Thursday, June 30, 2005

Russian President seizes Super Bowl Ring

It seems that Russian leaders find it hard to break old habits...

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft ... showed [Russian President] Putin the diamond-studded ring he got for the last Super Bowl win during a meeting of American businessmen. Then Putin left the room with the ring. A Kremlin official calls it a gift... [AP]
I suppose it's not quite the same as walking off with Eastern Europe as a gift. But if Vlad really wants to revive the Cold War with America, all he has to do is mess with the NFL.

PBS takes from the poor to feather Big Bird's nest.

PBS has its taxpayer subsidy fully restored! David Broder reports the part of the story most others omit:

The victory that public television won last week when the House restored the committee-mandated 25 percent cut in its funds came at a price. That price will be paid, as is so often the case in today's Washington, by the people who depend on government help for essential health care and education and job-training services....

In reversing the $100 million reduction the Appropriations Committee had ordered ... more than half of the $100 million came out of the Labor Department's training and employment services programs.... There was a small nick -- about $3 million -- in health programs and a much bigger whack at higher education funds, $27 million....

Those cuts ... include a 50 percent cut in the Community College Initiative from the current year, despite those colleges' critical role in upgrading workers' skills; a similar cut in Community Services Block Grants that provide housing, child care and emergency food assistance to the needy; and ... an 87 percent cut in the International Labor Affairs Bureau. And the list goes on....

it is a fact ... that the broadcast stations and their audiences have far more influence on Congress than most low-income Americans possess.

The New York Times, in its report on the House action, made no mention of the offsetting cuts...
[Hat tip, Viking Pundit]
We've all heard the PBS marketing line "If PBS doesn't do it, who will?", and all know the answer is the Discovery and History Channels plus 20 other cable channels and countless Internet resources.

Maybe we should now ask the question: If PBS does do it, who will provide the job training, community service grants, child care...?

The PR campaign used to get all the money back to PBS was filled with scare claims from the political left about the imminent deaths of Big Bird, Clifford the Big Red Dog and other innocent animals (a famously time-proven marketing ploy), e.g.:
The cuts would slash 25% of the federal funding this year—$100 million—and end funding altogether within two years.1 In particular, the loss could kill beloved children`s shows like "Sesame Street," "Clifford the Big Red Dog," "Arthur"...

If we can reach 250,000 signatures by the end of the week, we`ll put Congress on notice. After you sign the petition, please pass this message along to any friends, neighbors or co-workers who count on NPR and PBS...
... and ...

The proposed cuts include $23.4 million in federal funds for children's educational shows, such as "Sesame Street," "Clifford the Big Red Dog," and "Arthur." The loss of these shows would deprive millions of American children of valuable educational programming... [Common Cause]
... with even the NY Times leading its coverage with...

The spending bill [would] eliminate a $23 million federal program that has provided some money for producing children's shows that include "Sesame Street"...
But wait a minute ... Sesame Workshop reports net asset holdings of $218 million (up $6 million for the year) against annual program services cost of only $76 million.

So just off its money in the bank it could produce its product for almost three years with no revenue from anybody. How many other businesses can say such a thing?

Hey, with that kind of excess capital in the vault, Sesame Workshop could be an investment bank for Clifford the Big Red Dog and Arthur whatever-he-is.

So there we have it, another example of the "reality based community" in action. Perhaps PBS will use its replenished coffers to produce a new game show "Whose Reality Is It, Anyway?"

Smart marketing move of the week.

Kellogg's names its new "Coco Rocks" cereal after the "dark brown crack cocaine made by adding chocolate pudding during production".

Maybe the folks in the marketing department out in Battle Creek should get out of the office more often. Perhaps take a field trip to a big city sometime...

Environmentalists say: Roads are bad for Africa, will only cause global warming.

In an article headed...
Building more roads won't cure Africa's poverty - but it will worsen global warming
... we first get an interesting history lesson about how roads make people poorer...

For the past two centuries, Africa's roads have led to its impoverishment...
... and then the main point:

We are now expected to believe that if Africa had a more efficient transport infrastructure it would be able to export more effectively to western countries and expand its economy...

However, reducing transport costs will, as the commission acknowledges, greatly increase traffic volumes, thereby worsening climate change...
[Guardian, via Tim Worstall]
So ... roads are bad. For impoverished Africans. (As opposed to for European environmentalists with their Volvos.)

My reaction: Some people should be sentenced to live under the conditions they would force on others.

For instance, take the guys who authored this piece and drop them in some remote part of Africa where there's no road anywhere near, so there are no traded goods. Make them live there for, say, five years -- forced to keep alive entirely by what they can pick up off the land with their hands, without even a mosquito net to keep the malaria-ridden bugs away because there's no road to bring one in. Let them enjoy the lower atmospheric CO2 level that results all that time. See what they think about roads then.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

How much will Social Security and Medicare cost us in income tax increases in coming years?

The answer to this question is easy enough to find -- although rarely publicized. The Social Security Trustees provide the numbers for the projected future increase in the cost of Social Security and Medicare in percentage-of-GDP terms.

What these numbers mean in terms of required future income tax increases is given below.

Expressing them in terms of income tax increases serves two purposes:

(1) Current law requires these funding shortfalls to be made up with general revenue, which means income taxes (or the equivalent, such as additional borrowing that must be serviced with income taxes). So describing the future shortfall in terms of the additional income taxes that will be needed to cover it is entirely proper and realistic.

(2) Most discussions of the Social Security and Medicare funding shortfalls describe them in terms such as "percentage of covered wages" or the like -- which mean just about nothing to the average person. But we all know the amount of income taxes we pay, and we all know what an income tax hike of X% would mean to us. So describing the rising cost of these programs in terms of income tax increases gets a true picture of their cost across more clearly.


