Thursday, March 31, 2005

Can The Cartel Defeat The Economics?

With Final Four week-end almost upon us, it's time to ask how much longer the NCAA--the country's most successful exploiter of young black men--can continue to deny economic reality.

Pressure is growing (from, of all places, the state of Washington) to relax the rules against allowing college athletes to earn money from their notoriety. Witness the high school phenom, Martell Webster:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — He opened the night banking a straight-on three, quickly followed that with a tip-in and a downy three from the corner. In the first minute-and-a-half of the McDonald's All-American game, Seattle Prep's Martell Webster had eight points for the West team, which lost 115-110.

....It was the kind of performance that fuels the rumors, that ignites the conversations and excited the hundred or so NBA scouts who watched him at Tuesday's closed practice and at last night's game.

Martell Webster is the real deal.

You watch him against the best of the best and imagine a season, just one season, at [the University of] Washington. Think about what he could do for the program and selfishly imagine what it would be like to watch him for 30-plus college games.

Webster is one of three Washington state high school basketball players who could opt to go directly to the NBA. As his friend Marvin Williams could have done last year. Instead, Williams chose to take North Carolina's scholarship offer, and will be one of that team's stars in this week-end's NCAA Final Four tournament. Williams is widely expected to announce he's turning pro after the tournament concludes.

It's merely a matter of money. Not only does the cartel not pay their employees who put the fans in the seats and the eyeballs in front of the television (they do pay, of course, themselves, the coaches and administrators), but they won't allow them to capitalize on their fame by working as greeters at athletic shoe stores or pizza parlors. Nor to sign shoe contracts with manufacturers like Nike.

As a result, the colleges are losing the best players to the NBA. Will pride goeth before the fall, or will the monopolist finally realize that Joseph Schumpeter had a point when he said, the only way for a monopolist to remain a monopolist, is to not act like a monopolist.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

'You Know How To Whistle, Don't You?'

High achieving female attorney (who would make Susan Estrich's blood boil) shows how to call on the stronger sex for assistance when necessary:

Conservative columnist and author Ann Coulter was greeted with a mixture of standing ovations and heckling after she took center stage Tuesday night at Kansas University's Lied Center.

....Coulter received several standing ovations during her speech, but she also found herself interrupted several times by a small, scattered group of hecklers.

"I think there are some people in the audience who meant to be at the sexual reorientation class down the hall," Coulter said, in response to the heckling.

Moments later Coulter stopped and called for assistance from students when hecklers started in again and no one of authority was seen trying to stop them.

"Could 10 of the largest College Republicans start walking up and down the aisles and start removing anyone shouting?" Coulter asked. "Otherwise, this lecture is over."

Several people responded, leaving their seats to confront the hecklers, and verbal confrontations erupted in parts of the auditorium. ....

Later, when heckling broke out again, a couple of uniformed KU Public Safety Department officers appeared and escorted about six people out of the auditorium.

Is The New York Times Op-ed Page In A Permanent Vegetative State

The FLUBA Committee on Brain-Life asks, would a John Bates Clark medal holder want to 'live' only by the grace of talking points dripped, dripped, dripped into him by Howard Dean, James Carville, and Barry Lynn:

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism.

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

'Laws that make these drugs available'? The FLUBA is unaware of any pharmacist exception to either the 1st Amendment's free exercise of religion clause, or to the 16th's prohibition of involuntary servitude.

And we are also aware of how competition in the self-organized market tends to produce the goods and services the public desires. Quite a bit more efficiently than 'laws', at that.

Speaking of 'extremists':

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

First, the above would seem to be untrue. Second, it was only five years ago, in Florida, when there actually was a group of law enforcement agents sent to seize someone who was being protected by courts. Both Florida courts and the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals.

As related by John Fund, Janet Reno, whose Justice Department had just sustained a humiliating defeat in the appelate court, went--after normal court hours, on Good Friday--to a federal magistrate who was unfamiliar with the case, swore in an affidavit several things that were demonstrably untrue, and received a search warrant (not a warrant to seize a criminal), which was used to launch a full scale SWAT-like armed raid on law abiding citizens in their family home in Miami.

All to do the bidding of Fidel Castro (and his lawyer Graig Craig), and have little Elian Gonzalez returned to totalitarian Cuba.

So, what notice did Paul Krugman take of that potential Constitutional crisis--which outraged even ardent Clinton backers Allen Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe?

Not a peep. His first column post-raid (April 23, 2000), does make interesting reading though:

How can you tell the hacks from the serious analysts? One answer is to do a little homework. Hack jobs often involve surprisingly raw, transparent misrepresentations of fact: in these days of search engines and online databases you don't need a staff of research assistants to catch 'em with their hands in the cookie jar. But there is another telltale clue: if a person, or especially an organization, always sings the same tune, watch out.

Real experts, you see, tend to have views that are not entirely one-sided.

And real experts who are not surviving only through material fed to them, usually aren't either.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Irish Alzheimers: You Get Lost Because You Can't Read Your Own Signs

The ongoing grudge match between the Irish and English finds the Celts biting off their nose to spite their tourist face:

DUBLIN, Ireland — Tourists, beware: Your guide book may tell you the way to Dingle in County Kerry, but all the road signs will be pointing you toward An Daingean in Contae an Ciarrai instead.

In an age where many people bemoan English's growing global influence, advocates of local languages scored a small victory Monday when Ireland enacted a law outlawing English in road signs and official maps on much of the nation's western coast, where many people speak Gaelic.

....In all, more than 2,300 towns, villages, fields and crossroads that traditionally had both English and Gaelic names have had their previously bilingual road signs changed to Irish only.

....Ever since Ireland won independence in 1922, successive governments have pursued a policy of mandatory Gaelic in schools and made it a requirement for many jobs, even though just 55,000 native Gaelic speakers remain in this country of 3.9 million.

....English, in practice, permeates even government-funded projects to promote Gaelic.

The state-run Gaelic radio network recently decided to begin broadcasting popular music in English, while the state's Gaelic TV station runs English-language films, often American cowboy movies. Other programs include such distinctly non-Gaelic offerings as "SpongeBob SquarePants."

....the government and opposition lawmakers, though almost entirely pro-Gaelic in policy, were demonstrably pro-English in practice - less than 1 percent of parliamentary debates are conducted in Gaelic.

At least the French language snobs can speak French.

Abajo Mexico Camino

Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, and Brad DeLong, might want to rethink their point VI in the Social Security paper they're circulating, which claims that it is unlikely that United States' citizens will be able find sufficient investment opportunities abroad (as the British did over a century ago) to maintain the long run historic rate of return on investment.

In light of developments sur de la frontera which point to a country of over 100 million highly industrious people readying themselves for the 21st century economy:

Heartened by sweeping reforms in the country's judicial and foreign-investment systems over the past decade or so and heightened interest from investors, many Americans have watched the values of their south-of-the-border properties head north in surprisingly short order.

"The market has just become prolific in Mexico, with about 1.5 million Americans now owning property there," says Mitch Creekmore, vice president of the Stewart Title Guaranty de Mexico office in Houston and one of America's foremost experts on Mexican real-estate acquisition.

"Values in some markets have tripled in five years — far exceeding the rates of return you find in the United States."

....several U.S. institutions are gearing up their own lending programs to cater to the growing niche. A handful of banks, including Marshall & Ilsley, Sonada Financial Group and Collateral Mortgage, now provide mortgages to American entities buying Mexican real estate.

....Previously, American banks were reluctant to lend money for Mexican real estate because of unreliable foreclosure laws and the potential for corruption, says Jeronimo Gomez del Campo, partner in the Phoenix office of Bryan Cave, who specializes in the representation of U.S. companies and financial institutions investing in Mexico.

