Friday, December 31, 2004

Tsunami Fever, Catch It

Especially if you live on the Pacific coast in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, or Alaska. It seems the Pacific Northwest is better prepared for a tidal wave that hits once every 300 to 500 years:

At 9 p.m. Jan. 26, 1700, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and accompanying tsunami hit the coast of Oregon. The size of the event and the kind of damage it caused, both near and far, were similar to that caused by Sunday's earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra coast.

...Knowledge about the 1700 earthquake and tsunami has grown since its existence first was proposed in the early 1980s. ....

Perhaps most insightful are traditional Native American oral records. For example: "They had practically no way or time to try to save themselves. ... It was at nighttime that the land shook. ... I think a big wave smashed into the beach. The Pachena Bay people were lost, ... but they who lived at `House-Up-Against-Hill' the wave did not reach because they were on high ground. ... Because of that, they came out alive. They did not drift out to sea with the others."

The quotations are from ``The Tsunami at Anaqtl'a or `Pachena Bay,' '' related in 1964 by Louis Clamhouse and cited by Ian Hutchinson and Alan McMillan (1997).


...than to count ballots in a gubernatorial election that is a somewhat more regular occurrence:

As has been the case since Election Day, much of the attention is focused on King County. Republicans are asking questions about why the county's list of registered voters who cast valid ballots in the election shows about 3,500 fewer people than the total number of votes certified in the race.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

So, Does John Ashcroft Like Barbecue?

No permit until they get the pigs in a blanket?

SNOHOMISH [Wash.]— A mural of pink pigs painted on the side of a barbecue restaurant is apparently too spicy for officials in this city's historic district.

The city has denied a permit to Janelle and Steve Carpenter, owners of the BBQ Shack, and the painting has remained veiled behind a white tarp since the restaurant opened last week.

The mural features five pink pigs on a white concrete wall, unwilling participants in meal preparation. One is ready to be grilled as another attempts escape in a hot air balloon. The remaining three appear to be to enticing drivers to stop.

....Janelle Carpenter said, the City Council told her she wouldn't need a permit to paint the exterior of the 600-square-foot building.

So began the $3,500 painting of unclothed pigs, as well as one of a black 1957 Chevrolet convertible - the town is known for its classic car shows.

But as the painting's neared completion, Carpenter said she was told that while painting a building is fine, pigs and other objects are considered murals and require a permit.

She said the city's Design Review Board, which makes recommendations about exterior changes to buildings in the district, objected to the painting because it doesn't fit the district's landscape and because naked pigs might lead to paintings of naked people.

...."How offensive can a pig be?" said Tom Grissett of Snohomish, a customer eating barbecue pork at the diner on yesterday. "When was the last time you saw pigs with clothes on?"

We're Not Half the State Ukraine Is

Or so the Seattle Times seems to think:

Republican candidate Dino Rossi's call for a new election in the incredibly close Washington governor's race is the wrong plan for our state.

An election can be contested in the courts or perhaps the Legislature, but the law does not specifically provide for a new election.

What the Times is conveniently omitting is that state law doesn't prohibit a new election either. Nor that there are state laws about how re-counts are to be conducted that were clearly violated in King County (and probably in other counties, too), and that there are serious discrepancies in various reports of how many votes were cast.

So, what are the biggest reasons the Times believes weigh against a new election?

Some who voted in November have died; others have come of voting age, making it a different electorate. If the election were held, say, in February, as former Secretary of State Ralph Munro suggested, turnout could be dramatically different.

My, my.

W's Next Gig?

From the White House to CEO of the Highways? That might be a productive use of a sixty-two year old's Harvard MBA, if the ayes of Texas lead to Alaska-sized highways.

In what sounds like another tall tale told by a Texan, the Lone Star State has embarked on an audacious project to build superhighways so big and so complex that they would make the interstates of today look like cow paths.

The Trans-Texas Corridor project, as envisioned by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, would be a 4,000-mile transportation network costing $175 billion over 50 years, financed mostly if not entirely with private money. Builders would charge tolls.

But these would not be mere highways. Proving anew that everything's big in Texas, they would be megahighways — corridors up to one-quarter mile wide, consisting of as many as six lanes for cars and four for trucks, plus railroad tracks, oil and gas pipelines, water and other utility lines, even broadband transmission cables.

Posted by Hello

Everything You Wanted To Know, But Were Afraid To Ask...

About accrual accounting. The scrivener tutors the Axis of Ostrich:

....the Treasury has just published on its web site, albeit with very little publicity, the 2004 Financial Report of the United States Government. And in it we find a very different number for the amount of increase of the government's net liabilities during 2004.This number is $11.087 trillion ... with a "t". And, yes, that's just for one year.

So two numbers are published by the Treasury for the same thing -- the increase in the government's net liabilities during 2004 -- with a difference between them of $10.7 trillion. How can this be?

The difference is that of governmental accounting.The government computes its $412 billion deficit number using cash-basis accounting.

....Accrual-basis accounting recognizes the full current value of all future income that one obtains a legal right to receive, and of all liabilities one becomes legally obligated to pay. So if one receives $1,000 cash in exchange for committing to pay $10,000 in the future, a $9,000 net cost is recognized, rather than $1,000 of income.

As noted, the government requires that GAAP rules be used by all public corporations and all but the very smallest of other entities that have inventories or accruals -- except itself. The government reserves for itself the right to use cash basis accounting.

....But what about the government's accruals? What about the currently accrued future cost of the already promised benefits of Medicare, Social Security, military pensions, government employee pensions, and so on, all measured net against the accrued value of the future income taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, and so on that have been established to pay them?

Well, for the last few years, as per a legal requirement pushed through Congress by fiscal reformers, the Treasury has published within its financial report, for informational purposes, and annual Asset and Liability Statement for the government that does follow GAAP rules, using accrual accounting.

And this statement shows the government's net liability increasing in 2004 by $11.087 trillion -- a good 27 times more than the official budget deficit.

Looking at the "Overall Perspective" summary on page 11 (.pdf) we can see what this increase is composed of. The significant items:

Medicare: $9.609 trillion

Social Security: $0.812 trillion

In other words, Medicare and Social Security are almost the entire problem.

Meaning, those promises will not be met.

No matter how much wailing and gnashing of teeth there is about the sacred 'trust fund'.

No matter how often the ostriches lift their heads out of the sand to say, 'What, me worry?'

Mulligans For Me, But Not For Thee

Democrat Governor-Enhanced-Elect Christine Gregoire, says, now that she's gotten her ball in the fairway--on her third shot--Republican Dino Rossi must pick up his:

In a letter to Gregoire, Rossi said controversies surrounding their record-close election have left voter confidence badly shaken. He also said if she agreed to a revote, it would head off what could be months of bitter legal fighting that might ensue if he and the Republican Party decide to contest the latest of three ballot counts.