First we deal just with the trust funds that have absorbed your payroll taxes. If you have a paycheck it shows payroll taxes of 15.3% withheld -- 12.4% for Social Security plus 2.9% for Medicare Hospitalization program costs. To the extent these withheld taxes have exceeded actual program costs to date, they have been "invested" in the famous Social Security Trust Fund and the equally important if neglected-in-discussion Medicare Hospitalization (HI) Trust fund.

When the future program costs of Social Security and Medicare HI come to exceed their payroll tax revenue, the assets in these trust funds will be liquidated to make up the difference. However, as these assets consist only of US government bonds, liquidating them will require the government to raise revenue from new income taxes (or the equivalent) to do so.

Thus, the operation of the trust funds will have to be funded with income tax increases, as shown in the chart below. It shows the year, projected increased cost of trust fund operations compared to today in percentage-of-GDP terms, and the corresponding percentage increase in all federal income taxes* -- personal and corporate -- needed to provide that revenue.
Social Security and Medicare HI trust fund operations

Year ... % GDP increase .. income tax increase

2020 ... 1.36% ... 16.0%
2030 ... 2.91% ... 34.2%
2040 ... 3.76% ... 44.2%
2079 ... 6.45% ... 75.9%

* All federal income taxes equaled 8.5% of GDP in 2004 [BEA and CBO]. "Income tax increase" is computed as "GDP increase" / 8.5%.
So in the year 2030, midway through the projected life of the Social Security trust fund, an across-the-board 34% increase in all income taxes is projected to be needed just to carry on trust fund operations -- i.e., to reimburse the trust funds for the payroll taxes previously paid into them that were advanced to the rest of the government and spent on general governmental operations.

Of course, at the same time the government will have to be financing general Medicare operations out of general revenue. The corresponding numbers for projected percentage-of-GDP expense increase and the required corresponding income tax increase are ...
Medicare general revenue funding

Year ... % GDP increase ... income tax increase

2020 ... 1.34% ... 15.8%
2030 ... 2.22% ... 26.1%
2040 ... 2.80% ... 32.9%
2079 ... 5.22% ... 61.4%
And of, course, the total cost increase of these programs, and total required income tax increase to finance them, combines the above numbers...
Total Social Security and Medicare cost increase

Year ... % GDP increase ... income tax increase

2020 ... 2.70% ... 31.8%
2030 ... 5.13% ... 60.4%
2040 ... 6.56% ... 77.2%
2079 .. 11.67% .. 137.3%

Thus we see that in the year 2030, midway through the life of the Social Security trust fund, we face a 60% general income tax increase to finance the trust fund's operations and the cost of Medicare ... with that cost rising from there.

And by the year 2020 -- a mere 15 years from now -- we all face an across-the-board income tax increase of over 30%.

For some reason these specific, clear-cut numbers are never mentioned in the current debate about Social Security and entitlements. For all the numbers and claims that do get thrown around, I've never seen these numbers mentioned even once.

(Defenders of the status quo and its purported "intergenerational covenant" certainly never mention them as the cost of the covenant.)

Yet surely they should be, by both sides.

Critics of the status quo should be asking: "Do you want to pay these coming tax increases?" -- a pretty straightforward challenge to the status quo.

More importantly, I'd think supporters of the status quo should be getting out in front telling people about the pending arrival of these tax increases, and explaining to people why they do want to pay them.

After all, if the need for a 60+% income tax increase arrives upon the general public as a surprise, and voters who are unprepared for it don't want to pay it, it is the arrangements of the status quo that will take the pounding -- along with the political champions of the status quo, whom the surprised and upset voting public of the future might feel were less than candid in hiding the necessity of these tax increases from them.

More political thoughts along these lines later.

For now, whichever side of the debate you are on, do your bit to help the voting public become better informed -- tell your friends about these numbers.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Paul Krugman damns "war presidents" like FDR.

Paul Krugman in his column of last Friday speaks ill of presidents who get ahead of the people in making up their mind that the nation should go to war...
America's founders knew all too well how war appeals to the vanity of rulers and their thirst for glory. That's why they took care to deny presidents the kingly privilege of making war at their own discretion...

In November 2002, Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent, told an audience, "I have never covered a president who actually wanted to go to war" - but she made it clear that Mr. Bush was the exception.
Well, apparently Helen never covered Franklin Roosevelt and his undeclared war against Germany -- offensive naval combat (including "shoot on sight" orders) that led to, among other things, the torpedoing of the US destroyers Kearny and Reuben James -- as he purposefully violated the Neutrality Act at every turn while searching for an incident that would get the US into a World War without getting himself impeached.

And apparently Paul doesn't know any more history than Helen. For if he did, surely he'd say: "FDR: Bad President! Bad, devious, sneaky, intriguing, law-breaking, war-plotting President!"

Even though all he had to do to pick up the necessary history was read the blog of his good friend Brad DeLong, who in reviewing FDR's carreer has written on just this point...
Roosevelt's greatest contribution came in his using all his devious sneakiness as a ruthless political intriguer to put the United States in harm's way in World War II. Great man. Great President.
Oh, wait ... Maybe deciding ahead of the people that a war is necessary, and engaging in devious, sneaky intrigue to get the nation into harm's way in it, makes you a good president, even a great president ... if only the war is big enough, and you are a Democrat!

Today's low mortgage rates and world-wide "savings glut" are due to corporate savings, says JP Morgan.

Alan Greenspan has called today's historic low long-term interest rates a "conumdrum". Ben Bernarke has said they result from a world-wide "savings glut".

