Monday, August 31, 2015

We're from the CFPB, and here to raise the cost of your auto loan

The WSJ reports on the latest coup from Obama Administration--thanks to Dodd-Frank;
A federal regulator’s campaign to fight bias against minorities is changing the way many car loans are priced. Those efforts could mean some consumers will pay more.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has reached more than $200 million in antidiscrimination agreements since 2013 with several large car-financing companies, including Ally Financial Inc. and American Honda Finance Corp., over allegations that dealers charged higher interest rates for African-Americans, Hispanics and other minority buyers.
The CFPB was specifically prohibited from interfering in the car lending business, but where there's a will.... All that the Bureau has accomplished is to change the way different components of an auto loan are structured. Apparently eliminating the most efficient--competitively arrived at--method for lenders and auto dealerships. So, with a less efficient process...surprise!
As part of its settlement with the CFPB and Justice Department, Honda’s lending unit agreed to lower its maximum dealer-markup cap to 1.25 percentage points from 2.25 points. But it has also decided to pay dealers 1% of the loan value out of its own pocket, while also raising the wholesale rate for car loans.

Under Honda’s new pricing plan, borrowers with a relatively high credit score of 760 or above would pay a wholesale rate of at least 3.4% for a new car loan, up from 2.3% before the settlement, according to a pricing sheet distributed by Honda to dealers in Texas and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Add in a dealer markup of 0.5 percentage point, for example, and the borrower could end up with an annual percentage rate of 3.9%, compared with 2.8% before. Over the life of a four-year $25,000 loan, that would add $586 in interest payments.
Hey, to the CFPB mafia, it's other people's money.

That's Entertainment Law!

While its practitioners are unusual amongst business and corporate lawyers, they are comfy with the left-leaning ideologues common in the legal profession. That is, according to some clever statistical analysis by scholars Adam Bonica, Adam S. Chilton and Maya Sen, in their paper The Political Ideologies of American Lawyers.
The practice that predicts the most liberal CFscore is entertainment law.
CFscores are measures of political campaign contributions. Bonica et al. have combined those scores with a data base from Stanford University; Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections (DIME). In their section on Ideology of Lawyers by Practice Area they break down where the areas are most ideological. Entertainment is even more left-ish than Civil Rights--Oil and Gas practice being the most conservative.

What HSIB finds to be particularly disturbing is that the legal profession as a whole is so unlike the rest of the population. Especially noteworthy is the data on the elite law schools' graduates.
The most striking result ... is that all 14 top law schools have distributions that lean to the left. That is, there are more liberal alumni from those schools than there are conservative alumni. Not only do all of the schools lean to the left, the skew is fairly extreme in several schools. ...University of California, Berkeley has the most liberal leaning distribution of alumni of all the elite law schools. .... all of the top six law schools--Yale, Harvard...Columbia...--have a relatively small number of graduates with conservative CFscores.
We bolded above the three law schools from which all nine current Supreme Court Justices have their degrees (and elided Stanford, Chicago and NYU). It's hardly surprising that a character like Donald Trump might find his opinions resonating with the broader American public, when they consistently see public policy reflecting not their preferences, but (in Thomas Sowell's famous formulation) the rampaging presumptions of their betters from the nation's elite law schools.

The Bonica et al. paper deserves a wide readership. Wider than it will probably get...unless Rush Limbaugh catches it, that is.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

India at a gander

Yesterday we remarked on a WSJ article showing The Fed stuck in 1968. Today one of the authors (Jon Hilsenrath) doubled down with India's chief central banker;
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo.—The Reserve Bank of India is in an accommodative phase of monetary policy, meaning it is looking to reduce interest rates, RBI Gov. Raghuram Rajan said.
We paraphrase Holden Caulfield;
You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "interest rates are the price of money" right under your nose. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "HSIB" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "interest rates are the price of money." I'm positive, in fact.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cool Hand Scott, The Sequel

Back in 2012 Scott Sumner had a suggestion for The Fed, which was prefaced with; I strongly believe that interest rates are the wrong [monetary] policy instrument.

Today, Scott notices a WSJ piece by Jon Hilsenrath and Ben Leubsdorf, repeating the error that interest rates are the price of money.

The conundrum challenges much of what central bankers thought they understood about the world, as well as their ability to do their job. How will they know when to raise or lower interest rates [our bold] if they’re unsure what causes consumer prices to rise and fall?

“There is definitely less confidence, a lot less confidence” about how inflation works, James Bullard, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said in an interview here Friday.
Here, being the annual Jackson Hole, Wyoming conference put on by the KC Fed. From which Scott attempts to break out again;
Fortunately, there another nominal variable [NGDP] that still does track the business cycle very closely:
Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 10.42.05 AM

If the WSJ article is any guide, at least some of The Fed's decision makers are still trapped in 1968, when Professor (and former head of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President) Walter Heller made the egregious error of claiming that;
I really don't understand how the scarcity of any commodity can be gauged without referring to its price -- or, more specifically, how the scarcity of money can be gauged without referring to interest rates. .... To insist that the behavior of the price of money (interest rates) conveys no information about its scarcity is, as [Yale economist James] Tobin has noted, an "odd heresy."
Milton Friedman pounced on that error;
The interest rate is not the price of money.... The price of money is how much goods and services you have to give up to get a dollar. You can get big changes in the quantity of money without any changes in credit.

