Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday sports page: Winter Olympics edition 

[] Canadian women's hockey team celebrates their gold on ice, with champagne, cigars and beer...

Possibly related...

[] Emergency shipment of condoms headed to Olympic athletes

As you read this, an emergency shipment of condoms is desperately making its way across Canada to this West Coast city. Health officials in Vancouver have already provided 100,000 free condoms to the roughly 7,000 athletes and officials at the Games. That's about 14 condoms per person. But as of Wednesday, those supplies started running dangerously low...

Possibly not entirely unrelated....

[] The 2010 edition of the Nude Women of Curling "Fire on Ice" Calendar reportedly is selling like the hottest thing on ice. (Order info -- video story)

OK ... I turned on my TV this week and every day there was curling on it. Curling? And almost always women's curling. Right away I could see why: it was a Russia-USA match and the Russians were gorgeous -- and made up and styled to look even more so.

This was not the curling of my medieval Scottish ancestors (nor of Scots today -- 2,000 guys on a lake risking crashing through the ice, oblivious to concern thanks to the warmth of native spirits).

Well, this is one way to promote a sport that nine of ten people previously never heard of (except perhaps in a joke). The government doesn't support your curling team (a complaint of Canadian curlers reported and dismissed by the Sports Economist)? Then gorgeous your own beautiful self up, put on a tight bodysuit and sell your calendar! People respond to incentives. Especially men people, TV producers and audiences, to incentives like this.

Now here's a thing: As a student I traveled across Soviet eastern Europe and Russia (Moscow, Leningrad, etc.) and never saw even one single woman who looked anything like anyone on today's Russian curling team. I mean, not one. (I'd have remembered!) Babushkas by the gazillion, yes. Women like this, none.

What happened? How could the children look so different from the parents. Genetic engineering?

No. The arrival of free markets and capitalism. Here's an article about how free markets made Russian women beautiful.

God Bless Capitalism. If Karl Marx had known about this he'd have been an investment banker.

[] More boringly and academically, J.C. Bradbury tracks how Olympic performance levels have changed over the decades, sport by sport. (After previously examining winners in different sports by age, and comparing performances of men and women.)

But maybe it is not so boring. Because as he points out, all these performance improvements are fundamentally the result of all of us enjoying, during the last 100 years, by far the greatest increases in welfare that any human beings have ever experienced -- the same process that transformed the former Soviet babushkas, writ large for all of us.

So enjoy it all and be thankful.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Briefly noted... 

[] Does this tell us anything about Republicans?
Bizarre FEC find of the day: Someone at the RNC spent $15 at a pet store on 8th SE and listed the expense as "meals."

[] Does this tell us anything about Democrats?
Gallup: Majority of Dems View Socialism Positively

[] Does this tell us something about Canadians?
When asked to choose between bacon and sex, more than four in 10 (43%) of Canadians chose bacon!...

Ladies, thinking about which fragrance will woo a man? Think bacon. When asked to rank various aromas by preference, 23% of men ranked bacon as number one...

Nearly one in four of respondents (23%) from Manitoba and Saskatchewan wondered if 'my partner loves bacon more than me'...

[] Calculator of the week:
Men: Are You Old Enough to Propose Yet?
Possibly related calculators: What Are the Chances Your Marriage Will Last? ... Are You Whipped?

[] Urban legend of the month, or not? "Yeah, that's how girls get pregnant." (Although the medical journal report does exist [pdf]. )

[] "Would you like red or blue light with your wine?"
Drinkers' brains are tricked into thinking a glass of white wine is better and more expensive tasting when exposed to the red or blue background lighting than those in rooms with green or white background lighting.

Cconnoisseurs are warned to be wary of unscrupulous bar owners who try to pass off cheap plonk in trendy lit bars... []
Another reason why I drink beer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Video o' the day: Dems savage reconciliation, rise to defend the filibuster, when Bush is president. 

Democrats, in 2005, rise as one to defend the Constitution from the dreadfully dangerous prospect that Repubicans would try to get past the filibuster, and destroy our constitutional balance of power:

Enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Will "Reconciliation" finally deliver Obamacare? Hitler, Hennessey and Hoyer opine. 

The Democrats now say they are going to make a big push to get Obamacare enacted through Congress via "reconciliation". To pass a bill via reconciliation instead of normal legislative rules requires only 50 votes in Senate (plus a vice presidential tie-breaker), instead of the normal filibuster-proof 60. So it ought to be easy, right?

Some on the left are now congratulating themselves that it is as good as done. "The remaining obstacles are puny". All the Democrats have to do is "walk through the door that's open to them".

Although, if reconciliation is so easy, a logical question to ask is: why did the Democrats so insist on doing things entirely the hard way until now? And why did Barney Frank say that if they lost the 60th vote Obamacare would be "dead". Do professional pols not know what's "easy" from what's "hard"?

How reconciliation works (via The New Republic, a pro-reform site):
the problems with reconciliation are legion...

of particular importance to a massive and open-ended bill like health care, the Senate’s PAYGO rule requires 60 votes for any provision that would increase the deficit by more than $5 billion in any ten-year period going all the way out to the year 2059. (You read that correctly: 2059.)...

in the Senate the authors of the Budget Act who drafted this provision back in 1974 neglected to limit the number of amendments that can be offered. This leads to perhaps the Senate’s most stupefying activity (in a chamber chock full of stupefying activity)--"vote-a-rama." ... senators can still offer an unlimited number of amendments ... And by "unlimited," I mean it is never less than dozens but could easily stretch into the hundreds...

reconciliation would give the minority party in the Senate a chance to force a separate roll call vote on every line of the bill...


The requirement that every single provision in a reconciliation bill have budgetary impact means that the bill cannot address regulatory issues, consumer protection issues, or items like abortion.

The open-ended limitations on deficit increases sharply curtail any additional spending in the bill and mean that most changes made by reconciliation that affect spending and revenues must expire in ten years.

And the requirement that congressional committees hold a new two-stage markup process, combined with the usual (if time-limited) floor consideration and conference processes, means that using reconciliation would occupy all of Congress’s attention [for months]..."
That's just excerpts, read the whole thing.

Plus add the basic political fact that the whole attempt is plainly dishonest, as reconciliation explicitly by law is for budget-resolution matters, not policy matters .... a fact the Republicans will be pounding on every single day to an electorate that is already sick of Louisiana Purchases and Cornhusker Kickbacks, and majority-against the bill -- both the bill itself and Obama's direction if it.

As Hitler said to this idea a month ago: "Bull**it! If we could do reconciliation we'd have DONE it!"

Referring to a perhaps more reputable source, Keith Hennessey (former Assistant to the President for Economic Policy):

For now I continue to believe there’s a 90% chance of no law....

It is possible that we are witnessing uncoordinated Democratic leaders each pursuing their own exit strategy in anticipation of legislative failure:

•The President proposes a “compromise” and blames Republicans for being unreasonable and unconstructive. Legislative failure is the Republicans’ fault, not the President’s.

•Speaker Pelosi continues to press for a two bill strategy in which the House and Senate will pass a new reconciliation bill. If the Senate cannot or will not do so, legislative failure is the Senate’s fault, not the House’s or Speaker Pelosi’s.

