Saturday, May 28, 2011

Something to Be Proud Of

Israel and U.S. Evangelicals

Andrew Sullivan describes the ties:
Nicely put. But I would not discount the religious themes underpinning this, which are very potent in the current GOP. Evangelicals view Israel and America as uniquely sacred entities, united in an eschatological struggle between good and evil. Each country is thereby exempted from the usual international laws and rules, because G-d himself has anointed both of them in a pre-ordained battle of existential power.
When Romney preposterously declares that Obama has thrown Israel under the bus, he is sending a message to evangelicals. Allegedly betraying Israel at this pre-apocalyptic hour is the work of Satan. Any partition of the chosen land is the goal of the anti-Christ - hence the incomprehension and shock at any mention of the 1967 borders. Just as the early Puritans saw their new land as a new Zion, so did the first Zionists in Israel. And you cannot rationally negotiate with these kinds of convictions. Alas, in Israel, the pre-existing population didn't die en masse by unwitting biological warfare. Hence the need, as Palin and Huckabee have urged, for a much more aggressive Jewish settlement of Judea and Samaria.
I sometimes feel like a conspiracy theorist as I chalk up right-wing support for Israel to crazy religious beliefs, but I think it is real.  I don't understand it at all, but it scares the bejesus out of me that people are actually wanting the end-of-days to arrive.  I just hope that Republicans and Jewish settlers drag each other down without hurting the rest of us.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Tests Reveal Mislabeling of Fish, at the NYT:
Environmentalists worry that duped diners may be unwittingly contributing to declining fish stocks, buying food they have been told to avoid. Dr. Hebert said that in testing samples from the United States and Canada, his lab had even detected meat from endangered sharks being sold to diners. “If it were labeled endangered species,” he said, “you couldn’t sell it and you wouldn’t buy it, right?”
Most of the research has been done not by regulators but by individual fish biologists and geneticists; to date no definitive national study has been carried out on the scope of the fraud.
Dana Miller, a doctoral student who worked with Dr. Mariani in Dublin studying the mislabeling of cod, the most popular fish in Ireland, said, “we expected with all the policies and legislation and inspections, the numbers would be pretty low.” But 25 percent of samples of fresh cod and haddock and over 80 percent of the smoked products, were in fact something else. Irish cod stocks are overfished.
You have to wonder about pollock, since it is the most plentiful whitefish in the U.S. market, and the fishery is claimed to be sustainable.  Maybe all that fish isn't pollock, I don't know.

Fire Tornados and Water Spouts


Washington's blog features photos and video of fire tornados and water spouts. (h/t Ritholtz)

Shale Oil Starts Producing

From the NYT:
Based on the industry’s plans, shale and other “tight rock” fields that now produce about half a million barrels of oil a day will produce up to three million barrels daily by 2020, according to IHS CERA, an energy research firm. Oil companies are investing an estimated $25 billion this year to drill 5,000 new oil wells in tight rock fields, according to Raoul LeBlanc, a senior director at PFC Energy, a consulting firm.
“This is very big and it’s coming on very fast,” said Daniel Yergin, the chairman of IHS CERA. “This is like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020, except these tight oil fields are in the United States.”
In the most developed shale field, the Bakken field in North Dakota, production has leaped to 400,000 barrels a day today from a trickle four years ago. Experts say it could produce as much as a million barrels a day by the end of the decade.
The Eagle Ford, where the first well was drilled only three years ago, is already producing more than 100,000 barrels a day and could reach 420,000 by 2015, almost as much as Ecuador, according to Bentek Energy, a consultancy.
Just keep in mind that the U.S. uses 19 million barrels of oil a day.  Not only that, but regular oil Texas production decreased from 2.6 million barrels a day in 1981 to 1.3 million barrels today.  Shale oil is only a minor panacea.  We still face a dire oil future.

Should You Bet Against China?

Stephen Roach says no (h/t Mark Thoma):
Yale historian Jonathan Spence has long cautioned that the West tends to view China through the same lens as it sees itself. Today’s cottage industry of China doubters is a case in point. Yes, by our standards, China’s imbalances are unstable and unsustainable.  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has, in fact, gone public with a similar critique.
But that’s why China is so different.  It actually takes these concerns seriously.  Unlike the West, where the very concept of strategy has become an oxymoron, China has embraced a transitional framework aimed at resolving its sustainability constraints. Moreover, unlike the West, which is trapped in a dysfunctional political quagmire, China has both the commitment and the wherewithal to deliver on that strategy. This is not a time to bet against China.
I find China to be a very interesting place.  I wonder about all the empty buildings and wonder if things are going to come apart, but I don't really know anything about the place.  There are a lot of things about China that seem very dangerous financially, but it is also such a big, and still poor place.  They can build tons of buildings, and yet still fill them up eventually.  I tend to think that the Communist party bureaucrats will eventually screw up the economy, but I've been wrong so far.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Uncle Sam to Bond Holders: The Check is in the Mail

Via Ezra Klein, Donald Marron tells about the day the Treasury Department defaulted on debt payments:
Since the day of Alexander Hamilton, the United States has never defaulted on the federal debt.
That’s what we budget-watchers always say. It’s a great talking point. One that helps bolster the argument that default should not be an option in Washington’s ongoing debt limit slowdown.
There’s just one teensy problem: it isn’t true. As Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal recently noted, the United States defaulted on some Treasury bills in 1979. And it paid a steep price for stiffing bondholders.
Terry Zivney and Richard Marcus describe the default in The Financial Review (sorry, I can’t find an ungated version):
Investors in T-bills maturing April 26, 1979 were told that the U.S. Treasury could not make its payments on maturing securities to individual investors. The Treasury was also late in redeeming T-bills which become due on May 3 and May 10, 1979. The Treasury blamed this delay on an unprecedented volume of participation by small investors, on failure of Congress to act in a timely fashion on the debt ceiling legislation in April, and on an unanticipated failure of word processing equipment used to prepare check schedules.
The United States thus defaulted because Treasury’s back office was on the fritz.
This default was, of course, temporary. Treasury did pay these T-bills after a short delay. But it balked at paying additional interest to cover the period of delay. According to Zivney and Marcus, it required both legal arm twisting and new legislation before Treasury made all investors whole for that additional interest.
I had never heard anything about this.  But I have definitely heard people say the U.S. has never missed a payment.  That is an interesting little story.

Ray Small Draws Wrath of OSU Denialists

ESPN:
 Former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small told the school's student newspaper that he sold Big Ten championship rings and other memorabilia for cash and got special car deals as an athlete during his playing days. The Lantern reported that Small, who played for the Buckeyes from 2006 to 2009, said "everyone was doing it" on the team.
Five Buckeyes players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia to the owner of a local tattoo parlor. That is considered an improper benefit under NCAA rules. Coach Jim Tressel also is suspended for five games and is under investigation by the NCAA for knowing about his players' involvement and not telling his superiors for more than nine months.
"We had four Big Ten rings. There was enough to go around," Small said.
He added that despite Ohio State's large and proactive NCAA compliance department, most of the student-athletes "don't even think about (NCAA) rules."
Ohio State did not dismiss Small's charges but also didn't sound as if it would try to find out any more about them.
"At this point, the university does not have enough information regarding the reported matters concerning a former student-athlete who has been gone from the football program for two years," athletic department spokesman Dan Wallenberg said in an emailed statement.
And the hits just keep on coming.  I never anticipated enjoying Ohio State football so much.  Hopefully Small doesn't receive too many death threats, but he won't be getting a do-nothing job in Columbus anytime (other than his previous one as student-athlete).

