Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How Brown Was My Derby

Public affairs officers at Seattle city agencies were advised in a recent memo that use of the phrases “brown bag” and “citizens” are potentially offensive, and that the words must be chosen.
“Luckily, we’ve got options,” Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights wrote in a missive entitled “On ‘brown bags, ‘citizens’ and language”.
“For ‘brown bag,’ try ‘lunch-and-learn’ or ‘sack lunch,’” wrote Bronstein. “For ‘citizens,’ how about ‘residents?’ (Our Citizens Service Bureau became the Customer Service Bureau a few years ago.)  Just thought I’d bring this up.  Language matters, and the city has entrusted us with the keyboards.”

We suggest Mr. Bronstein look up the history of his own last name; he'll find it to be a variation on Braunstein, or brown stone, or brick. As in, thick as a....

Fracking a vaca muerta

Oh, what a tangled web they weave (in Argentina) when they practice to deceive investors, with ploys J.R. Ewing could only dream of;
Spanish oil company Repsol asked the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to take provisional measures to prevent YPF state-owned oil company to execute the deal it sealed with Chevron last year to explore for unconventional hydrocarbons in the Vaca Muerta shale formation.
Exports of steaks, not being the only dead cows Argentina specializes in. We hope Chevron's shareholders appreciate the risks they're taking here, since Repsol's owners had their entire investment in these same fields nationalized by an Argentine government desperate for foreign currency--Argentina has controls on foreign exchange, with the official rate for pesos to the US dollar being about 5-1/2 to 1, while the black market offers over 8 to 1.

So, if there are assets that can be sold for dollars, even if they don't belong to you, you can sell them to the next fool.  If your name is President Cristina Kirchner, that is.

Hardest working people in Joe business

According to some metric, or other, Seattle ranks at the top of the diligence scale;
Movoto[.com] writer David Cross crunched a slew of data and used numerous criteria to come to his conclusions about which cities are hardest working. 
His top data-point was the Bureau of Labor Statistics' tally of average hours worked for resident. 
The Dallas area supposedly is next in line for the honor, with Austin and Houston also in the top ten.

Somewhere, somehow, someone

Is having a good time telling war stories...and it has to stop!
At first glance, "Der Landser" might look like some sort of harmless pulp adventure magazine. Every week, its website proclaims, the journal tells stories from "world history's biggest war, as seen though the eyes of the fighting troops and the individual soldier."
But now the Simon Wiesenthal Center now wants to put an end to the magazine - the US-based Jewish organization has called for "Der Landser" to be cancelled for propagating far-right ideology.
Founded in 1954, the journal takes its name from the colloquial term for a German soldier used during World War II. It sells its stories as eye-witness accounts of heroic Wehrmacht soldiers - without putting things into the historical context of the Nazi era - let alone mentioning war crimes perpetrated by the German troops.
No historical context
Klaus Geiger of Kassel University, a professor of political sociology who wrote his 1974 PhD dissertation on "Der Landser," says that is the key problem.
Been published for nearly six decades, but now it's dangerous. Or, maybe the Nazi-hunters have run out of war criminals to track down, and need something with which to keep busy. So, it's freedom of speech and press that has to bow to the greater good of Germany...a bit totalitarian?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No surprises

Chetty, Hendren, Kline and Saez are thinking about upward mobility of children;
In particular, areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of  upward mobility. In contrast, a high concentration of income in the top 1% was not highly correlated with mobility patterns. Areas in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals were also particularly likely to have low rates of upward mobility. The quality of the K-12 school system also appears to be correlated with mobility: areas with higher test scores (controlling for income levels), lower dropout rates, and higher spending per student in schools had higher rates of upward mobility. Finally, some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents. 
...some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. 

[Thanks to Peter Gordon for the tip]

Hay un pequeño hotel

But they forgot the wishing well, and now the people are stuck with paying for politicians' grand ideas;
Monasterio de la Sierra, in Burgos province, is the most-indebted community per capita in Spain. Its 48 inhabitants would each have to put up 8,520 euros to cancel out the debt accumulated during the mandate of their former mayor, Jesús María Esteban, of the Popular Party.
Esteban set in motion a project to attract visitors to Monasterio de la Sierra: the construction of a small hotel that would overlook a proposed reservoir in nearby Castrovido.
But the reservoir, which was to be created by damming the Arlanza river, was never completed, with funds drying up at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. Nevertheless, it was decided to go ahead with the hotel. The problem was that without a reservoir to attract visitors, there was no way that the local council could cover the 400,000-euro construction cost.
In second place for per capita indebtedness; 8,344 euros for each inhabitant: Aguilar de Segarra, which is located close to Barcelona....The village, which has a population of 250, decided to invest 1.9 million euros in its own solar-energy plant in 2006. The community only employed a secretary and an administration officer, both of whom worked part time. Aguilar de Segarra says it is managing to keep costs to a minimum, avoiding further debt, and that when the solar-energy plant is paid for, it will generate sufficient resources to press ahead with a plan to create a sustainable tourism sector in the community. 
Seguro, seguro. Keep hope alive.

