idea has become old-fashioned. Now, 30 percent of Chilean women are breadwinners.” 
Las matemáticas son difíciles en Chile también.
She also mentioned other cultural ideas that are tied to wage inequality such as different social tasks assigned to men and women. In the labor market, female workers are concentrated in domestic service, commerce and education — areas considered to be “feminine” and underpaid. 
“The social order assigns different tasks to men and women,” Valdés said. 
Otherwise known as 'the choices people make'.
This problem also persists in better paid areas such as medicine. Women make up the majority of dermatologists, pediatricians, radiologists and nurses — all considered to be classically feminine fields in Chile. Men have a stronger presence in surgery, which is a better paid medical sector. 
Which is the case virtually everywhere, because becoming a surgeon is more demanding than becoming a dermatologist. Fewer doctors qualify, so the remuneration is higher. If there are idiosyncratic laws or customs in Chile that prevent women from becoming surgeons (or any other highly paid occupation) then work to change them.

Speaking of which;
“The professional journey of a woman is marked with every child she has,” Valdés said.
Women usually take a step back from the office when having children as they’re expected to balance motherhood and work. This makes women less favorable candidates for employment and hinders them from advancing in their career, she said. 
For women in financial difficulty, the government offers help in health and education through “Chile Crece Contigo (Chile Grows with You)” — a protection system for children under four years old.  
For working women in better conditions, legislation establishes that every company with 20 women workers or more must provide nursery services to their employees, whether it be annexed to the workplace or paid for by the company. 
Although this helps women relieve tension between work and maternity, it may be a disincentive for companies to hire more women. 
We'll bet the Chicago Boys knew this.

Calling Annika Bengtzon

Is this a case for the girl crime reporter;
Swedish women have been posting photos of themselves in traditional Muslim headscarves in solidarity with a woman attacked apparently for wearing a veil.
Among the protesters from various faiths were politicians and TV hosts.
The "hijab outcry" campaigners urged the government to "ensure that Swedish Muslim women are guaranteed the right to... religious freedom".
Wonder how much religious freedom Swedish non-Muslim women would enjoy in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Diamonds: Gaborone's best friend?

With a name like that,  one wouldn't be surprised that Botswana thinks so;
After decades of just mining rough diamonds, Botswana's capital Gaborone now cuts, polishes and sells the precious stones itself.
....This dusty, low-rise city is being transformed, as high-rise flats and hotels are constructed and businesses bet it will mean a boost for them.
Diamond-related companies are setting up factories in anticipation of the global mining giant De Beers relocating its sales business here from London.
Soon, $6bn (£4bn) worth of diamond trades will take place here, attracting buyers from around the world.
Which is having the usual multiplier effect;
Abel Monnakgotla, who runs a local transport company, AT&T, has 50 buses and runs routes to neighbouring South Africa and Namibia.
He's now invested in new, shiny minibuses and says he's earning money by ferrying diamond traders around.
"We have diversified. We've gone into car rentals and airport shuttles," he says.
"Most of the benefit has previously been at a macro level - infrastructure, roads. But as entrepreneurs we haven't had a direct benefit. We will now benefit directly." 
 Worked for San Francisco.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The lighthouse in economics

No longer an academic squabble, they're becoming clearly private goods (with a decidedly fixer-upper character) thanks to a 2000 law; The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. That's according to Amy Gamerman's article in the Wall Street Journal today.

Unfortunately for non-fictional Mr. and Mrs. Blandings, the purchase prices are just the beginning. As Kelly Navarro found out after she paid $340,000 for Saybrook Breakwater Light, a white, cast-iron lighthouse shaped like s sparkplug, [which] has guarded the mouth of the Connecticut River since 1866.