Going Whole Hog

Peter Smith reviews the book, Meat, Salt, Time, about an old-style salami maker (h/t Yglesias):
Tony Seichrist, a Georgia chef and development director at the Portfolio Center, put out a slim volume last year called Meat, Salt, Time.
The book is a flattering look into the life of Cristiano Creminelli, a salami maker adhering to his family's time-honored Italian tradition of curing meat. What's interesting is how Meat, Salt, Time blends design with its subject matter: slow food and do-it-yourself charcuterie instruction. This instructive chart of a pig's muscle and skeletal lines reflects technique, Seichrist told me:
A breakdown for a salumi hog is different than a breakdown for a fresh meat hog, a bacon hog, or a larding animal. That flexibility should inspire confidence to dig in and to get cutting but it more often has the opposite effect.
I didn't know that.  Anyway, I liked the chart.  It kind of reminds me of the beef chart which used to be on the wall in my cubicle.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Groups sue FDA to stop Big Ag antibiotic abuse-and it just might work, at Grist:
A growing weight of research links routine antibiotic use on factory farms to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- which are showing up in more and more places worldwide (including, according to recent studies, in your local supermarket). Doctor groups, from the American Medical Association to the American Society of Microbiology, have appealed to the government and industry to restrict the practice, lest critical antibiotics become useless for human treatments.
Over the past couple of years, the FDA changed its tune and has finally begun to respond to the threat. Top officials at the FDA have testified of the dangers to Congress. The agency itself is developing "voluntary guidance" that would restrict the practice -- which currently sees 80 percent of all antibiotics used in this country given to food animals.
Sadly, though, the FDA is still whistling when it should be belting its song to the rafters. In fact, the meat industry has successfully resisted, and in the case of the antibiotic Cephalosporin, turned back via "midnight regulations" by outgoing Bush administration FDA officials, specific measures meant to address this threat to public health.
As a result, a coalition of environmental groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has decided to sue.
I figured this was notable for the ag sector.  I think there will be a lot of pressure in the next few years to limit routine antibiotic treatment in confinement operations.  The odds are pretty good that a number of antibiotic resistant bacteria will develop, so some action needs to be taken.

Manufacturing Jobs Return To Hudson Valley

Also via Ritholtz, some good news from Albany, New York:
He has also made the school, part of the State University of New York, a magnet for forward-looking industries across the region.

About 250 companies, including such major high-tech firms as IBM Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Applied Materials Inc., have provided $6 billion to the school for equipment, labs, clean rooms and other resources. Kaloyeros has persuaded New York state to kick in nearly $1 billion more.

At the same time, the promise of what the research center can contribute to developing fresh products and technologies is attracting new manufacturing plants.

Next year, Silicon Valley chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. will open a $4.6-billion semiconductor factory in Luther Forest, about 20 miles north of Albany. The two-story facility, with a clean room the size of six football fields, is the first major chip plant built in the country in a decade.

The U.S. share of global chip-production capacity, practically 100% in the 1970s, has been sliding for years — down to just 14% in 2009. The domestic industry's workforce has shrunk 45% in the last decade.

The Albany plant is expected to employ about 1,400 workers, many of them $40,000-a-year technicians and equipment operators.

AMD represents the biggest payoff yet for an effort Kaloyeros started some 15 years ago.
It is an interesting article.  It features the work of a professor at SUNY Albany, who has recruited a number of companies to work with the school in research.  I don't know whether such work can be reproduced on a larger scale, but it is definitely interesting.

Wages Across the Country

Via Ritholtz, the Washington Post has an interactive map comparing wages across the major metropolitan areas.  We're already very comparable to the south.  I don't think that is a good thing.

Republicans Can't Do Arithmetic

The GOP proposed a job creation plan yesterday (h/t Mark Thoma):
House Republicans, meanwhile, offered a proposal that would lower the top tax rate on individual and corporate income to 25 percent from 35 percent. The plan would also strengthen patent protections against some lawsuits, require congressional approval of significant new regulations, increase domestic oil protection and promote the party’s effort to make large cuts in government spending.
I hate to point out to those morons that cutting taxes has not and will not increase revenues, so in order to reduce the deficit, they would need to drastically slash spending, thus causing large numbers of jobs to disappear.  The tax cut for the wealthiest Americans will not increase private spending enough to offset those job losses.  We've been through this before, it doesn't work.  If it did, we'd be at full employment.  A vote for Republicans is a vote for morons.  Tax rates should be going up from 35%, not down.

Update: Uwe Reinhardt makes the case for higher taxes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Jim Tressel Had To Notice

Mark Titus, OSU basketball bencher and Club Trillion founder (h/t Cubs dad):
While I don’t really know anything about the whole tattoo ordeal, I’m almost certain that there was something shady going on with the car dealer.  In fact, as the news of the free tattoos and sold merchandise or whatever came out, I kept telling my family how funny it was that they were getting busted for tattoos and gold pants when I was pretty sure they had been getting serious discounts on cars for years. Again, I have no “inside information” and really only know what the general public knows.  But it doesn’t exactly take top notch detective skills to figure this one out.  Anyone who spent any time on Ohio State’s campus while I was there could tell you that there were an unusually high volume of brand new Dodge Chargers driving around on campus, and just about all of them had tinted windows and rims on the outside with Ohio State football players behind the wheel on the inside.  Now, I understand that there’s a chance these guys all paid the same price for their cars that normal citizens like you and I would pay, and I honestly hope that they did.  But my intuition has told me for years that something is off.  I’m not sure how much the monthly scholarship checks the football team got were for, but when I was on my basketball scholarship for my first two years at Ohio State, I was only given $1,100 a month.  That might sound like a lot of money at first thought, but you have to realize that these checks had to cover the monthly cost of rent, utilities, food, gas, entertainment, tattoos, trips to the strip club, bottles off the top shelf, weed, hookers, blow, and – on top of all of that – child support.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I struggled to pay all my monthly bills, but as you can imagine, I sure as hell never had enough of a cushion to afford a $400 monthly car payment either.
I'm sure Jimmy T would be shocked, just SHOCKED, to find out that all those nice new cars in the parking lot at practice weren't being paid for by the players whose homes he'd visited to recruit them.  As I said before, a friend of mine told me about Lorenzo "stylin' in his Benzo" Styles when he was playing in the mid-90's.  This couldn't have been something new.  Of course, Titus's post brought all the idiot Ohio State loons out of the woodwork for telling them the sky's blue (well, when it isn't raining).  But everybody in Ohio who happens to not be a Buckeyes fan knows how that works.  There's two reasons that OSU moved past Notre Dame for most hated college football team in the country: they win, and their so-called fans are obnoxious idiots.  Congratulations, you're #1 (and a big #2).

What Conservatism Has Wrought

LA Times:
One can see this division in something as simple as the denigration of the term "liberal," the "L" word, with its attendant idea that to be compassionate, caring and tolerant — virtues that had been celebrated, if only via lip service, by most Americans — is really to be mush-minded, weak and, more concretely, willing to give taxpayer largesse to the undeserving and lazy. (This was essentially the argument that some Republicans, such as former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), used when they sought to deny an extension of unemployment benefits.

It is easy to miss how significant a change this is. It transforms compassion, a bulwark in practically any moral system, into a negative force that undermines the good of individual initiative. Indeed, conservative ideologue Marvin Olasky wrote a book to this effect, pungently titled "The Tragedy of American Compassion," in which he called for the privatization of all charitable efforts. It rapidly became a conservative touchstone.