Basura entra, basura sale

In Chile they're striking while the striking might be good; leading up to an election;
Waste collectors around Chile are refusing to work and threatening to dump trash in the streets unless the demands of their strike are met.
....Armando Soto, president of the Federation of Contract Cleaners, Gardeners and Waste Collectors (Fenasinaj), said it would continue indefinitely until a deal was struck. 
The union leader warned workers might resort to “extreme measures.”
“We have garbage trucks, each loaded with 12,000 kilos [26,455 pounds], and we could use extreme measures, like dumping rubbish in the streets,” Soto told press.
The Manhattan gambit. The Chileans may have missed that John Lindsey wasn't descended from the likes of Augusto Pinochet. Also that it's the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere, which will mitigate the aroma...and the impact of the strike. Still, there are interesting factors at work here, one being that the industry is organized like most countries have their restaurants work; the garbagemen earn less than the minimum wage, but make tips from their customers!
In the current situation, a street sweeper earns less than the minimum wage — currently set at 193,000 pesos, roughly US$377 — and the waste collectors rely on people’s tips to top up their 250,000 pesos (US$490) salaries. Truck drivers earn 400,000 pesos, or US$782, and want their salaries pushed to 700,000 pesos (US$1,370) which is the salaries drivers in other industries are paid.   
Wasters and wastresses. And there are the inevitable Never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste (pun) pseudo-pols;
María Loreto Muñoz Villa, former leader of the National Teachers Union, thinks that authorities should use the situation to address both the workers’ gripes and a lack of recycling in Chile.
If Chile is like most countries, then that lack of recycling is saving the people money that they'd otherwise be forced to pay for useless separation and duplication of services. This is a classic public choice economics problem, it will be interesting to see how Chile's leaders deal with it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Now that's a scream

Democrat Howard Dean admits that Sarah Palin was right, they are death panels;
One major problem is the so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB is essentially a health-care rationing body. By setting doctor reimbursement rates for Medicare and determining which procedures and drugs will be covered and at what price, the IPAB will be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor by simply setting rates to levels where no doctor or hospital will perform them.
Be able to stop certain treatments its members do not favor.


Zimbabwe will hold another re-election in two days, if Robert Mugabe can arrange it, but the most interesting thing about that country (since 2009, anyway) is the support it gives to Milton Friedman's dictum that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. That's because, according to a Bloomberg story from April, since Zimbabwe abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar by legalizing foreign currency, it has stabilized its economy;
Benson Mahenya, and [currency] traders like him, have sprung up since Finance Minister Tendai Biti abandoned the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009 following hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund estimates hit 500 billion percent. Under Biti, Zimbabwe stopped printing money and adopted the U.S. dollar, the euro, the South African rand, the Botswana pula and the British pound as legal currencies.
Which put an end to the downward spiral of the economy thanks largely to currency arbitrage;
....Harare, the capital in the north of the country, has largely become a dollar economy while in the south, the second city, Bulawayo, uses rand because of its proximity to South Africa. In Harare supermarket goods are often paid for in dollars while retailers give out change in rand and minibus taxis also charge in the South African currency. Speculators profit from arbitrage between the different rates in the cities.
....Banks sell currency to general customers at rates set at a daily level based on international markets while giving their corporate customers, such as retailers, a range within which they can trade. Customs rates are set weekly by the government for import duty purposes.
It’s an “incomparable” improvement from trading before Zimbabwe dollar was abolished, said [Dave] Mills [managing director of Meikles Africa Ltd.-owned TM Supermarkets (PVT) Ltd], whose company competes with OK Zimbabwe Ltd. to be the country’s biggest supermarket chain, said. “Back then shelves were empty and retail was at a standstill.”
So there may be a lot riding on the election this week, as Mugabe is making noises about restoring the Zimbabwe dollar. 

If you boil it, they will come?

Probably not in numbers great enough to justify even one drive-through, according the the New York Post's Kyle Smith. Unlike that truly cost effective source of nutrition, McDonalds;
What is “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history” Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.
Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger.
The argument above was made by a commenter on the Freakonomics blog run by economics writer Stephen Dubner and professor Steven Leavitt, who co-wrote the million-selling books on the hidden side of everything.
Dubner mischievously built an episode of his highly amusing weekly podcast around the debate. Many huffy back-to-the-earth types wrote in to suggest the alternative meal of boiled lentils. Great idea. Now go open a restaurant called McBoiled Lentils and see how many customers line up.
Have it your way.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

'Fair'? Enough!

The Casey Stengel President gives an interview to the New York Times;
When you think about the coalition that brought about civil rights, it wasn’t just folks who believed in racial equality; it was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot. It was Walter Reuther and the UAW coming down here because they understood that if there are some workers who are not getting a fair deal then ultimately that’s going to undercut their ability to get a fair deal.
You can say that again. But, please, don't.