.... You must sharply distinguish between money in the sense of the money or credit market, and money in the sense of the quantity of money. And the price of money in that second sense is the inverse of the price level--not the interest rate. The interest rate is the price of credit.
If economists want to stop confusing themselves, they need to stop thinking of monetary policy in terms of raising and lowering an interest rate (such as the Fed Funds rate at which banks lend overnight to each other).

Friday, August 28, 2015

We want him to spend more time with his family

Outside the world of politics, failure eventually has its consequences (and someone new gets a chance);
Seattle Mariners President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Mather announced this morning that EVP of Baseball Operations & General Manager Jack Zduriencik has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately.

....Mather said, "We have reached the point when change of leadership of our baseball operations is needed for the Seattle Mariners to reach our goal of winning championships. We are very disappointed with the results this season, and are not satisfied with the current operation. ....

Mather added, "We have great respect for Jack and his work ethic. He was an excellent representative of the Mariners both within the game of baseball and in the community. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish him and (his wife) Debbie all the best, and thank him for all his efforts."
The Mariners are one of two Major League Baseball Teams--the former Montreal Expos, now Washington Nationals, being the other--never to have played in a World Series. The Mariners last made the playoffs in 2001. Zduriencik's contribution to that losing streak extends back to 2008 (seven years).

Better late than never, we suppose

The Tacoma News Tribune celebrates Chinese resistance to Japan in decades after the fact that that resistance was almost all by the non-Communist forces (Kuomintang) of Chiang Kai-Shek;
Four years before Pearl Harbor, three years before Nazi Germany’s bombing of London, Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 terrorized tens of millions of people. And no Chinese city was pounded as hard as Chongqing [to which Chiang had moved his headquarters].

From 1938 to 1941, Japanese warplanes carried out more than 200 separate bombing raids on Chongqing (known in the West then as Chungking), killing nearly 12,000 people, most of them civilians. Thousands were killed on two horrendous days of bombing – May 3 and 4, 1939.

For decades, histories of World War II – written both inside and outside of China – gave short shrift to what Chongqing endured. But in recent years, that has changed. As Beijing prepares to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the metropolis that some call “the city of heroes” is getting wider recognition.

Read more here:
 Unmentioned in this article is that the Communists headquartered in Yenan (NW China) largely were untouched by the Japanese. And, since the resistance to the Japanese was mostly by Chiang's Nationalists (Kuomintang), why was the American diplomatic mission in Chungking (as it was then known) so busy promoting Mao ahead of Chiang at the time?

It's the question Senator Joseph McCarthy wanted answered. For his trouble he has been (and still is to this day) slandered. Slandered first by a man named Owen Lattimore. Here's a bit of a memo Lattimore wrote to Harry Truman in 1945, spelling out the options for American Foreign Policy;
1. Division of the country between Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists. This would mean for Chiang, a permanent policy of getting American support for which he would give anything America wants; and for the Communists, a similar policy of getting Russian support, with similar results. The eventual consequence would almost inevitably be war between America and Russia.

2. A unified China. To unify China, there must be a settlement between Chiang and the Communists and simultaneously an agreement between America, Russia, and Britain to build up China as a whole. The Communists would have to accept minority standing as a long-term status; but Chiang would have to give them real power within a coalition government, proportionate to their real strength, not just token representation.
Lattimore then added that America should adopt #2. Which we did. Eventually resulting in China falling to Communism, and tens of millions dying as a result. When McCarthy started questioning that reasoning in 1950, he quickly became persona non grata to polite society. And, as we said above, still is.

Maduro's War ...

     on women, children, Indians and other living things, as detailed in this WSJ piece by Maolis Castro and Kejal Vyas;
“What’s certain is that we are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot,” said María Palma, a 55-year-old grandmother who on a recent blistering hot day had been standing in line at the grocery store since 3 a.m. before walking away empty-handed at midday.
The wages of the sin of socialism, everywhere it's been tried. Today in Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Yesterdays in Eastern Europe, Mao's China and Allende's Chile.
“It’s a national crisis,” said Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, noting that unlike the political protests of last year, residents are now taking to the streets demanding social rights.

The nonprofit group recorded 500 protests over food shortages during the first half of 2015, 56 looting incidents and dozens of attempted lootings at grocery stores, pharmacies and warehouses. Even delivery trucks are frequently targeted. “If people aren’t outside protesting, they’re outside standing in line for goods,” Mr. Ponce said.
And now they're assaulting Venezuelan troops who are enforcing the price controls that are responsible for the shortages. Because it's a matter or survival.
Resident Yusleidy Márquez said she too fears the worst. The basket of subsidized food the government gives her mother every 15 days only feeds her family for two days. Lately, she only eats a cornmeal patty for lunch because she can’t afford more.