"But it is next to impossible now for corrupt officials or other individuals to mess with the chain of title or encumber properties for no legitimate reason," says Gomez del Campo. "Under NAFTA and other reforms, the Mexican government can't discriminate against foreigners in terms of property ownership."

....Property taxes are only about a half of 1 percent in the Los Cabos region of Baja California, says Ted Downward, co-owner of Century 21 Paradise in Los Cabos. The cost of living in the area, which encompasses Cabos San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, is also low and seems to be dropping as Mexican merchants adjust their prices to compete with new-to-the-market American retailers such as Costco, he said.

Downward recalls when he first came to Los Cabos 21 years ago.

"There were just a handful of gringos who lived here," he said. "Now, there are tens of thousands."

And, it isn't just Norteamericanos. Many Mexican citizens working in the United States are taking portions of their earnings here, and investing in their home country. Many with the intention of one day returning to Mexico and operating their own restaurants, hotels, golf courses, farms and factories to meet the needs of aging Americans, Europeans, and Japanese.

The learned professors, perhaps need to take into account what the rest of the world is actually doing in the face of the brave new world we are about to enter, rather than fall back on academic boilerplate:

...the assumption that America could cope with slowing
economic growth and maintain domestic asset returns at high
historical average levels by diverting capital overseas rests, to
some degree, on the belief that the United States is a small open
economy: that U.S. investments abroad induced by a domestic
growth slowdown will raise the rate of return here while not
lowering rates of return there. But the U.S. is not a small open
economy. It is a large open economy. Blanchard, Giavazzi, and
Sa’s (2005) estimates are that U.S. financial assets are currently
half of the world total. This share will fall over time. But fast
enough to make the assumption that the U.S. is a small open
economy a reasonable approximation?

Not to mention that the above seems to deny that competition will equalize global returns, without any real explanation (we discount, as irrelevant, the 'small open economy, not' point) why.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Club for Growth

Another who is innocent in the ways of the left-wing-professorial-blogdom protests:

I posted a substantive argumnet a few hours ago. I came back to check in on the discussion to find my earlier comment redacted. This is absolutely Orwellian. There was nothing the least bit uncivil about my earlier comment. It just took issue with Brad's original post.

Ah, but 'sd' violated their 1st Commandment: I am the Lord of my blog, thou shalt not rain on my parade of moral vanity:

There are many things to mourn about the Schiavo case. ....That for a decade and a half a woman whose soul has irrecoverably fled has been kept breathing. ....That the parents have been unable to listen to the doctors who tell them that their daughter's soul has irrecoverably fled. ....

It is right and fitting for all of us to mourn all of these

What is abnormal is for the Republican slime machine to step in, with its standard mix of lies: "She talks and she laughs and she expresses likes and discomforts," said Tom DeLay. "It won't take a miracle to help Terri Schiavo. It will only take the medical care and therapy that patients require." False witness on this scale is definitely not a help.

It is right and fitting for all of us to mourn this.

The FLUBA Committee on Delusions of Grandeur notes that since the professor's grasp of the issues regarding Social Security reform is in doubt (an area where he might be expected to have some expertise), it might be that flights of theological fancy are better kept to himself.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Max Speaks: "Hide Your Eyes From the 'Intellectual Pygmies'"

Max Sawicky is appalled that Robert Samuelson has the gall to write in plain English about welfare, rather than call it, 'social insurance' (bringing to mind the old saying that 'social' is an adjective that modifies whatever noun it precedes, to mean exactly the opposite of its customary definition):

Social Security and Medicare are our biggest welfare programs, but because Americans regard "welfare" as shameful, we've found other labels for them. We call them "social insurance" or "entitlements." Anything but welfare. Democrats and Republicans alike embrace the deception. No one wants to upset older voters. Well, if you can't call something by its real name, you can't discuss it honestly.

Which is why Max doesn't want it called by its real name. That would let this cat out of the bag:

Have the social and economic conditions that originally justified the welfare changed?

For Social Security, they have. In 1935 Americans 65 and older were 6 percent of the population. They're now 12 percent and by 2030 are projected to be 20 percent.

....Despite what you've heard, the real issue is not Social Security's "solvency." It is the total cost to the government of baby boomers' retirement, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (which covers much nursing home care).

The real issue is preventing those costs from becoming economically oppressive and politically poisonous. Even if the Social Security trust fund is made permanently "solvent" -- in the sense that taxes cover benefits -- the costs of all federal retirement programs may still become undesirably high. In 2004 Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were 8 percent of national income. Left alone, they'll reach 14.5 percent by 2030....

Ann For Attorney General

Ann Coulter says Jeb Bush is a sissy:

President Andrew Jackson is supposed to have said of a Supreme Court ruling he opposed: "Well, John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." The court's ruling was ignored. And yet, somehow, the republic survived.

If Gov. Jeb Bush doesn't say something similar to the Florida courts that have ordered Terri Schiavo to die, he'll be the second Republican governor disgraced by the illiterate ramblings of a state judiciary. Gov. Mitt Romney will never recover from his acquiescence to the Massachusetts Supreme Court's miraculous discovery of a right to gay marriage. Neither will Gov. Bush if he doesn't stop the torture and murder of Terri Schiavo.

In the column, she points out that Janet Reno explicitly defied the same Florida Courts the Bush brothers are heeding, and sent in armed men to kidnap a Cuban child who had been in the custody of his blood relatives. Wondering why doing the same to save a disabled woman from being starved to death isn't at least as noble as doing it to send a small child back to a totalitarian dictatorship.

She's a good enough Constitutional scholar to recognize:

As a practical matter, courts will generally have the last word in interpreting the law because courts decide cases. But that's a pragmatic point. There is nothing in the law, the Constitution or the concept of "federalism" that mandates giving courts the last word. Other public officials, including governors and presidents, are sworn to uphold the law, too.

It would be chaotic if public officials made a habit of disregarding court rulings simply because they disagreed with them. But a practice borne of practicality has led the courts to greater and greater flights of arrogance. Sublimely confident that no one will ever call their bluff, courts are now regularly discovering secret legal provisions requiring abortion and gay marriage and prohibiting public prayer and Ten Commandments displays.

Just once, we need an elected official to stand up to a clearly incorrect ruling by a court. Any incorrect ruling will do, but my vote is for a state court that has ordered a disabled woman to be starved to death at the request of her adulterous husband.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Yossarian, Having Fun Yet?

Circularian reasoning from a Clinton appointed judge:

Whether the Plaintiffs may bring claims in federal court is not the issue confronting the court today, however. The issue confronting the court is whether temporary injunctive relief is warranted.

A district court may grant a preliminary injunction only if the moving party shows that:

1) it has substantial likelihood of success on the merits;

2) irreparable injury will be suffered unless the injunction issues;

3) the threatened injury to the movant (person bringing the motion) outweighs whatever damage the proposed injunction may cause the opposing party; and

4) if issued, the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest."

It is apparent that Theresa Schiavo will die unless temporary injunctive relief is granted. This circumstance satisfies the requirement of irreparable injury. Moreover, that threatened injury outweighs any harm the proposed injunction would cause.

Notwithstanding these findings, it is essential that Plaintiffs establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, which the court finds they have not done.

....Plaintiffs bring Counts IV and V alleging that Theresa Schiavo's right to exercise her religion has been burdened by the state court's order to remove the feeding tube. ... That statute expressly requires, however, that "no government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person."

... Plaintiffs' claims fail because neither Defendant Schiavo nor Defendant Hospice are state actors.

