Friday, September 29, 2006

Does Bobby Bonds Know About This?

The Power Suit for real:

NEW YORK—Engineers in Japan are perfecting a wearable power suit that amplifies human strength to help lift hospital patients or heavy objects.

Driven by portable batteries, micro air pumps and small body sensors that pick up even the slightest muscle twitch, the Stand-Alone Wearable Power Assist Suit is designed to help nursing home workers lift patients of up to 180 pounds while cutting the amount of strength required in half....

A network of sensors track the wearer's upper arms and legs and waist-muscle activity, then relay the data to an onboard microcomputer that regulates air flow into a series of inflatable cuffs which expand to amplify lifting strength. The suit supports its own weight and carries a battery lifetime of about 30 minutes.

French learn more economics

Today's lesson is outsourcing:

PARIS, Sept 29, 2006 (AFP) - The new chief executive of Airbus was Friday outlining a vast restructuring plan for the ailing aircraft maker that could involve major job cuts and shifting more production out of Europe.

Christian Streiff was presenting the plan in Amsterdam to the board of Airbus's parent company EADS following further delays to the A380 superjumbo project, a key part of the Airbus' battle to keep up with US arch-rival Boeing.

The presentation came a day after Airbus suffered another setback when European and US aviation authorities said the A380's powerful wake meant that other aircraft would have to keep a greater than usual distance between themselves and the giant plane.

This could led to more congestion at airports, and thereby reduce the appeal to airlines of the A380, which can carry 840 people and will be the biggest civilian airliner when it enters service next year.

When Streiff became Airbus's chief executive on July 7, he set himself 100 days to produce a plan to take the company out of the crisis that began in mid-June when EADS shares fell 26 percent after it said A380 deliveries would be delayed by up to six months.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

If you're out in public in France ('now laughing friends deride' that they spend so much on health insurance):

LYON, France, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - Cigarette smoke in restaurants, bars and even hospitals makes France's public spaces among the unhealthiest in the world, according to new research released on Wednesday.

In 42 percent of French public spaces, the air quality ranks as "dangerous" due to high smoke concentrations, said the study conducted by the Lyon-based International Centre for Cancer Research and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Only five countries -- Syria, Romania, Lebanon, Belgium and Singapore -- performed worse, according to the 24-nation study, which looked at bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as train stations, airports and hospitals.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bill Clinton Nose Watch

The former President told Fox News' Chris Wallace that:

OK, now let’s look at all the criticisms: Black Hawk down, Somalia. There is not a living soul in the world who thought that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk down or was paying any attention to it or even knew Al Qaida was a growing concern in October of ‘93.

Well, the Clinton Justice Department thought otherwise, as this 1998 indictment of bin Laden and friends makes clear:

* ...At various times from at least as early as 1989, the defendant USAMA BIN LADEN, and others known and unknown, provided training camps and guesthouses in various areas, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, Somalia and Kenya for the use of al Qaeda and its affiliated groups.

The Fatwah Against American Troops in Somalia

At various times from in or about 1992 until in or about 1993, the defendant USAMA BIN LADEN, working together with members of the fatwah committee of al Qaeda, disseminated fatwahs to other members and associates of al Qaeda that the United States forces stationed in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, should be attacked;

The Establishment of Training Camps for Somalia

In or about late 1992 and 1993, the defendant MUHAMMAD ATEF traveled to Somalia on several occasions for the purpose of determining how best to cause violence to the United States and United Nations military forces stationed there and reported back to the defendant USAMA BIN LADEN and other al Qaeda members at USAMA BIN LADENS's facilities located in Khartoum, the Sudan;

Beginning in or about early spring 1993, al Qaeda members, including the defendants MUHAMMAD ATEF, SAIF AL ADEL, ABDULLAH AHMED ABDULLAH, a/k/a/ "Abu Mohamed el Masry," ... along with "Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri," a co-conspirator not named herein as a defendant, provided military training and assistance to Somali tribes opposed to the United Nations' intervention in Somalia;

The Attacks on the United States Forces in Somalia

On October 3 and 4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, persons who had been trained by al Qaeda (and by trainers trained by al Qaeda) participated in an attack on United States military personnel serving in Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope, which attack resulted in the killing of 18 United States Army personnel....

Remembrances of Things Past

For Communist Chinese tourists, in--where else--France:

Montargis, France - An obscure town in central France better-known for its caramelised almonds has become the unlikely destination for an influx of visitors from China thanks to the long-forgotten role it once played in the formation of the country's ruling Communist Party.