"Quite frankly, folks, this election has been a total mess," Rossi said last night, before reading his letter aloud during a press conference in Bellevue.

Whoever is sworn in as the next governor would be "shrouded in suspicion," Rossi said in his letter. He urged Gregoire to join him in asking the Legislature to call for a new election.

"A revote would be the best solution for the people of our state and would give us a legitimate governorship," he said.

Gregoire's spokesman Morton Brilliant said she would not be joining Rossi's call. "This ain't golf," he said. "No mulligans allowed here, folks."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Searching for Voltaire II

Auditions have been extended:

Does anyone think that if the wave had been in the Atlantic, heading toward Europe, the warnings would have failed to reach the countries at risk?

Martin Cohen
St.-Julien-sur-Sarthe, France


... "one of the few places in the Indian Ocean that got the message of the quake was Diego Garcia, a speck of an island with a United States Navy base." Contacting "appropriate people in Sri Lanka or India was harder."

I can imagine how loud the reaction would be if more than 40,000 Americans had died because of the lack of an early warning system. The fact is, the United States and other countries in the West regard the lives of those in developing countries as cheap and expendable.

While globalization is regarded as something that must be exported, there is silence with respect to the export of precious information that would save lives in other parts of the world.

Sujatha Byravan
Cambridge, Mass


It's easy for George W. Bush to express sorrow and to send condolences and even some aid for the Indian Ocean tsunami devastation, since he appears to bear no culpability, as he does in other situations in other parts of the world.

But the next time there is a severe offshore earthquake and resulting tsunami, the sea level will be just a little bit higher, and the water and destruction will go a bit further inland and kill even more people. And for that, he will bear some culpability for not even wanting to consider global warming, much less do anything about it as the leader of the country most responsible for man-made warming and ice-cap melting.

Pierre E. Biscaye
Palisades, N.Y., Dec. 27, 2004
The writer is a special research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The Academy's Committee on Absolutely Clueless, Unintended Humor, reports that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

We Guess This News Wasn't Fit To Print

Odd that the newspaper of record doesn't have a word about former Clinton Administration official Franklin Raines' golden parachute, but London's Telegraph does:

Franklin Raines, who resigned as chief executive of Fannie Mae last week after the mortgage finance provider admitted to four years of extensive accounting abuse, will be paid $600,000 for the next six months and then receive an annual pension of $1.37m for the rest of his life.

....Mr Raines is also in line to leave with $5.8m in stock options and $8.7m in deferred compensation and medical and dental insurance to be paid through to 2020.

Mr Raines, who has left the company but remains on the payroll for the next six months, could still collect a bonus for 2004. Fannie Mae said it was considering the impact of its pending financial statement, which could be in the order of $9billion, on executive bonuses. The restatement could grow once auditors begin a fresh investigation of the company's books.

Tim Howard, chief finance officer, resigned alongside Mr Raines and the auditors KPMG were sacked. Last year, Mr Raines made $20m in salary and bonuses. Some lawmakers have suggested he return part of the money.

In Washington State's Governor's Race, They Do

In Henry IV, Shakespeare has this exchange:

GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

Apparently the King County elections department has the conjurers' art down pat (from Sound Politics):

King County is still unable to provide conclusive information to validate their vote count.

The voter file, which I obtained earlier today, contains the names of only 895,660 voters recorded as voting on Nov. 2, a significant discrepancy from its hand recount certified total of 899,199.

The Elections Office informed me that they're still doing "quality control" and adding in the names of some of the absentee voters. Even that wouldn't explain the entire discrepancy, as there appear to be discrepancies with the polling place and provisional vote counts as well. I've asked the Elections Office for further clarification and will convey their explanation as soon as I recieve one.

Also, they have not yet released the full precinct canvass for the manual recount, as they did for the first count and the machine recount.

Democrat Christine Gregoire has a mere 130 vote lead over Republican Dino Rossi after the hand recount.

How Do They Know Who's an 'X' and Who's an 'O'?

Gonzaga's men's basketball team has lost once this season. To undefeated and #1 ranked Illinois, in the John Wooden Classic in Indiana.

They have provided the only defeats of the season for the #16 Washington Huskies and #9 Georgia Tech. Last night, the Zags--playing with their best player (Ronny Turiaf) limited to 18 minutes due to two sprained ankles--defeated #3 Oklahoma State, in Oklahoma.

Where is Gonzaga rated in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll (we repeat, coaches' poll), you ask?

21. Gonzaga

White Elephants Are Better Given Than Received

Somewhat surprisingly, even the newspaper columnists are beginning to catch on:

Eleven years ago, after the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to rebuild the city's arena for the [NBA] Sonics, city officials high-fived with the team's brass in the hallway.

They said it was a public-private partnership in which everyone wins: the pro-basketball team, the taxpayers, the economy, Seattle sports fans.

One watchdog named Jordan Brower didn't buy it. People called him a crank.

He predicted Sonics' revenue wouldn't cover the debt for the $74 million renovation. Taxpayers would have to clean up the mess, he groused.

Guess who turned out to be right: the high-fiving officials or the crank?

I bring this up because in January some of these same high-fiving officials will ask the state for up to $240 million to bail out the Sonics and the city.

About $180 million is to rebuild the arena — again. It's only 9 years old, yet the team says it's too small.

The rest is to pay off the $58 million debt left from that "win-win" 1994 deal. As predicted, Sonics' revenues have fallen well short of covering the payments, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.

....instead of owing $58 million, we'd be on the hook for $240 million. That's on top of what we already owe for Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the Kingdome. That's right — they're asking for more, and we aren't even done paying for a stadium we blew up in 2000.

....What if we gave the city-owned KeyArena to the Sonics? (We'd keep the land.) They could remodel it at their expense. The Sonics would get all revenue from sports, concerts and other events, instead of sending a cut to the city.

With this one-time gift the city could get out of the arena and sports businesses, maybe forever.

You Should Know You're a Dumbassy, When...

(but they never do)...You play with statistics to argue Iraq is another Vietnam:

Battlefield deaths in Iraq are considerably lower than they were in Vietnam, but that's partly because recent medical improvements allow more soldiers with severe wounds to survive, and partly because there are fewer total soldiers in Iraq than in Vietnam. When you control for both these variables, how does Iraq compare?

There are fewer total soldiers in Iraq precisely because it is not another Vietnam. To "control for [that] variable" is either (if the person is smart enough, and technically qualified) an exercise in sophistry, or (and much more likely) a betrayal of your total ignorance of valid logical processes.