By the same token, liberals have come to see the emphasis on the individual and self-reliance as a form of civic irresponsibility and selfishness — a way to justify rogue economic behavior and enrichment at the expense of the community. It was, incidentally, a charge adherents of the novelist Ayn Rand gladly invited because they believe selfishness is a tough, exalted form of morality. Thus were the moral sides drawn: soft-headed versus tough-minded, big-hearted versus stony-hearted.

So far, tough-mindedness, and its patron conservatism — which drew these battle lines — are easily winning the day.

Perhaps it is as simple a matter as self-interest always overpowering communal interest when there isn't some countervailing force like religion or civic shame to contain it, but by seeking to conflate morality and politics and by discrediting such things as civil rights law, healthcare reform and financial regulation — all fueled by a sense of fairness and compassion — the right has succeeded in making the moral verities of the Protestant ethic seem more moral than the verities of the Social Gospel. In effect, morality is now the preserve of the right.

This is essentially unwinding the social compact which has held since the Great Depression.  The conservative movement has targeted the welfare program, now they are targeting Medicare and Medicaid, and progressive taxation.  The attacks on such safety net programs and balances on inequality are especially egregious in a brutal recession brought on by incompetence in high finance.  How so many so-called religious people can turn their backs on social justice in favor of selfishness is beyond me, but it is a cancer in our society.  Ayn Rand's philosphy is anti-religious, and many of her supporters now claim to be Christian.  Ah, the irony.

Update:  I forgot to mention that corporate welfare is ok by these conservatives, but welfare for real people is bad.

Huntsman Tries To Be A Likable Conservative

Joshua Green:
 Jon Huntmsan arrived in New Hampshire last week touted by much of the national press corps as the Republicans' miracle moderate: The former Utah governor and ambassador to China for President Obama acknowledges global warming, supports civil unions for gays, and has criticized Republicans' obstinacy and extremism -- shocking stuff in a party that's been galloping to the right. Now, he'd like that same party to nominate him to challenge Obama.
This storyline proved irresistible to the media, if not to the residents of New Hampshire. During his five-day swing through the state, Huntsman's events were mobbed by reporters, who often outnumbered actual citizens. Part of the interest stemmed from the anticipated clash with conservatives upset at having a moderate in their midst.
That confrontation never came, and one reason why it didn't is that Huntsman showed himself as much more conservative than advertised. Without disavowing his earlier positions, he staked out territory well to the right of some other candidates, which suggests that he's less concerned with pushing new ideas than in presenting the old ones in a more palatable way.
I don't know that this will work well.  It's nice that a Republican candidate recognizes reality on global warming and civil unions, but wrapping up conservative boilerplate in niceness isn't going to fly again, I don't think.  Compassionate Conservatism was tried by somebody, and just ended up being taxes for the wealthy, wars, incompetent governance and a collapsed economy.  I don't think we can get buy the same crap again.  Unfortunately, it is going to take a complete electoral obliteration for the GOP to realize that taxes must go up on the wealthy, and we will need more government, not less in health care, among the more pressing issues.  As for the social issues, Republicans will continue to lose young voters as long as they insist on maintaining their hostility to gay marriage and immigrants.  It appears that they just don't care, and will tie themselves to the aging boomers and let the chips fall as they may.  I think I'll just steer clear of the crazy train.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: How gas drilling contaminates your food, at Salon.com:
"For sustainable agriculture, fracking is a disaster," says Jaffe. The gas rush started in the South and West, but has spread to the East and now affects 34 states. Under much of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York lies a 400-million-year-old geographic formation called the Marcellus Shale. Although estimates vary, the shale may hold 50 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, enough to meet New York State's needs for 50 years. To see what fracking can do to food production, Jaffe has only to look at what has happened to some of his colleagues in nearby Pennsylvania, where the first fracked well came into production in 2005, and where there are now more than 1,500.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture quarantined 28 cattle belonging to Don and Carol Johnson, who farm about 175 miles southwest of Jaffe. The animals had come into wastewater that leaked from a nearby well that showed concentrations of chlorine, barium, magnesium, potassium, and radioactive strontium. In Louisiana, 16 cows that drank fluid from a fracked well began bellowing, foaming and bleeding at the mouth, then dropped dead. Homeowners near fracked sites complain about a host of frightening consequences, from poisoned wells to sickened pets to debilitating illnesses.
I wouldn't be surprised if environmental concerns over fracking may be a bit overstated, but drillers need to be responsible for and recover the fracking fluids.  The potential to contaminate water supplies is great, and must be addressed.  I must say that I'm glad I'm not over the Marcellus Shale.  Somebody else can make the money for mineral rights and royalties, I don't want to take the risk associated with the potential pollution.

Chart of the Day

Yglesias:

I would be curious if this is somehow related to passing more spending responsibility to the states and local governments.  I would also expect that it reflects the completion of the Interstate Highway System.  But I think it does indicate that we have been investing less in our infrastructure, while still running record deficits, and now, those dollars don't go as far as they used to, as asphalt and concrete costs have increased dramatically.

Can We Revive Manufacturing in the US?

Noah Smith suggests higher population density for the U.S (also via Mark Thoma).:

In this framework, shifting geographic patterns of wealth can cause booms and busts in far-away places. For example, as the center of global economic activity shifts from Europe to Asia, it may make less sense to locate a bunch of heavy industry in, say, Michigan (which is ideally positioned to supply things to America's Europe-facing East Coast).

The thing is, on a global level the U.S. itself doesn't make a natural "core." We have a lot of land, and not a lot of people on that land; geographically, we look a lot more like your average resource-producing country (say, Argentina) than your average manufacturing powerhouse (say, Brazil). Yes, the U.S. has some pockets of high density, and yes, the existence of tradable services complicates the picture. But if you read the news, you hear all the time about companies relocating production to Asia to (hopefully) take advantage of the huge new Asian consumer markets. That is economic geography in action.

If we want to bolster our manufacturing sector over the long run - whether to give us a better way to fight recessions, or to allow us to continue to benefit from industrial clustering, we may need to increase our population density over time. This will require that we do two things. First, we have to continue to allow large-scale immigration. Second, we have to make big policy changes to encourage urban density - public transit, high density housing, etc. Basically, the kind of stuff that Ed Glaeser is always recommending that we do. The alternative (and here I exaggerate) may be a steady process of deindustrialization as we revert to being an exporter of corn and coal.
His discussion about a weaker dollar earlier in the piece, which leads to more manufacturing (and ag) exports, didn't mention one of the reasons opponents (or just average people) want a stronger dollar, which is oil prices go up with a weak dollar, and we have to import lots and lots of oil.  We need to drastically cut the usage of oil, just to allow us to get closer to a trade balance, and greater population density would help. 

Google Is Scary Powerful

Freakonomics blog (h/t Mark Thoma):
You may have heard of Google Trends. It’s a cool tool which will show you the ups-and-downs of the public’s interest in a particular topic—at least as revealed in how often we search for it. And you may have even heard of the first really important use of this tool: Google Flu Trends, which uses search data to try to predict flu activity. Now Google has released an amazing way to reverse engineer the process: Google Correlate. Just feed in your favorite weekly time series (or cross-state comparisons), and it will tell you which search terms are most closely correlated with your data.
So I tried it out.  And it works! Amazingly well.
I fed in the weekly numbers on initial unemployment claims—one of the most important weekly economic time series we have.  The search term that is most closely correlated? Crikey, it’s “filing for unemployment.”  Indeed, the correlation is an astounding 0.91.