....For it was in the improbable setting of the town's mediaeval streets, gardens and canals that a number of expatriate Chinese intellectuals gathered in the late 1910s and 20s - forming the relationships and fomenting the ideas that would eventually bear fruit in the Communist victory of 1949.

.... Among the first to arrive in 1919 was a group of students from Hunan province - friends of the young Mao Zedong and like him already drawn to Socialist ideas. Many would later enter the Communist Party pantheon: Cai Hesen, Xiang Jinyu, Li Fuchun, Chen Yi, Cai Ciang.

....Chen Yi became an army commander and later foreign minister; Li Fuchun was the party's economic theorist; Li Weihan took part in the Long March and became vice-president of the Senate.

Zhou Enlai, prime minister from 1949 till his death and the most prominent Chinese leader after Mao, visited Montargis several times from his workplace near Paris - and it is now established that Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping also spent time there in 1922.

Add them to the others given aid and comfort in France who later went on to become mass murders. Such as Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh and Cambodia's Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, and Kheu Sampan.

[Update] Thanks to a commenter at Just One Minute, we are reminded that France also made a large contribution to Islamic radicalism:

Sartre's protege, the Algerian writer Frantz Fanon, crystallized the Third World variant of postmodernist revolution in "The Wretched of the Earth" (1961). From there, it entered the world of Middle Eastern radicals. Many of the leaders of the Shiite revolution in Iran that deposed the modernizing shah and brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979 had studied Fanon's brand of Marxism. Ali Shari'at, the Sorbonne-educated Iranian sociologist of religion considered by many the intellectual father of the Shiite revolution, translated "The Wretched of the Earth" and Sartre's "Being and Nothingness into Persian." The Iranian revolution was a synthesis of Islamic fundamentalism and European Third World socialism.

.... MANY ELEMENTS in the ideology of al Qaeda--set forth most clearly in Osama bin Laden's 1996 "Declaration of War Against America"--derive from this same mix. Indeed, in Arab intellectual circles today, bin Laden is already being likened to an earlier icon of Third World revolution who renounced a life of privilege to head for the mountains and fight the American oppressor, Che Guevara. According to Cairo journalist Issandr Elamsani, Arab leftist intellectuals still see the world very much in 1960s terms. "They are all ex-Sorbonne, old Marxists," he says, "who look at everything through a postcolonial prism."

Then they came for the Go Go Dancers

Thailand thinks war should be hell, not fun:

Thailand's coup leaders have banned go-go dancers from performing for troops on the streets of Bangkok, fearing soldiers may be distracted.

A troupe of scantily-clad women danced for soldiers near the Royal Plaza on Monday, as part of entertainments paid for by a local radio station.

But the coup's leaders - who had earlier told soldiers to keep smiling - have now banned all dancing near tanks.

"We have to maintain the seriousness of the coup," a military spokesman said.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Meet my wife; Don Rickles

Otherwise known as the Cherie amour of the British Prime Minister:

Tony Blair’s farewell speech to the Labour conference was overshadowed today by claims that his wife Cherie had launched another attack on Gordon Brown.

As the Prime Minister rose to address delegates for the last time as Labour leader and Prime Minister, Downing Street was trying to limit the damage from the latest Cherie controversy.

Mrs Blair was already in hot water over claims that she had accused Mr Brown of lying in his speech yesterday. But in a further twist it was claimed today that when she walked past the Union of Communication Workers (UCW) stand, as Mr Brown’s speech was echoing round the hall, she had said: “This is all rubbish.”

She was then said to have turned to two people on the stand and urged them not to back Mr Brown for the leadership, saying:“Anyway, you lot should be supporting Alan Johnson”.

Mr Johnson, a former leader of the UCW, is a potential rival to Mr Brown for the leadership when Mr Blair steps down.

For the second day Downing Street flatly denied that Mrs Blair had made the remarks. But they undermined attempts by the Prime Minister and Chancellor to bury their differences in their speeches from the platform.

However, at the start of his speech the Prime Minister made light of the two incidents involving his wife. After thanking Cherie for her support over the years, he said: “I mean, I don’t have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door.”

Have you got Prosecco in a can?

Then Paris is just the gal to let it out, we guess:

(ANSA) - Rome, September 26 - Producers and fans of Italian Prosecco are up in arms over plans by an Austrian company to market the sparkling white wine in a can.

The wine in a can is called Rich Prosecco and American heiress and jetsetter Paris Hilton has been hired to be the product's pitch girl.