Now JP Morgan narrows it down to a corporate savings glut...
... in the period from 2000 to 2004, corporate savings in the G6 economies increased by $1,091 billion (2.7% of global GDP)
This after corporate savings declined by $730 billion over the prior four years, 1996 to 2000 -- producing a $1.8 trillion swing in just the G6 countries. With a similar course seen in the developing nations. That'll do it!

This huge surge in corporate savings has of course sapped world economic growth, and what economic growth there's been has in no small part been due to offsetting increases in government dis-saving (deficit increases) -- starting, of course, with the Bush tax cut program. And although that didn't have any counter-cyclical intent...

de facto, it was one of the most perfectly timed pieces of fiscal activism ever seen.
What's coming next? As they say, read the whole thing (.pdf).

Geeze, and everyone's been saying it's been the Chinese. [Via Arnold Kling.]

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Blogger template problem workaround.

If you are among us lucky folk who had our templates screwed up by Blogger's code improvements last Thursday, there's a workaround described here that seems to be working for me, which came out of a longer discussion of the matter over at Blogger Forum (which is not be confused with any kind of useful service provided by Blogger).

Presumably it will work until Blogger fixes its coding error, and then who knows?

Update: After four days Blogger support responds: "We've found that this is a bug." Well, yes, four days ago any number of people not only knew that but had reported the specific buggy code to them. Still no fix or date when one can be expected. Thanks for admitting there's a bug, though.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The debt position and credit rating of the United States, now and into the future.

Over at Tax Analysts (in the pay section, so not generally available) economics correspondent Martin Sullivan gives an enlightening description of the current and projected debt and credit positions of the U.S. government.

Rather than commit major copyright violation, here are a few highlights:

National debt as % of GDP, currently:

Japan, 164%
Italy, 120%
France, 74%
Canada, 71%
Germany, 67%
United States, 64%
United Kingdom, 43%

The U.S. debt position is actually rather smaller than the average for the major developed economies.

The U.S. annual deficit, 3.5% of GDP in 2004, is somewhat larger than the average, but well within the normal range and the range of past U.S. experience. During the 12 years from 1982 (Reagan I) through 1993 (Clinton I) the US budget deficit exceeded 3.5% of GDP nine times and averaged 4.2% of GDP.

So much for claims that the current debt-and-deficit situation creates any sort of "crisis" or is unsustainable into the future. I'm certainly no fan of the Bush II administration's big-government spending tendencies -- but the reality is that today's fiscal position could be sustained indefinitely with no major inconvenience to anyone.

The problem the government faces is the change in its fiscal position that will arrive when the big entitlement bills start landing on its doorstep about a decade from now.

Hey, anybody who's really concerned about debt sinking an economy should be sounding the claxons about Japan. Its national debt is 2.5 times as large as that of the U.S., is being blown ever larger by an annual budget deficit 85% larger than the U.S.'s (6.5% of GDP in 2004) and its future fiscal exposure to the cost of entitlements and the effects of aging demographics is much worse.

What's going to happen to the world economy when the country with the second-largest economy among developed nations sinks beneath the waves?

I don't know -- but the U.S. will have plenty of warning about whatever bad effect excess debt may have on an economy just from watching the example of Japan, as it goes first.

But I digress ... back to the effect of entitlements.

Standard and Poor's has projected the future credit rating of the U.S. government -- specifically, of U.S. government bonds, currently considered the "risk free" investment -- on the basis of current law and standard economic projections:

Year -- rating
Until 2016: AAA
2017: AA+
2019: AA
2020: AA-
2022: A+
2023: A
2025: BBB+
2026 and later: Speculative (i.e. "junk")

Note well: that decline from AAA to junk takes just ten years from 2016, the year in which payments on the Social Security trust fund are projected to start coming due (not some 75-year span or the like, as defenders of entitlements so prefer to talk about).

So ... how old will you be in 2026?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Social Security thought experiment becomes reality.

You read it here first, folks...
Social Security private account "transition cost" thought experiment.

Let us imagine that Social Security continues into the future operating exactly as it does today, with just one exception: the US government bonds that currently are deposited in the trust fund are distributed among individual private accounts created for Social Security participants instead [...]

Compared to the current system the change in government tax revenue is $0, there is no change in the government's use of its tax revenue, and there is $0 change in the government's liability on its bonds issued to finance future benefits.

Is there any "transition cost" to the government in creating such private accounts funded with the government bonds? If yes, identify what it is. If "no", proceed...

Now, given that such private accounts holding government bonds exist, let us assume that individual account owners are free to voluntarily swap their bonds for other investments (stocks, corporate bonds, bank CDs, whatever) of equal value.

Of course, this leaves the total amount of such bonds that have been issued totally unchanged -- only their owners change.

Again, compared to today's current system the change in government tax revenue is $0, the government's use of its revenue remains totally unchanged, and there is $0 change in the government's liability on its bonds issued to finance future benefits.

Is there any "transition cost" to the government entailed in such swaps that result in the creation of private accounts funded with market investments?...
Today's Wall Street Journal describes the new Social Security reform proposal coming from the Republicans...
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint are calling for legislation to ... allow workers to create individual personal retirement accounts and place marketable government bonds worth their portion of the Social Security surplus into these accounts. Think of this as creating 140 million "lock box" accounts for every American worker.

After three years, workers could trade these Treasury bonds and invest instead in higher-return mutual funds containing a combination of corporate stocks and bonds.

We're talking big dollars for most families ... [Social Security] will continue to run surpluses of about $1.2 trillion through 2016 on a cash basis, and some $3 trillion through 2026 if interest on that cash is also counted ... investing only surplus payroll taxes into private accounts, the proposal blunts the (specious but politically potent) attacks from AARP and the left that personal accounts will endanger the program's solvency...
Go DeMint-Ryan!