The amount of information that Google can mine and compile about people is absolutely stunning.  They are like a private NSA.  And I'm feeding them over 1000 posts of information for nothing. 

Two States or One

Dennis G at Balloon Juice sums up my expectations.  If Israel wants to exist as a Jewish state (without apartheid), there will have to be two states.  Otherwise, demographics will make the one state a majority-Palestinian state:
The Two-State Solution is a policy idea way past its expiration date. It is on life support. The Netanyahu government rejects a Two-State Solution unless pre-conditions that would make a future Palestinian State a group of unconnected and powerless bantustans are guaranteed. The result has been that—for the last decade—Palestinian negotiators have not had partners in Israel. They have given up. Any effort to negotiate with Netanyahu is hopeless because Bibi does not believe in a Two-State solution. So instead the Palestinians have decided to focus inward—and work on resolving internal conflicts between various factions. And of course this feeds the loop and gives Bibi and his allies yet another fresh excuse to delay and kill any possible Two-State Solution. The spiral continues to spin into the ground. And yet, the death of the Two-State Solution is what Congress celebrated when they honored Netenyahu. Go figure.
While I hope that President Obama can somehow save the concepts of two states living side by side from doom, I am pretty doubtful that it can be done. Time is running out out and when the point of no return is crossed, the State of Israel will be on a glide path to extinction—a glide path greased and prepared by Netanyahu and his wingnut minions. As Peter Beinart noted the other day Obama has thrown Netanyahu a lifeline and it has been rejected.
Now I get the sense that Bibi and his pals imagine that the next 60 years will be like the last 60 years. They imagine that running out the clock will resolve the issue. In a few more decades (or years) settlement expansion will make make the creation of a Palestinian State impossible and that the lack of freedom and rights will inspire more and more Palestinians to just leave. They imagine that the rest of the world will watch the process without comment and that America will always be there to protect them if anybody ever does object. It is all a fantasy.
The reality is that the default has been set to a One State Solution a long time ago. Without action there will be only one State occupying the land between the sea and the Jordan river. The old map above will be correct if you cross out “Palestine” and write in “Israel”. It will be one state, but it will also be a state where the majority of the population is Palestinian. This demographic time bomb spells doom for Israel.
Netanyahu is just what Israelis don't need.  But he's an asshole, so Republicans and their Rapture-believing base love him.  I wish the best to Israelis who understand math, because those who don't are screwing them.

Phillies 2B Gets Win Over Reds in 19th

ESPN:
Wilson Valdez has a new career as a late-inning reliever.
Late. Really, really late.
Valdez shifted over from second base and wound up as the winning pitcher early Thursday when the Philadelphia Phillies needed 19 innings to outlast the Cincinnati Reds 5-4.In front of a dwindling crowd at Citizens Bank Park, Raul Ibanez hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to decide the longest major league game of the season. It ended at 1:19 a.m. local time after 6 hours, 11 minutes.
Shaving cream nestled in his beard and dripping off his ear in the locker room, Valdez wanted to keep pitching.
"I can go for three more, four more (innings). Whatever," he said.
The last position player to get a win was Brent Mayne on August 22, 2000 for the Rockies.  Before that, it was Rocky Colavito on August 25, 1968 for the Yankees.  So the Reds-Phillies four-game series becomes a de facto five-game series, and to add insult to injury, today's game is at 1:05.  I think they ought to divide last night's game into 2-nine-and-a-half inning games, since the Reds were up 4-3 in the middle of the tenth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

RIP Mark Haines

I think we need more people saying stuff like this:


Unfortunately, too many people make the argument which isn't supported by facts, and they get away with it. (h/t Ritholtz)

Why I Hate the Yankees

Joe Posnanski:
Yankees fans, though ... well, they are different. To my mind, this isn't so much because of New York as it is because the Yankees are always a good baseball team. You probably know the numbers: 27 World Series, 40 pennants, 49 playoff appearances. They have appeared in the playoffs every year but one since 1993 -- and some of the kids born in 1993 are graduating high school in the next few weeks. Even on those rare occasions when the Yankees are not great, they are not terrible. They are never hopeless. The Yankees have never lost 100 games in a season. They have lost 90 on three times since they traded for Babe Ruth. Their best player just about every decade has been an iconic player, the sort of player who adds to the glamour of pinstripes. Look at the players who have led the Yankees in Wins Above Replacement decade by decade:.

1920s: Babe Ruth
1930s: Lou Gehrig
1940s: Joe DiMaggio
1950s: Mickey Mantle
1960s: Mantle (with Roger Maris second)
1970s: Thurman Munson
1980s: Don Mattingly
1990s: Bernie Williams
2000s: Derek Jeter

Not all of these players are or will be in the Hall of Fame, but they all have their legend, and they all add a little something to the enormity of the Yankees.
Damn, those guys have been good.  But I still have memories of 1990, when the Reds won the World Series (and the Pirates won the East) and the Braves and Yankees each finished in last. That has been a long time ago, and those kids born in 1993 have seen the Reds and the Pirates lose a lot.

Nazis Tried to Train Dogs To Communicate For War

That's what Dr. Jan Bondeson's research claims:
The Germans viewed canines as being almost as intelligent as humans and attempted to build an army of fearsome 'speaking' dogs, extraordinary new research shows.
Hitler hoped the clever creatures would learn to communicate with their SS masters - and he even had a special dog school set up to teach them to talk.
The incredible findings show Nazi officials recruited so-called educated dogs from all over Germany and trained them to speak and tap out signals using their paws.
It sounds like an April Fool's joke to me, but I guess it is legitimate research.

Lessons From a Landscape Architect

As a civil engineer, that is not something I thought I would say, but this post at Signal vs. Noise is pretty interesting.  Plus, Olmstead is pretty amazing (h/t Ritholtz):
Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903), the father of American landscape architecture, may have more to do with the way America looks than anyone else. Beginning in 1857 with the design of Central Park in New York City, he created designs for thousands of landscapes, including many of the world’s most important parks. His works include Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Mount Royal in Montreal, the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the White House, and Washington Park, Jackson Park and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. (The last of those documented excellently in Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City.) Plus, many of the green spaces that define towns and cities across the country are influenced by Olmsted.
Below, ten lessons from Olmsted’s approach:
My favorite is #6, Formal training isn't required

Will Vancouver Bring the Stanley Cup Back To Canada?

photo from Prediction Challenges

The Canucks would be the first Canada-based team to win the cup since the Canadiens won in 1992-93.  I would guess that would start a very large party up north.

They may also break out this ad:

Aerial Photos of Joplin, Missouri

From the Atlantic:

Were the '29 A's Better Than The '27 Yankees?

1929 Philadelphia A's



From the SI archive:
The 1927 Yankees, who won 110 games and finished 19 ahead of second-place Philadelphia, are traditionally venerated as the finest team ever assembled. In fact, according to most old-timers who played in that era, the 1927 and '28 Yankees and the 1929 and '30 Athletics matched up so closely that they were nearly equal, with the A's given the nod in fielding and pitching and the Yankees in hitting.
"I pitched against both of them, and you could flip a coin," recalls Willis Hudlin, 90, who won 157 games for the Cleveland Indians between 1926 and 1940. "They both had power and pitching. A game would be decided on who was pitching and what kind of a day he had. You could throw a dart between 'em."
In truth, the chief difference between the two teams had less to do with how they played in any given game than with where they played their home games. Many veteran baseball observers believe that the Yankees' far more exalted status in history is due largely to the fact that they played in New York, in media heaven, where the manufacture of myth and hype is a light industry. Regardless, these observers agree that those old A's were the finest baseball team to play in Philadelphia and the greatest team that almost no one remembers.
"Those A's never got the credit they deserved," says Shirley Povich, 91, the retired sports editor of The Washington Post, who covered both teams. "The A's were victims of the Yankee mystique. Perhaps the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team of all time. But if there was a close second, perhaps an equal, it was those A's. They are the most overlooked team in baseball."
I've got to say that the 1929-1931 A's don't come to mind like the 1927 Yankees or the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds do.  It is a very interesting story, and well worth the read.  Heck, a lot of people don't know the A's played in Philadelphia, let alone that they were loaded with talent.  I did learn when I went to Philadelphia that fans there remember the A's, but I suppose part of that is because the Philles were so horrible for most of the 20th century.