•Supported by outside liberals, Leader Reid points out that the House could just take up and pass the Senate-passed bill. Legislative failure is therefore not his fault or the Senate’s.

Each of these strategies is consistent with telling your allies that you’re continuing to push forward, right up until the moment you give up and blame someone else.

... read the whole thing.

From the Democratic House leadership, enthusiasm already underwhelming:

Hoyer: Comprehensive health bill may be no go
Well, if Hitler, Hennessey and Hoyer are right, then in a couple of months the partisans on the left are going to be ramping it up from angry to screaming mad, after they are teased, led on, and frustrated all over again.

And with Obama already losing the center en masse (Scott Brown carried the independents in Massachussetts by more than 50 points) that could set up an interesting November.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Politically around and about... 

[] Noted political analyst Charlie Cook is down on Democrats...
... the Republican Party, they've got some huge brand problems, where their brand got badly damaged during the eight years of President Bush and the six years the Republicans had the majority in Congress.

But if I had a choice of the Republican Party's problems right now or the Democratic Party's problems, I think you could triple the Republican Party's problems and I'd still rather have their problems than the problems facing Democrats.
It's been barely over one year since the declaration of the Permanent Democratic Majority and new America The Liberal. A year is a long time in politics.

[] Politicians and editorialists damn today the same arguments they embraced yesterday, just filling in the blanks to change the issues.

Really, it's nearly enough to make one cynical about politics altogether.

[] Hmm...
An important recent academic study called “Regulation and Distrust” shows that, paradoxically, the worse government performs, the more citizens demand greater government intervention. [EconLog]
Really, it's nearly enough to make one cynical about people altogether.

[] Well, it's not cynicism if you are right...

[Professors Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff have written the definitive survey of national insolvencies and financial crises, This Time is Different, Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. They say the U.S still has plenty of problems ahead of it regarding both debt and the economy. Interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, Prof. Reinhart has a final thought...]
WSJ: You and Ken Rogoff have been working together for nine years on these issues. What are the areas where you disagree most?

REINHART: I think Ken may have a little more faith in markets than I do. Unfortunately, I don’t have faith in the government either.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday sports page 

[] The real games at the Olympics are being played with 100,000 condoms.

[] Who killed Scandinavian figure skating? You'd think they'd be good at it, but Scandinavian figure skating success collapsed in the 1930s and never came back. Leading suspects -- the Communists, Capitalists, and Nazis (featuring Sonja Henie) -- get a good lookover from J.C. Bradbury. And yet...

[] A better NBA All-Star Team than the NBA selected last week -- and why -- from David Berri.

[] When do baseball pitchers hit batters? When they are Southern and the batter is white.

[] Does Joe Namath deserve his niche in the NFL Hall of Fame? Pro Football brings up the issue and hosts a lively debate. (Though the obviously correct answer is "yes".)

[] Why New Orleans didn't get a pro football team sooner. As part of the city's lobbying to be awarded a pro franchise it hosted the AFL All-Star game in January, 1965. As always before such a game, the players arrived a week in advance intending to have a good time around town. But the city proved so hostile to the black players that all the players decided to leave, and the league on very short notice moved the game to Houston. NFL history tells the story. (HT:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

George Will on the "dependency agenda" in politics. 

Video, equally amusing and serious...

"Envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that does not give the sinner even momentary pleasure. Now you're counting through the list..."

"When the Agriculture Department was created it had one bureaucrat for every 227,000 farms. Today it has one for every 19 farms.

"A story is told about an Agriculture Department bureaucrat seen weeping in a Washington hallway. When asked, 'What's wrong?' he said 'My farmer died.'"
[HT: Viking Pundit]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Seen around and about... 

[] How not to help Haiti. Also: as it happened, the aid rushed to help victims of the 2004 South Asian tsunamis exceeded the damage caused by them by $4 billion, 30%. William Easterly's blog is always worth reading.

[] Are we all just holograms?

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image.

In the 1990s physicists ... suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe.... [New Scientist]
Well, the next time someone accuses me of lacking depth, it'll be "right back at you!"

[] What's too crooked even for a New York City politician? Having taxpayers reimburse you $177 for a bagel.
... an exercise in bagel-nomics was necessary and noteworthy on Wednesday, the day after Councilman Larry B. Seabrook was charged with money laundering, extortion and fraud.

Among the items in the 13-count federal indictment was the curious case of the $177 bagel sandwich and soda. Mr. Seabrook, a Bronx Democrat and former assemblyman and former state senator, bought a bagel sandwich and diet soda for $7 one day and submitted a doctored receipt that inflated the cost to $177, according to the indictment...
What's the most expensive legit bagel in the city he could have lunched on at taxpayer expense?
At the Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, where the city’s power brokers eat their power breakfasts, the most you can spend on a bagel is $28, for a toasted H & H bagel with smoked salmon, tomato, red onion and cream cheese... [NY Times]
Larry should have stopped there. "When a pig becomes a hog it gets slaughtered".

[] Outlook on climate change: Foggy. Roger Pielke Jr. points us to an example of how for some people all facts, no matter how contradictory, must have the same cause.
Declining fog cover on California's coast could leave the state's famous redwoods high and dry, a new study says.

Among the tallest and longest-lived trees on Earth, redwoods depend on summertime's moisture-rich fog to replenish their water reserves.

But climate change may be reducing this crucial fog cover ...[by] contributing to a decline in a high-pressure climatic system that usually "pinches itself" against the coast, creating fog, said study co-author James Johnstone, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Berkeley... [National Geographic]
Versus ...
The Bay Area just had its foggiest May in 50 years. And thanks to global warming, it's about to get even foggier. That's the conclusion of several state researchers...

"There'll be winners and losers," says Robert Bornstein, a meteorology professor at San Jose State University. "Global warming is warming the interior part of California, but it leads to a reverse reaction of more fog along the coast." ... [S.F. Chronicle]
More fog is consistent with predictions of climate change. Less fog is consistent with predictions of climate change. I wonder if the same amount of fog is also "consistent with" such predictions? I bet so.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Uh, oh... Is China cutting back its holdings of US debt? 

Foreigners cut Treasury stakes; rates could rise

A record drop in foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury bills in December sent a reminder that the government might have to pay higher interest rates on its debt to continue to attract investors.

China reduced its stake and lost the position it's held for more than a year as the largest foreign holder of Treasury debt. Japan retook the top spot...

The Treasury report showed that China reduced its holdings of Treasury securities by $34.2 billion in December.

Alan Meltzer, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said China's shift should be a wake-up call for Washington.

"The Chinese are worried that we have unsustainable debt levels, and we do not have a policy for dealing with it," Meltzer said.

He said the Chinese worry that confidence in the U.S. government's ability to repay its debt could erode. That would cause the value of Treasurys and the dollar to fall -- and lead to losses on Beijing's' U.S. debt holdings.