“I think we’re going to die of hunger,” she said.
Unless they can defeat their own military, which itself is controlled by Cubans.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Team BMW travels on its stomach

So Team Putin Stalingrads them;
Russia's food safety watchdog has burned 1.5 tonnes of food imported for a BMW car racing team taking part in an event in Moscow, TASS news agency reported on Thursday.

The destruction was part of Moscow's program of burning and bulldozing Western food, banned from Russia in retaliation for sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.

"The department decided to impound goods at the checkpoint due to gross violation of sanitary rules," TASS quoted food watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor as saying.
Will Russisa sell them gasoline?

Tomatina LXX

If it's the last Wednesday in August, this must be Buñol. And a new record;
Wednesday morning 22,000 people lined the streets of Buñol, Valencia province, to throw around 170,000 kilos of tomatoes in celebration of the 2015 Tomatina.

The world-famous tomato-throwing festival is 70 years old this year and to celebrate organizers have distributed 29,000 more kilos of fruit than in 2014.
Things are looking up elsewhere in Spain too;
The Spanish economy grew 1.0% in the second quarter of 2015, according to data released Thursday by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The figure is one tenth of a point higher than in the first quarter, and the highest in the last eight years, reflecting the kind of growth experienced prior to Spain’s economic crisis.

Consumers and investors are driving the renewed economic expansion. Second-quarter household consumption rose 1% on an annual basis, representing the ninth consecutive quarter of growth. Meanwhile, investment, particularly in capital goods and cultivated assets, expanded 2.2% from April to June.

GRexit stage left

Yanis Varoufakis says Greece isn't big enough for him, he'll now be a Euro Star;
[Instead of running in the next Greek election, in a few weeks, he'll] focus on setting up a new movement to “restore democracy” across Europe, the former Greek finance minister told Reuters on Thursday.

The combative, motorbike-riding academic was sacked as finance minister last month after alienating euro zone counterparts with his lecturing style and divisive words, hampering Greece’s efforts to secure a bailout from partners.

The one-time political rock star has since steadily attacked the bailout programme that prime minister Alexis Tsipras subsequently signed up to and the austerity policies that go with it, rebelling against his former boss in parliament.
Tsipras, who has his own problems--he had to resign as PM--shot back;
“Varoufakis was talking but nobody paid any attention to him” at the height of Greece’s negotiations with IMF and European Union lenders.

“They had switched off, they didn’t listen to what he was saying,” Mr Tsipras said. “He didn’t say anything bad but he had lost his credibility among his interlocutors.”
Oh yeah! Well, you're Sysyphus;
...condemned to push a rock uphill only to have it roll back down, telling Australia’s ABC Radio the prime minister had embarked on “pushing the same rock of austerity up the hill” against the laws of economics and ethical principles.


John Goodman reviews Steven Brill's America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, And The Fight To Fix Our Broken Healthcare System;
On the campaign trail, the president had pledged: “We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who [is] making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.”

It was not to be, says Brill. Instead, key players in health care reform met behind closed doors in what years ago would have been smoke-filled rooms. Everyone knew that if you weren’t at the table you were going to be on the menu, reminding the unwary of the saying that “laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”
The chefs included Montana's Senator Max Baucus, Chair of the Finance Committee, who had calculated that the new law would benefit the pharmaceutical industry to the tune of $200 billion over ten years. So Baucus wanted to capture some of that windfall in the Crony Capitalism's Affordable Care Act. He proposed that there be lower drug prices under Medicare and Medicaid, and taxes on pharma revenues, of about $130 billion. But;
[Former congressman] Billy Tauzin, then head of the pharmaceutical trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), also came ready to deal: $80 billion in concessions was his bottom line, and he wasn’t going to budge. Ultimately, Tauzin prevailed, and Brill explains why: To have any chance of legislative success, the Democrats needed sixty Senate votes. Without PhRMA, Tauzin knew they would never get there.
Similarly, other health care interests had power to monkey wrench the bill;
Health care special interests as a whole spend four times as much as the military-industrial complex on lobbying and campaign contributions, writes Brill.
And, while officially, the main lobbyist for health insurers, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) supported President Obama's plan, Brill reveals that the “big five” carriers—Aetna, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare, and WellPoint—secretly contributed $86 million to a US Chamber of Commerce effort to derail the act.

Which might be why there are so many Jaguars in Washington DC;
In the District of Columbia, the Jaguar XK sells at 752 percent the national average. Four premium vehicles, including the Jaguar XK, Aston Martin Vantage, Ferrari F12 Berlinetta and Jaguar XJ, all have market shares in the District of Columbia more than six times their national averages.
Thanks to Craig Newmark for that last bit of trivia.

Dodd-Frank-enstein monster

The road was paved with good prevarications?
Two business lobbying groups this week called on the Consumer Financial Protection Board to investigate the medical funding industry after a Reuters investigation revealed that private investors are funding operations for women who have sued makers of surgical implants.