Shibe Park, around 1930

Photos from Baseball Fever and ExplorePAHistory

Update: My favorite part of the story:
There were celebrations in the streets of Philadelphia that night. The A's miraculous victory was the biggest story of the day. No wonder Hoover and his wife went north behind the locomotive President Washington to be on hand for Game 5.
Prohibition was still the law, and as Hoover walked across the field to Shibe's presidential box at 1 p.m., the crowd chanted, "Beer! Beer! We want beer!"

Are Automobiles Decreasing Our Standard of Living?

The gasoline age has made our lives much easier.  We can travel long distances conveniently.  Trips to town require no planning.  But what are the costs?  We've developed an infrastructure based on automotive travel.  In order to function anywhere outside of our major cities, we almost have to have a car.  AAA calculates the average cost of owning and operating a car to be between $7,400 and $9,500 per year, depending on the number of miles driven.  That is a significant portion of a family's income.  Now multiply that by the 2 or 3 cars that most families have.  Increasing demand for oil from developing markets will continue to push up oil prices long term, so those costs will continue to rise.

Is the automobile, combined with a developed space which practically requires the use of cars, causing losses in standard of living elsewhere?  I would guess that it is.  The strains which transportation costs bring about are starting to show.  State and local governments are maintaining a lower percentage of our transportation infrastructure every year.  Rural areas have started letting paved roads revert back to gravel.  The energy return on oil production is decreasing.  It is time to start considering what kind of a world we will have when we can't just jump into the car to go to town whenever we want.  The long-term investments we've already made will be a burden, but we can't waste precious investments making the problem worse.  We need to consider a large investment in mass transit, and we need to consider it soon.

Update:  The Wall Street Journal just had a story on The End of Easy Oil.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Public Schools Increase Fees Charged To Students, at the Wall Street Journal:
Budget shortfalls have prompted Medina Senior High to impose fees on students who enroll in many academic classes and extracurricular activities. The Dombis had to pay to register their children for basic courses such as Spanish I and Earth Sciences, to get them into graded electives such as band, and to allow them to run cross-country and track. The family's total tab for a year of public education: $4,446.50.
"I'm wondering, am I going to be paying for my parking spot at the school? Because you're making me pay for just about everything else," says Ms. Dombi, a parent in this middle-class community in northern Ohio.
Public schools across the country, struggling with cuts in state funding, rising personnel costs and lower tax revenues, are shifting costs to students and their parents by imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.
At high schools in several states, it can cost more than $200 just to walk in the door, thanks to registration fees, technology fees and unspecified "instructional fees."
This is a pretty sad state of affairs.  The public school system made this country great.  I can understand the conservative case that teachers and administrators are highly compensated.  That came about because of economic growth in the 1990's allowed public sector pay to grow while private sector pay stagnated.  But much of the budget shortfalls results from tax cuts to make states more "competitive."  I hate to tell you, but poor education won't make us more competitive.  The schools featured in the Wall Street Journal article are fairly well-off suburban schools, where parents can afford add-on fees.  Other areas aren't so lucky.  The Republican policy over the past thirty years has been to slowly cut back on the levelling effect of taxation by centralized government, putting more on the backs of local officials.  That works great for their constituents in wealthy suburban areas, but screws folks in rural and inner-city areas.  It also boosts property values in the suburbs, while cutting them in the other places.  Those are features, not bugs.  Not too many people in the inner-cities vote for Republicans, and folks in the rural areas will, even if Republicans come to town and burn down their schools.  Got to cling to the religion and guns, ya know.

This slow motion decrease in civil society will continue as long as nobody calls the Republicans on this.  Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mitch Daniels and other tyrants are cutting the burden on the wealthy and decreasing services for the working and middle classes.  Paul Ryan proposed getting rid of all taxes on dividends, capital gains, interest and estates.  In other words, if you already have money, don't work, that way you don't pay any taxes.  That goes directly against Republican claims to incentivize work by lowering taxes.  The consequences of this plan are that normal people, who don't have great wealth, won't be given the opportunities of a better life which were given to their parents.  One of the good things which came out of the Depression was a genuine feeling that those with more would help those with less.  That altruism has been eroded by the Republican campaign to teach selfishness as a virtue.  Ayn Rand would be proud, nearly half of the country espouses her vile philosophy of cruelty.

W. Iowa county GOP Is Crazy

Des Moines Register:
The runaway favorite of the western Iowa crowd at a Republican fundraising dinner Friday was Georgia Republican Herman Cain – the guy everyone was there to see speak.
But even in absentia, Alaska’s Sarah Palin claimed a surprising second place in the Pottawattamie County GOP’s dollar poll, with 38 percent of the votes to Cain’s 55 percent.
“Of the approximately 230 people in attendance, 153 people voted,” said Jeff Jorgenson, the county party chairman. “Of course these results are not scientific, but I am going to say they accurately reflect the mood of the evening.”
Michele Bachmann, John Huntsman, Ron Paul and Mitch Daniels got 5%, 1%, 1% and 1% respectively.  Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty didn't receive any votes.  The 2012 election is going to be a train wreck, but maybe we'll get a sane Republican party out of it.

The Head of the GOP

New Yorker Magazine has an interesting profile of Roger Ailes (h/t Ritholtz):
Ailes had hired Beck in October 2008 to reenergize Fox’s audience after Obama’s election, and he’d succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest hopes, tapping deep wells of resentment and igniting them into a vast, national conflagration. The problem was that it had almost engulfed Fox itself. Beck was huge and uncontrollable, and some of Fox’s other big names seemed diminished by comparison and were speaking up about it. Beck seemed to many to be Fox News’s id made visible, saying things,Obama is a racist, Nazi tactics are progressive tactics, dredged from the right-wing subconscious. These were things that weren’t supposed to be said, even at Fox, and they were consuming the brand. Ailes had built his career by artfully tending the emotional undercurrents of both politics and entertainment, using them to power ratings and political careers; now they were out of his control.
It is amazing what this man has been able to accomplish with Fox News.  I don't know what makes people tune in and believe what they hear, but they sure do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Fire Truck

After not running for much of the past 9 years, my fire truck may get back on the road.  It kept hesistating and stalling out, but I hadn't paid it much attention.  Now that I've been sitting around with no planting to do, I started looking for the problem.  Today I took off the fuel filter above the fuel tank, and found a rubber earthworm.  After taking it out and putting the filter back together, it seemed to run fine.  I'm going to get some gas and take it for a road test this afternoon.

Update: It is running like a champ.  I'm going to take it in to town to get some gas.

Netanyahu Supports Two States?