The Obama administration on Feb. 1 released a budget plan that projects the deficit for this year will total a record $1.56 trillion. That would surpass last year's record of $1.4 trillion deficit....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How government regulators help create financial crises and Great Recessions 

Greece is facing default on its debt as it runs a deficit of 13% of GDP. Not that this is an unfamiliar position for it, "Greece has been in default roughly one out of every two years since it first gained independence in the nineteenth century" -- Ken Rogoff

And default in Greece threatens the entire European banking system, as most of Greece's IOUs are held by major European banks that have already been hammered by the recession and Europe's own housing bubble collapse -- and which thus are in no condition to absorb a national default. There are serious worries that this could create Round #2 of the Great Recession, with very bad consequences all about.

But a question arises: In light of Greece's sorry fiscal history -- in default for half of its modern national existence! -- why would banks be so reckless as to load up on Greek national debt like this? Market failure? Short-sighted bankers made stupid by greed?

No ... because government regulators effectively paid them to do it!

Under the "Basel Accords" that set international capital standards for the banking industry -- with the intention of making it safer, by assuring banks have adequate capital behind their investments -- "sovereign debt" of EU nations is deemed the safest investment of all, requiring no bank capital to back it up.

So imagine you were a bank with a finite amount of money to lend, and were considering making either a commercial loan to a business or a loan to a sovereign government. Under the Basel rules, if you make a loan to the commercial business it is deemed "risky" so you have to set aside an amount equal to 8% of its value in your capital account, in case something goes wrong with it. But a loan to a sovereign European government is considered risk-free so you need set aside nothing, 0%, in your capital account, to cover it.

Obviously, that is a pretty strong incentive to make "safe" loans to the government, as it saves you 8% of your funds that you can then use elsewhere to make money -- such as by making more loans to that safe government. You might even load up on safe loans to the government.

Except that government is Greece. Oooops.

Now, how about here in the U.S. and the home price bubble-and-bust that triggered our financial crisis and the entire Great Recession?

Well, the curious thing is that asset prices bubble up-and-burst frequently without causing any kind of financial crisis or major recession. The stock market bubble of 1998-2001 was huge, but caused no financial crisis at all and only the most modest of recessions.

The difference this time was that securitized mortgage instruments (not mortgages themselves, but the securities made of them) were major bank investments -- very unlike stocks in 2001. So when the value of these securities collapsed or became indeterminate in an illiquid market, the solvency of many major banks was threatened, and there was a world-wide "bank run"

But why were banks so heavily invested in these securities? Again -- just as with Greek bonds -- because regulators drove them to be so.

While under Basel rules a commercial loan required 8% backup in capital, an investment in securitized mortgage loans carried only a "20% risk weight" and so required only a 1.6% holding in capital (with investment in unsecuritized mortgages requiring over twice as much: 4%).

This made perfect sense. After all, home mortgages had long been near the most safe of all investments -- because lenders required significant down payments on top of imposing stringent credit requirements on borrowers. And securitized mortgages were even safer, because they represented broadly diversified portfolios of mortgage holdings.

This mere under 2% capital requirement greatly increased bank demand for securitized mortgage investments. And that in turn increased the profitability to mortgage lenders of originating mortgages and selling the securities made of them.

How would mortgage originators -- including the banks themselves -- take advantage of this increased demand for mortgages? By originating more mortgages, via eliminating down payment requirements and stringent credit checks, and thus creating the new "Zero down payment subprime and liar loans!"

And these were then driven en masse into the banks' capital structures though their huge investments in securitized mortgages -- because they were deemed so "safe" by the Basel regulators who directed by incentives the major flow of bank investments into them. Oooops!

Is this the whole story of the financial crisis and the Great Recession. Of course not. Is it a significant part? Seems so.

For more thorough analysis along these lines see here, plus a note on Greece.

Lessons: Beware "the law of unintended consequences" ... Beware special interests who capture and co-opt regulators for their own gain (poor-credit governments like Greece who as part of the deal creating international bank capital regulation get the highest possible credit rating treatment for their own borrowing) ... Beware believing regulators know more than anyone else, or are more competent than anyone else, or operate with purer and less self-interested motives than anyone else.

The Economist:
Alas, the record of bank-capital rules is crushingly bad. The Basel regime (European and American banks use either version 1 or 2) represents a monumental, decades-long effort at perfection, with minimum capital requirements carefully calculated from detailed formulae. The answers were precisely wrong. Five days before its bankruptcy Lehman Brothers boasted a “Tier 1” capital ratio of 11%, almost three times the regulatory minimum.
"Who will regulate the regulators?"

Krugman versus Krugman on playing the "Scare seniors with Medicare cuts" card. 

Paul Krugman damns Republicans for playing the unethical "Democrats intend to cut Medicare" card -- then plays the "Republicans intend to cut Medicare" card. In the same column.

Krugman on a recent Newt Gingrich & John Goodman op-ed in the WSJ:

“Don’t cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong.” So declared Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, in a recent op-ed article written with John Goodman, the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Now, Mr. Gingrich was just repeating the current party line. Furious denunciations of any effort to seek cost savings in Medicare — death panels! — have been central to Republican efforts to demonize health reform. What’s amazing, however, is that they’re getting away with it.
To scare seniors by saying Democrats intend to cut Medicare -- how scurrilous!!

Of course, the Obamacare program does (did?) say it will cut Medicare expenditures by that $500 billion dollars.

Then Krugman promptly spins and turns on the "Roadmap" to fiscal solvency sketched out by Representative Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee. To Ryan's great credit, this is the only proposal by a sitting politician that actually puts an actual, scored-by-CBO solution to our impending fiscal crisis on the table -- showing the scale of things that need to be done. (No other politician wants to take the heat for doing any such thing -- and Krugman sure hasn't made any such proposal!)

Krugman's objection: Look out seniors, it cuts Medicare!

... what about those who already are covered by Medicare, or will enter the program over the next decade? You’re safe, says the roadmap; you’ll still be eligible for traditional Medicare. Except, that is, for the fact that the plan “strengthens the current program with changes such as income-relating drug benefit premiums to ensure long-term sustainability.”

If this sounds like deliberately confusing gobbledygook, that’s because it is. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office, which has done an evaluation of the roadmap, offers a translation: “Some higher-income enrollees would pay higher premiums, and some program payments would be reduced.”

In short, there would be Medicare cuts...

Forget that Ryan doesn't speak for Republicans, has entirely different views than Gingrich & Goodman, and sketched out only a "roadmap", not an actual program with any votes behind it.

"He proposes in theory to do what we are within one vote of actually doing in reality. How much worse could he be?"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An awesomely wondrous and inspiring collection of links! 

[] How to title and write a web article so the most people will e-mail it to others -- as per what data analysis says. (Guaranteed even better than “How Your Pet’s Diet Threatens Your Marriage, and Why It’s Bush’s Fault.”)

[] How to pose your picture on a dating web site so the most people will respond to it -- as per what data analysis says.

Hints: Cleavage shots do work for women (maybe surprisingly, the older the woman the better they work), and bare-shirted pecs-and-abs shots work for men (well, for teenagers -- the older the man the worse). That's for getting the largest number of responses. For getting the largest number of responses that lead to productive conversations there are other ideas.