This court appreciates the gravity of the consequences of denying injunctive relief. Even under these difficult and time strained circumstances, however, and notwithstanding Congress' expressed interest in the welfare of Teresa Schiavo, this court is constrained to apply the law to the issues before it.

As Plaintiffs have not established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, Plaintiffs' Motion for Temporary Restraining Order must be DENIED.

At least he stopped short of saying; "Even if the law doesn't require me to do this, it's enough if you believe it does".

Capable dire; 'nez, meule'?

It's no longer illegal to work in France:

PARIS (AP) -- French lawmakers effectively abolished the country's 35-hour workweek Tuesday by workweek by allowing employers to increase working hours.

The National Assembly approved a government-backed bill permitting employers to negotiate deals with staff to increase working time by 220 hours a year in return for better pay. The vote was 350-135.

The bill clears the way for a gradual dismantling of the 35-hour workweek, a flagship policy of the former Socialist government that was introduced on a voluntary basis in 1998 and made compulsory two years later.

The Socialists said the shorter workweek would reduce soaring unemployment by prompting employers to hire more people. However, it failed to create as many jobs as foreseen, and France's jobless rate now stands at 10 percent.

President Jacques Chirac has criticized the shortened workweek as a ``brake'' on economic development and job creation.


So, You Want To Be a Rock n Roll Star?

Then Larry Summers wants you to take your act on the road, according to this by Andrew Kline. Seems that some 200 out of 700 Harvard faculty, may be worried that Summers wants Harvard to be a place of serious intellectual accomplishment, not a recording studio:

If the university president could make Cornel West -- the brightest mass of glowing gas in Harvard's large and glittering constellation of star professors -- quit the recording studio and return to the library, then what could he do to the lowly professors, assistant professors and lecturers whose lights remained invisible to anyone without a telescope trained on obscure academic journals?

Summers called West's bluff, and the celebrity professor chose to leave rather than work for a boss who demanded results. But in that victory were sown the seeds of Summers' future troubles.

Faculty members learned from the West affair that they'd have to be a lot tougher to win a confrontation with this president. So when Summers' remarks at a January 15 National Bureau of Economic Research conference prompted MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins to copy West and run to the media to breathlessly proclaim that the Harvard president does not sufficiently respect her disadvantaged subset of the population, the faculty were ready.

....there are more than 700 members of the Arts and Sciences faculty at Harvard, which calls into question the importance of Tuesday's vote [218-185].

It looks like the attempt to push Summers out the door does not have widespread support among Harvard's faculty. Rather, it appears to be coming from the usual suspects: left-wing professors who either enjoy challenging authority in general or who have a vested interest in keeping a strong-willed and reform-minded university president from poking his nose into their world of intellectually questionable courses and activism masked as "research."

....Faculty vote to give tenure, but the president has the final say and has full authority to nullify a faculty vote.

Last year, Summers vetoed the unanimous decision of the African and African-American Studies department to offer tenure to Marcyliena Morgan, whom the Boston Globe describes as a "hip-hop scholar."

Probably Morgan's most noted accomplishment was founding Harvard's Hip Hop Archive. Her academic credits consisted of publishing exactly one book, and the Globe reported that her classes received poor reviews from students. Nonetheless, the department voted to grant her tenure. Her husband, Lawrence Bobo, whose academic work was more noteworthy, already had tenure at Harvard. After Summers' veto, both Bobo and Morgan left for Stanford.

Summers' refusal to grant tenure to someone who so clearly did not deserve it, though she had the support of her department, had to have sent shockwaves throughout the faculty.....

And perhaps he does have the support, albeit silent, of most of the faculty. He certainly has the support of the Harvard Corporation, which functions as Harvard's board of directors. But his independence and refusal to value academic trendiness over academic rigor have made him the primary target of a disaffected minority of faculty members for whom he represents a serious threat.

Thanks to Betsy Newmark for the link.

Monday, March 21, 2005

What's Lower? 'A Slithering Snake'...

...or a man who wants to starve his disabled wife:

Weary after an emotional visit with his wife, Schiavo said he is astonished that politicians want to interfere in such a private matter.

"Instead of worrying about my wife, who was granted her wishes by the state courts the past seven years, they should worry about the pedophiles killing young girls," Schiavo said, referring to a local case. "Why doesn't Congress worry about people not having health insurance? Or the budget? Let's talk about all the children who don't have homes."

He said U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is leading a charge to extend Terri Schiavo's life, is a "little slithering snake" pandering for votes.

And, a further question:

"Terri died 15 years ago," Schiavo said, referring to the collapse and cardiac arrest that doctors say virtually destroyed her brain. "It's time for her to be with the Lord like she wanted to be."

If so, why is he still visiting her?

'They Tell You It's Free, But, You Know What? You Get What You Pay For.

Sweet Sixteen Wolfpack economist, Craig Newmark, links to a story that buttresses the title of this post--a statement uttered by an Ontario man as he was paying the Mayo Clinic $50,000 to operate on his father for stomach cancer (who would have still been on a waiting list for tests in his native Ontario):

TORONTO - A letter from the Moncton Hospital to a New Brunswick heart patient in need of an electrocardiogram said the appointment would be in three months. It added: "If the person named on this computer-generated letter is deceased, please accept our sincere apologies."

The patient wasn't dead, according to the doctor who showed the letter to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. But there are many Canadians who claim the long wait for the test and the frigid formality of the letter are indicative of a health system badly in need of emergency care.

Americans who flock to Canada for cheap flu shots often come away impressed at the free and first-class medical care available to Canadians, rich or poor. But tell that to hospital administrators constantly having to cut staff for lack of funds, or to the mother whose teenager was advised she would have to wait up to three years for surgery to repair a torn knee ligament.

.... the average wait for surgical or specialist treatment is nearly 18 weeks, up from 9.3 weeks in 1993, according to the Fraser Institute, a right-wing public policy think tank in Vancouver. A Fraser study last year said the average wait for an orthopedic surgeon was more than nine months.

....An estimated 4 million of Canada's 33 million people don't have family physicians and more than 1 million are on waiting lists for treatment, according to the Canadian Medical Association.

Kerry; Minister of Truth?

P.J. O'Rourke takes notice of John F. Kerry's Orwellian moment at the Kennedy Presidential Library last month:

"We learned," Kerry continued, "that the mainstream media, over the course of the last year, did a pretty good job of discerning. But there's a subculture and a sub-media that talks and keeps things going for entertainment purposes rather than for the flow of information. And that has a profound impact and undermines what we call the mainstream media of the country. And so the decision-making ability of the American electorate has been profoundly impacted as a consequence of that. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

Later, he gave a hint:

"This all began, incidentally, when the Fairness Doctrine ended. You would have had a dramatic change in the discussion in this country had we still had a Fairness Doctrine in the course of the last campaign. But the absence of a Fairness Doctrine and the corporatization of the media has changed dramatically the ability of and the filter through which certain kinds of information get to the American people . . . "

O'Rourke thinks this marks the end of Kerry's political career. Unfortunately the FLUBA Committee on JFK II's Strange Semantics doubts that. If censoring your opponents ability to criticize you, is said to be fairness, there will be plenty of people willing to defend. After all, there are already some prominent economists ever willing to send comments made to their blogs, that they disagree with, into the memory hole

Saturday, March 19, 2005

King Kounty Kalling

All you felon voters who helped elect Christine Gregoire Governor last fall, to 'splain yourselves':

Of [some of the] felons who apparently voted illegally in King County in the last general election, just 10 showed up in person yesterday at a hearing where they could challenge the county's move to purge them from the voter rolls.