Matthew Yglesias sums up Bibi's speech:
To thunderous applause from congress, the Israeli Prime Minister made the following points:
— One, a surprisingly lengthy argument was advanced about Israel’s status as the only democracy in the region.
— Two, a very strong argument was advanced that Palestinian failure to publicly repudiate “right of return” makes peace impossible.
— Three, argued that Israeli security requires Israeli military presence in the Jordan River Valley.
— Four, argued that Jerusalem should never be divided.
— Fifth, argued that there should be no Palestinian military.
— Sixth, argued that “the Jewish people are not an occupying power” in the West Bank.
This very cogent case for granting full civil equality to Arab residents of the territory under the control of the state of Israel was then undermined by a weird insistence that he’s actually aiming for the establishment of two separate states. One for Jews and one for Palestinians. Except the Palestinian state won’t include the demographically Palestinian portions of Jerusalem, and the only military in the Republic of Palestine will be an Israeli force. That would be a funny sort of state.
I agree.  How in the hell do you create a "state" that is occupied by an unfriendly neighbor and is never allowed to have a military? Sounds more like, "I want to make the peace process unworkable."  Well, thanks for coming over, just don't go looking for military aid from this government that needs to make sacrifices.

Chart of the Day, Pt. 2

From the NYT (via Ritholtz):

Eight Men Out

Speaking of the movie, here's the trailer.  It doesn't show the scoreboard I was talking about, but it is a reminder of a great movie.



Also, the Reds won more games that season, and would have won that Series even if the Sox were on the up-and-up. Throwing the series was just a good explanation for Sox fans as to why they lost.

Update: You can see a glimmer of crazy in Charlie Sheen in this clip.

The Boston Globe's Early 20th Century Website

In the days before radio, fans crowded Newspaper Row (a section of Washington Street downtown) to follow big games on the Globe’s scoreboard. Hundreds “watched” the Red Sox beat the New York Giants four games to three in the 1912 World Series. (photo dated Oct. 18, 1912)

Chris Marstall (h/t The Dish):
But this isn’t the first time the paper has tried a free, real-time, ad-supported product. From at least the turn of the century until the 1950s, Globe staff shuttled back and forth throughout the day from the newsroom to the street. There they wrote breaking news headlines and sports scores on four blackboards and two enormous sheets of newsprint. Behind the Globe’s windows? Ads.
Breaking news – a bank holdup, a bus accident, the death of FDR – was quickly featured on the storefront (NB: usually in 140 characters or less). The storefront even offered streaming multimedia of a kind: telegraph dispatches of boxing matches and baseball games were shouted out play by play through a pair of loudspeakers.
Different “layouts” were used. During World War II an outsized map of Europe loomed over the storefront. For Red Sox World Series appearances, a scaffold was built. Sports desk hacks stood on it to chalk up the scores for bowler-hatted crowds numbering in the hundreds.
I remember in the movie Eight Men Out where people were crowded around a big board with a diamond and scoreboard in a hotel lobby, and were "watching" the game.  It was the exact same setup as ESPN Gamecast, which I would use to track the Reds during a day game at work.  Here are pictures of the same thing in Boston.  It is interesting to think that things haven't changed that much since the invention of the telegraph, but the speed has only increased significantly.  There is no actual difference between Donald Rumsfeld's aide Tweeting that Bin Laden is dead or somebody who was in the telegraph office when news of the assassination of McKinley came in running down to the tavern and telling people.  I forget things like that sometimes.

Chart for the Day

As Benjamin Netanyahu goes to Congress to lay out his "vision" for peace, we ought to keep this chart in mind.  Since we have a severe budget deficit, we need to look for cuts wherever we can.  I would think that aid to wealthy countries could be cut back, especially if we weren't getting any help in return for said aid.


Keep in mind, Israel has every right to exist, but so do the Palestinians.  Gradually taking land from the Palestinians won't make them go away.  A democratic country run by a minority population which won't grant voting rights to the majority isn't a democratic country, and if Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, the Jewish population will eventually be a minority.  Reasonable Israelis acknowledge that.  Benjamin Netanyahu should also, and soon.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: The scale of the effect we have on the planet is yet to sink in, at the Sydney Morning Herald:
The rate at which heat is released from the earth - a measure of its natural ''metabolic'' rate - is about 44,000 billion watts, and reflects the average rate of energy used in moving all the continents, making all the mountains, the earthquakes and the volcanoes, in a process we call plate tectonics.
During the 20th century, it is estimated that a touch under 1000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production. Now we are adding about 30 billion tonnes a year and the rate of increase in carbon dioxide concentrations is doubling about every 30 years.
To generate all that CO2 we annually consume more than 13 billion tonnes of coal, oil and natural gas as part of a global energy system that operates at a rate of some 16,000 billion watts. The human consumption rate is already more than one-third of the earth's natural heat-loss rate.
And with our energy use doubling every 34 years, we are on course to surpass the energy released by plate tectonics by about 2060.
I didn't know what the number of tons of coal, oil and natural gas we used per year was, but I knew it was very big.  That, along with the huge increase in human population are the numbers which most cause me to believe that global warming makes sense as an explanation of rapidly warming temperature.  I would like people who don't believe that human activities are responsible for global warming to explain whether they believe the scientists explanation that CO2 causes the earth's temperature to rise.  If they do, then wouldn't all that CO2 generated from fossil fuels lead to warming?  If not, then why don't they believe that higher concentrations of CO2 cause the earth to warm?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Old Style Comes Out With Baseball Bat Bottles

Limited edition Old Style bottles (h/t Matt):
Predating even Wrigley is Old Style Beer, which first appeared in Chicago in 1902, when the N.L. franchise was known as the “Orphans.”  A half-century later, Old Style began a relationship with the team that has lasted 61 years.

Old Style bottle design
Chicago-based marketers Scott & Victor and Pabst Brewing Company today announced the launch of Old Style Beer’s campaign surrounding that partnership.  The campaign, which will hit the market early next month, is anchored around collectors’ edition bottles are designed to look like wooden baseball bats with the Cubs and Old Style logos and the phrase “Chicago’s Beer Since 1902” etched into them.
“Given the long-standing relationship between Old Style Beer and the Chicago Cubs, Old Style is in a unique position to make commentary about the team and the stadium spanning decades,” said Victor LaPorte, partner, Scott & Victor. “The baseball bat bottle design pays ultimate respect to the sport and the team, and the print campaign visually references old-school baseball cards, including insider messages that are unique to the Cubs and rewarding to their fans.”
The limited edition bottles will be on sale at select stores around Chicago and Wrigley Field area bars.
Whenever I visit Wrigley, I usually have a couple Old Style (or maybe more) and root against the Cubs.  That usually gets me through being surrounded by Cubs fans.  Of course, having a bottle to swing at them would help some, so maybe I could sneak one of these in.

The President Enjoys a Guinness

US president Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama toast with their glasses of Guinness in Ollie Hayes' pub in the president's ancestral home in Moneygall, Co Offaly. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
Obama makes an appearance in his Irish ancestral home:
Mr Obama and the first lady arrived this afternoon in Moneygall, Co Offaly, where up to 3,000 people lined the streets to welcome him home.
Mr Obama’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was a shoemaker in the rural village and his son, Falmouth Kearney, left for New York in 1850.
The couple’s short visit included a trip down Main Street to the Kearney ancestral home, where he will be greeted by John Donovan, the owner of the house, and his family.
They also visited Ollie Hayes’ pub to meet extended family members including representatives of the Healy, Donovan and Benn families.
The president and his wife visited Hayes’ pub and immediately settled in as though they were regulars, hugging distant relatives and toasting the guests.
In a quip to one of the women behind the bar, Mr Obama said: “You look beautiful. I suspect you don’t always dress up this much.”
Before lifting a pint of Guinness from the counter the president set the tone. “You tell me when it’s properly settled, I don’t want to mess this up,” he joked.
“I’ve been told that it makes a difference who the person behind the bar is. People are very particular who is pouring your Guinness. I am right about that? You people can vouch for this guy?” he asked the crowd in the bar.
As the president admired his pint and picked it up from the counter, he added: “So it’s quite an art. I want to get it perfect. Sláinte.”
The president relaxed straight into the pub atmosphere and took a gulp from the pint. “The first time I had a Guinness was when I was came into Shannon (Airport),” he said. “It was the middle of the night, and I tried one of these, and I realised it tastes so much better here than it was in the States. What I realised was, that you guys, that you are keeping all the best stuff. I’m very impressed.”
People may prefer to have a beer with George Bush, but they actually can have one with Barack Obama.