Makers of quality Prosecco, which is produced in the northeast zones of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, are very worried that the reputation of their wine will suffer from the marketing of an inferior product .

And well they might worry if this inferior pun is typical:

"No one gets upset over caviar being sold in a can and no one confuses tinned meat with a fillet. So I don't see what the fuss is all about", Veneto Region Vice President Luca Zaia told ANSA.

...."From a marketing point of view this is an opportunity," Zaia observed, "because it meets a market demand and has the potential of increasing the number of consumers of one of our most famous wines".

"People who will drink prosecco in a can will most certainly in the future also buy quality Prosecco in a bottle. We need to be more open-minded," the region official added.

In response to the protests by Prosecco producers, Zaia said "I hope this is just not sour grapes because someone else came up with the can idea first" .

Breaking up isn't hard to do, anymore, at least in Germany:

A German businessman has set up a "separation agency" - a service to inform unsuspecting spouses and lovers their partners no longer want them.

Bernd Dressler will deliver the bad news - for those too scared to do it themselves - for 20 euros (£13) by phone, or for 50 euros (£33) in person.

The efficiency and directness of Mr Dressler's manner has earned him the nickname The Terminator.

....The message can be delivered in a "sympathetic or direct manner". Mr Dressler said that most of his clients do not want any further contact with their ex-partner.

The client is asked to provide three reasons why they want to terminate the relationship - these are then passed on by the agency to the former lover.

....The former insurance manager said he has been fortunate never to have witnessed any extreme emotional reactions.

"I am only the messenger," he said.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gentlemen Protesting Too Much

David Corn v. Byron York on What's it all about, Valerie?.

Bill Clinton (and Richard Clarke...and Richard Clarke...and Richard Clarke) v. Chris Wallace; entertaining the Fox News Sunday audience.

Note the common tactic; shout down your opponent. At all costs prevent the other side getting a word in edgewise.

Friday, September 22, 2006

How much for the peanut butter?

Remembering Winston Churchill:

...the jam maker F Duerr & Son has marked its 125th anniversary by producing the world's most expensive marmalade.

The Fine Cut Seville Orange Marmalade with Whisky, Champagne and Gold mixes the finest Seville fruit with vintage Dalmore 62 whisky from Whyte & Mackay (valued at £32,000 per bottle), topped off with a splash of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1996 vintage champagne and garnished with flakes of 24-carat gold leaf.

The resulting spread, encased in a custom-made crystal jar valued at £1,100, would cost £76 to cover a single slice of toast.

Mark Duerr, managing director of the Manchester firm said: "It's unbelievably good – we tasted it at a board meeting last week for the first time, and were amazed. The whisky comes through immediately. The champagne's more subtle."

The choice of the champagne was made because Churchill was passionate about both marmalade spread and marmalade cats. His favourite tabby, Jock, was orange, and his will stipulated that there should always be a similarly coloured successor at his Chartwell estate.


If the taxes don't work, there are always carrots:

The governor of a Russian province gave workers an afternoon off and told them to go home and multiply in the most direct attempt yet by officials seeking to tackle the country's growing depopulation crisis.

....In exchange for an afternoon of state-sponsored passion, his "Give birth to a patriot" campaign launched last week offers parents who give birth next year on June 12, Russia's Independence Day, a range of incentives from a fridge or washing machine to a four-wheel-drive vehicle, depending on how many children the couple already has.

The Kremlin is offering even more substantial inducements. In a state of the nation address in May that was redolent of the Soviet era, Mr Putin encouraged Russians to make more babies and promised to give £5,000 to every mother who gives birth to a second child.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Taxation Without Heriditization

Russia thinks about the incentives:

In a move clearly aimed at encouraging more births in this country, a top government official has come up with a plan to re-introduce the long-abandoned childless tax in Russia.

Speaking to the press after a seminar that focused on low birth rates in Russia health and social development minister Mikhail Zurabov suggested that childless taxpayers should help the state support families with children and thus at least partially assume the cost of encouraging more births.

Deputy chief of the lower house health committee, Nikolai Gerasimenko, backed the idea saying that nearly 21 million Russians are single and said that the lower house was working on a bill to the effect.

.... The country’s population is declining by at least 700,000 people each year, leading to slow depopulation of the northern and eastern extremes of Russia, the emergence of hundreds of uninhabited “ghost villages” and an increasingly aged workforce. Official Russian forecasts, along with those from international organizations like the UN, predict a decline from 146 million to between 80 and 100 million by 2050.

Gangs of Poland

How many Polish prisoners does it take to meet labor demand:

The Polish government is allowing prisoners to work outside jail as the country struggles to fill vacancies left by mass migration to Britain.