To wit, you're worthy of the award only given for remarks so dumb, so embarrassingly foolish, that a normal person--when it dawned on him what he had said--would apply for acceptance at the closest Trappist monastery.

The Academy nominates, for a Dumbassy--aka; a Drummie--in the category:

"Yes, if you ignore that there's no jungle to hide in, no superpower with nuclear weapons supplying the guerillas with arms, no safe haven in adjoining countries, no North Iraqi Regulars to invade and conquer, that American soldiers are not being killed in the hundreds per week, every week, no anti-aircraft missiles shooting down American fliers, no POW camps visited by silicone-brained Hollywood actresses, no John Kerry collaborating with Al Qaeda leaders in Paris to undermine American resolve, no draftees serving in the American military, no college students planning to meet their military obligations when their student deferments run out, no anti-war movement on the homefront (beyond a handful of dimwitted bloggers and movie stars), and that there is going to be an election for the first time ever in about a month, then yes, you could say Iraq is just like Vietnam":

The Sage of the Washington Monthly, the Political Animal himself, Kevin Drum.

Can't Get No Satisfaction

North Carolina State's Craig Newmark links to an attempt by "leading scholars to identify ten institutions that have adapted, endured and prevailed" in five categories. Concluding that the most noteworthy were:

Academic Institutions — Dartmouth College; Oxford University

Arts and Entertainment — The Modern Olympic Games; the Rolling Stones

Business and Commerce — General Electric; Sony

Government Institutions — American Constitution; International Telecommunication Union

Nonprofit Organizations — The Salvation Army; the Rockefeller Foundation

Prompting another institution that has adapted, endured and prevailed over the years, to announce another FLUBA Dumbassy nomination--in the category; 'Oh...You Mean Real Long Haired Music'--for Booz Allen's leading scholars. Who presumably have not heard of (to pull a few off the tops of our heads):

Academic Institutions: University of Bologna (1158), The Sorbonne (1257)

Arts and Entertainment: The (British) Open (1860), Teatro alla Scala (1778),
The Vienna Philharmonic (1842), Walt Disney (1937)

Business and Commerce: Beretta (1526), Pilsner Urquell (King Wenceslas-1300s), Sumitomo (1630)

Government Institutions: The Vatican, The British Monarchy (1066?)

Nonprofit Organizations: The Roman Catholic Church (380), International Red Cross (1863)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Our Man In Baghdad

In another blow to the prestige of the comments section of Semi-Daily Journal, Osama bin Laden rings in the New Year by announcing: "Did too have a connection with Iraq":

CAIRO, Dec. 27 - An audiotape message said to be made by the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden called for Muslims to boycott elections there next month and endorsed the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as Mr. bin Laden's deputy in Iraq.

The tape, broadcast Monday by the Arab news network Al Jazeera, condemned the American-backed Iraqi elections for a constitutional assembly, scheduled for Jan. 30, saying, "In the balance of Islam, this constitution is infidel and therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels."

The voice on the tape also described Mr. Zarqawi as the "emir," or prince, of Al Qaeda in Iraq....

Searching for Voltaire

The earthquake and tidal wave that destroyed Lisbon in 1755 was the inspiration for the satirical Candide. The New York Times opens auditions:

In natural disasters of all kinds, it's always the poor and marginalized who suffer the most. The reason is not far to seek: the indifference of the world's powerful to the vulnerabilities of the poor.

No one can prevent such cataclysmic natural events. But we can invest in measures that mitigate their effects on the victims, if we care.
T. Michael McNulty


It was the lingering spirit of Christmas that left me wondering whether the earthquake and tsunami south of Asia could have been an opportunity to fight terrorism in a different way.

If we weren't so wrapped up in war and the military pursuit of peace, we could afford an organized force that is prepared to "invade" devastated areas on a moment's notice to help with recovery.

If we were as prepared to extend good will as we are to wage war, we'd have a lot more friends in the world and a lot fewer enemies. That's something our gargantuan military power has failed to achieve.

Glenn Cheney

Monday, December 27, 2004

Those Who Know It Best...

Support George W. Bush in his conduct of the war:

Despite a year of ferocious combat, mounting casualties and frequent deployments, support for the war in Iraq remains very high among the active-duty military, according to a Military Times Poll.

Sixty-three percent of respondents approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, and 60% remain convinced it is a war worth fighting. Support for the war is even greater among those who have served longest in the combat zone: Two-thirds of combat vets say the war is worth fighting.

....Among the poll's other findings:

•75% oppose a military draft.
•60% blame Congress for the shortage of body armor in the combat zone.
•12% say civilian Pentagon policymakers should be held accountable for abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

'Bah Humbug'...It Was In The Genes

Charles Dickens' inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge turns out to have been a grandnephew of Adam Smith, who taught the world why diamonds sell for more than water:

Dickens was in the capital to deliver a lecture to an audience of Edinburgh notables. He was wandering the city, killing time before the talk, when he visited the Canongate Kirk graveyard.

There, as revealed by his diaries, he saw a memorial slab which read: "Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie - meal man". The description referred to his main trade as a corn merchant. However, the author mistakenly translated it as "mean man".

Though he was shocked by the description, it gave him food for thought and two years later, art imitated life - or so the author believed. When A Christmas Carol , one of Dickens’ finest works, was published in 1843, it featured Ebenezer Scrooge, a "mean man" erroneously based on Ebenezer Scroggie.

Dickens always believed his creation was rooted in truth. Later, he wrote that while Scots had a reputation for frugality, they were not mean. It must have "shrivelled" Scroggie’s soul, said Dickens, to carry "such a terrible thing to eternity".

But, now, appropriately, on the eve of Christmas, Scroggie’s reputation is restored. Peter Clark, a political economist and former Conservative ministerial aide who has researched the episode, said:

"I’ve always thought A Christmas Carol was splendid, a story of redemption, but Scrooge was based on Scroggie, who could not have been more different.

"Mere chance associated him with Dickens’ creation."

....Scroggie was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife; his mother was the niece of Adam Smith, the 18th century political economist and philosopher. Mr Clark added:

"Scroggie was not mean-spirited, but he did attract the admonition of the Church of Scotland by having a child out of wedlock to a servant in 1830. It is alleged he ‘ravished’ her upon a gravestone. Still, what else was there to do in Edinburgh in 1830?"

Perhaps Scroggie’s most delightful claim to fame was the result of his dramatically halting proceedings at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, when he "goosed" the Countess of Mansfield during a particularly earnest debate.

"It fairly dampened the proceedings," said Mr Clark.

You Can Tell a Person's Breeding...