Understatement of the Day

Here (h/t The Dish):
The man who said the world was going to end appeared at his front door in Alameda a day later, very much alive but not so well.
"It has been a really tough weekend," said Harold Camping, the 89-year-old fundamentalist radio preacher who convinced hundreds of his followers that the rapture would occur on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Massive earthquakes would strike, he said. Believers would ascend to heaven and the rest would be left to wander a godforsaken planet until Oct. 21, when Camping promised a fiery end to the world.
I do feel badly for the poor folks who gave up their jobs to warn people of the coming Rapture.  I don't know why they would believe this idiot, but they did.

Give Us More Prosecutions on Wall Street

This op-ed says it well:
It is sound public policy to encourage workers to save for retirement, instead of relying on the promise of a defined benefit pension from an employer that may ultimately disappear, but contributions-defined pensions simply can't work without a stock market that generates returns that follow the growth of corporate profits.
Americans expect carnivals and casinos to be stacked against them -- gambling is entertainment, and losses are expected -- but capital markets are where the nation's savings are supposed to be put to best uses, drive growth and create opportunities for the next generation.
These days, too much money and talent are directed to financial engineering -- efforts to design the next complex derivative -- and not enough is going into physics and real engineering: designing electric cars, new materials, and products and services that will define U.S. global competitive success and prosperity for the next 25 years.
The carnival culture on Wall Street is attracting too many young people to business schools to study economics and finance, instead of pursuing physics and engineering. That's why the best business schools are overwhelmed with applicants from Connecticut and California, while engineering colleges depend on students from China and Asia, who will then return home to compete with American businesses.
Increasingly, venture capital and stock investors look abroad for the best returns, and this deprives small and moderate sized U.S. companies of capital needed to expand and invest in new ideas and create jobs.
The Wall Street casino has misdirected what capital is invested in the U.S. During the boom of the last decade, America overinvested in housing and underinvested in industry by persuading investors to purchase bonds that funded "creative mortgages" to folks who could not afford the 4,000-square-foot homes purchased with them, and to otherwise prosperous Americans who foolishly purchased second and third homes as investments.
All proved poor bets. As the mortgage meltdown continues, consider how much more competitive the U.S. economy would be today -- and how many more good-paying jobs Americans would have -- had those homes never been built and that money been invested in new technologies and expanding sound enterprises.
I couldn't agree more.  Please ask yourself what actual value these traders on Wall Street provide to earn their outrageous salaries and bonuses.  I can only see that they are skimming larger and larger percentages of the economic pie by various schemes and hidden charges.  Are they doing anything which is productive, or are they looters?  I am surprised that Randian believers seem to support these guys taking so much without doing anything productive.  Her heroes were engineers and industrialists who did important things, not the leeches, or in the words of Matt Taibbi, vampire squids, who take their percentage from other people's work.  The fact that bankers have operated much in the same way as carnies, but on a grossly larger scale, only makes it worse.  Just because a guy wears a $3000 suit, it doesn't mean he's not a grifter.

Vermont's Job Creation Strategy

Single Payer Health Care:
The logistics will come in time, he says. Right now, the cost of health care is swelling and Shumlin believes setting Vermont up on a single-payer system will create a more sustainable way to take care of everybody.
"We have a crisis," he says. "What I find alarming is that so many of us are willing to pretend that everything is going to be OK if we stick with the current system. So we're taking the bull by the horns up here in Vermont."
If Vermont does get it right, it could see more businesses and jobs coming in. Shumlin sees this type of health insurance as a big financial ease for employers, especially small-business owners.
That's a big economic incentive, but it wasn't enough to save the single-payer provision of the Affordable Care Act from being axed by Congress last year. Yet Vermont might be the right size and the right political environment to be a sandbox for a single-payer system in America, and Shumlin believes it could serve as a model for other states.
I think this makes a ton of sense for businesses, and the state.  The state creates the largest possible risk pool, eliminates multiple bureaucracies and makes the system simpler.  Businesses don't have to worry about hiring a person who ends up being a large risk factor, wasting time searching through various insurance options and helping employees navigate through the byzantine procedures of dealing with hospital, doctor and insurance bills for months after a major procedure.  I can only blame the reflexive distrust of government which has become endemic within the business community, even though the members of the business community are amongst the biggest beneficiaries of governmental action.  I understand that many regulations are a pain in the ass, but a little work, patience and competence will give a good business person an advantage over less competent and lazier competitors.  Most of the regulations are pretty easy to comply with, and my experience is that most of the regulators are helpful if you deal with them in a friendly and forthright manner.  They are people too, and if they are treated with disrespect and distrust, they will respond in kind.  If you treat them well, they will do likewise.  It's not rocket science, it's the Golden Rule.  There are exceptions, but just building up distrust of regulators because your buddies in the Chamber of Commerce are right-wing loons is not smart business strategy.

What Mitch Daniels Would Have Brought to the GOP Primary

Ezra Klein:
Would so many commentators be so positive on Mitch Daniels if he wasn't running for president? Probably not. As George W. Bush's budget director, Daniels helped craft and sell the Bush tax cuts even as he lowballed the cost of the war in Iraq. Together, those policies were the central legislative drivers behind the surpluses of the 1990s into the deficits of the Aughts. If Daniels was running -- and particularly if he was running a campaign based around the national debt -- he'd have a lot to answer for. But there's nevertheless good reason to lament Daniels' absence from the race. Over the past two years, many in the GOP have taken their opposition to Obama's policies so far that they've tipped into a kind of denial about the underlying problems themselves. Republicans have a plan for opposing the Affordable Care Act, for instance, but nothing for covering the uninsured. They have attacked both Obama's stimulus proposals and the very idea of Keynesian stimulus proposals, but that's left them with few answers for the unemployed. Daniels, however, was charting a different course.
In a series of op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, Daniels broke with the pack and began challenging Obama's policies by promoting solutions of his own. In September of 2010, he published a call for a second stimulus based around a payroll tax cut and full expensing of capital investments made by businesses. Both policies later turned up in the December tax deal. In February of 2011, by which time "repeal and repeal" had become the Republican Party's consensus health-care policy, Daniels wrote an article laying out six reforms that he thought could make the Affordable Care Act more appealing to conservatives, or at least to him. You didn't have to agree with Daniels' policy proposals to prefer his style of constructive engagement to the "just say no" attitude that had become dominant in the Republican Party.
I am with Ezra here.  Even though I think Mitch Daniels is a nicer version of John Kasich, I'm glad he was willing to propose some actual policy ideas, and to accept that taxes may have to go up.  The Republican party has been so taken with living in their own little make-believe world, it is refreshing to see somebody actually engage with the real world.  Somebody has to ignore the party base and recognize that government has an important function in civil society.  Daniels was as close to that as I've seen so far.  I think in the end, Daniels is just one of the many Republican governors in the Midwest trying to drag his state down to the level of Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.  They seem to think that cutting education will benefit the state, and that lower tax rates and wages will lead to more business investment in their state.  I have my doubts.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link at naked capitalism: Dung loaming: how llamas aided the Inca empire, at the Guardian:
The Incas may have created the biggest empire in the Americas and built Machu Picchu, among other wonders, thanks to a previously overlooked ingredient: llama dung.
Manure from llama herds provided fertiliser which enabled corn to be cultivated at very high altitudes, allowing the Inca civilisation to flourish in the Andes and conquer much of South America, according to research.
The "extraordinary plant-breeding event" about 2,700 years ago transformed the region's political economy and enabled the Incas to emerge centuries later, said Alex Chepstow-Lusty, of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima.
"This widespread shift to agriculture and societal development was only possible with an extra ingredient – organic fertilisers on a vast scale." The study, published in the latest edition of the journal Antiquity, found corn pollen in the mud of Marcacocha lake, near Ollantayambo, showing the cereal could be grown at least 3,350m above sea level.
The reason llamas were so helpful?  They all crap in the same place, so it was easy to collect.  This story is just one more reminder of how agriculture was the building block of every society in the world.  The links also include a story on the connection between high finance and sex, which includes a bit of New York sex trade history.