More than 1.12 million Poles have gone west, the majority to Britain, since the country joined the European Union in May 2004.

The construction, plumbing and electrical industries have been hardest hit by the exodus, followed by the catering, nursing and residential home care sectors.

The vacuum the workers have left has forced employers to turn to prisons and youth detention centres to fill jobs. ....

...the demand for workers is such that prison governors often have to turn down requests because inmates complain of being asked to work too hard.

Prisoners allowed out on a daily basis are paid around 86p an hour. The wages are paid directly to the jail, which gives a small sum to the prisoners as pocket money for the duration of their prison terms. They receive the rest on release.

A spokesman for Nowy Wisnich prison said: "There is enormous demand. We have just set up a new work gang and they are booked up already, and we are having to train up another one because the demand is so large.

Pot, Kettle, Black Award Nominee

Holocaust denier and Israelphobe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tells Pope Benedict to be careful with his speech:

WASHINGTON - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged Pope Benedict XVI to speak more cautiously in future, saying his remarks on Islam that caused outrage in Muslim countries could lead to war.

"People in important positions should be careful about what they say," Ahmadinejad told US television channel MSNBC. "What he said may give an excuse to another group to start a war."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What's your sign?

Bavaria takes the romance out of romance:

THE message is simple, so simple that it can be deciphered in the midst of an alcoholic haze at the world's most inebriated beer party.

"Du g'foist ma" - Bavarian for "I fancy you" - is one of a dozen flirt cards that can be wielded as part of a desperate attempt to raise the tone of the Oktoberfest.

There isn't much scope for meaningful conversation at the trestle tables of the annual beer orgy that has just started for this year in Munich. So the cards - written in Bavarian dialect, English and Italian - have become an indispensable visual aid for the six million visitors.

....The flirt cards are supposed to encourage some kind of verbal exchange rather than the traditional drunken male lunge. Some of the cards are almost genteel.

"Hogst no was vor" - "Do you have any plans?" - was being tried out on Monday, albeit mainly in the tent used by gay drinkers.

"Carry me home" is another favourite among the mostly lederhosen-wearing crowd.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Location, location, location...

...makes all the difference when you've got a billion Euros to make up:

BRUSSELS — There are seven potential buyers lining up to purchase the Belgian embassy in Tokyo, a sale that would help close a federal government budgetary shortfall.

....The embassy is valued at more than EUR 100 million. It is a green oasis in the crowded city centre of the Japanese capital.

....It was revealed last week that budget estimates made in July were based on incorrect data from the Finance Ministry. The error suddenly delivered Budget Minister Freya Van den Bossche a deficit of almost EUR 1 billion for the 2006 Budget.

The most optimistic government officials hope that several financial bonuses can close the budgetary hole.

The largest bonus, however, appears to be the sale of the Tokyo embassy.

The Enemy of the Good

Wine will never be perfect, just better for the screw top:

Traditionalists love cork, as do environmentalists, because it is natural and has served the wine industry for hundreds of years. It also has a satisfying pop when the bottle is opened.

Screwcaps, on the other hand, are seen as industrial, cheap and lacking the romance of the old "closure" but they have been hailed as the future because there is no danger they will spoil or "taint" the wine, a problem that is said to affect up to one in 10 corked bottles.

The tasters at this year's International Wine Challenge, discovered that while cork taint is on the decline, the problems affecting wines sealed with screwcaps have probably been underestimated.

From a blind tasting of more than 9,000 wines they discovered that 4.4 per cent of the corked wine had been tainted in some way while 2.2 per cent of the screwcapped wine had been damaged.

....Sam Harrop, a wine-maker who co-chaired the tasting, said that the problem with screwcaps appeared to be related to their greater efficiency as a seal and that companies who had been using them for a long time had all but eradicated the problem.

Or as Thomas Sowell might put it, the first question in economics should be, 'Compared to what?'

Monday, September 18, 2006


Catching up to the University of Calgary's Christopher Auld, two American economists find that non-teetotalers earn more money:

WASHINGTON (AFP) - People who consume alcohol earn significantly more at their jobs than non-drinkers, according to a US study that highlighted "social capital" gained from drinking.

The study published in the Journal of Labor Research Thursday concluded that drinkers earn 10 to 14 percent more than teetotalers, and that men who drink socially bring home an additional seven percent in pay.

"Social drinking builds social capital," said Edward Stringham, an economics professor at San Jose State University and co-author of the study with fellow researcher Bethany Peters.