Apparently, George Bernard Shaw got it wrong. It's not how they conduct themselves in an argument, but in a robbery:

Zagreb - Police identified and eventually detained a man who robbed dozens of shops and swimming pools in the Croatian capital thanks to his good manners and kindness towards his victims, a spokesperson said on Wednesday."

He had a unique way of operating which included a very kind behaviour towards his victims," Zagreb police spokesperson Gordana Vulama said.

The 25-year-old, whose identity was not revealed, regularly explained to the employees of the premises he was looting that the robbery was "nothing personal", she said.

"Please take some money as well," "You are so kind" and "This is just a teeny-weeny robbery," were just a few of the phrases he used, Vulama said.

After an investigation in criminal circles, informers quickly led police to the unusually well-mannered robber, a drug addict who politely confessed to the string of burglaries.

Woodsman, Rent That Tree

Thar's gold in that thar liberal guilt, if you live in Portland, Oregon or Alabama's Gulf Coast:

The Original Living Christmas Tree Company founded by John Fogel, 39, has rented out 419 Christmas trees this holiday season, starting at $55 for a 7-foot Douglas fir.

The trees are taken out of the ground, roots and all, put into pots, and delivered to families in the Portland area. Soon after New Year's, Fogel and his crew pick up the trees and deliver them to parks, school districts and other groups who pay around $10 to have the trees planted on their property.

"It seems like to cut a tree and put it in your house and have it dry out and then just toss it away is such a shame. This way, I know it will be replanted - no guilt,'' said the 61-year-old [Pat] de Garmo, a retired nurse....

While Fogel says he could grow beyond his current orders, he maintains a strict policy of accepting no more orders than he can find buyers willing to plant the trees come January.

"Just the idea of cutting all of these trees - these living things for decorations - kind of appalls me,'' said 44-year-old Glen Jacobs, a high school theater teacher in Portland, who along with his family has turned renting a tree into a yearly tradition.

While tree-rental businesses appear to be a rarity, buying live Christmas trees that have been placed in pots is less so.

Steve Mannhard is a board member of the National Christmas Tree Association. About a decade ago customers began showing up with shovels at his sprawling Christmas tree farm on Alabama's Gulf Coast.

"People started trying to dig the trees out of the ground. I asked them: `Why are you doing that?' They said, `Because I want it to live,' '' said Mannhard, 57, who began offering potted trees in addition to cut ones at Fish River Trees, near Summerdale, Ala., in 1992.

Last year, out of a total of nearly 5,000 trees he sold, about 1,000 were potted, said Mannhard - a fact he says underscores the popularity of the living tree concept.

"Trees and human beings have a close relationship - and some people are more sensitive to that,'' he said.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Ho Ho Ho, You Say?

The FLUBA tears away the curtain and exposes the plight of the Santa industry:

He wishes the holiday season would end already. His back aches, his red suit feels like a spacesuit, his cheeks have gone numb from smiling for 12 hours — and still the children keep coming and coming, like ants at a picnic.

"When the last gig of the season is 'finito,' " said Victor Nevada, 61, a professional Santa Claus in Calgary, Alberta, "I have a bottle of rye whiskey and some Diet Coke by the bed, and a couple of novels, and I'll phone in for pizza, and I won't get out of bed for two days, and if I don't see another child again till next Christmas — that's OK with me."

....being Santa has changed dramatically, say Santas across the United States and Canada. More taxing, more complicated, the job now comes with grueling hours and hidden pressures.

....there's the competition. Top Santas can earn $60,000 a season working the ritziest malls, said Nevada, who charges $500 an hour for his appearances. With so much money on the line, the need to be realistic, to be relevant, to be the best, is intense — and competition among malls is that much stiffer. Every mall wants to say it has the real Santa under contract, to attract the maximum number of shoppers.

....40,000 men in North America are working the same side of Santa Street, vying for the same malls, parades, private parties and corporate events. And more are coming. As baby boomers age...they will seek ways to augment their retirement income....

[Perhaps Kevin Drum is right after all, there is no Social Security crisis!]

Before getting hired by a major mall or photo company, Santas typically must undergo stringent background checks and fingerprinting. After getting hired, they must carry insurance.

"When I started doing this years ago, I never even thought about liability," Nevada said. "But Santas have a pretty good chance of getting sued. You got the obvious things: You drop a child on its head. Then there's Santa saying the wrong thing to a child — that can be a problem. I had a Santa working for me a couple years ago; he had a girl on his knee and he commented, 'You have nice eyes and nice hair.' She claimed sexual harassment."

....Ed Butchart, 69, a Santa for 17 years in Stone Mountain, Ga., .... had to shell out recently for a pricey pair of steel-toed black boots, "because of kids jumping off my lap and killing me. ... I don't wear a cup or nothing, but it's all in how you sit on your throne. That kid can really hurt you bad."

A chat room called Santas Across the Globe is beset by Santas worried about things such as flu shots, head lice, the most effective antibacterial hand soaps, the pros and cons of fake beards made from yak hair — and "inappropriate offers while touring seniors centers." There is also some troubled discussion of how to respond to certain photographers who want to pose Santa in unsavory positions and settings, sans red suit.

When a Santa feels put upon or anxious, he often shows it in the same ways civilians do. Nevada has one friend, an immensely popular Santa at a large mall, who recently completed counseling for job-related depression.

"I'll get calls from people wanting to engage my services," Nevada said, "and I always ask, 'Would I be right in thinking you had a Santa at your event last year? I'm curious why that Santa isn't there this year.' And they'll say, 'Oh, the guy showed up drunk.' That's common."

Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 23, 2004


We at the Academy Love It When A Plan Comes Together:

HAMPTON - A parent of a Hampton Academy Junior High School student says the principal of the school told his son to leave the school’s holiday dance on Friday night because the boy was dressed in a Santa Claus costume, which was politically incorrect.

...."I went to the dance with my friend," said Bryan Lafond, who is in seventh grade. "He had an elf hat on and we thought it was pretty cool. Everyone loved the suit, but when I went by the principal, he asked why I was dressed like that."

Principal Fred Muscara said he told the boy he couldn’t get into the dance because he was wearing the costume.

"It was a holiday party," said Muscara. "It was not a Christmas party. There is a separation of church and state. We have a lot of students that go to Hampton Academy Junior High that have different religions. We have to be sensitive to that."

Just another thin-skinned Northeastern Christian with delusions of persecution of his church of Santa Claus.

You're a Harvard Phd, You've Been an Adviser to the POTUS, You're a Professor at Berkeley, You've Published in First-Rate Scholarly Journals...

And you'd have to have the reading comprehension of a sack of rutabagas to get this:

The Lileks That Stole Christmas

Here is something bizarre. James Lileks thinks that Christmas comes from a store--and that America's stores aren't pulling their weight. There's something very wrong here. There's something very wrong with the soul of somebody who thinks that Christmas is diminished because shopping malls don't put up MERRY CHRISTMAS in six-foot high letters.