It does have a 360 degree view of Long Island Sound, but now that Ms. Navarro owns it, she will have to make it liveable;
 "It's a beauty,"  Mr. [Richard] Ventrone [an architect specializing in restoring lighthouses in Rhode Island] said. "I'm going to say it's between $800,000 to $1 million to probably get this place to where it needs to be." The cost of painting it alone, he estimates, would run between $60,000 to $70,000.
 And she'll still have to live with the bright light that the Coast Guard keeps flashing every six seconds, as well as the foghorn that's so loud hearing protection is required, according to a sign posted. Then there is Sheila Consaul who bought Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light in Ohio for $71,000 from the GSA. It's a 1925 lighthouse with square, steel-sheather walls and a red cupola that sits on a rock platform in Lake Erie. The attractions included high ceilings, tall windows and curling wrought-iron staircases. The original terra-cotta tiles on the main floor were all in good condition, as were the maple hardwood floors on the upper stories.

Though, since it hadn't been lived in for 65 years, it had no doors, no sinks, no plumbing. And other shortcomings;
Ms. Consaul is in the midst of transforming it into a three bedroom, 3½-bath retreat, with a tentative budget of $300,000. To get to her lighthouse, she must park her car at a state beach, then hike a mile through a marsh, across the sand and down a slippery stone breakwater—or travel 10 minutes from Fairport Harbor by boat. There is no dock, so she ties the boat to the railing of a stone staircase that rises steeply up a side of the lighthouse platform.
 Somewhere beyond the sea/somewhere waiting for me....

Singing for your snorer

Ung gar! Altogether now, says choir director and entrepreneur Alise Ojay, your spouse will thank you;
"After being nudged awake, and told to roll over and stop snoring, every night for months, I decided to do a web search, to try to find a natural remedy that would help to quieten me down, so my husband and I could both get a better sleep. After Singing for a couple of weeks my husband reported I was much quieter, and by the end of the program I had stopped completely. I am so glad I found Singing for Snorers. It's fun to do, well presented, and worked wonders for me." CC, Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada. 
"I had sleep apnea with an AHI* of 40 - serious. I couldn’t tolerate CPAP. I felt terrible and thought my life was over. Fortunately in 2005, I became aware of the Singing for Snorers exercises created by Alise Ojay. I bought the CDs right away. I found that they were easy to do, did not take too much time, and the instructions that came with them were excellent. These exercises cured my sleep apnea – as confirmed by my pulse oximeter, by my wife who no longer heard me snoring or stop breathing and by my getting my energy and zest for life back – despite being in my 80s I got a job at my local college. This was 8 years ago now and I have remained without sleep apnea by continuing to use the exercises at a maintenance level." Charley Hupp, Arizona, USA  
(*Apnea-Hypopnea Index)
Hear her for yourself, thanks to the BBC.

Would you like to downsize that?

We'll be only too happy to do that, if you're a hedge fund that otherwise wouldn't lend to us;
Happy Meal deals are just one of the ways hedge funds extend credit to struggling companies. At least 24 companies have done 26 bond deals that used share-lending agreements since 2004, raising nearly $7 billion. Restrictions on short selling during the financial crisis slowed such transactions for a time, but five companies have done six deals since mid-2010, with the last one coming in January. Another solar-power company is currently registered to do one.
Which isn't popular with the companies' shareholders, though maybe it ought to be;
Mikhail Filimonov, founder of hedge fund Odyssey Investment Management, who bought [now bankrupt] Energy Conversion bonds and shorted its stock at a previous fund, says such company failures shouldn't be blamed on short sellers.
"If the company's business model is sound and the outlook is positive," he says, "eventually the short sellers will get squeezed and punished for the wrong bet."
Lawrence McDonald, a former Lehman Brothers convertible-bond trader, characterizes the deals as one of the few financing options available for some companies. "It's the last saloon where you can get a drink," he says.
Short sales, as the WSJ story explains, happen when a pessimist borrows a company's stock from shareholders, and sells it hoping to be able to buy it back at a lower price in the future. So, these Happy Meal Deals are just cutting out the middle man; borrowing stock from the company itself.

And, if the stock rises in value, the hedge funds can convert their bonds--representing the money loaned to the company--into stock. A sort of double hedge.