[] Alan Greenspan prepares a defense against all the accusations that he caused the housing bubble, and thus the Great Recession, by keeping interest rates too low. His gist: It was a world-wide bubble, and how could he have caused all that? Hey, almost two years ago I was making this case for him with a visual aid. Alan, hire me!

[] The fiscal mess that Greece is in. I take back the "wondrous and inspiring" claim for this one, a longish read "between dire and disastrous". It is kind of awesome, though. Especially the thought that it could be just the start for the rest of us.

[] When others speak ill of you, there's no need to rush to confirm they're right it so quickly!

Arnold Kling writes at Econlog:
Being arrogant means dismissing your opponent's qualification to voice an opinion. By that definition, Brad DeLong is to arrogance what Michael Jordan is to basketball.
DeLong immediately responds in the first comment underneath...
Alas, many people who voice opinions are not qualified to do so. Consider Eugene Fama [etc.]...
Fama, one of the world's leading financial economists, gets pulled in from nowhere, having nothing at all to do with Kling's original post. Apparently it was "bash Fama week" for DeLong. But he replies to DeLong with tact and fact.

[] How many people die from not having health insurance? Megan McArdle starts a brouhaha with the Obamacare Legionaries by pointing to research that suggests from few to none.

[] Karaoke kills. At least in the Philippines, stay out of the karaoke bars. And if you go in anyhow, at least don't sing Sinatra's "My Way". Sounds to me like good advice when in New York and New Jersey too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cash for Hummers 

TOKYO — Hummer and “fuel-efficient” are rarely mentioned in the same breath.

But anyone in Japan who buys the Hummer H3 model — with its 5.3-liter, 300-horsepower engine — can receive a 250,000 yen ($2,779) subsidy under the country’s recently eased fuel-efficiency standards for imported cars.

The change stems in part from criticism, particularly from Detroit automakers, that recent tax breaks and subsidies intended to spur sales of fuel-efficient cars in Japan unfairly excluded foreign brands... [NY Times]
As the United States government owns the largest Detroit automaker (and Hummer in particular is manufactured by the split-off-in-bankruptcy portion of GM, now on the market for the best price) the rest follows.

[HT: Viking Pundit]

[If you thought "Cash for Hummers" meant something else, shame on you -- you carelessly didn't notice the "H" was capitalized.]

Valentine of the day 

Nothing says "I love you" like a half-mile wide heart made out of manure.

A southern Minnesota man created the Valentine's Day gift for his wife of 37 years in their farm field about 12 miles southwest of Albert Lea. Bruce Andersland told the Alberta Lea Tribune that he started the project with his tractor and manure spreader Wednesday and finished Thursday.

His wife, Beth, said it's the biggest and most original Valentine she has ever received. She said some people might think it's gross, but she says it's cute and "Why not do something fun with what you got?"
Thirty-seven years of marrriage requires a special kind of relationship.

Or creates it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday sports page 

[] Do the Colts under-perform in the playoffs? With All-World Peyton Manning at quarterback, a lot of fans and commentators think they ought to have more than just one Super Bowl win during the 21st century. They said it before last week's Super Bowl, and after it they were saying it again.

So I looked at the numbers. In 18 playoff games during the Peyton Manning era, the 1999 - 2009 seasons, the Colts have a record of 9-9, .500. But how strong were they compared to their opponents?

Using Pythagorean ratings* to determine team strength, the average Colt playoff team has had a regular season winning percentage strength of .662 (or 10.6 - 5.4 in a 16 game season). The average Colt opponent playoff team has had a winning strength of .689 (11 - 5).

So the average Colt playoff team has been slightly weaker than its opponent. Knowing that, a 9-9 record isn't less than would be expected after all. It actually might be a tad on the upside.

(* a method more accurate at predicting future game outcomes than using past W-L record, based on points for/against ratio, with data from and explained at Pro Football

[] Who really won the Super Bowl? The Vegas sports books.

[] Are the New Jersey Nets the worst team in the history of NBA basketball? With a W-L record of 4-48 at this writing, they are on pace to smash the previous record in futility of 9-73 set by the Philadelphia 76ers of 1973.

But Dave Berri takes a close look at them and says: Nah, they're only the third-worst team in the last 26 years. For they rest, they've just been unlucky.

[] Did the Olympics bankrupt Greece? Well, Greece is broke again. ("Greece has been in default roughly one out of every two years since it first gained independence in the nineteenth century", says Ken Rogoff, who's the expert on such things.)

Victor Matheson at The Sports Economist tells us that when Greece hosted the 2004 Olympics it "broke the bank", spending 5% of GDP on the Games. Then the Olympics lost money (as they all do) and "Greece suffered an Olympic-sized hangover with GDP growth falling to its lowest level in a decade". All of which amounted to a "large but overlooked" contributor to its crisis today.

Well, maybe. It's too much to say the Olympics by itself did the deed, though it is certainly true Greece "couldn't afford" them. But an unwise one-time expenditure of 5% of GDP didn't break them. Today's deficit of 13% of GDP running annually is what's breaking them.

When Greece won the Olympics bid its deficit was a modest 3% of GDP. By 2004 it was up to 7.5% of GDP. But the Olympics didn't do all of that, it was just one of many politically driven bad deals that did that, and which have since driven its deficit to 13%. I'd say the Olympics were more a symptom of Greece's problem -- politicians' worsening addiction to wasteful spending -- than the problem itself.

Maybe we in the US should pay heed. The US deficit is running at near 11% of GDP, or maybe a lot more. Like Greece, you can afford it for a while, and then you can't.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Today is Valenswine's Day. 

For all you swine out there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Strange things that Democrats believe... 

... about Bush, Obama & the Anti-Christ, ghosts and reincarnation and UFOs.

A new poll purported by many to show that Republicans are loons recently was paid for and published by Daily Kos, of all web sites, if one can imagine such a thing! (With findings such as 24% think Obama wants the terrorists to win, 36% believe Obama wasn't born in the US, 23% think their state should secede from the Union, 76% consider abortion to be murder, etc.)

Maybe you've seen this. It's been picked up and bounced around the polito-blogosphere, and even mainstream media sites such as The Economist.

Now one might have some concern that a poll produced for a site as politically ... opinionated ... as Kos might be subject to some bias. But let's not dwell on a boring technical critique of it that points out its "disconcerting" departures from recognized best polling practices.

No... for the real bias is that there is no mention in any of this of what Democrats believe, as found by other polls. This in spite of the fact that such is very easy to find even with just a quick look around. For instance...
Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know... 26% are not sure. [Rasmussen]
That's fully 61% of Democrats there, believing that or thinking it might be so.

On the lighter side...
The national poll ... shows that about a third of Americans believe in ghosts (34 percent) and an equal number in UFOs (34 percent), and about a quarter accept things like astrology (search) (29 percent), reincarnation (search) (25 percent) and witches (24 percent)...

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they believe in reincarnation (by 14 percentage points), in astrology (by 14 points), in ghosts (by eight points) and UFOs (by five points)...

Women are more likely than men to believe in almost all topics asked about in the poll, including 12 percentage points more likely to believe in miracles...

The one significant exception is UFOs, with 39 percent of men compared to 30 percent of women saying they accept the existence of unidentified flying objects...