And none of the 10 actually denied being a felon or presented evidence that voting rights had been restored.

Their most prevalent reaction yesterday was confusion of the sort that apparently led them to believe they could vote in the first place.

"I just had no idea," said Robert Vance, convicted of unlawful imprisonment and harassment in 1999. Vance told the hearing officer that he had been assured by a community corrections officer that he could register to vote because he had served his time.

Vance said when he showed up at the polling place and was allowed to vote, he was reassured. "I thought they do a check," he said.

....Senior Prosecuting Attorney Janine Joly said the Prosecutor's Office is culling through more than 800 alleged felon voters in King County identified by the GOP. She said her office would likely mail out more revocation notices as early as next week. In the end, illegal felon voters could number in the hundreds, she said.

....Under Washington law, felons can petition the court to have their right to vote restored after showing they have completed their sentences and paid all restitution and fines.

Some of the 10 voters at the hearing clearly felt they were on trial again. Logan was seated at a dais and Joly, as the prosecutor, at a table in front of him.

...."You're just going to take that felony and rub my nose in it over and over again," complained Kenneth Mason, 47, who has convictions for theft, forgery and drugs. "I just don't feel I should continue to suffer."

Two of the men took the opportunity to claim they'd been framed by the police. Another, Gilbert Dale Hart, 50, convicted in 2000 for a drug violation, sat sullenly while Logan explained the process. Hart apparently believed the notification letter he'd been sent was a summons ordering him to a court.

"Can I go now?" he asked after Logan had finished.

Another, 51-year-old Arthur Welsh, convicted of felony malicious mischief in 2000, asked what the criminal penalty for casting an illegal ballot might be. Told it was a class C felony, punishable by a year in prison and a fine up to $5,000, he replied, "Then my statement is, I wasn't aware."

Just another member of the club in King Kounty, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by over 2:1.

The Doctor Is In...

The paint...defending, and rebounding for the second-best college basketball program in the state of Washington (which the NCAA has seeded #1 in the western region):

The mid-morning final for "The History of Christianity" was offered in an upstairs conference room at the Huskies' hotel yesterday.

....Earlier in the week, Rollins took a final in biology. Another time of the year it was organic chemistry. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound senior majors in biochemistry.

.... He might be the smartest player on the team, but there is no question he is the strongest.

In fact, he will be integral to Washington's success today in the second round of the tournament against a Pacific team with taller and, for the most part, European-schooled players.

"He is the closest thing we have to an inside defensive presence," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar.

"He's the only guy we have like that. I don't see how we can advance without him doing well."

....Minnesota, Connecticut, Southern Illinois, Washington and Santa Barbara offered him scholarships, this time based on his ability to play basketball. He liked Romar, but he also liked the director of the UW medical school, whom he asked to meet on a recruiting visit.

....Rollins isn't sure what his immediate future beyond this tournament holds. He has options, and that pleases him.

"With options, you don't have too many decisions made for you," said Rollins. "I'm definitely excited about the future."

He said that if he can't shake the basketball bug, he might explore the possibility of taking a few years off from school to play in Europe. The prospect of travel appeals as well.

But his long-term goal is medicine.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Feminists Lied, Atlantans Died

We knew she had the cojones to say it:

How many people have to die before the country stops humoring feminists? Last week, a defendant in a rape case, Brian Nichols, wrested a gun from a female deputy in an Atlanta courthouse and went on a murderous rampage. ....

The New York Times said the problem was not enough government spending on courthouse security ("Budgets Can Affect Safety Inside Many Courthouses").

Yes, it was tax-cuts-for-the-rich that somehow enabled a 200-pound former linebacker to take a gun from a 5-foot-tall grandmother. Atlanta court officials dispensed with any spending issues the next time Nichols entered the courtroom when he was escorted by 17 guards and two police helicopters. He looked like P. Diddy showing up for a casual dinner party.

I think I have an idea that would save money and lives: Have large men escort violent criminals.

Admittedly, this approach would risk another wave of nausea and vomiting by female professors at Harvard. But there are also advantages to not pretending women are as strong as men, such as fewer dead people. Even a female math professor at Harvard should be able to run the numbers on this one.

....In a study of public safety officers — not even the general population — female officers were found to have 32 percent to 56 percent less upper body strength and 18 percent to 45 percent less lower body strength than male officers — although their outfits were 43 percent more coordinated. ....

Another study I've devised involves asking a woman to open a jar of pickles.

There is also the telling fact that feminists demand that strength tests be watered down so that women can pass them. Feminists simultaneously demand that no one suggest women are not as strong as men and then turn around and demand that all the strength tests be changed. It's one thing to waste everyone's time by allowing women to try out for police and fire departments under the same tests given to men. It's quite another to demand that the tests be brawned-down so no one ever has to tell female Harvard professors that women aren't as strong as men.

Road Trip

Anyone seen Burt Reynolds lately:

A deputy jailer and a convicted burglar he was supposed to be taking to jail in Kentucky were arrested yesterday after going on a 100-mile drunken road trip in a law-enforcement vehicle and making false arrests, authorities said.

The jailer and inmate were caught after drivers began calling authorities to report a drunken duo was making traffic stops, state Trooper Ralph Lockard said. They allegedly let the drivers go after accepting cash bribes.

The deputy jailer, Clarence Wilson, 37, has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation, Knox County Judge-Executive Raymond Smith said. Wilson was charged with drunken driving, impersonating an officer, unlawful imprisonment and official misconduct.

"I couldn't believe this happened," Smith said. "The next thing you're likely to hear is that we're on the 'Jerry Springer Show.' "

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Get the Number of That Truck That Just Hit Harry and Nancy

For we sadists, George W. Bush is becoming ever more fun to watch unloading his knockout punches on Democrats. Such as from today's press conference:

Q: Mr. President, you say you're making progress in the Social Security debate. Yet private accounts is the centerpiece of that plan, something you first campaigned on five years ago and laid before the American people, remains, according to every measure we have -- poll after poll -- unpopular with a majority of Americans.

So the question is, do you feel that this is a point in the debate where it's incumbent upon you, and nobody else, to lay out a plan to the American people for how you actually keep Social Security solvent for the long term?

PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all....I have not laid out a plan yet -- intentionally. I have laid out principles. I have talked about putting all options on the table because I fully understand the administration must work with the Congress to permanently solve Social Security. And so one aspect of the debate is will we be willing to work together to permanently solve the issue?

Personal accounts do not solve the issue. Personal accounts will make sure that individual workers get a better deal with whatever emerges as a Social Security solution....

But it's very important for people to understand that the permanent solution will require Congress and the administration working together on a variety of different possibilities.

Q: But, sir, but Democrats have made it pretty clear that they're not interested in that. They want you to lay it out.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well -- (chuckles) -- I'm sure they do!

Q: And so, what I'm asking is, don't --

PRESIDENT BUSH: The first bill on the Hill always is dead on arrival. I'm interested in coming up with a permanent solution. I'm not interested in playing political games. (Chuckles.)

Q: But why not lay out a plan --

PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm interested in working with members of both political parties.

Q: Will you say if you're specifically supportive of an income test for the slowing of future benefits? Could that get some kind of bipartisan consensus going?

PRESIDENT BUSH: David, there are some interesting ideas out there. One of the interesting ideas was by this pellow (sic) -- by the -- a Democrat economist named Pozen. He came to visit the White House -- didn't see me, but came, tossed some interesting ideas out talking about making sure the system was progressive.

Now, let's introduce Robert Pozen:

In a viable legislative package, personal retirement accounts supply the political sweetener that allows the passage of benefit reform, which reduces Social Security's long-term deficit.