What Makes a Good Investor?

Barry Ritholtz:
Graduation season is upon us. From the next generation of Warren Buffett wannabes, I occasionally hear questions such as “What should I learn to become a great investor?”
Contrary to popular belief, investing isn’t a traditional academic discipline. Money management is hardly a typical major. There are, of course, plenty of “Business Administration” undergrads, but their focus tends to be on running companies, rather than investing in them.
We churn out MBAs like made-in-China widgets, yet few ever become outstanding investors. And don’t even ask about economists — the profession that missed the housing boom and bust, the Great Recession, the credit crisis and the market collapse.
Great investors are savvy generalists. I can think of five fields that are hugely helpful to asset management. If you were to study these disciplines, your understanding of how markets work would greatly improve. And you would be a better investor.
How? You will generate better risk-adjusted returns; meaning, you will get the most bang for the bucks you are putting at risk. You will suffer less from volatility — the stomach-churning ups and downs in the markets that are one part risk, one part opportunity. And you will avoid the typical mistakes that most investors make.
He recommends an understanding of history, psychology, skepticism/logic (his example is a trial attorney in a courtroom), mathematics/statistics and accounting. I tend to think that good professionals of all kinds need a background in each of these fields.  They can come in handy no matter what somebody is doing.  The hard part is that the person will have to make efforts on their own to learn some of these fields, or spend a couple of extra years in college taking courses outside of a single major.  That is kind of what Barry did:
A reader recently asked me what was my undergraduate “Class of”.
That turns out to be a surprisingly long story.
The short but inaccurate answer is Class of ’83. But in my junior year, I switched from applied mathematics/physics to poli sci/philosophy, which meant I was on the 5 year plan. So I got to I hang around til ’84.
At the time, I never physically received my diploma; On graduation day, a few friends got together and, um, well, let’s just say we had our own graduation ceremony.
No pomp, lots of circumstance.
I simply assumed I graduated. I had a ton of credits courtesy of the 5 year plan meant — something like 136 total, when I only needed 120 credits needed to get my BA. When I went off to law school 2 years later, I never gave it a second thought.
Perhaps I should have.
Funny thing: Because I was on the equestrian team (really) I ended up with P/E credits. Many, many way P/E credits. In fact, too many. It turns out there was a cap on gym classes; back out the excess, and I had only 118 credits left to apply towards matriculation.
I only discovered this deep in my 3rd year of law school, when they had to certify that I was qualified to sit for the Bar Exam in NY.  As it turns out, one of the qualifications was having a college degree. Which, as it turned out, I didn’t have.
The whole story of how he graduated with an undergrad degree and a law degree the same day.  The guy is an interesting person, and he's worth checking out each day at The Big Picture.

Hopkins Becomes Oldest to Win Title



In a weekend of accomplishments by aged athletes, Bernard Hopkins becomes the oldest fighter to win a championship belt in boxing history:
Hopkins -- with guile, grit and a fighting spirit still going strong at age 46 -- won a unanimous decision against Jean Pascal to win the light heavyweight championship and become the oldest man in boxing history to capture a world title.

"I didn't feel like I was 46 tonight. I felt closer to 36," Hopkins said. "I can say I am a great fighter. It was exciting. I think everybody enjoyed themselves.

"It feels great. I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do, which was to break this record. I knew it was going to be a tough fight, but I wasn't going to be denied."

Wakefield Shuts Down Cubs

ESPN:
It wasn't the Green Monster looming over left field or the Pesky Pole in right that turned out to be the toughest adjustment for the Chicago Cubs in their first visit to Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series.

It was Tim Wakefield's knuckleball.The 44-year-old Red Sox right-hander held Chicago to four hits in 6 2/3 innings to help Boston beat the Cubs 5-1 on Sunday and send them home from with another lost series. It was Wakefield's first win of the season and the 180th of his Red Sox career -- third on the franchise all-time list behind only Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

"Boy, he was really good," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "I guess it shouldn't amaze me because he's been doing that for such a long time."Making his third start of the season, this one because of injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Wakefield (1-1) had faced the minimum number of batters when he struck out Jeff Baker with what would have been the third out of the fifth inning.

Baker reached safely when the ball got past catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. That was just the third baserunner in the first six innings against Wakefield.

"When you're asked to do a job and you do it well -- I take a lot of pride in that," said Wakefield, who needs 12 more wins to tie Clemens and Young at 192 in a Boston uniform.
It is always cool when the knuckleball is working.  The announcers on ESPN mentioned that Wakefield, at 44, has his contract renewed annually.  If he gets on a couple of hot streaks over the next couple of years, he might be able to break the team record for all-time wins

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Canada, Friendly to Immigrants

From the Economist, via Mark Thoma:
AS A matter of national policy, Canada actively solicits immigrants and has done so for years. The public supports this and the default political assumption is in support of continued immigration. According to a recent poll, only a third of Canadians believe immigration is more of a problem than an opportunity, far fewer than any other country included in the survey. Rather, Canadians are concerned about "brain waste" and ensuring that foreign credentials are appropriately recognised and rewarded in the job market? Being an immigrant is also no barrier to being a proper Canadian; in parliamentary elections earlier this month, 11% of the people elected were not native. This warm embrace isn't just a liberal abstraction; 20% of Canadians are foreign-born.
It's well-known that Canada is an outlier among immigrant nations, but it is nonetheless interesting to consider in reference to the ongoing and heated debate about immigration in the United States. Why is Canadian public opinion so different from views in United States?
At a conference yesterday, Jeffrey Reitz, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, cited two big explanations for the difference. The first was that Canadians are convinced of the positive economic benefits of immigration—to the extent that towns under economic duress are especially keen to promote immigration, because they believe immigrants will create jobs.
I just don't understand all the law-and-order folks in the U.S. saying they don't have a problem with immigrants, but not supporting giving out more visas.  I think the number of illegal immigrants since the last amnesty in 1986 was given as 12 million,  That is 500,000 per year, more or less.  I think this country could easily let in 1 or 2 million immigrants a year from Latin America and not have any problems.  From what I've seen, these immigrants are much harder working than many Americans, and very family oriented.  They may not quickly learn English, but their children will, and they will spur the economy.  I say start getting them visas.