An 86 percent majority of adults between the ages of 18 to 34 believe in hell, but that drops to 68 percent for those over age 70.
So Democrats are big on reincarnation, astrology and UFOs. (Don't be distracted by whether or not suffrage was a mistake, or seniors tend towards wishful thinking in their last years -- though those groups tend to vote Democratic too.)

Another poll finding the same 34% who believe in ghosts reported:
By 31% to 18%, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.
Now if someone wanted to constructively make the true and important point that "it is a fundamental finding of political science and political economics that the entire electorate is stunningly ignorant and ill-informed, and prone to believe impossible things, on a mass scale", they could easily do so. All one need do is point to the many studies of the topic that document the fact, such as Bryan Caplan's recent book The Myth of the Rational Voter. ("The best political book of the year" -- NY Times)

That has truly significant implications for politics.

But to instead go all Kos-like slurring only Republicans as "either insane or mind-numbingly stupid" (as per Bruce Bartlett) is to be just as ignorant and irrational as the average voter -- and a lot more arrogantly self-righteous about it.

I mean, Kos is fooling us ... and who wants to be fooled to become an intellectual derivative of Kos?

Hey, how about this poll finding about Obama supporters?...
The big surprise here – the group of voters most likely to think Obama is the Anti-Christ are Hispanics, who solidly backed Obama in 2008. Only 58 percent of them say, for sure, that their president is not Satan come to wreak havoc here on earth.
What's worse: believing Obama is the Anti-Christ, or voting for the Anti-Christ because he is a Democrat? A two-fer!

Crazy Obama voters!

(Does Mr. Bartlett has the nerve to hurl insults at an ethnic group as he does at Republicans?)

OK ... now, let's get back to the possibility of there being some bias in the Kos poll findings themselves.

Consider the beliefs reported by Democrats above in impartial polls. Does anyone doubt for a moment that a partisan poll, produced and designed for a right-wing political web site as partisan as Kos's, would produce a result making Democrats look ridiculous?

Would intelligent people buy such a thing wholesale and deem it as a revelation about politics?

Note that among the concerns in the critique of the Kos poll linked to above is the wording of questions to bias results -- regarding which just a minor "error" can produce very major results.

Famously, some years back the New York Times and Los Angeles Times (among many other papers) reported in shocking Page One Headlines "Poll Finds 1 Out of 3 Americans Doubt There Was a Holocaust" (as the LA Times put it), breathlessly revealing the results of a poll taken for American Jewish Committee.

In the uproar that followed the poll was re-done with the wording corrected, and the number of doubters fell to 1%.

Do we all really have great faith in the effort Kos takes to avoid such errors, when they could only be at the cost of Republicans?

UPDATE:More strange things Democratic believe about: the states' right to secede from the Union ... blaming Jews for the finanical crisis ... ignorance that they control Congress.

When voters are so amazingly ignorant, do you want them controlling a big government or a small one?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Krugman versus Krugman on the filibuster. 

March 29, 2005, Democrats are the minority in the Senate:
the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster...
February 7, 2010, Democrats are the majority in the Senate:
the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.
[ht: Luskin]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

75 years of alligators in the NYC sewers. 

Yesterday was "Alligators In The Sewers Day", and I missed it!


... where did the urban legend come from?

Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione held a press conference on the City Hall steps today to commemorate the legend’s birth.

Unlike most urban legends, this one has a definite origin in fact: On Feb. 9, 1935, several teenagers in East Harlem were shoveling snow into an open sewer manhole when they spotted movement below. They got clothesline from a nearby shop and fished out a seven-foot-long, 125-pound alligator.

Despite the alligator’s weakness, it snapped at the boys, who then beat it to death with their shovels. The story is told in a vividly-written New York Times article published the next day.

No alligator has been spotted in the sewers before or since, yet the legend persists...

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer proclaimed today, the 75th anniversary of the original alligator incident, to be “Alligators in the Sewers Day” in the Borough of Manhattan ... [Photo set on Flikr].

Tomorrow's urban legend rooted in fact today...
Coyotes roaming Manhattan

Three coyotes turned up on the Columbia University campus on Sunday morning ... A few hours later, a coyote was spotted darting around bushes and across a frozen lake in Central Park... [its picture below]

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Seen around and about... 

[] Don't believe all the hype about Avatar already being the #1 movie of all time at the box office. Adjusted for inflation, it's not even in the top 20...
1. Gone With the Wind: $1,537,559,600
2. Star Wars: $1,355,490,100
3. The Sound of Music: $1,083,781,000
5. The Ten Commandments: $996,910,000
8. Doctor Zhivago: $944,670,800
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: $829,490,000
11. 101 Dalmatians: $760,370,300
18. The Graduate: $651,198,300
20. Fantasia: $631,960,900
21. Avatar: $603,789,300

[] Hey, look how the $787 billion stimulus grew by $75 billion all by itself without anyone knowing it!

CBO now anticipates that the law will increase deficits by $862 billion ... [CBO]

[] When a big country is stuck in a funk like we are, nothing lifts the spirits like a fun and rewarding adventure next door! Such as ... Or. Too bad we have only Mexico and Canada.

[] Australian censors ban A-cup porn actresses. Another for the "You know your government is too big when..." file. First they came for the small-breasted porn stars...

[] Post-partisanship policy on special interests:
"We need to stand up to the special interests, bring Republicans and Democrats together, and pass the farm bill immediately." -- Barack Obama, 2007.
We should have known then how this was going to work out. [ht: Reason via M. McArdle]

[] The next time a bee stings you, it might be because it didn't like your face.

[] Canada's Premier of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador comes to the US for heart surgery. Whew! The rich and powerful in Canada breathe a sigh of relief. With Obamacare on life support, they can still get decent treatment by coming here.

[] The late Senator Kennedy waxing poetic about the good old days of U.S. politics...
... Mr. Kennedy waxed sentimental about Washington in the early 1960s: "It used to be civilized. The media was on our side. We'd get our work done by one o'clock and by two we were at the White House chasing women. We got the job done, and the reporters focused on the issues ... It was civilized." [WSJ]
Oh, for the way things used to be....

Monday, February 08, 2010

First we kill all the lawyers... 

Lawyers claim half of 9/11 health and injury funds

Lawyers in the legal battle over Ground Zero worker compensation could bag up to half of the billions available to pay 9/11 recovery workers for toxic injuries.

Defense firms hired by the city to fight some 10,000 claims have already raked in close to $200 million, and about $75 million has been spent on administrative expenses.

[In addition to that] Lawyers for the workers -- who have yet to be paid -- stand to reap 30 percent to 40 percent of all settlements or judgments, based on their retainer agreements with World Trade Center responders...

At stake is a $1 billion taxpayer fund and as much as $3 billion in liability-insurance coverage, which includes the Port Authority's $600 million and policies held by WTC contractors.

The WTC Captive Insurance Co., a nonprofit governed by Mayor Bloomberg, has managed a $1 billion fund ... awarded by Congress to pay claims stemming from the Ground Zero cleanup.

The fund spent $275 million between 2004 and Dec. 31, 2009, on defense lawyers and administrative costs, records obtained by The Post show.