The American Tort Reform Association and DRI—The Voice of the Defense Bar told Reuters on Tuesday that medical funders take advantage of the people they claim to be helping.
Told Reuters without intending irony, no doubt. Business lobbyists want to use a Consumer agency, because they're concerned about the little people.
...medical funders profit by purchasing bills for the medical treatment of injured plaintiffs at a deep discount from health care providers, then claiming the full amount of the bill as a lien against the patient’s legal recovery through a settlement or verdict.
Essentially the funders finance operations and hope they'll eventually get paid by a malpractice insurer. Which those insurers object to;
“This is predatory lending – exactly what the CFPB was designed to prevent,” said [lobbyist] DRI president John Sweeney in an interview. [our bold in that sentence]
Funny that Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank forgot to mention that that was what the bill named after them, had exactly in mind. I.e., that one group of businessmen could use the CFPB to hobble another group of businessmen.

As the other side put it;
Medical lender Daniel Christensen of Austin-based MedStar Funding said in an email that industry participants are subject to certain state commercial or lending laws. He said patients’ attorneys also provide oversight.

“I am not in favor of regulation,” said Christensen, whose medical funding network was described in the Reuters investigation. “I am in favor of a person’s right to contract. If they want to take a settlement advance or if they want to obtain medical care on a lien, they should have the right to do so without the government telling them otherwise.”
 A government agency that's here to help the consumers;

The Bureau’s structure

CFPB Org Chart

Patent Water

Scientific, they say;

Recovery Water’s patented, cutting-edge technology is revolutionizing your body’s cellular function.

Scientists from a Tacoma, WA-based biotech company have developed Recovery Water using a special electro-kinetically modified process. In this process, Recovery Water is infused with charged nano-structures, which are proven safe to consume and highly effective in promoting healthy cells.

Our scientists have effectively enhanced the water without changing the natural, healthy properties of it. 

Recovery Water tastes, looks and hydrates just like water but also improves the body’s natural recovery process.
It'll even protect you from cheap-shotting linebackers;
...the NFL’s second-high paid quarterback -- describes how he bounced back so quickly from a vicious, open-field hit by Green Bay’s Clay Matthews on the return of an interception he threw in January’s NFC championship game.

"I banged my head during the Packers game in the playoffs, and the next day I was fine," [Russell] Wilson tells R[olling] S[tone magazine]. "It was the water."
He liked it so much, he invested in the company.

Read more here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Time and a half for OT in the Cuban workers' paradise?

Granma reports on the preparations for the Pope's visit to the Castro brothers' isla next month;
Alberto Cuéllar and Rodney Fidalgo — both proud of having worked on the podiums for the mass offered by Pope Benedict XVI and the current for Pope Francis’ visit – tell of their recent endeavors. “At seven in the morning we are here working, from Monday to Saturday for almost 12 hours in which we barely stop for lunch,” Rodney tells Granma.
Carlos Antonio Benibelis Fonseca, in charge of the works, explained that it is a serious task. “We work in two shifts. One from seven in the morning until seven at night, when the other shift arrives and works until three in the morning. It was necessary to work like this to complete the welding work, defined as the most important task.”
In his view, the workers directly involved in construction works and those involved in related tasks have shown great interest and professionalism as they recognize the importance of Pope Francis’ visit both for Cuban society and the world.
Funny there's no mention in the official Communist Party news organ, of the $15 per hour minimum wage being paid. Nor of Cuba's version of OSHA on the job sites looking after the workers' health and safety.

Well, Pope Francis is sure to address the exploitation when he finally arrives to speak to los Cubanos.
Pope Francis called Thursday for a bold cultural revolution to correct what he described as a "structurally perverse" economic system where the rich exploit the poor, turning Earth into an "immense pile of filth."


The UN does what what it does best, issue press releases;
The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new United Nations report, "World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision....
Says the UN: Most of the increase will be in nine countries; India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Uganda, and the USA. Well, let's check in with the former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, writing from Yale  at;
Even with the rapid growth of the last 15 years, vast numbers remain unemployed in Africa. This will only get worse as growth slows considering millions of young people will enter the labour market each year. The continent also still confronts extremely high poverty rates.
Five of those predicted high population growth countries are in Africa.
In low-income African countries, the informal sector generates half of national output, 80% of total employment, and 90% of new jobs. This is a problem for countries’ economic growth potential, productivity, quality of employment, income distribution, and fiscal revenues.
Of course, a politician always worries about government revenues, but;
Those in the informal sector are either self-employed or working in business units with very few people. When marginalisation from the legal system is combined with small size, the results are lack of legal identity, little or no capital, isolation from formal sources of credit and technology, and very limited markets, all resulting in very low productivity.
More people with low productive capacity into the world. That seems to be a recipe for trouble. Unless those countries change the way they do things (as China and India did). I.e., less socialism, more free exchange.

Humvee, b'gosh!

Arnold Schwarzenegger, take note;
U.S. specialty truck maker Oshkosh Corp (OSK.N) has won a $6.75 billion contract to build 17,000 light tactical vehicles to replace the aging Humvees used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, the U.S. Army announced on Tuesday.

.... The two military services plan to replace a total of 55,000 vehicles over time, which could drive the value of the contract win to over $30 billion.
Image result for oshkosh jltv

Keen analyst of the obvious

The head of the NY Fed, William Dudley, speaks;
Mr. Dudley said boosting short-term rates off their current near zero levels at the Federal Open Market Committee’s mid-September meeting now looks “less compelling” in light of the market’s volatility and worrisome news out of China.
Maybe that's why the central bank of China moved in the other direction?