Jerry, we hardly knew ye

And we would probably have been better off never having met you, Mr. Cavanagh, and becoming a Model City;
[Jerome] Cavanagh’s tenure [as Detroit's mayor] would be closely linked with President Johnson’s Great Society. Johnson’s War on Poverty was aimed at assisting urban children to obtain better housing, health care, education and job opportunities. Cavanagh had already launched a similar program called TAP (Total Action against Poverty). Johnson’s added federal muscle would give TAP some tiger-like teeth to attack with.  
....In September of 1965, Cavanagh, along with UAW president Walter Reuther, prodded President Johnson into selecting a pilot city to shower with federal grants and demonstrate to the nation how a large urban area can be rehabilitated physically and socially when properly equipped.
By Federal tax dollars; was provided with an initial fund of $400 million per year.  Its focus was to eradicate slums and replace them with low to moderate cost housing, attack inner-city poverty by bolstering social programs, providing jobs, health care and recreational facilities, all of which would help keep young people off the street and learning instead of rioting.
Worked out well, didn't it.
Cavanagh’s persuasive powers and determination enabled Detroit to hustle up some $360 million federal dollars to fuel his anti-poverty programs. Only Chicago, with the powerful Mayor Daley and New York with Mayor Lindsey managed to wheedle more out of Washington. Detroit’s boy mayor was rapidly making a name for himself.  
    By 1966, Detroit had become a Model City not only in name but most certainly in stature. Detroit had gained national acclaim as a truly progressive city in a time when many were still regressing. By placing respected liberals in charge of the police department, capturing the lion’s share of War on Poverty funds and hosting the highly vaunted March for Freedom, Detroit was enjoying its time on top of the national pedestal. Detroit had become the “city upon a hill, for all eyes to see.”
And now we can all see what has become of those bright promises.

Great, Society

The best laid plans of urban renewal set the stage for what has become of Detroit. Probably with the best of intentions;

The above photo is just one of several at Detroit's Great Rebellion documenting the slum clearance that went on after WWII in Detroit.
While Detroit's east side bore much of the chaos created by urban renewal, the west side was not spared he grief caused by the wrecking ball. Michigan Avenue during the1950s  was every bit the eyesore of Black Bottom and every bit as dangerous the the Wild West. Along the darkened recesses of Michigan Ave.can be found a mystifying mixture of sleazy bars, pawn shops and flop houses that support the wretched refuse of men who have lost it all. Being a major thoroughfare of downtown Detroit, if the Model city was to shine like new money then skid row would have to go. Much like Black Bottom, the city would later find that getting ride of the eyesore didn't get ride of the people who formerly inhabited the area. Roughly speaking, they were just kicking the can a little further down the road. Many of these hard core people would simply move over to the 12th Street / Linwood / Dexter area and the very same problems of the 50s would re-materialize in the 60s. 
The politicians may have forgotten about the people, but the people didn't forget what had been done to them. People have a way of doing that.

Been over into the past

And it didn't work out as planned;

Used to have 2 million people resident there. Bragging about how cosmopolitan it was; the New York Metropolitan Opera visited each year, Detroit Symphony one of the best anywhere, more theater going than any city outside New York--Broadway shows tried out there, Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, Cranbrook Gardens. Renowned for its openness to various ethnic and racial groups, celebrated with the Freedom Festival alongside Windsor, Ontario.

Life doesn't get much better, right?  Two years after that booster video was made, the city had its riots. Not only never to recover, but to spiral downward toward...bankruptcy today. A politician-made disaster. It can happen anywhere, with the wrong policies.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Sumner on our discontent

Bentley University macroeconomist Scott Sumner has a new paper explaining his proposal for a prediction market for nominal GDP, and how that would make monetary policy less disruptive to the economy (and our lives) than it has been in the past. Highlights;
... it may be helpful to think in terms of  “prediction markets” rather than “futures markets.” Corporations and other organizations often use prediction markets to utilize the “wisdom of crowds.” Thus, businesses might offer prizes to those employees who most accurately forecast corporate sales revenue over the following 12 months. The purpose of these markets is not to encourage gambling, but rather to derive the optimal estimate of the future path of important economic variables.
....In order to develop a market-driven monetary policy, it is necessary to first think about how to induce market participants to make socially constructive decisions—that is, to engage in open-market purchases or sales that are expected to lead to on-target growth in nominal spending. A “market-driven” monetary regime is one where there is free entry and where traders are rewarded based on their skill at forecasting nominal GDP growth. 
That last sentence is pregnant with possibilities. One of which Sumner spells out for a Fed that uses the Federal Funds Rate (the interest rate banks pay each other to borrow funds overnight) as its primary tool;
...there is a relatively simple way to reward monetary-policy decision makers. For example, assume that the Fed has a 3.65 percent nominal GDP growth target and that the committee sets the fed funds target at 2.25 percent, based on the preferences of the median voter on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). Then the six hawkish FOMC members who advocated a fed funds target above 2.25 percent will presumably be concerned that the lower actual instrument setting will be too expansionary and will push the nominal GDP growth rate above 3.65 percent. The six dovish FOMC members would have expected below-target nominal GDP growth when the fed funds target was set at 2.25 percent.
Which brings the part we like best;
Next comes the first step toward a market-driven monetary policy regime. Assume that the salary of each voting member of the FOMC is tied to the accuracy of his or her NGDP forecasts. Thus, if actual NGDP growth turned out to be “too high”—that is, above 3.65 percent—then all those FOMC members who preferred a more contractionary policy stance (a higher fed funds stance) would receive a pay bonus, and those who voted for an even more expansionary policy would see their pay reduced. 
Their money is where their votes are. Now, those incentives need to be linked to the monetary base (ultimately what we, the people, use to buy stuff);
The Fed would peg the price of NGDP futures at $1.0365, but only during the period where it was the target of monetary policy. During this period, changes in investor sentiment would affect the quantity of money, not the price of NGDP futures. For market expectations to determine monetary policy, there must be a link between NGDP futures purchases and sales, and the quantity of money. This link can be achieved by requiring parallel open-market operations for each NGDP contract purchase or sale. Because investors buying NGDP futures are expecting above-target growth in NGDP, the Fed should automatically reduce the monetary base each time an investor buys an NGDP futures contract, and it should automatically expand the base each time an investor sells an NGDP contract short. For instance, each $1 purchase of a long position in an NGDP futures contract might trigger a $1,000 open-market sale by the Fed. A purchase of a $1 short position would trigger a $1,000 open-market purchase by the Fed. In that case, investors would be effectively determining the size of the monetary base.
The wisdom of the crowd would not be in guessing the number of jelly beans in the jar, but determining the number. Which would tend to push nominal GDP to the announced target. Sumner argues that had such a regime been in place in 2008, we would have avoided the worst of the financial crisis/Great Recession.
By harnessing incentives, as economists of all political stripes profess to believe.