At the same time, the fund paid only a total of $320,000 to five workers with minor injuries....

"How do you justify earning $275 million without a settlement or trial?" asked ex-NYPD Detective John Walcott, who battled leukemia after working for months at Ground Zero and the Fresh Kills landfill, where debris was shipped and sifted... [NY Post]

No, first we kill the politicians... 

Queens pols stiffed Katrina victims

It's the Big Sleazy. Devastated Hurricane Katrina survivors from New Orleans were left high and dry by a charity set up to help them by state Sen. Malcolm Smith and Rep. Gregory Meeks of Queens.

Only $1,392 of at least $31,000 raised to help Katrina families was paid, tax records show, and just about everybody involved with the charity -- including the two Democratic pols -- claim ignorance as to where the rest of the money went.

Meeks said in a statement that "the funds were utilized to help sustain displaced evacuees," but refused to provide further detail. He said money was administered by an unidentified director and that "a committee of community representatives functioned as advisers to the fund."

But three of those advisers said they had no idea whether cash was given out by the group ... Pamela Moore, chief-of-staff to Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, was listed as a member of the advisory board but said that it was a position in name only. "I never attended any board meetings," she said, adding that she did not know if board meetings were even held.

Clark, a Queens Democrat, said she ... helped set up a gospel concert that raised $11,210 after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. "We turned this money over to the congressman [Meeks]," Clark said. "I don't know exactly how it was given out."

A source familiar with the charity's operation and books in 2005 said he was unaware of any money going to Katrina victims that year, and called the failure to help victims "disgusting."... The organization raised at least $31,000 and perhaps more.

The money included a $10,000 donation from the Hindu Temple Society in Queens and $5,000 from the Rent Stabilization Association of New York. The rent group made the donation after its director received a letter from Smith asking to help displaced families.
The Rent Stabilization Association represents the landlord side in rent control regulation matters. So the politicians regulate the rental market ... then "ask" those they regulate to contribute to "charities" they set up ... then the money disappears without a trace.

Dare one think: "extortion".
Sen. Smith, through his spokesman, Austin Shafran, also washed his hands of any distribution of money to Katrina victims. "He wasn't involved in any of the day-to-day operations of the group," Shafran said.

The Post revealed last week that Sen. Smith attempted to direct at least $105,000 in pork-barrel money to New Direction, [a charity] whose mission was community development in the Far Rockaway area. Of that, the charity received $56,500 in state money from 2001 to 2006, according to the state Comptroller's Office. Most of those funds also are unaccounted for.

The charity's federal tax forms provide scant information on how it spent its money. No details were reported on who received grants and the only expenses listed were items such as funding for a senior appreciation week, basketball and double-dutch tournament -- plus $11,000 for "meals and entertainment."

The group also paid $9,004 in IRS penalties for late filing. [NY Post]
That $9,004 in penalties being paid with taxpayers' money ladled from the "pork barrel".

No, first we kill the teachers' union... 

Last week's candidate for teacher of the year has competition!

Queens teacher on payroll despite knocking up student

Three strikes and he wasn't out.

At the beginning of his 32-year career as a math teacher in Queens, Francisco Olivares allegedly impregnated and married a 16-year-old girl he had met when she was a 13-year-old student at his Corona junior high, IS 61, The Post learned.

He sexually molested two 12-year-old pupils a decade later and another student four years after that, the city Department of Education charged.

But none of it keeps Olivares, 60, from collecting his $94,154 salary.

He hasn't set foot in a classroom in seven years since beating criminal and disciplinary charges. Chancellor Joel Klein keeps Olivares in a "rubber room," a district office where teachers accused of misconduct sit all day with nothing to do.

The DOE insists it can't get rid of him. "The department's hands are tied by state law and union rules," said spokeswoman Ann Forte...

The Queens district attorney charged [Olivares] with abusing two 12-year-old students in school, one in December 1988 and the other a month later. He showed one girl porn pictures and photographed her in suggestive poses with her pants down, the DA charged. Another accused him of rubbing against her from behind.

A jury found him guilty, but his conviction was reversed on appeal on technicalities.

The DOE held an administrative trial on the charges, but a panel of arbitrators voted 2-1 in favor of Olivares. They sent him back to IS 61.

He struck again, according to Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon, who recommended firing him. In 2002, Condon found Olivares had backed a girl against a wall and caressed her arms while urging her not to transfer, saying, "I'm becoming very fond of you."

After a hearing, an arbitrator let Olivares off with just a warning not to stand close to students.

This time, Klein refused to return Olivares to the classroom...

It was then that DOE officials dug up accusations from 1978 that Olivares had a sexual relationship with a former IS 61 student he had met when she was 13 -- and got her pregnant at 16, according to records filed in Manhattan Supreme Court in the 2004 suit.

Olivares, then 30, married the teen and falsified DOE forms to get her health insurance sooner, it was alleged...

Olivares' student-turned-wife, whose name is being withheld by The Post, could not be reached. Reached in Georgia, his daughter, now 29, said her parents "have been estranged for so many years."

"I try to keep in touch a few times a year," she said of her dad ... "My father can do his own defense."

After separating from his wife, Olivares, at age 50, fathered a son with a 23-year-old, records show...

[NY Post -- a rich day for stories from the Post.]

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Post game note 

Seeing The Who's 65-year-old Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend perform "Teenage Wasteland" during the Super Bowl Half-Time Show brought to mind an image of the Soviet Red Army Chorus Alumni performing "The Internationale" at a Goldman Sachs Christmas party.

But maybe it's just me.

Super Bowl Sunday sports page 

All football today...

[] Can the New Orleans Saints beat Peyton Manning & Six of His Friends (five if Freeney is injured) plus a bunch of bodies, in today's Super Bowl?

I mentioned before that the Colts' salary cap is divvied up thusly: Peyton Manning and six other players, $81.3 million (average $11.6 million each); the other 54 or so players on the roster, practice squad and reserve, $40.7 million (about $0.75 million each).

And this leads into another point. Peyton has been nearly as lucky as he has been good. Which is the formula for "all time great": very good and very fortunate.

How has he been so fortunate?

No other NFL team ever has been built around the personal abilities of one quarterback the way the Indianapolis Colts have been built around him.

Even the Colts defense is built around Peyton. Their General Manager Bill Polian has said they play the Tampa 2 defensive system because it has the lowest salary cap cost. The backfield players can be plugged in right out of the draft, then when they reach their free agent year and qualify for a good raise it is "good bye, good luck", draft someone else and plug him in. The only player they really have to pay serious money to in that scheme is the pass rusher, Dwight Freeney. So it's that much more money for Peyton and the handful of offensive players they pay very well to compliment him.

Peyton is a great QB, and it makes perfect sense to maximize what the team gets from him this way. But having a whole franchise built around you personally for your entire career to maximize what you can do ... that doesn't hurt your career stats!

Moreover, Peyton's never been injured (say: "Greg Cook") and he landed on a team with one of the league's best GM's, who knew how to build a top team around him. What if he'd landed on the Lions?

That's the combination that makes "great" -- very good and very fortunate both.