From this:

I probably exaggerate a bit, but I spent yesterday at the Mall, and the word "Christmas" was nowhere in sight - except for the signs that detailed the holiday store hours.

They were closed on Christmas, for some peculiar reason.

I don't get it. There's this peculiar fear of Christmas that seems to get stronger every year, as if it's the season that dare not speak its name. Check out the U.S. Postal Service Web site: two different stamps for Kwanzaa. One for Eid, two for Hanukkah. Two for non-sectarian "Holiday," with pictures of Santa, reindeer, ornaments, that sort of thing. One for the Chinese New Year. One for those religiously inclined -- it features a Madonna and Child. But the Web site calls it "Holiday Traditional." The word "Christmas" doesn't appear on the site's description of the stamps. Eid, yes. Hanukkah, yes. Kwanzaa, yes. Christmas? No. It's Holiday Traditional.

....This isn't about shoving Christmas down the maws of the unwilling -- it's simply about admitting that the vast majority are celebrating, well, CHRISTMAS, and there's nothing injurious to the public sphere in celebrating that fact. At this rate we will have to rename July 4th The Holiday of Perceiving Nocturnal Airborne Explosives, lest we offend the few who regard the American Experiment as a grievous stain on human history.

Yes, "Merry Christmas" means different things to different people. To those disinclined to follow the creed it represents, it speaks to the cultural traditions of America; to those who take spiritual succor from the season, it means something else. Bottom line in either case: Be happy.

And if you're about to throw down the paper and fire off an angry letter to the editor, stop: Think.

I wish you a Merry Christmas. I really do. That's all there is to it.

We assume the Professor is still wondering how the idiot Bush could have won the election.

It's Our Old Friend, Anti-Trust Law

North Carolina State economist Craig Newmark links to an article that attempts to explain why popcorn is so expensive at the movies, while remarking that such analyses alway leave him feeling he's missing something.

While the article does supply some interesting details, it clearly misses the underlying reason: The 1948 Supreme Court decision to break up the "monopolistic" movie industry by ordering a divestiture of the actual theaters from their studio owners.

The FLUBA's Entertainment Industry Analyst once had a lengthy discussion of this very issue with a Northwestern University economics doctoral candidate, which is preserved for future generations here (scroll down to the fourth entry by "dave955" to get to the meat of it). From that series of posts we excerpt:

...a brief history of the movie industry: Originally made up of numerous independent entities in three functional areas: Production of the films, distribution channels, and finally the actual showing of the movies in theatres. Just as Coase would have it, these independents were merged into larger firms because of the costs of transacting with each other.

By the 1920’s there were 5 major firms: Paramount, RKO, MGM, Fox, and Warner Bros., producing over 80% of American films. These 5 also owned about 50% of America’s movie theatres--mostly in large cities.

And what theatres they were! Often called Movie Palaces, they had sumptuous lobbies, often with huge chandeliers--that are today collected, selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I am old enough to have been in several, the Paramount still exists in Seattle, as a concert venue.

This was the "studio system", employing thousands (as actors, writers, directors, musicians, composers, cameramen, make-up and wardrobe, sound technicians, electricians etc), and owning huge amounts of real estate, and sets. In addition to the big 5, there were 3 others, Columbia, Universal, and United Artists.

The bulk of the studio profits came at the theatre level. There was little or no profit--due to the enormous costs--in actually making the movies. And it was done, as the old joke has it, on volume. In order to sell 100 million tickets per week, in a country of about 140 million, suffering (in the 30’s) the worst Depression in our history, prices had to be low.

The decline of the studio system--hardly monopolistic with 8 players competing with each other--came late in the 40’s when the Federal government, through several anti-trust suits, had the theatres broken off from the studios. What would happen to any industry that had to divest itself from 50% of its profitable activities?

What happened to Hollywood was that the studios then started making fewer movies, but bigger movies. Large-scale Westerns and Musicals, Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Sound of Music, Cleopatra...Star Wars, Independence Day, Saving Private Ryan. The forced break-up begat the Blockbuster epic.

Market forces drove the small, independent entities that had been producing, distributing and showing the films, into about 8 large firms by the late 1920’s. The 8, pace Coase, could avoid the transaction costs of all the independents dealing with one another (and achieve economies of scale with such things as using warehoused stock footage, re-using sets and props). Thus, efficiency.

Then the government steps in and unscrambles the omelet, and we’re back to something like the original (less efficient) situation. Costs are higher, the public suffers.

Something like 40% of a theatre’s profit came from sales of snacks pre-divestiture. Probably more now.

The revenues from the popcorn have to be drawn indirectly now by the studios through higher rental prices. As late as the 1950s a child could attend a double feature at a theater within walking distance of his home for $ .25. A bag of popcorn was $ .10.

2004 dollars make that $ 1.65 and $ .66. Clearly well below what theaters are charging these days.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Special K For Social Security

Laurence Kotlikoff has a somewhat more ambitious reform plan, which he spelled out last month in the Boston Globe. The Academy paraphrases the highlights of his Personal Security Accounts:

1. Current retirees continue to receive their full retirement benefits, and current workers receive all the retirement benefits now owed to them, but that's it. There is no further accrual of Old Age benefits.

2 Eliminate the employee FICA taxes (7.65 percentage points of the total 15.3 percentage point employer plus employee tax), directing these contributions to individual Personal Security accounts. The employer FICA contribution continues to finance Social Security disability, survivor, and Medicare benefits.

3 A 10 percent federal retail sales tax to replace employee FICA taxes and pay off all accrued Old Age benefits. Over time, the sales tax rate falls as more and more of the accrued benefits are paid off.

4 Invest all Personal Security account balances in a global, market-weighted index fund of stocks, bonds, and real estate securities. With the government guarantying that at retirement Personal Security balances will equal at least the sum of past contributions adjusted for inflation.

Kotlikoff goes on to note that his plan is much less regressive than the current payroll tax system with its cap on wages being at about $90,000. People with lots of money would pay a sales tax on every dollar they spend. Max Sawicky should like that.

It also eliminates individual accounts' transaction and management fees, and market risk (at least to the untrained eye, heh heh) so the Paul Krugmans of the world should sign on.

Taking One For The Team

Martha's Christmas Card for her fans is up:

I am fine, really. I look forward to being home, to getting back to my valuable work, to creating, cooking, and making television. I have had time to think, time to write, time to exercise, time to not eat the bad food....