.... progressive indexing. This means the continuation of wage indexing for all workers with average career earnings of $25,000 or less. It also means not touching the benefit formulas of anyone already in or near retirement (workers aged over 55 today). Conversely, the initial benefits of all workers with average career earnings above $113,000 retiring after 2011 would be increased by price indexing. Almost all these workers receive significant amounts of retirement income from company plans and other savings vehicles in addition to Social Security.

The initial benefits of workers falling between these two groups would be increased by a proportional blend of wage and price indexing.

While the Social Security benefits of most middle and high earners would still rise under progressive indexing, they would grow more slowly than under the current system. To make this package politically attractive, Congress should offer all workers the chance to offset most of this slower growth in traditional benefits by allowing them to invest two percentage points out of the 12.4% in payroll taxes they pay on all wages up to an annual maximum ($90,000 in 2005 and rising yearly). This money would be invested in a standard balanced account, with 60% of assets in a broad-based American stock index, such as the Wilshire 5000, and 40% in a high-quality bond index, such as the Lehman Aggregate Bond index.

This combination of progressive indexing and balanced accounts would cut the long-term deficit of Social Security by half, from a present value of $3.8 trillion to $1.9 trillion over the next 75 years. Of course, the transition from the current system to this combination would require some federal borrowing before the system's economics are reversed. But under reasonable estimates of participation in investment accounts, all borrowing would be completed by the end of the 75-year period. At that time, the Social Security system would be in financial balance and would be self-sustaining.

The time for this type of reform is running out. After the baby-boomers start to retire in 2011, their benefit formulas will in effect be locked in—politically it is virtually impossible to change these formulas for those in or near retirement. Thus, to fix the long-term finances of Social Security, Congress has a one-time opportunity to link personal retirement accounts with benefit reform through the introduction of progressive indexing. That opportunity should not be missed.

So, Harry and Nan, what say you?

Not Enough Sense To Come In Out Of The Rain...

Sue an umbrella maker:

SEATTLE — The parents of a 23-year-old activist killed while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home have sued Caterpillar Inc., the company that made the bulldozer that ran over her.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court here, alleges that Caterpillar violated international and state law by providing specially designed bulldozers to Israeli Defense Forces, knowing the machines would be used to demolish homes and endanger people.

Rachel Corrie, a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., was standing in front of a home in a refugee camp in Rafah, a Gaza Strip city near the Egyptian border, on March 16, 2003, when a bulldozer plowed over her.

"The brutal death of my daughter should never have happened," her mother, Cindy Corrie, said in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the law firms handling the case. "We believe Caterpillar and the (Israeli Defense Forces) must be held accountable for their role in the attack."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

W. Bush, The Middle East Peacemaker

The dominoes continue to fall as planned by the Condi-Rummy-Cowboy-Axis-of Democracy:

BEIRUT - Flags fluttering, horns honking, and fingers flashing V for victory, Lebanon's opposition converged on downtown Beirut yesterday in the biggest democratic protest in the history of the modern Middle East.

Their numbers - about a million strong - were a retort to the rival protests staged last week by the terrorist group Hezbollah, and a message to each other and the world that the Lebanese people are serious in their demands for - as the crowd chanted over and over - "Freedom, Sovereignty, Independence."

....Among the most promising aspects of this opposition movement is the extent to which it has brought together disparate factions, namely Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Druze. Previously, the democratic opposition was predominantly Christian.

....In recent weeks, both President Bush and Secretary of State Rice have often urged Syria's speedy departure and lent support to Lebanon's democratic protesters. That's a notable departure from U.S. policy over the past generation, which, under the banner of supporting the status quo, gave a nod to Syria's chokehold on Lebanon. It was not until 2003, as Mr. Bush prepared to overturn the Middle East apple cart by overthrowing Iraq's Saddam Hussein, that America began to describe Syria's presence in Lebanon as an "occupation."

....Unlike the Hezbollah demonstrators with their chants of "Death to America," many in the crowd were friendly to Americans. "Thank's Free World," (sic) said one poster, held high by a woman in a bright red jacket, Rawya Okal, who told me: "We thank Mr. Bush for his position."

Overhearing this in the throng, a middle-aged man in a green baseball cap, Louis Nahanna, leaned over to say, "We love the American people" - adding, "Please don't let Bush forget us. Your support is very important."

Asking more people what they thought of Americans turned up the same refrain. From a young driver, Fadi Mrad, came the message: "We want to change. We need freedom. Please don't let Bush forget us."

From a group of young men came not only the message "Our hope is America," and "We believe in democracy in the Middle East," but also praise for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. There was also an invitation from one of them, young Edgard Baradhy, for his heroine, Ms. Rice, to come to Beirut "and I am ready to take her for coffee."

You and about a million other guys, Edgard.

And, in the latest development, Syria seems to be getting the message:

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Syrian military intelligence started clearing out its headquarters in Beirut and vacated another office in the Lebanese capital Tuesday in line with key demands by the United States and Lebanese opposition.

The evacuation of the Syrian intelligence service, a widely resented arm through which Damascus controlled many aspects of Lebanese life, has been a key demand of the opposition, which orchestrated a gigantic demonstration Monday in central Beirut.

Syrian agents appeared to be preparing to leave their headquarters at Ramlet el-Baida on the edge of Beirut. Belongings and furniture were loaded into three trucks.

In the city's commercial Hamra district, about two dozen Syrian agents vacated an intelligence office during the afternoon, hours after trucks loaded furniture and belongings.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Karl Marx?

A spectre is haunting Malawi...or at least its Presidential Mansion:

Malawians prayed for their president on Monday after officials said he had left his 300-room mansion in the capital because of fears it was haunted. Newspapers, however, slammed the spooky talk from the presidency and asked President Bingu wa Mutharika to get on with fighting poverty in the southern African state.

Officials in Mutharika's office said on Sunday the 73-year-old president, a former economist with the World Bank, had decamped from the $100-million (about R600-million) presidential State House in central Lilongwe because he feared it was haunted.

On Monday, an official in Mutharika's office charged with overseeing religious affairs said exorcisms were being said on the mansion's grounds while prayer sessions were taking place in churches in Llilongwe and Blantyre, the commercial capital.

"We continue with prayers that not any harm, not any power, not any strategy designed from the pits of hell will be able to prosper against the president," the Reverend Malani Mtonga said.

'I Gave Them a Sword'...

...Richard Nixon famously said to David Frost, in his first interview post-resignation. Turns out, one of his nemeses did the same:

Informational formats (news, talk, and public affairs), just 7 percent of all AM stations in 1987, jumped to 28 percent in 1995--dramatic statistical evidence of the [Fairness D]octrine's chilling effect.

Conservatives now worship talk radio, and liberals are scrambling to compete, if not reregulate.

In 1993, Democrats rallied to revive the Fairness Doctrine; Democratic congressman Bill Hefner of North Carolina distributed a pro-Fairness Doctrine flyer condemning "TV and Radio Talk Shows that often . . . make inflammatory and derogatory remarks about our public officials."

But grassroots outrage over the "Hush Rush [Limbaugh] Law" was given voice via talk radio, and the effort stalled. In 2000, however, the proposal resurfaced in the Democratic party platform.

While it's easy to ridicule the Fairness Doctrine today, it wasn't easy before 1987. Statistical evidence of a chilling effect was unavailable while the doctrine was in effect. And lack of such proof led FCC critics to dismiss the "self-serving anecdotes of the broadcaster," as a Carter-era FCC official put it. The commission needed support, a backer of some prominence to defend its bold initiative from legal and political challenge.