[] If you are in Miami and will be watching the Super Bowl on TV, or enjoy watching your team's home games on TV anywhere else, thank Richard Nixon!

The tale of the demise of the "home game blackout" is told at Pro Football
...By 1972, the Washington Redskins had become a pretty good team under George Allen, having made the playoffs the previous season for the first time in 26 years. They had also become the hot ticket in town, and games were regularly sold out.

It was one thing when the common man had to drive more than 75 miles outside of town to see a game that he couldn't get a ticket for. It was something else entirely in Washington, when congressmen and executives and even President Nixon, a devout football man, could not see a game on TV.

On Wednesday, December 20, 1972, just prior to the Redskins first home playoff game since the 1942 NFL Championship, Walter Cronkite reported that attorney general Kleindeinst had asked commissioner Rozelle to lift the blackout, and Rozelle had said no. As a result, Kleindeist was going to ask Congress to revisit the NFL's anti-trust exemption.

At Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles, Rozelle finally blinked and the NFL decided to lift the blackout of the Super Bowl on an "experimental basis" for the matchup between the Redskins and the undefeated Miami Dolphins. It was too little, too late for the NFL.... Before the 1973 season had kicked off, Congress passed Public Law 93-107, which eliminated the blackout of games in the home market so long as the game was sold out by 72 hours before game time.

Fast forward thirty-nine years later, and the NFL's thought process seems almost incomprehensible to the fans from a generation that have grown up with 239 cable channels and easy internet access. Who would have guessed that actually making your product widely available would have led to a dramatic increase in popularity over time?...

[] As mentioned here before, lifting that blackout gives you 11 minutes of action to enjoy -- along with an hour or so of very special commercials (probably more of them than that today).

[] Today's rival quarterbacks, Manning and Drew Brees, have their career performance levels looked at by Brian Burke.

[] Your team didn't make the Super Bowl? Well, if the team you root for in any sport hasn't won a title in at least 35 years, you may qualify as a sorry fan of one of the top 15 "officially tortured" teams in pro sports.

[] In the world of college football, now we know why USC was so eager to hire Lane Kiffin to run its football program. The man really gets the jump on the competition in recruiting!
13 year-old quarterback commits to USC.
The kid's name is David Sills. If he leads the Cleveland Browns to a Super Bowl victory in 2020, you heard of him here first.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Dean Baker on Social Security: How can he get so much so wrong in such a small space? 

The man writes...
More Failed Airthmetic [sic] at the WSJ

It's often said that everyone in Washington is so smart that they skipped directly from 2nd grade to 4th grade. This explains why so many people in top positions don't know third grade arithmetic.

The WSJ gave us another example of this lack of knowledge when it listed Medicare and Social Security as "the U.S.'s biggest budget busters." In fact, those of us who did sit through third grade know that Social Security actually is running an annual surplus. The amount of money it takes in each year on the designated Social Security tax and the interest it collects on its bonds exceeds what it pays out in benefits.

... Social Security is a money loser in the same way as IPOD is for Apple.
First, having looked at the offending WSJ piece -- always the responsible thing to do when one person is ranting about what another supposedly "said" -- we see something strange. The "failed arithmetic" Dean is ranting against is the Administration's, not the WSJ's. Here it is from the story...
Interest payments devour nearly one-tenth of federal revenues ... Spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consumes an additional 57%. The administration projects that those entitlement programs, as they are known, plus interest on the debt, will absorb 80% of all federal revenues by 2020.
So Dean seems really peeved that the Administration's arithmetic projects these as "budget busters" -- and the WSJ dared report it.

Moreover the year referenced is 2020, not today. He didn't notice?

And there are a bunch more strange things in this one little post:

1) "those of us who did sit through third grade know that Social Security actually is running an annual surplus".

Well, no. Those of us who are alert to facts know that Social Security actually is incurring a shortfall right now. Back when Dean was in third grade they may have projected we'd be running a surplus today, but events have happened since then.

2) Social Security's "interest it collects on its bonds" helps the federal budget? Hello? Who's paying this interest, the Germans or somebody? Dean couldn't possibly be talking about the interest that the Trust Fund credits to itself by bookkeeping entry, because what cash does that provide to help the federal budget??

By the way, these bonds are a liability of the US, part of the national debt. So "crediting interest" to them increases the national debt. That helps the budget?

3) The other side of the trust fund -- they must have taught this too in third grade -- is that all those bonds have to be paid down after circa 2017, with cash funds from the federal budget.

This is going to cost near 2 points of GDP of cash flow -- and the tax increase needed to cover this by itself will be the biggest tax increase since World War II. (Dwarfing the Clinton 1993 tax increase that passed by only one vote in the House and on a vice presidential tie-breaker in the Senate, when both chambers were solidly held by Democrats.)

That, of course, will be on top of all the other tax increases we'll need for Medicare and to service all the trillions of extra debt we'll be ladling on until then, as per this week's latest projections.

4) Social Security has a net unfunded liability on the order of $14 trillion and growing, says the Treasury.

If the iPod was running up an unfunded liability like that for Apple, do you think Steve Jobs would be bragging about how it was helping his budget?

Social Security a "budget buster"? Nah. Who could possibly think that?

But wait, there's more! Dean's bashing is based on people in Washington not being able to do arithmetic, but the WSJ is in New York ... He misspelled "arithmetic" in the post's title...

Maybe he had a third grader write this for him?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How much can the government afford to pay to create jobs? Per job? 

The Obama Administration's agenda has become "jobs, jobs, jobs, cut the deficit, jobs, cut the deficit, jobs, cut the deficit" ... since the populist rising of right-wing... independents and centrists in Massachusetts killed Obamacare. All you have to do is consider the State of the Union Address to see that.

These two priorities -- increase deficit spending to create jobs, while cutting deficits from their staggeringly high, unsustainable levels -- seem to be in self-evident conflict.

Yet Obama and some economists will tell you they aren't. They'll tell you: "increase deficits now to boost job creation until unemployment falls, then cut the deficit later."

Well ... maybe.

The problem is: Can we afford to increase deficits now, even to create jobs? Will it pay off for us? Or is it a short-sighted, cost-inefficient policy that for a small gain (before this fall's election) will make our bigger, long-term problem much worse, to our ultimate regret?

If the U.S. had only a modest national debt to begin with, sure, we could afford to add some billions to it to increase employment today -- even if in an inefficient manner.

But the US's debt, including its accrued unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security, already was well over $64 trillion going into 2009! And its future debt course is already so unsustainable that -- if it isn't addressed soon -- the credit rating of the US will start falling within the next several years, Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's all warn.

With such problems ahead, can we afford to make the future even worse for gains today? Of course, that depends on the size of the gains today compared to their cost.

The multi-trillion-dollar question: Can the government create jobs cost-efficiently to make the overall economic situation of the U.S better in total, instead of worse? This is an empirical matter, so let's look at some numbers.

[] The average wage in the US is about $42,000 per year, says the BLS.

[] Last year, the Obama Administration predicted that its $787 billion stimulus package would create 6.8 million "job years" of employment -- a cost of $115,735 per job year. That's almost three times the wage of the average job, its benefit to the employee.