Which is quite a bit more gracious than what a fictional character in her predicament said:

...there can be no doubt that behind all the actions of this court of justice, that is to say in my case, behind my arrest and today's interrogation, there is a great organization at work. An organization which not only employs corrupt warders, oafish Inspectors, and Examining Magistrates of whom the best that can be said is that they recognize their own limitations, but also has at its disposal a judicial hierarchy of high, indeed of the highest rank, with an indispensable and numerous retinue of servants, clerks, police, and other assistants, perhaps even hangmen, I do not shrink from that word. And the significance of this great organization, gentlemen? It consists in this, that innocent persons are accused of guilt, and senseless proceedings are put in motion against them...

The Trial Franz Kafka

A more scholarly variation on this theme can be had here. From which:

Eventually, Ms. Stewart, MSO, Merrill Lynch, ImClone, Messrs. Waksal and Bacanovic would supply 200,000 pages of paper documents, more than 1.2 million pages of documents in electronic form, the hard drives of 20 computers, nearly a year of telephone records involving 175 different phone numbers, and complete records of electronic mail messages. Ms. Stewart's friends and employees were interviewed, in addition to the day's principal dramatis personae, and all of Ms. Stewart's personal financial records were sifted. What did this massive body of data, gathered presumably at considerable taxpayer expense, disclose? Not much. No phone call from Mr. Waksal to Ms. Stewart. Nothing to establish Ms. Stewart or even Mr. Bacanovic knew anything more than "market" information (as opposed to anything specific concerning the adverse FDA decision). And virtually nothing either way to substantiate or disprove Ms. Stewart's claim to having an informal understanding with Mr. Bacanovic that she would sell her last 4,000 shares of ImClone when its price dropped to $60 (this out of 55,000 shares of ImClone that Ms. Stewart began disposing of, along with the bulk of her "retirement" portfolio, over the previous three months).You might think the office of the U.S. attorney (and their superiors in the Justice Department) would conclude this would be an excellent occasion to exercise their prosecutorial discretion, admit the investigation was a bust, and abandon an unbelievably unpromising insider-trading case. But you would be wrong.

Posted by Hello

Teddy Cheapskate

All is not well in Four Star-land:

The city's top restaurants, as you might expect during the holidays, are jammed. But when it comes to tips, you hear more and more gripes from captains and waiters at a number of the leading eateries, among them the Four Seasons, Nobu, San Domenico, Smith & Wollensky, and the Palm. Almost everyone, including the well-heeled, is said to be cutting back somewhat, and spendthrifts are rapidly becoming a shrinking breed.

All told, the size of restaurant tips is estimated at some restaurants to be down about 7% to 15% from a year ago.

....more than a few bucks if you're a captain serving Donald Trump. That condemnation on the Donald's frugality comes from Romeo De Gobbi, general manager and chief captain at San Domenico, one of the city's leading Northern Italian delights, located on Central Park South, and for 16 years a captain at La Cirque.

Describing the Donald as "one of the cheapest tippers" he can recall among the powerful people he served at La Cirque, Mr. De Gobbi said "I can count on my fingers the times he gave me something extra."

Speaking of tips, Mr. De Gobbi, who has dealt in his career with many of the world's rich and famous, notes that the Donald isn't alone in his frugality. "Some extremely powerful people won't give you a penny," he said. The worst, he noted, are politicians, such as Senator Kennedy, and Europeans with titles.

....One veteran waiter at the Palm, one of the city's top steak houses, figures his tips this year - despite improvement in the stock market and the economy - will be roughly $5,000 to $7,000 less this year than they were a year ago. The business is still there, but not, he said, the tips, which he figures are off maybe 7% to 15% from last year. "Everyone seems to be cutting back," especially, he notes, diners in the fields of publishing, advertising, and television, such as CNN.

Whose taxes have been significantly lowered in the last four years, thanks to blue state voters. Share the wealth!

My Friends, It's a Landslide

After a re-count whittled some 220 votes off Republican candidate for Washington State's Governorship, Dino Rossi's lead, leaving him with a 40 vote lead, Democrat candidate, Christine Gregoire, famously said: "My friends, it's a tie."

This morning, Republicanphobic King County is expected to announce the results of its hand picked-over efforts:

After losing the first two counts in Washington's closest-ever race for governor, it appears Democrat Christine Gregoire has pulled even with — or possibly overtaken — Republican Dino Rossi on the final day of a contentious statewide manual recount.

King County, the last to complete the recount, is not expected to release new vote totals until this afternoon. But state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said last night the party's calculations indicate that, with virtually all of the votes tallied, Gregoire is ahead by eight votes.

"Based on the data we've received, we're confident she's taken the lead," Berendt said.

"Taken", no doubt about it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Another Lump of Coal Dropped On Kinsley's Newcastle

By the scrivener (who, the FLUBA Intelligence Committee has learned, has been reading the Becker-Posner blogging on pre-emptive warfare) as an early Christmas gift:

...for argument's sake let's assume a new full $200 billion is invested in stocks through privatized Social Security accounts each year.The market capitalization of the New York Stock Exchange is $12 trillion. ....

But that's just one stock exchange. The capitalization of the world's major stock exchanges combined exceeds $33 trillion (if anything in this world is globalized the financial markets are, and return isn't going to plunge in one without doing so in others -- and, of course, diversified private investment accounts can invest anywhere).

Moreover, their capitalization is growing at a long-term average rate of about 4%, over a trillion dollars a year.

Now, $200 billion equals less than 0.6% -- six tenths of one percent -- of total stock market capitalization (and that percentage will decline as time passes).

So hurdle-to-jump #1 is:

How is it plausible that increasing demand for stocks by all of six tenths of one percent will produce an historic change in the pricing and yields of stocks? For that matter, how will it produce one big enough for anyone to even notice?

2) The economy is not static, no matter what one assumes.

For argument's sake again, let us assume that some measurable increase in the price of stocks does occur to measurably reduce the yield on them, due to the increase in demand for them arising from new private Social Security accounts.

But we can't stop there! How will businesses react to that?

Well, since they now can sell shares for more -- for a higher price, while paying lower dividend yields on them -- they will sell more shares. This is just the law of supply and demand: increase in price brings an increased quantity of product to market. If you increase the amount that companies can get for selling stock shares, they will be happy to print and sell more.

Lower yields on stock shares make it less expensive for companies to issue new stock to finance new productive investment -- just exactly like lower yields on bonds make it less expensive to issue new bonds for the same purpose. Thus, with higher stock prices and lower yields on them, productive investments that were uneconomic for firms previously become profitable, and so will be financed with new stock issuances. Real economic investment increases.

This is exactly the benefit of increased savings that Kinsley assumes isn't supposed to exist when he makes the assumption: "If the economy doesn't produce more than it otherwise would". Yet with rising stock prices and declining stock yields it is unavoidable that investment increases! Real investment and the real productive economy grow faster.