Dan Rather filled that role. The commission's official analysis featured the testimony of the

"Managing Editor and Anchor of CBS News" as Exhibit A:

When I was a young reporter, I worked briefly for wire services, small radio stations, and newspapers, and I finally settled into a job at a large radio station owned by the Houston Chronicle. Almost immediately on starting work in that station's newsroom, I became aware of a concern which I had previously barely known existed--the FCC. The journalists at The Chronicle did not worry about it; those at the radio station did. Not only the station manager but the newspeople as well were very much aware of this government presence looking over their shoulders. I can recall newsroom conversations about what the FCC implications of broadcasting a particular report would be. Once a newsperson has to stop and consider what a government agency will think of something he or she wants to put on the air, an invaluable element of freedom has been lost.

Rather was the only celebrity journalist to speak out. The only other newsperson of any prominence quoted by the FCC in support of free speech was Bill Monroe of NBC's Meet the Press. With this scant support, the Reagan FCC ventured forth [and abolished the Doctrine].

Today, talk radio, cable TV networks, and Internet websites all benefit from the First Amendment's protection of electronic media. No single regulatory action advanced that constitutional shield further than the deregulation of broadcast content in August 1987.

And, that led to the diversity of broadcast opinion we have today, which made it impossible for CBS (and Rather) to completely, successfully stonewall the forged memoes story.

Keep This In Mind Next July 4th

And be grateful the Sons of Liberty prevailed with the shot heard round the world:

EX-BAY City Rollers manager Tam Paton has been stripped of his licence to rent out several city centre properties after being branded an "unfit" landlord.

The move comes after the controversial millionaire was ordered to appear before Edinburgh City Council’s licensing committee.

It is understood police claimed Paton’s drug conviction made him "unfit" to hold a licence.

Councillors agreed and suspended his licence for six bedsits he rents out in the West End. He has also had permission to rent out rooms at his mansion in Gogarburn removed.

Bedsit is short for bed sitting room, a very British accomodation usually only big enough for a single bed, a chair, closet, hot plate and sink--bathroom down the hall if you're lucky.

Bad enough that the government has the ability to deny someone --in this case, an elderly, disabled, homosexual--the right to earn a living renting out his own property, but guess who else loses:

If the sheriff upholds the city council’s decision, Paton’s tenants face eviction.

"They are taking away roofs from over people’s heads," added Paton.

"I’m going to appeal, which gives them another few months before they put people out on the streets."

Paton claimed that two of the four people living at his Little Kellerstain mansion are carers who he needs to look after him following his stroke, which has left him paralysed down the left side of his body.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

For Best Performance by an Economist, in the Category; 'Damnation With Faint Praise'....

The winner would have to be NYU's William Easterly for carving this turkey:

Over the past two decades, [Jeffrey] Sachs has simply been the world's greatest economic reformer. It's perhaps fitting that he has enlisted Bono, the lead singer of U2 and development activist, to pen an introduction: the rock star as economist meets the economist as rock star. Perhaps someone so gifted and hardworking can be forgiven if his narrative is a little self-serving -- for instance, when he portrays his plans as responsible for early successes in Bolivia and Poland. At the same time, he prefers a more complicated analysis for the failures in which he was involved, like the chaos in Russia, later stagnation in Bolivia and Africa's perpetual crisis (their geography was bad, they didn't follow his advice, the West didn't give them enough aid, etc.).

Then follows a thorough demolition of Sach's latest grand idea for ending world poverty. An analysis showing Sachs hasn't a clue of The Use of Knowledge In Society.

Easterly ends effectively, if not kindly:

Perhaps we can excuse [Sachs'] allegedly easy-to-achieve dreams as the tactics of a fundraiser for the poor -- someone who's out to galvanize public opinion to back dramatically higher aid abroad. Sachs was born to play the role of fundraiser. And it's easier to feel good about his sometimes simplistic sales pitch for foreign aid if it leads to spending more dollars on desperately poor people, as opposed to, say, wasteful weapons systems.

The danger is that when the utopian dreams fail (as they will again), the rich-country public will get even more disillusioned about foreign aid. Sachs rightly notes that we need not worry whether the pathetic amount of current U.S. foreign aid -- little more than a 10th of a penny for every dollar of U.S. income -- is wasted.

Foreign aid's prospects will brighten only if aid agencies become more accountable for results, and demonstrate to the public that some piecemeal interventions improve the lives of desperate people. So yes, do read Sachs's eloquent descriptions of poverty and his compelling ethical case for the rich to help the poor. Just say no to the Big Plan.

[Thanks to Russell Roberts for the link.]

And All CBS Could Find Is Bob Schieffer?

With network news rating plummeting, is this a Rather effective antidote?

Putin To Meet His Match?

Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov announces a new line of work; the White Knight of Russian politics:

"I will continue to play chess because it is a lot of fun, but no longer on a professional level," he said.

The 41-year-old said he had made the decision because of the intense pressure which he had been under over recent years.

The chess grandmaster, a leading critic of Mr Putin, heads a group of top Russian liberals who have joined forces to keep Vladimir Putin from staying in the Kremlin after 2008.

His group, called Committee 2008: Free Choice, has criticised Mr Putin's control over Russia's parliament and the country's media, and what it calls the "flat-out falsification of the last election's results".

They have vowed to ensure a new president is elected in 2008.

Not The Write Stuff For The SAT

Seems the new, improved, SAT forgot to take something into account:

An estimated 300,000 high-school students across the nation took the new SAT yesterday for the first time. The College Board revised the exam after being faced with the threat of major institutions dropping it as a requirement. The most sweeping change is a new writing section — 35 minutes of multiple-choice questions and the 25-minute essay.

The reverberations were felt yesterday on the third floor of the W Hotel in downtown Seattle, as well. More than 50 Puget Sound-area grade-school teachers were learning how to teach their students handwriting, a skill that some may have thought the computer keyboard rendered obsolete. Some elementary schools no longer teach cursive.

"They stopped training teachers how to teach handwriting in most colleges and universities about 25 years ago," said Jan Olsen, an occupational therapist who developed a handwriting curriculum a decade ago. "But instead of putting something reasonable in place, they just dropped it," she said.

Which explains the reaction of ... a Roosevelt High School junior, when the exam's proctor told students to copy the instructions in cursive, not in print.

"We were all laughing," [Aubrey] Jenkins said. "Most high-school students do not remember cursive. We learned it in fourth or fifth grade and have not been required to use it. This was definitely the hardest thing on the test!"

Make Believe Money...Make Believe Flights

We assume that Milton Friedman will chuckle at this demonstration that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, even when the currency is disguised:

...passengers today are sitting on more than 9 trillion frequent-flier miles, 50 percent more than five years ago, according to That is enough for 36 million free tickets, at the basic rate of 25,000 miles — or enough to give almost everyone who flew out of Kennedy International Airport last year a free ticket.

Predictably, the value of those miles (erzatz money) has declined:

"What the airlines have done," said Max Bazerman, a professor at the Harvard Business School, "is devalue miles."

In 1994, airlines required 20,000 miles for a free ticket. Coupled with higher airfares, that meant miles were worth about 2 cents each, according to IdeaWorks, a consulting firm in Shorewood, Wis.

Today, with airfares way down but the mileage requirement way up, miles are worth about 1.4 cents each, IdeaWorks says.

And they could really be worth half that, said Tim Winship, publisher of The reason is what he calls "the hassle factor," the inconvenience many travelers encounter when booking tickets.

In fact, many are worth nothing at all, as some airlines (bankrupt, or nearly so) place so many restrictions on their use many people find them impossible to use. Sorta like Weimar Germany:

For his part, Bazerman of the Harvard Business School is using his miles as quickly as he can.