The above scheme isn't the only one possible. Rather than focus on the Federal Funds Rate the Fed could use the price of gold, foreign exchange rates, or some other variable to accomplish the same thing; market-driven monetary policy.

Which would not be perfect...just better than the way we do things now.  But Sumner isn't a wild-eyed radical, he's willing to be patient and cautious;
The first step will involve the Fed creating and subsidizing trading in an NGDP futures market, and perhaps in GDP-deflator and real-GDP futures markets as well. Over time, it will become possible to observe those markets’ track records. In particular, the Fed will be able to study whether the NGDP futures market can accurately predict policy errors. If so, then the next step will be for the Fed to use NGDP futures prices as one element in the monetary-policy decision-making process. Once it has achieved a comfort level with using this market, the Fed should make currency and reserves convertible into NGDP futures at a fixed price. This is the index futures convertibility approach that Woolsey advocates, which still gives the central bank some discretion over monetary policy—much like the classical gold standard. Eventually, the Fed may move to a full-fledged NGDP targeting regime, where it passively implements market instructions to adjust the monetary base.
Sumner also takes a well deserved shot at the Zero Bounders who loudly proclaim that the Fed is out of ammunition when the Fed Funds Rate is near zero; thus in a liquidity trap. But that is not at all true, it's more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you realize that short-term interest rates are NOT the transmission mechanism of monetary policy, you see how phony the Zero Bound is. It's an excuse. An excuse to engage in fiscal policy--taxation, spending--that isn't needed, or that can be effective.


Bitter clingers, in Cuba, celebrate one of humanity's worst;
 Cuba on Friday commemorated the 60th anniversary of Fidel Castro's failed attack on a military army barracks that is considered the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.
Thousands were in the audience as President Raul Castro spoke in the eastern city of Santiago at a square outside the Moncada barracks, still visibly pockmarked with bullet holes from the doomed assault.
....Several heads of state from friendly nations attended the anniversary including Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Uruguay's Jose Mujica and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
....In speeches, the leaders vowed solidarity with Cuba, railed against U.S. "imperialism" and Washington's 51-year-old economic embargo, eulogized the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and said the Cuban Revolution inspired armed and political uprisings in their own nations.
That's something to celebrate?

Cry for me, Argentina

Where the politicians are like they are elsewhere in the world, just more so;
Yesterday, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced an increase in the new minimum wage of 25.2%. The hike is to be implemented in two stages: by the 1st August, the minimum salary will reach $3,300 and by January 2014, it is to extend to $3,600 per month.
The decision was convened by the Minimum Wage Council after negotiations between businesses, trade unions, and the Labour Minister. The rise is consistent with the increases obtained in collective wage negotiations.
....Speaking of the minimum salary, Labour Minister Carlos Tomada said “I want to highlight the dialogue between the businessmen and the workers as an example of the compromise of these players. It is very rewarding to arrive at this point.”
 Rewarding to price Argentinian low-skilled workers out of jobs.

Après moi, le déluge

Millions rush to sharpen their French language skills?
A change in French law means it has now become legal to insult the French president.
Parliament agreed on Thursday to amend legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.
Previously, anyone tempted to offend the head of state risked a fine.
In March, the European Court of Human Rights ruled France violated freedom of expression by fining a man for insulting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Now, can they work on the President insulting the French people.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

You can fool a Berkeley economist some of the time...

But eventually, if you keep acting ridiculously ignorant (for five years) of elementary theory, even the most rabidly partisan Democrat will not be able to take it any longer;
Obama turns neo-Austrian:
Towards the end of those three decades, a housing bubble, credit cards, and a churning financial sector kept the economy artificially juiced up. But by the time I took office in 2009, the bubble had burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, and their savings. The decades-long erosion of middle-class security was laid bare for all to see and feel.
This analysis is, you will not be surprised to see, in my view simply wrong.
....there is no sense in which the level of employment or of GDP that we had in the mid-2000s was unsustainable, or the result of any artificial juicing of an economy. We know what an economy that is artificially juiced beyond its sustainable productive potential looks like: it has rising inflation. That is not what the economy of the mid-2000s looked like....
The erudite professor DeLong is in error himself, especially when he claims;
  1. A thirty-year failure of economic growth to be equitable growth.
 since the average American has a far higher standard of living now; lives in a larger house, has more food, more clothing, more entertainment, better car, more electronic communication devices, higher level of education...but, the intellectual journey of a million miles begins with a single blog post.