Someone should have asked Mr. Dudley, What's with this interest rate fetish?, after he said;
“I really do hope we can raise interest rates this year,” Mr. Dudley said. But he added, “Let’s see the data unfold before we make any statements when that might occur.”
If the Fed really wants higher interest rates, they could get them by announcing a higher inflation target, or probably even better, a higher target for nominal GDP. The announcement alone might move markets, including credit markets in the desired direction.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Toys Rn't Us, and that's an order

Maybe this Global Times news story explains the Chinese stock market drop;
Unlike the wholesale clothes markets near the Beijing Zoo, which were given a place to relocate to, no alternative location has been arranged for the hundreds of sellers at the [Hongqiao Tianle] toy market to continue their business after October.

"We don't know where they'll be moved to and it's not our responsibility to relocate them," said an anonymous staffer in the market's management office. "We just follow government's orders."
And the government disapproves of toys?
Over the past three years, many markets in Beijing have been moved out of the city to Hebei Province or closed down completely, including those near the zoo and Dahongmen areas. In earlier August, another 350 clothes sellers at the Tianhaocheng Market near the zoo were moved. The building is set to be renovated and turned into a new, high technology industries incubator.

According to a Beijing Times report in January, Wang Zhonghua, vice district mayor of Dongcheng district, said the toy market's closure was not intended to drive out the toy sellers. Rather, the intention was to upgrade the industry infrastructure in Beijing to introduce more high-tech and low-carbon enterprises, which is in line with an international metropolis and the capital's future development.
Like the Yankees;
According to Jiang San'geng, vice president of the Academy of Metropolis Economic and Social Development at Capital University of Economics and Business, it is a good move for Beijing to "get thinner" by optimizing the core functions of the capital, including getting rid of wholesale markets selling low-quality products.

"We should learn from countries like the US," Jiang told in July.

"In Washington DC, there are not many industries and enterprises, which avoid industrial agglomeration and related population expansion."
Keeping the riff raff out from under foot.

Anchored moms

What term better describes the phenomenon from this story in China's People's Daily;
According to surrogacy centers interviewed by CNN, a growing number of Chinese families are hiring American women as surrogate mothers, making the industry a lucrative one.
The entire surrogacy process typically takes about 15 months and requires couples to make a few visits to the U.S. In total, the cost is around $130,000 -- roughly in line with fees charged by other surrogacy providers, though costs can balloon to around $150,000.
Two reasons the Chinese will pony up;
Paying Americans to carry their children allows Chinese to circumvent their home country's restrictive policies on reproduction -- surrogacy is illegal [and abortion forcible].
Another incentive: The child is automatically a U.S. citizen, and can sponsor their parents for a green card when reaching the age of 21.
Although that the children would become automatically ... U.S. citizen[s] is, at the very least, disputed by Constitutional scholars.

The pride of the lions

Open wide;
A lion has killed a tour guide in the same park which was home to Zimbabwe's most prized lion Cecil, who was shot by a US hunter last month.
Quinn Swales, was the name of the guide who was showing a half dozen tourists around Hwange National Park.
The male lion was wearing a GPS collar and is thought to be called Nxaha.
 ...."Nxaha jumped out at Quinn but all efforts to save Quinn were in vain."
Maybe they should welcome more visiting U.S. dentists.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Able will be island: Air St Helena

It's been awhile since Napoleon's final residing place mattered to much of anyone, but a new airline hopes to change that;
When looking at St. Helena's tiny dot on the map it's easy to forget it played host to the likes of Napoleon, Darwin and Halley and was once right in the middle of one of the most important trade routes in the world.

What geography gave, geography took away and the ocean that once linked it to the epicenters of culture and commerce became, in later times, a formidable barrier.
The only way to get to it was on a slow boat from South Africa. Once every three weeks. However;
A brand new airport is due to open in 2016 and some airlines are already making plans to ease the island's isolation.

Comair, a South African airline and British Airways franchisee, has already been selected to operate a weekly flight between the island and Johannesburg.

Meanwhile Atlantic Star Airlines, a start-up founded by former British Airways pilots, is readying its project to link St. Helena to the UK by air.
For a taste of the experience, there's always the 1972 movie Eagle In a Cage with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. Even available for free on You Tube;

Slow pokes, them Bolivarians

Venezuelans have slower internet connections than even Cubans. According to a story in the PanAm Post;
Venezuela, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Paraguay have the slowest internet connections in the Americas, according to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
While the speedy Gonzaleses, comparatively speaking, are;
... Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico were the countries with the fastest connections and rank above the regional average.
Which regional average is itself a laggard;
...the average global broadband speed for Latin America is only 7.3 Mbps (megabits per second), well behind the 32.2 Mbps average for developed countries.
With apologies to Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern, Nick Maduro is old-fashioned and doesn't mind it, that's how he wants his country to be, as long as Cuba agrees to stay old-fashioned too;
... in Venezuela, the country with the worst internet quality in the region, the government has cut public spending on internet services.