"Miles today are worth half of what they were five years ago. And they will be worth half again someday," he said.

"I'm telling all my friends: Use your miles."

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Basketball Season's-End Gloatfest

Back in December this blog pointed out an amusing inconsistency in the college Coaches' Poll ranking of Gonzaga at number 21 in the country. At that point they'd lost only once--to then undefeated, and now #1 Illinois, and had beaten several other teams the coaches were ranking far ahead of them.

It was pointed out by someone--without the relevant first hand experience of having seen the Zags play--that it wasn't only the coaches who ranked them outside the top twenty. So did Jeff Sagarin's computer.

Now that the regular season has ended, and the conferences' tournaments are almost ended, we can have a better idea of just where Gonzaga deserved to be ranked. The Zags finished at 25-4, with wins over Sagarin's #5 Washington, and #9 Oklahoma State. They won both their conference regular season title, and its tournament.

More telling, Gonzaga played 5 teams that made it to their conference's tournament finals.

Illinois (to play Wisconsin, Sunday), Georgia Tech (up against Duke, tomorrow), Oklahoma St. ( to play Texas Tech tomorrow), St. Mary's (whom the Zags defeated for the WCC crown), and Washington (who less than an hour ago defeated Arizona to win the Pac-10 tournament, and secure its automatic NCAA berth).

Gonzaga defeated all of them, except 30-1 Illinois. Which brings us back to Jeff Sagarin's current ranking for Gonzaga (with cinch NBA Lottery pick, Ronny Turiaf): They've progressed to #20.

Giving the Bum's Reich

Via Betsy Newmark and Polipundit the FLUBA Committee on Economic Poseurs is alerted to this USA Today article by former Clinton Administration Labor Sec'y, Robert B Reich:

My grandfather lost all of his savings in the Great Crash of 1929. He never trusted the stock market after that. But he kept working, and by the time he retired, he had a tiny nest egg. It still wasn't enough to retire on. He and my grandmother relied on the Social Security checks they got every month. Granddad died at the ripe old age of 91.

Given the penchant of certain other members of that Administration to...uh...shade the truth, let's think about this claim. We don't know just when Gramps was born, but since Reich informs us that his father is, today, himself, 91 years of age--hence, born in 1914--an educated guess would be 1890.

Which would put him in the labor force, say, in 1910 through 1955. If he had put a portion of his yearly income into a mutual fund that tracked the Dow Jones Industrial Average, each year on December 31st, he would have bought at the following prices:

1910: $ 81.36
1911: 81.68
1912: 87.87
1913: 78.78
1914: 54.58
1915: 99.15
1916: 95.00
1917: 74.38
1918: 82.20
1919: 107.23
1920: 71.95
1921: 81.10
1922: 98.73
1923: 95.52
1924: 120.51
1925: 156.66
1926: 157.20
1927: 202.40
1928: 300.00

Then comes, in Reich's words, 'the Great Crash of 1929', when, after reaching the dizzying $380 mark in August, the Dow begins to slide, hitting its low for the year in November at $198.69 (though it closes the year at $ 248.48).

Did Reich's grandfather, at this point, lose 'all his savings'?

When he lost his savings in the Great Crash, Granddad discovered that the stock market can be a giant casino.

Even if he'd panicked at the very worst day (Nov. 13, 29), and sold off his portfolio, he'd have had 17 out of 19 wins in the 'casino'.

Of course, as the Depression dragged on things got worse. The Dow began a long downward slide, eventually bottoming out on July 9, 1932, at $ 41.22. But a year later, it was back over $100, and closed every year thereafter above that (even after Pearl Harbor it ended the year at $110.96). Giving Grandad 13 out of 19 positive pre-Great-Crash rolls of the dice.

And that says nothing about the dividends he would have earned from his ownership of those stocks. But what kind of future would have awaited him in 1955, when he retired, had he held onto his investments all those years:

December 31, 1955, the Dow closed at: $ 488.40. At our guesstimate of his death in 1981, it closed mid-year at $ 967.66.

We note, not knowing whether to laugh or cry:

Robert B. Reich, 58, former secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, is professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University. His most recent book, Reason, was issued in paperback this month.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Too Stupid To Be Allowed To Buy a Tomato?

The Florida Tomato Committee thinks you are:

WASHINGTON — Procacci Brothers, a Philadelphia-based produce empire, had a good and simple idea in the 1990s. They would grow a tasty winter tomato, charge a premium price, and let customers beat a path to their door.

Procacci's exclusive tomato looked a lot like an acorn squash with hives, however. So they called it an UglyRipe and rejoiced as UglyRipe sales doubled nationwide in each of its first three years on the market.

But this year, UglyRipe fans, though willing to pay $4 a pound or more, mostly search in vain.

The villain, according to Joseph Procacci, chairman of the family firm, is the Florida Tomato Committee, based in Maitland, Fla., which sets standards for Florida tomatoes sold out of state between Oct. 10 and June 15.

The FLUBA Committee on the Obvious is moved to ask, isn't this interstate commerce?
Not to mention that we believe any adult employed as a Tomato Committee Manager deserves all the low self-esteem he garners:

While Florida's Tomato Committee continued exemptions for cherry, plum and greenhouse-grown beefsteak tomatoes, said Reggie Brown, manager of the Tomato Committee, too many exemptions would cause "chaos." It also might allow substandard tomatoes to flood the market, he said.

An Afterthought: 'Hey, let's prosecute some illegal insider traders, too'?

New York's federal prosecutors --now that they've succeeded in putting away dangerous sexagenarian home economists who aren't nice to them--get around to people who actually might have broken a law:

Two friends of Samuel D. Waksal, the former chief executive of ImClone Systems, were arrested yesterday and charged with insider trading for selling their shares in ImClone after receiving a tip from Dr. Waksal.

Dr. Zvi Y. Fuks, chairman of the department of radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Sabina Ben-Yehuda, who worked at Scientia, an investment company set up by Dr. Waksal, were charged with securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud in a federal criminal complaint unsealed yesterday in New York.

The complaint contends that they sold their shares in ImClone in December 2001 after Dr. Waksal told them that the government was about to deny approval of the drug Erbitux, news that would cause ImClone shares to plummet when it became public.

After Dr. Waksal was arrested on similar charges in June 2002, he denied passing the information to Ms. Ben-Yehuda and telling her to inform Dr. Fuks. But according to the criminal complaint, Dr. Waksal gave a different version of events when testifying before a grand jury last month.

....Martha Stewart, the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, last week ended a five-month prison term for lying to regulators about her sale of ImClone stock and is now under five months of house arrest. She also faces S.E.C. charges.

More than three years later, the S.E.C. has not been able to come up with a case against Martha? Gee, wonder why that is?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Remembrances of Softball Games Past

The FLUBA Committee on Lingering Effects of Prohibition notes this Seattle PI story on places where everybody knows your name:

The regular crew at the Coppergate Tavern in Ballard knows the world is changing around them. That's why they hunker here with cold schooners of Bud. The tavern, nearly 60 years old, is not simply a link to Seattle's past; it's a link to their own.

"Out with the old and in with the new, put that in your story," Benny Nelson, 69, said to his interviewer. "In here you don't see people talking on cell phones, reading stuff. It's a place to B.S. It's what a tavern is supposed to be. Or what they used to be."

That's the operative point. Taverns, legally defined as bars that sell only beer and wine, are disappearing faster from Seattle than inexpensive homes. Significant changes in liquor laws have prompted many to become full bars.