Democrats finally confront the Social Security financing crisis.

Some of them do, at least ...

Broke and without enough money in the bank to pay its bills after the end of the month, the Florida Democratic Party has now been slapped with a lien by the Internal Revenue Service for failing to pay payroll and Social Security taxes in 2003...
Ah, so when it comes down to a bottom-line choice, even Democratic politicians know where they want their money to go. Come the day when the trust fund bonds must be paid off, ramp up this effect by about $5 trillion.

... a member of the party's budget and finance committee said the party's 2003 year-end audit showed $609,032 cash on hand. He said it netted $586,986 in 2004 when it raised about $18 million.

"I don't know how you start out with $609,000 and raise a net of $586,000 and end up with $269,000," he said.
Easy, political math. Of course I want these politicians managing nationalized health care for us all!

News from Iraq.

A three-time embedded correspondent reports "The War is Over, and We Won".

The commanding general over there describes just who we beat we're beating. [via Q&O]

And even the perpetually skeptical New York "it's another Vietnam" Times carries the news that the bad guys have taken to shooting each other.

Is Japan trying to get its mind off its troubles?

Or maybe getting a little desperate for new export markets?
Japan wants to help build a lunar base and populate it with advanced versions of today's humanoid robots by around 2025, according to the head of the nation's space agency...

As part of the plan, Japan would use advanced robotic technologies to help build the moon base, while redeveloped versions of today's humanoid robots ... could work in the moon's inhospitable environment in place of astronauts, he said in a recent interview. Japan's lunar robots would do work such as building telescopes and prospecting and mining for minerals...
Great, they're stuck in a 14-year economic slump over there, piling up national debt higher and faster than any developed country has ever seen ... and want to spend a gazillion yen populating the moon with robots.

"Honda could develop automobiles for the moon. Many products that are made here on earth can be adapted to operate on the moon" [IDG]
Oh, that's the idea -- a new shot at export led growth!

Slacking drives entrepreneurship.
Janet Dob found a better way to boil a bagel, quite by mistake ... she's plenty busy, and her business making Bake'mmm bagels is, finally, growing, now posting $750,000 in sales in a year....

"The initial mistake really was the founding mother of this invention," she said. "All by necessity. The necessity to sleep in."...
Yes, well, I wish the need to sleep in drove successful entrepreneurship, I'd be up there with Bill Gates.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The price of art.

A bar of soap, made from fat liposuctioned from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, auctioned in Basel: 15,000 euros ($18,000).

Three paintings by a chimpanzee, auctioned in London: £14,400 ($25,620).

Michael Jackson popping out of the toaster, auctioned on eBay ... we shall see.

Note: The Jackson toast may have additional value as a religious artifact.
Fans who are selling the toast claim the items are not faked and popped out of their toasters before or during the verdicts. Other slices of toast with slogans such as "not guilty" have also appeared on the website... [one] vendor said a slice of toast with "not guilty" written on it popped up just before the verdicts.
I'm not going to even begin to think about the implications of that.

Old Europe slides further
"When I heard one after the other, all the new [East European] member states -- each poorer than the other -- say that in the interest of an agreement they would be ready to renounce part of the money they are due, I was ashamed," Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister and the departing European Union president, told journalists after talks collapsed... [NY Times]

Short stuff

The first sailing exhibition in space. Update: Bad news, looks like it's back to sailing in water.

If the Iraqis now running that country really were our puppets then the lackeys in charge of the new Iraqi stock exchange would display better English. As in this article about them.

The Google referral of the week. Yes, Google is everywhere.

And social scientists finally, at long last, figure out that cops deter crime. Who'd a thunk it?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Can this really be worth it to the Chinese?

Say they figure that after the cost of shipping this 12,000 miles, the profit on selling it in a 99-cent store in New York is still worth the grief they stand to get from the WTO and all the Chuck Schumers of the western world over the gross trademark abuse vis a vis Crest. (Well, attempted gross trademark abuse, like this is going to fool anybody.)

Can it be worth the damage done to their reputation as an intelligent people, who supposedly have a smart government that knows what it is doing?

"We'll fool these dim Americans, call it 'Crust' and it'll sell like egg rolls hot cakes! Who wouldn't rush to clean their mouths with Crust?"

They'd do better by multiplying the price and selling it as a novelty item.

Saddam loves Doritos, admired Reagan -- doesn't like Fruit Loops or Bush.

From inside the American gulag: Saddam's guards reveal the human side of the mass grave-filling dictator, including his fatherly advice about finding the right girl.

Too bad Hitler didn't live for us to get this. I can just imagine ... Life Magazine, 1946: "The Fuhrer loves Ovaltine ... sympathized with Hoover during the Depression, but didn't understand FDR ... tells how becoming a vegetarian turned his life around."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Experts speak on things economic:

Milton Friedman on reforming health care (a Krugman Korrective via Roland Patrick), and reminiscing about his creating the idea of school vouchers.

Bjørn Lomborg on global warming and Kyoto.

Thomas Sowell on home prices.

Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Paul L.E. Grieco on how much free trade puts into your pocket, in dollar terms. (You may not recognize their names but you'll appreciate that money.)

William Lewis of McKinsey on the findings of McKinsey's 12-year study of how productivity brings wealth to nations -- and what stops it from doing so in today's world. Don't overlook this one, it may be the most interesting of the lot.

The New York Post enjoys being cruel to schoolgirls

It reports this heartbreaking story...
A Queens couple claims their daughter's memories of elementary school have been marred by a "horrible" yearbook photo, and are demanding the school recall all 200 books and replace the picture.

Michelle Maihepat, of South Ozone Park, said her 11-year-old daughter, Asheana, is so embarrassed by the "bad picture" that she has been crying and hiding her face in shame from her sixth-grade classmates at PS 121 since the yearbooks were distributed Monday.