In 2009, the Venezuelan government deemed internet access a “luxury” service, and reduced funding for university computer labs and infrastructure projects to improve service in the country.

Currently, the average download speed in Venezuela is 2.3 Mbps, which is lower than even Cuba, where the average speed is 2.9 Mbps.
If you're a socialist caudillo, it's good that the opposition has both a hard time checking up on you and little knowledge of how the rest of the world lives.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

'Is this a dagger I see before me/The handle toward my hand?'

Paris-trained (Sorbonne) Cambodian Shakespeare scholar...and mass murderer, passes away;
Ieng Thirith, a Khmer Rouge leader who was the highest-ranking woman in the genocidal regime that oversaw the death of nearly 2 million Cambodians in the late 1970s, died Aug. 22, her family and U.N. officials said. She was 83.

Her son, Ieng Vuth, said she had been suffering from dementia, heart troubles and other health problems. No other details were available.

Ieng Thirith was a sister-in-law of the Khmer Rouge’s late supreme leader, Pol Pot. A Sorbonne-educated Shakespeare scholar, she served as minister of social affairs and was married to Ieng Sary, the regime’s former foreign minister, who died in 2013 at age 87.
The former professor of English in Phnom Penh left teaching in the 1960s, along with other Cambodian intellectuals trained in Paris, to live in the jungle and plot their socialist utopia. In 1975, when, with U.S. forces withdrawn, the Khmer Rouge took power, she was named Minister of Social Affairs. Her sister was Pol Pot's wife.

She never was tried for her crimes, as, by the time a United Nations' tribunal got around to her in 2012 she was unable to comprehend what was going on, thanks to Alzheimer's Disease.

Larry Lessig, meet Robert Epstein

That is is, if Lessig is serious about becoming President (or if Cat Zakrzewski of the WSJ is right about him wanting to 'hack his way to the Presidency');
Mr. Lessig’s open source plan underscores the importance of technical tools and engineers to campaigns in the crowded 2016 field. From contacting voters to gathering donations, candidates increasingly rely on sophisticated tools to shape their campaigns.
Before he even could launch his exploratory campaign, Mr. Lessig’s team had to develop software that could crowdsource campaign funding. He said he could not find an existing platform that met federal campaign regulations. If he meets his goal of raising $1 million, Mr. Lessig will kick off his official run for the White House on Labor Day, he said. Jimmy Wales, a Wikipedia cofounder, is managing his fundraising efforts. As of Thursday, Mr. Lessig had raised more than $400,000.
Mr. Lessig will also need Silicon Valley’s deep pockets. Mr. Lessig said he would meet with potential backers at an event organized by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman on Thursday.
As we posted yesterday, Robert Epstein thinks it's not the Valley's deep pockets, but the tweeks that will matter;
Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson.
He should forget the suits and cultivate the nerds.

Update: Epstein speaks with KTTH's David Boze and fills in some details that were edited out of the Politico story that is making waves in the world of politics.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Google going rogue

Robert Epstein, writing at Politico, says, forget about reforming the Electoral College. Worry about Google;
Research I have been directing in recent years suggests that Google, Inc., has amassed far more power to control elections—indeed, to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs—than any company in history has ever had. Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson.

Given that many elections are won by small margins, this gives Google the power, right now, to flip upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide. In the United States, half of our presidential elections have been won by margins under 7.6 percent, and the 2012 election was won by a margin of only 3.9 percent—well within Google’s control.
Not a conspiracy nut, Epstein is senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. Even if Google's executives didn't want to use their ability to manipulate the electorate, one or some of their employees could easily do it without their knowledge, by doing to candidates what they do right now constantly; adjust the search engine's mathmetical formulae.

Not that something like this hasn't happened before, says Epstein;
Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States, was put into office in part because of strong support by Western Union. In the late 1800s, Western Union had a monopoly on communications in America, and just before the election of 1876, the company did its best to assure that only positive news stories about Hayes appeared in newspapers nationwide. It also shared all the telegrams sent by his opponent’s campaign staff with Hayes’s staff. 
And, even possibly, more recently;
Perhaps the most effective way to wield political influence in today’s high-tech world is to donate money to a candidate and then to use technology to make sure he or she wins. The technology guarantees the win, and the donation guarantees allegiance, which Google has certainly tapped in recent years with the Obama administration.

Will Card, Kreuger and Nick Hanauer be able to measure it?