.... The "tied house" laws that Washington bar owners have called both onerous and antiquated unintentionally created a tavern culture that marked Washington as different from much of the modern West.

Without hard liquor, many taverns serving beer and wine evolved into neighborhood dens -- smaller, quieter, slower. But the easy pace has applied to the revenue too, especially in the past five years as cocktail culture has pushed beer aside. State liquor laws have changed to reflect that, substantially lowering the requirements to serve hard liquor, including the requirement for a fully operating kitchen.

...."Certainly, it was something that set us apart from a lot of other places," said Walt Crowley, who tracks the history of some local taverns on his Web site,

"The way the liquor laws were established coming out of Prohibition, it created a unique institution that was more neighborhood-oriented than your traditional hard liquor bar. I think this is going to decline as liquor laws are liberalized."

....The state's modern liquor laws date back to the 1934 Steel Act, the post-Prohibition law to regulate the sales and marketing of beer, wine and spirits. Originally, the law was written to discourage the rapid spread of hard liquor. Taverns that sold only beer and wine were deemed less of a social threat.

To sell hard liquor under a Class H license, an establishment also had to serve a full menu of meals during the same hours they sold booze.

....the state originally required 70 percent of the sales to come from food and 30 percent from booze. Taverns had no food requirements and so were much cheaper to establish and run.

....In the early 1990s, the board reversed it from the original standard, so the sales requirement became 70 percent booze and 30 percent food.

....Over the past three years, the standards relaxed again. The board dropped the requirement for a full kitchen, the lengthy menu-item requirement and the rules about hours of food service. Today, in most cases, a microwave oven and some frozen entrees will suffice.

....But at the Coppergate....Co-owner Pam Young said she's not going to change. Her parents drank beer in the corner tavern on 24th Street Northwest after it opened in 1946.

"We don't want to be a cocktail lounge," she said from behind the bar. "I have no desire to switch. Everybody knows each other. I want to keep it as a place to stop in and have a beer. Even if I'm the last one."

This is music to the ears of regular customer Jim Dwyer. Sitting next to Benny (who says he plans to die on his barstool), Dwyer didn't expect Seattle to change so much in so many ways. The condos and high-tech are one thing. But this -- what does a tavern drinker do?

"Honestly, I never thought I'd see a tavern in Ballard that served mixed drinks in my lifetime," he said before draining his glass. "So I guess we'll just stay here."

FLUBA members with memories of home runs hit for Coppergate's entry in the Magnolia Softball League, tip their glasses: Here's looking at you, kid.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cry For Thee, Argentina

Those who are blithely assuming that the American economy will be able to raise taxes to redeem the bonds held by the Social Security Trust Fund (not to mention to come up with the money for Medicare's promises) ought to ponder the dynamic described in this McKinsey Quarterly report:

Argentina’s residential-construction sector is a prime example of the way tax evasion and regulatory barriers distort competition and hinder productivity. As a rule, it is far more cost-effective to build large-scale housing developments consisting of standard homes than to build the same number of customized homes, because the large-scale developer achieves economies of scale. Thus in a normal housing market, only affluent families can afford to buy plots of land and build customized houses. It is therefore a startling anomaly that some 85 percent of single-family homes in Argentina—not a particularly prosperous country—are custom-built. By stark contrast, in the far wealthier United States, 75 percent of all single-family homes are built in large-scale developments of 20 or more units.

A market distortion is clearly at work: in Argentina, a unique house costs no more to build than a standard one, though the labor productivity of a house in a large-scale development is double that of a single-plot house. Why are the normal laws of the market reversed? The answer is that by evading the value-added tax, or VAT (21 percent on materials and 10.5 percent on construction work), and labor taxes (around 20 percent on top of wages), small firms developing single-plot houses can compete equally with—or even outgun—large-scale developers who pay taxes.

The theoretical cost of building an average single-plot home in Argentina breaks down as follows: land, 14 percent; general-contractor profit and administrative expenses, 17 percent; project management, 3 percent; materials, 29 percent; labor and labor taxes, 22 percent; and other taxes such as VAT, gross-income taxes, and stamp taxes, 15 percent. In reality, however, smaller companies, which are harder for the tax authorities to track, can usually cut the overall cost to the tune of some 18 percent by evading their VAT, gross-income taxes, and stamp taxes completely and by paying, on average, no more than 50 percent of the labor taxes they owe. Small build-ing firms typically declare only the proportion of their wage bill that they would pay under the required minimum wage. The rest they pay, in cash, under the table.

By spreading the architect’s fee over a large number of houses, purchasing materials in bulk, and using equipment capacity more efficiently, the big developers can cut their overall costs by 19 percent. But their costs are only about equal to those of single-plot builders when tax evasion is taken into account....

The same thing happens in the Argentine food processing industry, as small firms and individuals find ways to evade onerous taxes.

Similarly, in the United States, since roughly the end of World War II, under a variety of tax codes (with top marginal rates as high as 90% and as low as 28%) the Federal government has taken in only about 18-1/2% of GDP in revenues.

There is a limit to what Government can collect, and that bodes ill for the promises the government has been making to Baby Boomer potential retirees. No matter how many I.O.Mes it writes to itself.

The Skinny on Fat

Writing in the Summer 2004 Issue of The Public Interest, economists Inas Rashad and Michael Grossman explain, The Economics of Obesity:

According to our research, as much as two-thirds of the increase in adult obesity since 1980 can be explained by the rapid growth in the per capita number of fast-food restaurants and full-service restaurants, especially the former. .... Food served in these restaurants has extremely high caloric density, and almost certainly has contributed to obesity. .... Indications point to restaurant growth as the primary cause of increased obesity after 1980.

What caused this explosive restaurant growth? The principal driver seems to have been the increases in rates of labor force participation by women. As nonwork time for women became increasingly scarce and valuable over the last few decades, time devoted to at-home meal preparation decreased. Families began eating out more often. Indeed, the economists Patricia M. Anderson, Kristin F. Butcher, and Phillip B. Levine find that the rise in average hours worked by mothers can account for as much as one-third of the growth in obesity among children in certain families. In part, the rise in obesity seems to have been an unintended consequence of encouraging women to become more active in the workforce.

We have also unmasked a second and perhaps more surprising culprit in the alarming rise in obesity: the crackdown on smoking via tax increases. Higher cigarette taxes and higher cigarette prices have caused more smokers to quit — but these smokers seem to have begun eating more as a result. According to our research, each 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes produces a 2 percent increase in the number of obese people, other things being equal.

.... The inflation-adjusted price of cigarettes has risen by approximately 164 percent since 1980. This large growth resulted in part from four federal excise tax hikes, a number of state tax hikes, and the settlement of the state lawsuits filed against cigarette manufacturers to recover Medicaid funds spent treating diseases related to smoking. The rise in the real price of cigarettes is the second-most important factor next to the growth in restaurants in the trend in the post-1980 obesity trend. We estimate that it accounts for almost 20 percent of the growth in obesity.

Our findings underscore the idea that social action can have unintended consequences: Oftentimes, there is a tradeoff involved in achieving goals that society favors, such as increased food production, more workforce participation by women, and fewer smokers. Lower real food prices have significantly increased living standards. Expanded labor market opportunities for women have increased families’ command of real resources and increased equality of opportunity.

Cigarette smoking is still the largest cause of premature death among Americans; pushing smokers to quit will have obvious health benefits. But our results and those of other economists also suggest that these efforts contribute to the rising prevalence of obesity. Whether public policies should be pursued that offset this ignored consequence of previous public policy to discourage smoking, increase market opportunities, and make cheaper food available depends on the costs and benefits of these policies.