"For the rest of her life, she's going to have to be ashamed of that horrible picture," Maihepat said.
... and illustrates it by running the offending photo on Page One so the whole city can emphasize with young Asheana's shame. Then it prints what some might think an even worse photo of her "crying and hiding her face" inside with the story.
Asheana was home sick on the day in March that most of her classmates posed for the standard cap-and-gown head shot ... fearing Asheana would be missing from the yearbook, her teacher — who organized the yearbook project — snapped the extreme close-up shot and sent it to the printer, school officials said...
The cat the editors usually kick around must have been at the vet's that day.

Sunday pro football offseason update.

They used to say: there's no "me" in "team".

Now they say there aren't enough lawyers in the clubhouse to litigate fights over uniform numbers.

A trial between former NFL teammates over a jersey number was averted when running back Clinton Portis agreed to pay $18,000 to former Washington Redskins teammate Ifeanyi Ohalete.

Ohalete will receive all but $2,000 of the $20,000 he was seeking as the balance due for a $40,000 agreement that gave Portis the Redskins jersey No. 26 last year. The case appeared headed for a trial in a Maryland District Court. Ohalete, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals, was 2½ hours from boarding a flight for the trial...
[Story at]

Friday, June 17, 2005

Krugman versus reality on Medicare.

Paul Krugman makes clear the model of national health care he is lobbying for: Medicare!

I like Ted Kennedy's slogan "Medicare for all." It reminds voters that America already has a highly successful, popular single-payer program, albeit only for the elderly.
Well, we can agree on one thing -- Medicare is popular among recipients. Why wouldn't it be? Today's recipients get a benefit worth (literally) hundreds of thousands of dollars without having to pay for it. What's not going to be popular about that?

But is it really highly successful as a health care program -- as opposed to being merely politically successful?

By what measure do we judge its success? Where is the evidence of this success? Let's see... [Read more]

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Housing bubble?

"What housing bubble?", asks Jim Jubak, as he considers mortgage rate and home price data.

Hey, with 5.1% 30-year fixed rate mortgages available here in New York City I'm refinancing right now.

No kidding, I am. That's less than I'm paying on my old adjustable. It's just amazing, short rates and inflation considered. As the Fed has raised short rates by two points over the last year, long rates have fallen by most of a point. I don't expect to live to see anything like it again.

On hunger and education in America ... and the lack thereof.

When news stories report the like of "More Children Go Hungry In America", they use the word "hungry" for what the studies they rely on call "malnourished" ... which means receiving a poor quality diet ... which is much more likely to mean "obese" than hungry, what with only 0.4% of children reporting actually missing meals, so Mickey Kaus tells us...
"Hunger" is not the right word. But "hunger" is a crude, tried-and-true basis for liberal campaigning, so "hunger" is what gets emphasized. "Hunger" also neatly directs attention to the standard question of money and away from the touchy issue of parental and cultural foolishness.
So stuffed fat on junk food becomes "hungry" in activist presentations and the liberal media.

Mickey also points us to Jill Stewart on how California Voters Get “F” in Education when it comes to having any clue at all about the educational issues they are called to vote on.
Palmer, of the Department of Finance, explains: “People just do not get that when California adds billions each year to the schools -- which we do -- adding another $1 billion means you multiply $1 million by one thousand.”
Not that any higher grade is deserved by the voters here in New York ... or within the 3,000 miles in between.

By the way, Michael Kinsley, way to keep a secret!

Colder, warmer, warmer and colder ....

Over in the comments at Tom Maguire's they're reminiscing about the bad old days of global cooling scares -- and are sure glad those days are gone, what with the latest scientific opinion being that a warmer world will be a better one.

But beware, guys, warming can cause cooling, so don't be seduced by a dream of Alaskan oranges and fine British wines.

They may only tip us back into the icebox.

(Am I the only one to notice that it's getting to take a lot more than one minute to read Justoneminute? )

Serbian man seeks American women for market research.

A Serbian man who has invented a sex machine for women is appealing to western women to test his device. Nesa Proka, from the central town of Krusevac, made the appeal after failing to find any willing Serbian women.

He has taken out a patent on what he says is the "ultimate sex aid" for lonely women after spending three years working on it.

The machine, which runs on a 390 volt electric engine...

Whoa, there! Requiring the house to be re-wired is a drawback.

Skipping the lurid engineering details, we'll just stipulate that this sex machine is a sex machine...

Proka said he would have to market it in the west because he had not been able to find any Serbian woman to test it out. "Western women are more liberal. I couldn't find a woman here to try the sex machine," he told local daily Glas Javnosti.

But he did admit that some local women were curious about his invention and a few had come into his garage where he keeps it locked away just to look at it.

One reportedly told the newspaper: "If I had a machine like that at home I would never go outside the front door." [Ananova]

Sorry, no contact information was given.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Did the Reagan tax cuts cause income inequality in Canada too?

Paul Krugman's preferred authority on US income distribution, Emmanuel Saez, reports his findings on Canada...

... Since the late 1970s, top income shares have been increasing steadily and the very top shares are now as high as in the pre-war era. As in the United States, the recent increase in top income shares is the consequence of a surge in top wages and salaries. As a result, series on the composition of incomes within the top income groups from 1946 to 2000 show a dramatic increase in the share of wages and salaries.

The parallel evolution of top income shares in Canada and the United States, associated with much more modest marginal tax rate cuts in Canada, suggests that the upward trend in top shares in Canada since the late 1970s cannot be explained by tax cuts...
So I guess the answer is no, it seems not.

We're all Nazis now, and every dang thing is a Holocaust.