Greg Nichols of ZD Net says it's already a brave new world for robots;
Roughly 1.2 million additional robots will be used in U.S. industry by 2025, and robots will perform about 25 percent of the automatable tasks in manufacturing worldwide in the same timeframe, according to a frequently cited Boston Consulting Group report released earlier this year. As the price, size, and operating complexity of industrial robots plummet, BCG believes manufacturers will replace 22 percent of human workers with machines.
Even small businesses will (and already do) use them;
... Miraz Manji, founder of TLAC Toronto Printing & Publishing, a 2D and 3D design, print, and publishing shop in Toronto, Canada, that creates books for self-published authors. Manji's team uses a mix of automation, old fashioned design talent, and close attention to craft to produce small and medium-sized runs of physical books of exceptional quality -- a niche market until automation increased the number of artisanal books a small shop could produce.
Still have to have an author, but the actual creation of the physical product is done by TLAC's five employees.
Publishing provides an interesting historical case study precisely because it was an industry once occupied by master printers and bookbinders who were replaced en mass with the arrival of industrial-scale publishing. The old jobs were all but eliminated.
Creating the mass market books that had to sold in the tens of thousands to pay off for the publishers. Now, that economy of scale is being replaced by runs of a few hundred books.
By taking advantage of the best of human craftsmanship and the most accessible manufacturing and workflow automation tools, this little startup is helping redefine its market while pointing to a new way for savvy small manufacturers to deliver both value and quality. Ray Kurzweil should be proud.
So would Milton Friedman.

Rent out your car as a studio apartment

But don't infringe on Ford's patent when you do;
Patent 9,096,150, issued Aug. 4, provides for a vehicle with configurable seats. A seat facing forward when occupied by a driver can be turned around when the car is operating in an “autonomous” mode.

Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford said that as the level of sophistication in vehicles increases, they require less input from a passenger. Eventually an autonomous vehicle will require no interaction beyond the selection of a destination, “leaving passengers to focus on non-driving-related tasks,” according to the patent.
16-year old boys the world over applaud.

And when the Planning Commission runs the play...

They give themselves sub-Mississippi levels of poverty, as Wendel Cox of New Geography details here;
Middle income households have been forced to accept lower standards of living while less fortunate have been driven into poverty by the high cost of housing. Housing costs have risen in some markets compared to others that the federal government now publishes alternative poverty estimates (the Supplemental Poverty Measure), because the official poverty measure used for decades does not capture the resulting differentials. The latest figures, for 2013, show California's housing cost adjusted poverty rate to be 23.4 percent, nearly half again as high as the national average of 15.9 percent. 
And half again as high as Mississippi, when both states are measured this way. Also;
The Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality have collaborated to establish the "California Poverty Measure," which is similar to the Supplemental Poverty Measure adjusted for housing costs.
And the reason for California's high housing costs? If you guessed, land use regulation and building restrictions put in place by planning commissions, give yourself a pat on the back.

The way they draw it up in the huddle

If the huddle is of Public Choice Economists;
Several hundred people packed a Tacoma [WA] meeting room Wednesday, and for more than four hours told the city Planning Commission in no uncertain terms that its ideas for building more types of housing were bad.

Person after person lined up to demand a change to the law that allows six-story buildings in neighborhood business districts. In about equal number, people protested the idea of allowing single-family homes to be turned into duplexes and triplexes, particularly in historic neighborhoods.

The speakers against proposals that would allow more “in-fill development” cited Proctor Station, a six-story retail and apartment complex, as the prime example of what must be avoided.

“I don’t want to see what’s happened to the Proctor District,” said Steve Kamieniecki, a North End resident who opposes other changes, “with a six-story monstrosity that has destroyed the character of that part of town.”
Naturally the (probably far more numerous) people who want to see that type of housing and retail built, so they can live, shop and work there, don't have any input. Unless you count the developers who want to supply what is demanded, as proxies. But they would be outnumbered at the central economic planning fest.

Nice thing about the market; you don't have to waste hours of your time trying to convince a politician, or group of same, that you should be allowed to have what you perceive to be in your own interest. You only have to convince someone that, if they build it, you will come and buy it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Line forms at 'an atrocity wallpapered in propaganda'

In Maduroland, it's only possible thanks to the fearsome leaders;
On Saturday morning, my sister-in-law decided to go to one of these events [Community Provision Days] in a poor neighborhood in the heart of Caracas. She did it because organizers had announced that meat, fish, deli meats, and chicken would be available. She arrived at 6 in the morning, was given number 250, and waited in line for seven hours.
And there was no meat, deli meats or chicken. And only some inferior--mackerel and sardines--fish, because, the meat truck did not come, since it overturned on the way here, according to the organizers of the event. Nor were the vegetables anything to savor;
...ugly, green potatoes (one kilo per person, hand picked by the person handing them to you); carrots (about the same); some tomatoes that cause a reaction somewhere between repulsion and shame — while boxes of beautiful red tomatoes remain stacked against a wall.

“When will you sell those?” I ask. “Later,” they reply. I suspect they’ll sell those on the side, on the black market, and I’m not alone in my suspicion. The peppers are shamefully small. I get three micro-peppers, no more.
What they do have aplenty;
Placards with photos of presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro posted at the entrance say: “If it wasn’t for them, this sale would not have been possible.”  

The same is going on inside. There is not a single square meter in the crumbling warehouse that doesn’t show either a picture of Chávez and Maduro, a quote from Chávez, or a picture of Chávez with Fidel Castro. 
This firsthand report from Venezuela was posted at the PanAm Post. Which had to promise anonymity to the author, since complaining about socialism is construed as treason by Nick Maduro.

As annoying as standing in the rain hailing a cab?