Or at least, one can hope.

Bigger train wreck ahead

The body count is likely to be much greater than what just happened in Spain, say  Governors Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker;
Governors have firsthand experience with implementing public-assistance programs. We know how important it is to care for our most vulnerable citizens and to ensure that people are healthy and able to work. We also know that a one-size-fits-all approach like ObamaCare simply doesn't work. It only creates new problems and inequalities. That's why if you look at all 50 states, you'll see 50 unique ways of handling Medicaid.
Health-care premiums are going up. Many businesses have stopped hiring, to avoid reaching the limit of 50 full-time employees where they are required to offer health benefits. Those businesses that are hiring often take on part-time workers to stay under the full-time cap. Older individuals seeking work are finding that companies are reluctant to take a chance on their potential health-care costs.
These are just a few of the problems resulting from a program that wasn't thought through before it was rushed into law. No wonder we hear that the Obama attack machine is gearing up to blame everyone but the law itself for the chaos that lies ahead.
This law was a bad idea from the start, and the American public never supported it. The Obama team, taking advantage of an unusual two-year window when Democrats controlled all branches of government, foisted upon the country a liberal hodgepodge of unworkable notions that will wreak havoc on American health care. Delaying implementation of ObamaCare, not just the employer mandate, is a reasonable idea. But an even better one would be a complete repeal.
But that would require politicians to admit having made a huge mistake. How likely is that.

Kinda cheesy

Norway protects its citizens from cheaper cheese;
"We make the decisions, not Brussels," says Minister of Agriculture Trygve Slagsvold Veum. Although the EU has prepared a statement where the parliament criticizes Norway's tax on imported cheese, the minister stands his ground.
NRK reports that they have gained access to the documents where the EU accuses Norway of acting "inappropriate" when the government suggested increasing the tax on imported firm cheeses to limit competition with Norwegian producers.
"The Norwegian tax on certain types of cheese and meat products is close to protectionism. It is not what the Union expected from friends and neighbors," the regional commissioner of the EU, Johannes Hahn, said when he discussed the case in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
EU politicians also point out that the increase in taxes will harm both trade and consumers, and they question the economical logic in the new regulation.
Yes, well if we're going to be questioning economical logic, we'll have our work cut out for us....

one may smile, and smile, and be a villain

The scientists say they know how it works;
 Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research.
Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain.
Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up.
Scientists, reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming. 
Like politicians.

The Train in Spain

High Speed (de)Rail hasn't worked all the bugs out yet;
The most modern train safety systems use equipment on the track and within the driver's cab to replace traditional signals and control the speed and movement of the train automatically.
With a system such as the European Train Control System (ETCS), a driver would not be able to break the speed limit.
While parts of Spain's rail network - including a large section of the route the train had travelled from Madrid - do have the ETCS in operation, the curve where Wednesday's derailment took place relies on a less sophisticated safety system known as ASFA.

Russia 'creep out'

Vlad Putin isn't that kind of way, so Russia won't be either, but what will that do to vodka sales;
A gay rights organization based in the U.S. has called for a worldwide boycott on Russian vodka in response to the country's new gay propaganda legislation.
Queer Nation's manifest implores people not to buy or drink Russian vodka and also asks bar owners not to serve it in their establishments.
In late June, President Vladimir Putin signed the so-called "gay propaganda" law, which levies fines of 4,000 rubles to one million rubles ($124 to $31,000) for promoting homosexuality among minors.
The law has caused outrage in the international gay community, and a number of LGBT activists have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Don't forget orange juice.

Gatos lucha

Former Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei will officially represent the nation’s conservative base [UDI] in Chile’s Nov. 17 presidential election. 
....UDI President Patricio Melero highlighted the right’s eagerness to start campaigning with their newly elected candidate and derided [Socialist candidate Michelle] Bachelet’s recent two week vacation in New York City. 
“We are not going to waste time,” Melero told Radio Agricultura. “And while Michelle Bachelet wanders 5th Avenue in New York, Evelyn Matthei is interacting with [Chile’s] people and regions, and that is going to make a difference here in the long run.”  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tyranny of low expectations?

Or just wisdom;
BRUSSELS - A new survey has revealed large differences in economic confidence and perceptions about the EU between northern and southern member states.
While 80 percent of Swedes and 77 percent of Germans expressed confidence about the state of their country's economy, this contrasted with only 1 percent of Spaniards, and 2 percent of Cypriots and Greeks.
The French aren't much happier;
Only 6 percent of French people were content with the prospects of their economy with 92 percent responding negatively. France has come under pressure from Brussels to bring down its budget deficit more rapidly and to liberalise its labour market. 

Will the silent majority stand up

In Egypt, the defense minister is begging them to do so, and take to the streets;
Egypt's army chief has called for demonstrations on Friday to give the military a mandate to confront "violence and potential terrorism".
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he was not calling for public unrest and wanted national reconciliation.
He wants a demonstration to counter those who have been protesting the removal of the elected President Mohammed Morsi. A show to the world of who represents the majority of the Egyptian people. Who live in interesting times.

The clothes doth oft proclaim the man

Only a hardened racist would deny that the Howard University medical students do 'look suspicious' in the top photo. No doubt that's why they dress as in the bottom one when attending to patients.