What the US is doing in Iraq "is just as bad as the 6 million Jews being killed", says New York's Democratic Congressman from Harlem, Charles Rangel, who explains, "I am saying that people's silence when they know things terrible are happening is the same thing as the Holocaust." [NY Daily News]

Well, if the issue really is the silence of people who know that terrible things are going on, then I'd think a closer parallel to the Holocaust might be the silence kept by so many good people as Saddam went about gassing his own population, filling mass graves, running a police state overtly modeled after Stalin's ... but enough of that.

The thought here is about all this glib "fascist", "Holocaust" name calling. Hey, look who's been called "Hitler" lately. It may be getting harder to find people who haven't than who have.

Not so long ago the New York Times Arts Section even did a very Times Arts Sectionish story on this phenomenon, interviewing all kinds of serious experts.

One is tempted to say "Shame on our generation, for defining down great human tragedies and evils for the sake of petty name calling."

But it's hardly just our generation...
“The word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.”
That was George Orwell writing in March, 1944 -- while the fascists were still holding Europe and operating death camps and gas chambers.

Face it, we humans just plain suck.

What lifted NYC's public school test scores?

When NYC's Mayor Bloomberg was elected three years ago, his first mission was to take direct control over the city's public schools, dismantle the existing management structure and re-organize them from top to bottom.

Over the heated opposition of the unions and all the system's other incumbents, of course.

This year, test scores zoomed! But what was the cause?

Citywide, the gains on this year's standardized reading and math tests were so outsized - particularly among fifth graders, who improved 19.5 percentage points in reading and 15.2 percentage points in math - that they left some education experts, not to mention Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's political opponents, skeptical.

That skepticism was only reinforced by opinion polls and teacher surveys in recent months that found relatively little optimism among parents and educators for Mr. Bloomberg's effort to fix the schools, which they said had mostly caused upheaval.

But in interviews at P.S. 45 and other schools across the city with large increases in test scores, principals, parents, superintendents, teachers and students offered this most basic explanation: They worked hard. [NY Times]

Great! Now all they have to do is explain why they didn't work hard before.

"I died for your $5 million..."

"... and you spent it on what?"

September 11 widow Kathy Trant ... has burned through nearly all the more than $5 million she received in compensation and donations [for her husband's death in the World Trade Center].

....She gave her former housecleaner $15,000 to buy a home in El Salvador. She's sent $1,000 checks to a friendly clerk at Bergdorf Goodman ...

After getting a facial in Las Vegas, she gave the beautician, a single mom, $4,000 for breast implants. She gave a friend $7,000 for a boob job because, Trant said, the woman "hated her breasts and didn't want to spend her son's college tuition money."

She buys wrinkle-reducing Botox injections for girlfriends. A plastic surgeon gives her a discount - $600 for three at a time....

Opening her walk-in closet, Trant said, "This is my addiction."

A floor-to-ceiling shoe rack is filled with $400 to $1,200 pairs: Prada, Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Emilio Pucci, Vera Wang. Handbags include Fendi and Judith Leiber, designs priced at $5,000 each. The gowns have labels like Versace, Christian Dior and Roberto Cavalli - each costing her thousands.

"It's disgusting. I'm ashamed of it," she said, adding she hopes that telling her story will help others with the same problem.... [NY Post]

I know a solution to her problem. And if I was her late husband I'd come back from the dead to give it to her.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

What do the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards have in common?

Neither can remember how to divide by 10 when criticizing Bush Administration economic policy -- whether regarding oil or taxes.

Does one have to be innumerate to be a MSM editorial writer?

Short takes

Talk about getting the fat out of government!

Suppose Jesus appeared to you on a potato chip. Would He wind up in the onion dip?

After all those years of putting up with Radio Free Europe, the Kremlin is planning to return the favor. No word yet on whether they will have a White Ho reporter.

Middle age gets us all...
Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant has told how he gets in the mood to rock — by ironing. Plant, 56, says he insists on an ironing board in his dressing room...

"I find ironing helps get me in the mood before I perform. I always have an ironing board in my room before going on stage.”
[The Sun]

How much will college students pay for sex?

The Alexandru Ioan Cuza Univeristy in Iasi [Romania] charges £4 each time a boyfriend of girlfriend spends the night with one of the 1,800 people living on campus.

One dormitory manager said: "If they want to spend the night with their girlfriends or boyfriends then they should pay. This is not their home. And it is not such a high price to pay."

He added that hundreds had already paid the charge, with male students particularly keen to pay and saving the receipts to show friends.

The university hopes to raise about £28,000 a year which will go towards repairs at the dormitories. [Ananova]

Those Eastern Europeans are pushing their newfound capitalism where us old-style capitalists fear to tread. Good for them! With a little price testing they may find they can afford to get rid of regular tuition altogether.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Howard Dean sings...

... the new stereo mp3 version of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christian", his new party leadership theme song.

(Recording courtesy of Dave Ross).

Friday, June 10, 2005

Krugman says: Egalitarian Democrats engineered the Great Depression and World War II.

From Paul Krugman's column today:

"...let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident. It was created by what has been called the Great Compression of incomes that took place during World War II"
He gave more details about this earlier, in an article in The Nation:

During the 1930s and '40s, however, America experienced what the economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have dubbed the Great Compression: a drastic narrowing of income gaps, probably as a result of New Deal policies.
What happened during the 1930s? Hmmm.... The Great Depression. And in the '40s, yes, there was the aforementioned World War II.

Yikes... the Great Depression and World War II were "New Deal policies"! And they were no accident!

[For more on the data slicing-and-dicing used to claim upside economic consequences from Depression and World War, read on...]

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The NRO/Luskin "Jayson Awards" are announced...

And is a winner!

We wish to thank the Academy...