[] Today -- as per Keith Hennessey quoting the White House on its new plans -- CBO says (.pdf) the "most effective way" to spur employment is a jobs tax credit that rewards employers for making new hires "at a cost of $111,000 to $200,000 ... per new employment-year". That is near triple-to-near quintuple the wage of the average job, the benefit to the hired employee.

And that is the most effective jobs creation policy -- the Administration's proposals include several other less effective programs.

Let's give the benefit of the doubt to the Administration's and CBO's "job creation" estimates so far (in spite of the consistent over-optimism of their projections to date), and also assume that the jobs created on the whole pay as much as the average wage (even though pay for marginal workers is likely to be less.)

We can then say, conservatively, that the "jobs creation" proposals on the table today will cost taxpayers -- and add to the national debt -- at least three to five times the value of the jobs created to the workers who get them. (Probably more.)

Is paying three-to-five times the value of each job created a good deal? Can we afford it? How much of it can we afford?

You decide.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cell phone bans don't measurably reduce auto accidents. Surprised? 

Why should you be?

The news is ...
Study: Cell phone bans don't reduce accidents

A new study suggests laws banning the use of hand-held devices while driving have not reduced the rate of accidents in three states and the District of Columbia.

In addition to the nation's capital, the report by the Highway Loss Data Institute reviews insurance claims in New York, Connecticut and California. It also compares the data to other areas that do not have cell phone bans.

"The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk," said Adrian Lund, president of the Highway Loss Data Institute... [CNN]
... with all the reports presenting this as a big mystery.

Yet this very blog in its earliest days, near five years back, pointed to a study giving a list of things that are more dangerous than using a cell phone while driving, including...
Rubbernecking (causing three times as many accidents as cell phones)
Fatigue (more than twice as many)
Looking at scenery, landmarks (twice as many)
Attention given to a child or other passenger (almost twice as many)
Adjusting a radio or changing a CD or tape recording...
While about as many accidents result from being distracted by: daydreaming, eating or drinking, adjusting vehicle controls, weather conditions, an insect or object hitting or entering the vehicle, reading a map or newspaper or something else ... among other things.

Moreover, "studies show that accidents involving cell phones relate primarily not to dialing or holding them but to the distraction caused by the phone conversation itself."

OK. So given both that cell phone use causes so few of all total accidents, and that in the accidents it is related to it is the distracting nature of the phone conversation itself, not the hand-held nature of the phone, that usually causes the accident ... just how many crashes would you expect to be averted by banning use of hand-held phones in cars?

Maybe ... too few to be measured?

If legislators really wanted to prevent distraction-caused accidents, the first things they should ban would be billboards (businesses actually making money by distracting drivers' eyes from the road), radios and CD players, food and drink, children...

Why pick on hand-held cell phones? Because this is what politicians do.

And you'd have known it from reading it here first, if you were reading here five years ago.

Monday, February 01, 2010

"Teacher of the Year" in the NYC public schools? 

A Queens teacher who collects a $100,000 salary for doing nothing spends time in a Department of Education "rubber room" working on his law practice and managing 12 real-estate properties worth an estimated $7.8 million...

Alan Rosenfeld hasn't set foot in a classroom for nearly a decade since he was accused in 2001 of making lewd comments to junior-high girls and "staring at their butts," yet the department still pays him handsomely for sitting on his own butt seven hours a day...

A hearing officer gave him a slap on the wrist -- a week off without pay -- for "conduct unbecoming a teacher." He was cleared to return to teaching. Instead, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has kept the scruffy 64-year-old in a Brooklyn rubber room, deeming him too dangerous to be near kids, officials said.

The DOE can't fire him. "We have to abide by the union contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

So Rosenfeld simply collects his $100,049 salary -- top scale for teachers -- plus full health benefits and the promise of a fat pension, about $82,000 a year if he were to retire today.

His pension will grow by $1,700 each year he remains. He could have retired at age 62, but he stays.

He has also accumulated about 435 unused sick days -- and will get paid for half of them when he retires. With city teachers trying to negotiate a 4 percent pay hike, Rosenfeld stands to get the raise.

All this largesse comes as Mayor Bloomberg threatens to cut 2,500 teachers to help close a $4 billion budget gap.

Meanwhile, the multimillionaire Rosenfeld lords over the rubber room, where he is the oldest and most veteran of 100 teachers. He reports promptly at 7:30 a.m. to the cavernous "reassignment center" on Chapel Street and spreads out at a table cluttered with used paper cups, plastic utensils, bags of food, news clippings and files...

A licensed attorney since 1973, Rosenfeld frequently talks on the phone to clients and other lawyers, insiders say.

"He's always working," one said. City rules forbid staffers to conduct business on DOE time.

He hung up when The Post reached him on his cellphone. Further calls to the cell got the greeting: "Hello, you have reached the law offices of Alan M. Rosenfeld."

Rosenfeld oversees a real-estate empire that includes family homes in Queens worth an estimated $7.8 million, according to city records. The Post found he holds the deeds to 12 properties, mostly one-, two- and three-family homes in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Glen Oaks...

The DOE responded to questions about Rosenfeld in a statement ... "This is not an ideal system, but given the realities of cumbersome state laws and the union contract, we need to balance our obligation to safeguard children with our legal obligation of fairness to teachers," it reads... [NY Post]
Prior coverage on this subject by The New Yorker and a NYC public school teacher.

A health care program Obama does not support! 

NY pols stunned to learn Obama administration opposes funding for 9/11 health bill

The Obama administration stunned New York's delegation Thursday, dropping the bombshell news that it does not support funding the 9/11 health bill.

The state's two senators and 14 House members met with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius just hours before President Obama implored in his speech to the nation for Congress to come together and deliver a government that delivers on its promises to the American people.

So the legislators were floored to learn the Democratic administration does not want to deliver for the tens of thousands of people who sacrificed after 9/11, and the untold numbers now getting sick.

"I was stunned — and very disappointed," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand... "To say the least, I was flabbergasted," said Staten Island Rep. Mike McMahon.

The 9/11 bill would spend about $11 billion over 30 years to care for the growing numbers of people getting sick from their service at Ground Zero, and to compensate families for their losses...

"She made it clear that the administration does not support any kind of funding mechanism that goes into the bill," said Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel. ..."They find money for everything else, they need to find money for this," Engel said.

"We were attacked because we're a symbol of our country." McMahon was furious that caring for the heroes of Sept. 11 would take a back seat to anything but military funding....

Victims and advocates of 9/11 families are similarly stunned. Lorie Van Auken, whose husband died on 9/11 and who supports the White House in its push to try the terrorists in New York, was crestfallen at the news.

"I thought that these people would be taken care of. I would have expected better from this administration," Van Auken said, adding that she thought it sends the wrong message to all of America's would-be heroes that the government won't be there for them.

"These people put their lives on the line to help people who live here and who were in danger, and now the government doesn't want to support them," Van Auken said. "What happens in the future when something else happens? Are people going to say, ‘No, sorry, I'm not going to help?'"

[NY Daily News]

Possibly Obama's people should not take their support in "blue states" such as New York and Massachusetts so for granted.