One wishes one had the opportunity to ask these students if, finding themselves in Harlem or the South Bronx one night, with a group of people dressed as in the top photo on one side of the street, and another group dressed as in the bottom one on the opposite side, which side of the street would they choose to walk.

Shakespeare, knew.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Criticism of criticism

We'll bet many an author would like to be in Ann Rule's position right now;
A true crime author is suing a paper over a damning review of her book about a woman who killed her husband - after it emerged the man who wrote it was engaged to the killer.
Ann Rule launched legal proceedings against the Seattle Weekly after it ran an article accusing her of 'sloppy storytelling' in her book Heart Full of Lies, which is based on the story of Liysa Northon, who was jailed for the manslaughter of her husband.
Ms Rule maintained the newspaper printed the review 'unedited', and failed to disclose that its author, Rick Swart, had entered into a relationship with Northon.
Should be interesting assessing damages--given all the publicity from the lawsuit--if Rule gets a judgment against the paper.

No wine before its time

Not Orson Welles promoting Paul Masson, but a New York City wine storage facility denying its customers access to their property, while charging them storage fees;
More than 27,000 cases of fine wine worth tens of millions of dollars have been locked inside WineCare Storage, located in the Chelsea neighborhood [of NYC], since Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast and flooded the facility in late October.
Derek Limbocker, the owner of the warehouse - which is one of the largest wine care facilities in the country - claims 95 percent of the wines were undamaged in the storm.
But he won't let anyone inside his facility to assess the damage, and he won't allow any of the wines to leave - even though customers are still being billed for the storage of their collections. Before the storm, WineCare used to offer its customers same-day delivery service for even a single bottle of wine.
A whole host of wealthy wine enthusiasts have filed suit against Limbocker to access their collections, but their high-priced lawyers have had little success.By filing for bankruptcy, Limbocker has managed to sidestep every legal maneuver thrown at him - even a court-ordered injunction to allow one customer to view his 198 cases of wine, the New York Times reported.
The rich aren't so different after all, they can have their rights abrogated by the courts too.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fact checking at the New Yorker

How the mighty have fallen (from the standards established by Harold Ross and William Shawn);
Fact pieces had to be approved by the Fact editor and/or Ross or later Shawn. Topics, or persons in the case of Profiles, were "reserved" by writers, or for writers by editors. After the writer wrote the first draft he or she collaborated with an editor (by letter or more often in person) in line-by-line revision. For Fiction no reservations were made; stories were considered only on submission; they were read by several editors and then a vote on acceptance was taken.
Proofs of edited stories went to the editor, copy editor, and fact-checking department. The editor reviewed all the corrections made on the proofs with the author by phone, mail, or in person. New Yorker editors were famous for "suggesting" changes; while editors were always tactful, never adversarial, writers were aware that refusing certain suggestions might mean his or her story would not appear in the magazine.
That was then, this is now (Jeffrey Toobin, who also was a 'legal expert' appearing every night during the trial on CNN) in a piece in the magazine titled, The Facts in the Zimmerman Trial;
On the night of February 26, 2012, [George] Zimmerman was patrolling the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a town-house development in Sanford, Florida. 
Not exactly, Jeff.  He was on his way to the grocery store to do his weekly shopping.
At 7:09 P.M., Zimmerman called the non-emergency police-response line. (He did not call 911.) Was he inside or outside of his car at that point? It’s not clear. 
Yes it is. He called from inside his truck. One can hear the sounds of windshield wipers at the beginning of the call, and throughout it. Toobin continues;
The range of his observations suggests that he was outside, but he also says that it’s raining. Since you can’t hear any rain on the call, it might mean that he’s still inside the vehicle. 
One would have had to have bothered to watch the re-enactment video by investigator Chris Serino and the Sanford police, we guess, to know how silly Toobin is being. However, since that was offered into evidence at the trial--which Toobin watched?--it's clear that Zimmerman first observed Trayvon Martin in front of one of the townhouses in the community, drove on (hint; he'd have to have been inside the vehicle to do that) and parked in front of the community clubhouse (he not only tells this to the dispatcher, he gives its address).  
While there, talking with the dispatcher, Trayvon approaches him and passes by Zimmerman INSIDE his truck. Back to Toobin;
(A sound that might be a door chime raises the possibility that he got out of the car during the call.) 
We'd advise Toobin not to quit his day job, but since this is his job, he ought to. In addition to the door chimes, we also hear the sound of wind indicating Zimmerman is getting out of his vehicle.
The fact of the call alone presents different avenues for interpretation. Zimmerman was conducting a neighborhood watch. Does that mean he was a frustrated, wannabe cop? Or does that mean he was a good citizen trying to help a community that was beset by break-ins?
As we've already seen, Zimmerman was on his way to the store, not 'conducting a neighborhood watch'. He explains to a dispatcher that he's seen a suspicious character--Sanford police officer Doris Singleton later tells Zimmerman that he'd done the right thing in calling it in, because that's the recommendation of the police to neighborhood watch volunteers.