Hey, this is exactly why economists of all political stripes are constantly saying the US savings rate is too low -- because they want to produce this effect to spur the productive economy!

Moreover, of course, this very increase in the supply of stock shares due to increased demand for them will offset much of that increase in demand for them. And this in turn will act as a contervailing force to check and prevent any dramatic increase in the price of, and decline in the yield on, stocks. This is why the term "equilibrium" is important in economics.

It's Better To Give Than Receive...

A pre-Christmas helping of Whooopass. And The Donald--Luskin--opens a super-sized can and serves it with all the trimmings for The Paul, who had claimed, in his December 17th NY Times column:

Privatization [of Social Security] dissipates a large fraction of workers' contributions on fees to investment companies.

But--just as Dan Rather would have learned, were he still alive--in the brave new world of the blogosphere, there's always someone out there with specific, detailed knowledge to refute someone blowing smoke and mirrors:

I know from personal experience that every word of this is a lie. I used to be an executive of Barclays Global Investors, the firm that has run all the index funds for the [Federal] Thrift Retirement System since the program was first started in the 1980s....

....Our contract came up for re-bid every 2 years, so we were kept plenty busy competing with other index-fund managers to offer the Thrift Retirement System suicidally low management fees. In the last bidding cycle while I was still at Barclays, we beat our major competitor — State Street Global Advisors — by committing to manage an S&P 500 index fund for a fee of 4.5 one-thousandths of 1 percent per year. To put that in perspective, the Vanguard Index 500 fund, renowned for its low fees, charges 18 one-hundredths of 1 percent — which is 40 times more than we charged the federal government.

Then, in the spirit of the season, Luskin makes a list of Krugman assertions regarding Chile's pension system, and fisks it thrice:

First, Krugman is in error to call the charges “management fees.” About a third of the fees are not management fees at all, but rather premiums for life and disability insurance coverage that are an integral benefit of Chile’s system.

Second, fees should be seen in terms of assets under management — not as a fraction of revenues. According to Chilean economist Salvador Valdes-Prieto, fees in Chile as a fraction of assets under management are about sixty-five one-hundredths of 1 percent — lower than the average mutual fund fee in the United States.

....Krugman makes it sound as though the Chilean system has failed, and the government had to bail it out. In fact, a safety net for the neediest workers was an intentional feature of Chile’s reform from day one. So nobody “stepped back in” — they were always “in.” And the use of the safety net is actually minimal....

In fact, the Chilean safety net only applies to workers with 20 or more years of participation in the system. Considering that the system is only 23 years old this year, there just aren’t that many workers who are even eligible.

But, we're not done. Krugman had also misrepresented Maggie Thatcher's reforms of Britain's pension scheme, claiming that an official report described them as leading to "a fool's paradise". Luskin again pounces:

This is a flat-out lie. The report of Britain’s Pension Commission “warns” of nothing of the sort. The expression “fool’s paradise” is in reference to “irrational equity markets and delayed appreciation of life expectancy increases” that allowed many British corporate pension plans to “avoid necessary adjustments until the late 1990s.” It has nothing to do with “Mrs. Thatcher’s privatization” — and it’s hardly a “warning,” considering that it describes “necessary adjustments” as having been made during the previous decade.

And for a stocking stuffer for Krugman's claim that a “Federal Reserve study” demonstrated that privatization was a "bad idea":

Turns out there’s no such thing. There’s only a 2003 symposium paper by Stephen Kay, a researcher at the Atlanta Fed, whom a source close to the situation described to me as “a young leftie economist who is an ideologue against private systems.” Kay’s paper states right on the cover that “The ideas expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System.” It’s deceptive of Krugman to suggest that the paper has the imprimatur of the Federal Reserve System.

The Academy hopes Professor Krugman and family have themselves a merry little Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Now, about that lesson on opportunity costs....

Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-y-Martin wants the world to know that the national pastime of Catalunya has a new record.

The Academy adds its congratulations--while hastening to add that it has it on the highest authority that he is actually a competent economist--for the world's first 10 layer human castle.

But, has Barry Bonds' trainer taken a vacation in Barcelona lately?

Posted by Hello

He Likes Us...He Really Likes Us

The Fly Under the Bridge Academy's Self-Esteem Committee reports a large uptick on the SE-Meter, upon discovering that the Academy is now officially an adviser to a former adviser to the POTUS. As well as being delighted to read in more detail the Dartmouth economist's ideas on congestion, security, and privacy in the age of terror:

After 9/11, we would have to find ways to go about our business with less congestion and less anonymity. Not zero--but definitely less. To become less congested, we would need to spread out our people and assets more evenly in the country and add some redundancies in our networks. Managing this process would be a job primarily for planners and engineers. I don't follow the relevant sectors well enough to know whether there have been changes in residential and commercial planning since 9/11, nor do we yet have good information on whether there has been a change in migration from more to less densely settled parts of the country.

To become less anonymous, we would need to increase our collection of real-time data and develop stringent privacy standards for how it is handled. Managing this process would be a job primarily for those who manage the access points to networks--whether for electronics, communications, transportation, or finance. And, appropriately, many of the most contentious issues would be adjudicated in courts. The Patriot Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the recently passed Intelligence Reform are all attempts, at least in part, to redefine the concept of anonymity.

Some of what we are discovering in this ongoing process is that people differ in how price sensitive they are to changes in the relative prices of congestion and anonymity.

Oh, The Pity Of It...

Sweet are the uses of adversity?

[Katina] Perry was working at the optical lab in Costco's Tukwila [Washington] store when one of her co-workers began to flirt with her. When she didn't respond, his teasing became sexual and persistent until one morning, after their shift ended at 4 a.m., he exposed himself in the parking lot, according to a lawsuit that Perry later filed.

"His shorts were down and he was doing a little dance," Perry says.

She reported the incident, but Costco's investigators concluded that it was her word against the co-worker's. The company reassigned him to the day shift, and gave Perry a transfer to a Federal Way [Washington] store.

When the bully began to show up in Federal Way, glaring at Perry as he waited in the checkout line, Perry's fragile emotional state worsened. She began to call in sick and was sleeping excessively. She felt isolated, lonely and angry that her complaints about the bully weren't being taken as seriously as she'd hoped. Her tormenter was still working.

She filed a sexual-harassment suit against Costco, and after an appeal by Costco, won a $725,000 judgment in October.

Costco believes this was a case of one person's word against another, and that it handled the matter appropriately.

Perhaps Costco should have paid some fees to:

...Gary Namie, a psychologist and founder of The Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute based in Bellingham [Washington].

Where they could have learned the breadth of this epidemic

One in six American workers experiences some sort of bullying on the job, according to a 2000 study by Wayne State University in Michigan.