Although I must admit that my favorite Krugmanism among the winners escaped my list after somehow getting by me entirely, only to be submitted by John Henke of QandO and the new Neolibertarian Network Blog:
By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.
However did I miss it?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"Mmmm.... chocolate sausage!"
The world's first chocolate sausage has won a top German chef first prize ...

Joerg Staroske said the idea for the chocolate sausage came to him suddenly after a sleepless night trying to come up with an idea for the contest.

Staroske describes the taste of the sausage, which has orange peel as well as chocolate chip fragments, as "surprisingly different"....
Germans really are unique. Maybe that genetic mutation that makes them love cabbage has other effects as well.

Crime drops yet further in New York
Crime plummeted statewide for the 11th consecutive year in 2004, particularly in violent categories such as murder, rape and robbery, officials said.

Overall crime from Buffalo to Brooklyn fell 3.6 percent across the state, outpacing a national drop.

Violent crime, defined as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, had an even greater decline — 5.9 percent — more than triple the reduction in similar crimes across the nation.

According to the numbers, crime has declined 47 percent across the state ...with 400,000 fewer crimes committed last year than in 1994...

New York City's five boroughs are where significant crime reductions were made, according to the study...

More recent figures released by the NYPD last week showed an overall crime reduction of 6 percent over the first five months of this year.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said murders are down 16 percent so far this year...
[NY Post]
So it seems New York's prisons will continue to empty while the rest of the nation's continue to fill.

Most Americans are crazy mentally disturbed.

"It seems the whole world is mad but for me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee..."

The NY Times warns us...
More than half of Americans will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives ... researchers have found in a survey that experts say will have wide-ranging implications for the practice of psychiatry.

Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the primary sponsor of the study, said in a conference call with reporters, "The key point to remember is that mental disorders are highly prevalent and chronic."
Or maybe not...

On the other side are psychiatrists who say they believe that the estimates are inflated. "Fifty percent of Americans mentally impaired - are you kidding me?" said Dr. Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University.

While the new survey was carefully done, Dr. McHugh said, "the problem is that the diagnostic manual we are using in psychiatry is like a field guide and it just keeps expanding and expanding."

"Pretty soon," he said, "we'll have a syndrome for short, fat Irish guys with a Boston accent, and I'll be mentally ill."
When we start handing out prizes for the likes of chocolate sausage I'll be worried.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Tony Blair: Africa more important than Europe

Tony Blair has given up on Europe as an issue worth fighting for, senior allies of the Prime Minister have told The Sunday Telegraph....

Mr Blair ... has told his closest allies: "Africa is worth fighting for. Europe, in its present form, is not ... Europe is back to the drawing board. Africa will become more important."
Africa more important than Europe. Ouch.


Fresh blow to EU treaty as Britain shelves referendum plan

Britain announced that it was shelving plans for a referendum on the EU constitution until its fate became clearer, driving another stake into the heart of the beleaguered treaty... [AFP]

Looks like Tony meant what he said.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Innovation in transportation

The Chinese find a way to power trains that are even faster than Amtrak's Acela Express.

Pork before Principle -- the fundamental nature of politics.

There's been much political to-do around here of late about the proposed building of a pro football stadium / convention center some blocks north of where I live in Manhattan -- with the decision deadline imminent as the proposal is an integral part of New York City's bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

The nature of the city's idiotic land use rules that allow enough of America's supposedly most valuable real estate to remain a wasteland to have enough room to build a pro-football stadium on it has been discussed previously. But that's another story.

The final vote on the stadium has repeatedly been put off due to the Hamlet-like indecision of one of the three political leaders who must approve it, Democratic State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver (the others being Republicans Governor George Pataki and State Senate leader Joe Bruno).

What could cause such endless indecision, about a project so long studied?

[Find out by reading more... with an update.]

"Military Details Koran Incidents at Base in Cuba"

And the Times tells us all...
The investigation into allegations that the Koran had been mishandled also found that in one instance detainees' Korans were wet because guards on the night shift had thrown water balloons on the cellblock.

In another case, a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Koran, but investigators could not determine whether a guard or detainee had written it...
All I have to say about this ever-ongoing story is that during World War II my father was in Patton's army -- the Battle of the Bulge and all that -- and at one point had the job of guarding German prisoners.

As he relates it, those Germans' sensibilities were violated by a good deal more than the consequences of water balloons and the occasional two-word obscenity. Yet the fact never made it as news in the U.S. press. I guess our society has come a long way.

Football offseason update: Kris Jenkins tells us about Warren Sapp.
Carolina’s Kris Jenkins doesn’t like Warren Sapp. And he dislikes him so much that last season, while injured, he resorted to drinking to deal with a home loss to Sapp’s Raiders...

Jenkins didn’t mince words: "I hate him ... He talks too much, he doesn’t make sense, he’s fat, he’s sloppy, he acts like he’s the best thing since sliced bread. He’s ugly, he stinks, his mouth stinks, his breath stinks, and basically his soul stinks, too."
[Football Outsiders]
That seems to be taking a loss kind of hard. And I never thought pro football players needed a reason to drink.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Europe's real economic crisis point: Italy?

While everyone talks about France and Germany...

Italy faces 'horrible martyrdom' while in the eurozone

Italy is in much the same mess as Argentina in the last throes of its disastrous dollar-peg and faces a "horrible martyrdom" as long as it remains inside the eurozone, according to a market report issued yesterday...
[ more ...]
Euro facing meltdown as Italy considers backing out

Europe's political crisis spread to the euro yesterday after Italy publicly discussed abandoning the single currency and reverting to the lira.

The Italian suggestion, once unthinkable to the European establishment, comes as a poll showed a majority of Germans want to pull out of the euro and revive the Deutschmark...