....Almost immediately, the dispatcher asks (Zimmerman does not volunteer the information) the subject’s race, and Zimmerman answers, “Black.” 
Here's the actual conversation;
0:25 Dispatcher: OK.  And this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?
0:29 Zimmerman: He looks black.
That's enough of that. Here's how Toobin ends his piece;
We’ll probably never know with absolute certainty what happened during those four (or so) critical minutes. But how people see the evidence of what happened—then and elsewhere, in this case and others—probably says more about them than about the evidence itself.
It sure does. It also tells us a lot about how the New Yorker is run these days.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Berkeley bookkeeping?

Professor J. Bradford DeLong, on his blog, quotes Joe Gagnon
 Monetary policy consists of printing money to buy assets....Fiscal policy consists of selling assets to buy goods, cut taxes, or increase transfers…. 
Selling assets = incurring liabilities? Because that is what deficit spending is; borrowing money to spend on whatever government chooses to do.  Of course, government could increase taxes, rather than 'cut taxes', which would be fiscal policy too, but would have nothing to do with 'selling assets'.

In fact, when one actually does sell an asset, one gains another asset in return; money. When one borrows money one incurs a liability.  One would have thought a Harvard Phd would have known that.

Burying the lede...and the hospital

In this Wall Street Journal story about a donation of $135 million by donors--who'd earned the money by investing $50,000 with Warren Buffet in the 1960s--to a Long Island, NY hospital, that has evaporated in a mere two decades, one has to read over 30 paragraphs to get to this;
...$85.7 million of the endowment was put into a trust to pay medical-malpractice claims, according to public records.
Which should be a clue as to why health care costs so much in the Litigious States of America. That it received so little fanfare in this article, ought to be journalistic malpractice...if there was such a thing.

Sir Charles drinks beer, doesn't he

The most powerful man in the world implies that he wants the country to have an honest dialogue on race;
In a rare and public reflection on race, President Barack Obama called on the nation Friday to do some soul searching over the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his shooter, saying the slain black teenager "could have been me 35 years ago." Empathizing with the pain of many black Americans, Obama said the case conjured up a hard history of racial injustice "that doesn't go away."
Obama's personal comments, in a surprise appearance in the White House press room, marked his most extensive discussion of race as president. For Obama, who has written about his own struggles with racial identity but often has shied away from the subject in office, the speech signaled an unusual embrace of his standing as the nation's first black president and the longing of many African-Americans for him to give voice to their experiences.
Which mostly doesn't include growing up in affluence in Hawaii while their mothers work on their Phd in sociology.  Attending one of the  most exclusive schools in the country, graduating from Columbia and Harvard Law School.

Far more American blacks grow up in dangerous, inner city neighborhoods, where they're more likely to suffer violence from their fellow man than to go to college. In that, hey're more like George Zimmerman than Barrack Obama--both of whom are the products of inter-racial parents.

But, there is something that the First Black POTUS could do to get America on the road to better racial harmony; in fact, do some soul searching with someone who has been honest about these things in the past; have a beer summit with Charles Barkley, and do it on national television for the entire country to see.. We are sure that any one of a number of television hosts would jump at the chance of moderating it; Brian Lamb, Charlie Rose, Piers Morgan, Jake Tapper, Steven Colbert or Jon Stewart. Name your poison, as it were.

Charles could explain to Mr. Obama what a 'knucklehead' is, for one thing.

Friday, July 19, 2013

To the Greeks, bearing tips

Signs of life for the Greek economy;
Foreign tourists are returning to Greece's sun-drenched islands and ancient temples, central bank data showed on Friday, boosting hopes that the key sector may help the crisis-hit country pull itself out of a severe economic recession.
....Greece's tourist industry is taking heart from data showing a 38.5 percent annual rise in receipts in May and a 15.5 percent increase in the first five months this year and predicts a bumper season.
....Tourism accounts for about 17 percent of output and one in five jobs in a country where unemployment has risen to about 27 percent.
....Although Greece expects more foreign visitors this year, domestic tourism - which accounts for up to 25 percent of total tourism revenues - has been severely hit and is seen remaining at last year's depressed levels, tourism bodies have said.
Greek incomes are being severely squeezed, cut by about 30 percent on average since the crisis started 2009, with signs that some Greek families can no longer afford long summer vacation or frequent weekend escapes away from Athens to nearby islands.
Wait til next year.

Think I'm big in Detroit city

By day they don't make so many cars, but by day and night they make themselves insolvent;
Once the very symbol of American industrial might, Detroit became the biggest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy Thursday, its finances ravaged and its neighborhoods hollowed out by a long, slow decline in population and auto manufacturing.
The filing, which had been feared for months, put the city on an uncertain course that could mean laying off municipal employees, selling off assets, raising fees and scaling back basic services such as trash collection and snow plowing, which have already been slashed.
"Only one feasible path offers a way out," Gov. Rick Snyder said in a letter approving the move.
There ought to be a lesson here; that special interest politics can destroy even the most successful polities if they're left alone, unaccountable, and without any concern for the future. People of Detroit, you got what you deserved.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Uncommon sense

A man who is enjoying his life, clearly. It would be a happier world if there were more people like him.