NYC's public nuisance challenges Uber's First Amendment rights;
An attorney who calls himself the “Annoyance Lawyer” sued Uber Technologies Inc. over its robocall campaign attacking New York Mayor Bill de Blasio over his proposal to limit the number of drivers.

Todd C. Bank sued on behalf of recipients of thousands of recorded calls the ride-hailing company made during the campaign telling city residents “we need your help” to defeat the proposal, he said in a lawsuit.
Federal law prohibits robocalls for commercial purposes, but the law exempts calls for political campaigns. As it would have to since the First Amendment denies congress the ability to deny freedom of speech and press. Which the lawsuit seems to concede that Uber was doing;
“Uber ended the days when you couldn’t get a ride home because cabs didn’t want to leave Manhattan,” one script for the calls read, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. “Now Mayor de Blasio is trying to bring the bad old days back because his millionaire taxi donors are telling him to.”
Which worked. De Blasio dropped his proposal.


Some think the entire country is a theme park;
A family theme park which is proudly being billed by graffiti artist Banksy as not suitable for small children is to open for business.

Residents near the Somerset seafront resort of Weston-super-Mare had thought the top-secret make-over of a 2.5 acre site was for a film shoot.
One promoted as, “a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism”.
The project, called Dismaland — Bemusement Park, comes complete with a fairytale castle, a boat pond full of asylum seekers, two ballet-performing juggernauts and an anarchist training camp running classes in how to break into bus billboards.
Just like real life in Ireland.

Sympathy for The Donald?

Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere would seem to have some, according to Deutsche Welle;
Germany will be unable to cope long-term with the rate of refugees entering the country, where the expected intake this year is equivalent to 1 percent of its present total population, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere warned Thursday.
Germany is expecting this year's crop of asylum seekers to be a record; 800,000. De Maiziere (a Christian Democrat) wants other European countries to take in some of them. That, and reform of immigration rules;
De Maiziere has questioned the EU's asylum rules, saying it needs "another system."

He indirectly threatened to reinstate border controls in Germany if other EU states failed to change their behavior.
 And he isn't the only German politician saying so;

Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary leader of the SPD [Social Democrats], told the "Rheinischen Post" newspaper on Thursday that Europe needed "a new refugee arrangement," adding that the current Dublin agreement had "collapsed."
That's because of civil unrest breaking out in parts of Germany;
Ethnic tension between refugees in overcrowded hostels spilled over into violence Wednesday evening in the eastern city of Suhl, located in the state of Thuringia, after around 100 asylum seekers were involved in a brawl at a refugee shelter.

The riot was sparked when an Afghan tore pages out of the Koran, angering other residents at the shelter, a police spokesman said.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Who wants to be a millionaire parking space?

No wonder Uber is so popular;
In cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston, parking prices have reached an all-time high. At least two new developments in Manhattan are asking $1 million for a single parking spot. Condominium developers are touting parking spaces with glossy brochures and promotional videos, marketing the small patches of concrete as luxury amenities.
Which they are, since these cities' politicians have deliberately made parking spaces scarce with their building codes;
For about four times the cost of an average single-family home in the U.S., buyers can purchase a parking space in New York’s Soho. At 42 Crosby Street, a 10-unit luxury building under construction in Soho, 10 underground parking spaces are asking $1 million—more on a price-per-square foot basis than the units upstairs. The building’s developers declined to comment.
Why should they comment? They're in the business of providing what people are willing to pay for.

Back to the future of Sydney and Beatrice Webb

The founders of the London School of Economics made a notorious trip in the 1930 to Stalin's Russia. Before crossing into the Worker's Paradise, the Webbs made an ostentatious display of disdain for reports of famine in the Soviet Union; they threw away the food they'd packed for themselves. Chucked the victuals right out the window of their train compartment.

Too bad You Tube hadn't been invented yet;
At the end of July, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered authorities to fan out and destroy all items eluding a Western food embargo that his government enacted a year ago in response to sanctions over Ukraine.

Since the Kremlin decree came into effect Aug. 6, local inspectors across the country have sprung into action, competing to impress the Kremlin with their food-destruction zeal, in part by posting videos of their achievements online and inviting news crews to watch. The result is a bonfire of the vanities for the YouTube era, perhaps the strangest manifestation yet of Moscow’s confrontation with the West.
A couple of ferinstances from the WSJ;
Russia’s Interior Ministry released footage Tuesday of a nighttime raid on six suspects accused of operating a $30 million cheese smuggling ring. A policeman in fatigues trains his gun on one of the alleged cheese smugglers while pinning him up against an SUV. Officers shine a flashlight in the face of another cheese-smuggling perp restrained on the ground. Later, a masked agent frisks the same suspect. Images of illicit cheese intercut the action.

No food-crackdown video, however, has lit up the Internet as much as one from the Apastovo district in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan. There, authorities descended on a shop and conducted what seemed to be an impromptu show trial for three frozen, vacuum-packed Hungarian geese. Then, with great bureaucratic fanfare and witnesses in tow, they ran over the geese repeatedly with a caterpillar track at a landfill.
 Oh, for the good ol' days when a Soviet bureaucrat could unmask secret imperialist wreckers. Probably Jews or Trotskyites.