And while there's little scientific research on workplace bullies and their victims, an informal survey by the bullying institute sheds some light: Most of the bullies are bosses, although women are just as likely to be abusive as men. Eighty-four percent of female bullies target other women.

This is the case with one technology worker in Everett, who requests anonymity for fear of losing her job. She says her boss, a woman in her 50s, is giggly and deferential to men, yet jealous, manipulative and controlling with her female employees.

The boss has copied clients on e-mails scolding her team's performance, set up employees to fail with unrealistic expectations, and meddles for no other reason than to remain in control, the worker says.

....The bully also frequently denies time off, saying that the workload won't allow it. ....

More than 80 percent of those bullied lose their jobs....

Namie, the psychologist and co-author of "The Bully at Work,"....

Even good-natured ribbing can become bullying if it's unwelcome and persistent.

...."It got to the point where anytime I had to go to the front office they would make fun of me," says Christopher Eiden, 33. "The way I walked, the way I talked, the way I dressed."

....Many employers might dismiss Eiden's reaction as overly sensitive, but Namie likens such harassment to water torture.

....Eiden complained to management and received reprimands for his attitude, he says.

He eventually was fired. Eiden couldn't sue under job-discrimination laws because the incidents were not based on his race, gender, ethnicity, age or disability. The only other legal basis is the "intentional infliction of emotional distress," a claim that hasn't been too successful in court.

....Namie and Washington state Rep. Kelli Linville (D-Bellingham) are promoting a bill that would educate employers on the effects of workplace bullying. The Legislature is expected to take up the matter next year.

Other states, including Massachusetts, California, Oklahoma and Oregon, also are considering legislation on bullying.

Is it April 1, already?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Tragedy of Sommelier Network Effects

Have Paul David and Brian Arthur finally an example of path dependence:

Mark me down as not being enthusiastic about the screw top.

Premature choice of an inferior technology a couple of thousand years ago? Or, something else?

The whole reason cork is used is to prevent oxygen from getting to, and spoiling, the wine. Cork was known back in Greece and Rome to have this great property and for having that great 'sealing property'. In medieval times they tried to use wood in their sacks and pottery urns. When they developed glass bottles in the 17th century, wood did not work any more as a stopper. Cork was rediscovered and used ever since.

...."Real" cork can sometimes develop a mold, and lead to 'corking' of the wine. This sad state makes the wine completely undrinkable. To combat this, a number of wineries are turning to synthetic corks that have the wonderful sealing properties of real cork, but do not harbor molds.

Viva la France

Ho Ho Ho, Here's Your Lump of Coal

Voters in Mustang, Oklahoma make a list of who's naughty and not OK, and respond accordingly:

Voters incensed over a school superintendent's decision to remove a Nativity scene from an elementary school Christmas program took out their anger at the ballot box, helping to defeat bond measures worth nearly $11 million.

Tuesday's rejection of the two measures - one of which would have paid for construction of an elementary school - marked the first time in more than a decade voters in this bedroom community Mustang, west of Oklahoma City, denied additional funds for their school district.

The day before the election, dozens of parents at a school board meeting expressed outrage at Supt. Karl Springer's decision to end the school's tradition of closing the Christmas play with a manger scene.

....Tuesday's votes came at a time that Christian conservatives across the United States, energized by the re-election of President George W. Bush, have been working to increase the Christian aspects of Christmas.

Some have criticized or boycotted retailers and other businesses they say are giving up Merry Christmas wishes in favour of Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

That's Not a Crisis. That's a Banana.

It's important to keep these distinctions in the forefront of the debate says Kevin Drum, because now that he's an expert he knows:

As a well-informed citizen, I knew that Social Security was unsustainable, that life expectancies were increasing, that fewer workers would be supporting more retirees in the future, and in general, that the program was facing a demographic timebomb that would cause it to go bankrupt within a couple of decades.

This was back in the mid-90s, and for some reason I took an interest in finding out more. So I wrote off for a copy of the trustees report, read up on tax policy and demographic projections, pored through various analyses, and — to my surprise — learned that the problem was either (a) fairly modest and quite solvable or (b) not a problem at all.

Social Security is going to get more expensive over time, but it's not going to keep getting more expensive forever. Starting in about a decade costs will go up, but then, after about 20 years, they'll flatten out. And the size of the increase, from about 4% of GDP to 6% of GDP, just isn't a crisis. What's more, when you start to study the trustees' projections, you realize that even their "intermediate" projection is pretty conservative. It's quite possible that if we leave the system completely alone it will be fine. And even if it's not, there's plenty of time to make the small tweaks necessary to keep it properly funded.

In other words, after actually studying the issue, I changed my opinion almost 180 degrees. Nothing is going bankrupt, benefits will continue to be paid forever, and future funding problems are both modest in size and not that hard to deal with.

What do those CBO guys know, anyhow.

Posted by Hello

Two Bananas. Still No Crisis.

The Krugman-Sawicky-Iglesias-Drum Axis of Ostrich will want to hide their eyes from this CBO picture, as it clearly demonstrates that there are no minor adjustments that will make Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid solvent. And the banana boat will be here soon.

Posted by Hello

Max Speaks of Re-Arranging Deck Chairs...

On the Titanic...just to keep occupied, mind you, until the rescue ship [perhaps piloted by Cap'n Kinsley (thanks to Craig Newmark)] arrives:

Why in the world would we want to “put aside all the resources today” or any day for that matter to defray a cumulative cost between 2042 and 2080? Do you starve yourself for ten years in order to amass the total price of a house you’re going to buy in ten years? Don’t forget, the charming Maya is part of the “liberal” side of the debate in Washington.

Here’s a novel alternative: compare the gap for any given year to GDP for that year. That’s the actual cash needed to pay full benefits. The Social Security trustees say the cash requirement for 2045, after “bankruptcy,” will be 1.66 percent of GDP. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Less than the Bush tax cuts.

Could the economy stand a sudden growth in taxes of 1.66 percent of GDP?

The Academy is always willing to admire an artist at work, even when the art in question is that of the so-wacky analogy. Would we want to put aside some money starting right now, if we knew with about 99% certainty that we would need to move to a bigger, more expensive house in the future? Especially when we know that 1/3 of the family's work force is planning to retire at that same time?

The FLUBA Committee of Financial Prudence recommends it. Given that Medicare will have beaten SS to the punch, and there will be two retiree programs short of the funds needed to pay for the benefits promised.

And, as for any help arriving from Michael Kinsley:

I won't bore you with my mathematical proof that Social Security privatization can't work. Not quite true: I will bore you with it, but not until next week.

Well, the FLUBA's iceberg watch warns, they're still out there.