German authorities were forced this week to deny a report that the finance ministry and the central bank have an emergency plan for the break-up of the euro, but the German people are certainly discussing that outcome. A survey for Stern magazine this week showed 56 per cent of Germans want to return to the Deutschmark...
[more via the Scotsman]

The keys to a long-lasting marriage, part II.

Alcohol and saying you're sorry. In addition to being delusional, as noted previously.

Where to go to drown happy.

Guests take a dip in beer pool

An Austrian holiday resort is offering guests the chance to swim in a pool containing 42,000 pints of beer.

The Starkenber Beer Myth resort located in and around the medieval castle of Starkenberger in Austria's Tyrol region has filled seven 13ft long pools with the beer.

The management claims that beer baths heal various skin diseases...

Manager Markus Amann, 23, said: "I would rather swim than swallow, as we serve enough of a cold, fresh tapped beer on the bars next to the pools."
For all the problems the Europeans have, you've gotta give them points for some things.

Looks like just the resort to spend some time in to recover from the stress of a 1,000 bar quest ... mention of which brings back memories of the ambitions (and some of the attempts) of my youth.

Here comes the sun ... for $355,000 per park bench.

In New York City, a place where the sun vanishes for long stretches behind tall buildings, and sunny apartments command a premium, sunlight is taken very seriously. So seriously that the Battery Park City Authority is preparing to import sunlight into a foreboding spot in Lower Manhattan.

Three heliostats - instruments that use mirrors to track the sun across the sky - will redirect sunbeams onto what is currently a vacant lot in Lower Manhattan, but will next year become Teardrop Park South. Battery Park City hopes that if it provides a bit of light, people will want to linger there...

The park sits in the shadow of three skyscrapers. "The sun is up there," said Michael van Valkenburgh, the project's landscape architect. "It just can't find its way to where we want it."

Teardrop Park's heliostats, which are about eight feet across, were installed Tuesday on the roof of a new 23-story building overlooking the park. When they are running this fall, they will be guided by computer to track the movement of the sun, capture the light and then send it down to the park, where circles of light will be created.

Each heliostat can be directed to bathe a particular park bench or tree in a beam of light.

But the devices, which cost $355,000 apiece, can't do everything.... [NY Times, via the Minuteman]

Well, what more would a taxpayer expect $355,000 of equipment to do than light a particular park bench, or a tree? Assuming the day isn't cloudy....

Thursday, June 02, 2005

House Democrats are being more cooperative with Republicans than commonly reported -- for a reason.

Despite the partisan saber-rattling on Capitol Hill, a significant number of votes in the GOP-controlled House are passing with broad Democratic support.

It's a trend that surprises analysts who have noticed the numbers, and it hints at a structural advantage for the GOP as it presses its agenda heading into 2006 elections.

Call it purple power. Although Republican control of the House of Representatives is narrow - a margin of just 30 seats out of 435 total - some 20 percent of House Democrats come from districts that President Bush carried in 2004. Only 8 percent of Republicans come from districts carried by Sen. John Kerry ...
The recent votes with Democratic support include issues backed by pro-business lobbyists: $70 billion in tax-cut provisions in the fiscal 2006 budget resolution, tightening rules for people who file for bankruptcy protection, and limiting class-action lawsuits.

Democrats have also lined up with Republicans on some issues important to social conservatives: strict requirements for the use of driver's licenses as IDs and for parental notification when a minor crosses state lines to get an abortion.

On a bankruptcy bill that Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said would create "modern-day indentured servants," 73 Democrats voted with the Republican majority. Fifty Democrats voted with GOP leaders on class-action reform; 42 on tightening requirements for driver's licenses, 42 for a permanent repeal of the estate tax, 41 on the energy bill, 71 on a gang deterrence bill l that some Democrats said unfairly targeted immigrants, and 54 on abortion notification.

For many of these votes, about half of the Democratic swing support came from the so-called purple-district Democrats...
I didn't realize there is so much gerrymandering still left to be done.

"Welcome To New Jersey, A Horrible Place To Do Business"
...a disgruntled developer has erected a jarring red-letter billboard at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge: "Welcome to New Jersey: A horrible place to do business."

Mount Laurel builder William Juliano says the sign - posted just in time for high season at the Jersey Shore - is his revenge against the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The billboard sits atop a Pennsville Hampton Inn that Juliano owns, next to a vacant property where the developer had planned a Home Depot until the DEP told him it was a protected wetlands area.

"DEP nightmare state," the third line of the billboard reads...

Democracy in action!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Krugman-Okrent smack down! Who's Right?? A Dozen Krugmanisms ... You Decide!

The NY Times public editor in his recent public good-bye to the job made 13-brief points, one of which was a well- earned shot at the foibles of various op-ed writers (how did Bob ever escape?), part of which was the now infamous:
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.
In response to which, Krugman -- surely the most thin-skinned as well as most partisan of pundits -- and the acolytes howl in protest: Examples! Examples! You have a duty to fill the column with a list of examples when you make such a low claim, or you are a pseudo-journalistic cur!

Personally, this seems to me a bit like outrage erupting over a statement that the Pope has a penchant for speaking Latin or German, followed by a righteous demand for a list of proofs ... but here we are.

Is Okrent right? Does the evidence support his statement??

Being an ever helpful sort of guy, I've quickly put together a quick package of a dozen "Krugmanisms" noted now and then over time -- far from exhaustive to be sure, but a sampling -- to let you, the reader, decide for yourself.

And just to show I'm not biased, I'll even suggest defenses for each that the acolytes can raise to beat back the charge of statistical manipulation.

Here goes... (Smack-down fans, read on! ... More adult personalities can go elsewhere and have a nice day.)