A Good East German

Til she draws her final breath apparently. Margot Honecker says, What's the matter with people anyhow?
...this year Honecker, who was East Germany's Education Minister from 1963 until 1989, published a book on popular education in East Germany. She also appeared in a rare interview Monday with the German TV network ARD.
In the 90-minute documentary on the Honecker era, the widow, 84, staunchly defended communist East Germany.
She said she never understood why people tried to escape to the West over the Berlin Wall when so many died in the attempt. "There was no need for that, there was no need for them to climb over the Wall. It's certainly bitter to have to pay for such stupidity with their lives," she said.
The widow of former GDR Communist leader Erich Honecker lives in Chile, where she refuses requests to be interviewed by spraying reporters with her garden hose.  "Let others apologize," she's been quoted as shouting from her home.

Change your plea to 'insanity'?

If you can't trust the V-POTUS, who can you trust;
Jeffrey Barton, of Vancouver, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a Clark County court to a charge of illegally discharging a firearm. The 52-year-old fired the shot Monday when he thought people were breaking into his vehicles.
Outside of court, Barton told KOIN ( ), "I did what Joe Biden told me to do. I went outside and fired my shotgun in the air."
In an answer to a home defense question in February, the vice president said Americans don't need semi-automatic weapons because a couple of blasts from a shotgun will scare off intruders.
Sheriff's deputies said that' not allowed except in self-defense.

The mother of invention

Migration, according to Carsten Fink, Ernest Miguelez, Julio Raffo, who've exploited a unique data base;
Patents filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty contain information on both the residence and the nationality of inventors....

Among their findings;
The US is by far the most popular destination for migrant 57% of the world’s inventors that reside outside their home country. Moreover, there are 15 times as many immigrant inventors in the US as there are US inventors residing abroad. Switzerland, Germany, and the UK also attract considerable numbers of inventors. Interestingly, though, Germany and the UK see more inventors emigrating than immigrating. Canada and France similarly show a negative net inventor immigration position.
Immigrant inventors account for 18% of all inventors residing in the US. Several small European countries see even higher immigration rates –notably, Belgium (19%), Ireland (20%), Luxembourg (35%), and Switzerland (38%). Among the larger European countries, the UK (12%) shows a relatively high share of immigrant inventors. By comparison, foreign nationals only account for 3% to 6% of all inventors in Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Japan is the only high-income economy with an inventor immigration rate of less than 2%. 
And, in a don't-stop-the-presses revelation;
We find that many of the variables that explain overall migration also explain inventor migration. In particular, economic incentives positively affect inventors’ decisions to migrate and the costs of relocating to another country exert a negative influence on these decisions. 

'Don't judge a book by its cover'

Instead, take Rachel Jeantel's advice (though, it apparently doesn't apply to 'perverts' peacefully sitting in their pickups), watch her interviewed at the Huffington Post, and then make up your mind. See for yourself, if she doesn't come across, as a narcissist, a racist, illogical, semi-literate, with no self-awareness whatsoever. Self-entitled in the most childish way; 'I'm a teenager. I'm nineteen.' and 'Me, a teenager. An adult judging me!'

Oblivious to the consequences of one's reckless behavior, when she discusses the 'whuppass' put on George Zimmerman by her friend Trayvon--she admits he started the fight with the first punch. He wouldn't have killed Zimmerman. No, impossible. That's just normal teenager behavior. Zimmerman should have taken it.

She also seems to admit to perjury when denying that she and Trayvon were boyfriend/girlfriend.

Keep in mind while watching that Piers Morgan thinks she's intelligent. She thinks so too, as she plans to go to college. Who can blame her, with adults encouraging her in her irresponsible, immature attitudes. Attitudes that helped get Trayvon Martin killed. As Thomas Sowell wrote in his book Black Rednecks and White LiberalsThose who provide black rednecks with alibis do no favor to them, to other blacks, or to the larger society in which we all live. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Canal smarts

Dalibor Rohac, at The Umlaut, thinks that the Venetians solved a problem that bedevils modern democracies, including the United States. That is the ability of well focused special interests to extract benefits from the general public whose ability to resist is practically non-existent due to the diffuse benefits of so doing. By making election to office almost unbelievably complicated, and thus very unlikely for anyone in particular;
Firstly, the elections of the Doge relied on an iteration of supermajority decisions. The consecutive votes required majorities ranging from 77.8 percent in the initial nomination by the committee of 9 to 61 percent in final election by the Quarantuno. Since Buchanan and Tullock, political economists tend to like supermajorities, because they make it more difficult to impose costs on minorities and curb winner-takes-all behavior.
Secondly, the element of randomness introduced into the election, as well as the complexity of the procedures, reduced the scope for strategic behavior and functioned as a truth-revealing mechanism. With the exception of the Quarantuno, there was no predictable link between the choices of consecutive committees and the outcome—the election of a particular candidate as a Doge. In other words, the electors acted as if behind a veil of ignorance and had little incentives to either misrepresent their preferences or to act in a narrow material interest.
Thirdly, at the final stage of the election process, approval voting was used. Political scientists have shown that, under plausible assumptions, approval voting encourages sincere voting, reflective of people’s true preferences. If one is allowed to cast votes for multiple candidates, there is little reason not to vote for one’s favorite candidate, even if one thinks that she has only a small chance of being elected. It is striking to see the Venetians stumble upon approval voting centuries ago before its desirable properties were documented by scholars—and indeed well before economists or political scientists started to think systematically about the implications of different decision-making rules.
Might as well as concentrate on becoming the best gondolier one can be, if there's not much chance of becoming FDR.