"Social drinkers are out networking, building relationships, and adding contacts to their BlackBerries that result in bigger paychecks."

Maybe I Could Just Be a Lapsed Marxist

India has developed a ritual for renouncing Communism that might not appeal to many:

Calcutta, Sept. 17: After decades of chanting the Marxist mantra, if a communist, like transport minister Subhas Chakraborty...has a change of heart and wants to embrace
Hinduism, there is a certain way they need to follow, say pandits and purohits.

The priests hold that since Chakraborty has been a communist for long and has probably eaten beef during the period, he should observe a purification ritual.

Which is:

Mix equal proportions of milk, curd, ghee, cow urine and cow dung and lace it with honey. Taken at sunrise after a bath, it is said to cleanse the body of past sins and bring one back into the Hindu fold.

From each according to their inability... each according to their greed. Say critics of Paul Wolfowitz's World Bank:

At a meeting of the members of the World Bank in Singapore today, politicians from dozens of countries will discuss whether they are for corruption or against it. A surprisingly large number will be for it. Not that they will be asking for bribes themselves, you understand: these are men and women of the highest integrity. Rather, they will say that if aid to the Third World sometimes means taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries, then the World Bank should stop being so agitated about it.

.... When copies of the bills of the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, showed that he had spent £169,000 on putting up himself, his butler, his personal photographer, hairdresser and about 50 other members of his entourage at the marble-clad Palace Hotel in Madison Avenue, New York, Wolfowitz listened to the anti-corruption groups which said that oil wealth was benefiting the elite rather than the 70 per cent of the population who live on less than £1.15 a day. When he wasn't satisfied with the audits of the state oil company, he suspended debt relief.

He has also suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia and taken a hard look at the cautionary tale of Chad. In the late Nineties, optimists claimed the destitute sub-Saharan state could provide a model for the poor world when the World Bank agreed to fund a new oil pipeline on condition that the Chadian government agreed to spend revenues on health and education. The local dictator reneged on the terms, so Wolfowitz suspended aid.

To which, many are apparently saying, fuggeddaboutit!:

Members of the World Bank's board have told the New York Times that he was 'over-emphasising' corruption while the French are complaining that he is using it as an excuse to cut budgets.

Friday, September 15, 2006

WHO says, 'Never mind.'

After several million avoidable cases of malaria, unfortunately:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reversed a 30-year policy by endorsing the use of DDT for malaria control.

The chemical is sprayed inside houses to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
DDT has been banned globally for every use except fighting disease because of its environmental impacts and fears for human health.

WHO says there is no health risk, and DDT should rank with bednets and drugs as a tool for combating malaria, which kills more than one million each year.

"The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment," said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO assistant director-general for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.

....A potent insecticide, DDT fell into disrepute with the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring just over 40 years ago.

The book showed that widespread, indiscriminate use of DDT and related compounds was killing wildlife over vast tracts of North America and western Europe.

And, twenty-two years ago Edith Efron exposed Rachel Carson's claims as a crock in her The Apocalyptics. That it was a socialist fable designed to hamstring American industry, and had very little scientific validity.

Even in France...

...there can be too much regulation:

PARIS, Sept 15, 2006 (AFP) - The shape and size of fashion models cannot be regulated, the head of the French couture federation has said, after models deemed too skinny were reportedly banned from the catwalk in Spain.

Didier Grumbach, president of the couture federation and chamber of haute couture, told AFP late Thursday that "everyone would laugh" if France attempted to follow suit.

Excessively thin models have been barred from a major Madrid fashion show later this month for fear they could send the wrong message to young Spanish girls, local media reported last week.

Being laughed at by the French? Sacrebleu!

The Dickens is in the Details

Middle class criminals have to accessorize:

"It's a tale right out of Charles Dickens, but instead of Oliver Twist, they hired adult drug addicts to do the thefts," said [Washington] state Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose office is prosecuting the crimes. "And we've got the Fagin here as well as the thieves."

Police and prosecutors said Martin D. Levy, the longtime owner of Liberty Loan pawnshop on Pike Street; his daughter, Leslie Calvo; and her husband, Richard Calvo, directed addicts and transients to steal particular items from high-end downtown shops and department stores. Items included 52 Armani suits from Nordstrom, hundreds of pieces of blown-glass art, Virgin cellphones, Calloway golf clubs, Coach purses and a $500 banana-wood soap dish.

.... police and prosecutors say Leslie Calvo collected original glass art and frequently placed "orders" with thieves for particular items, such as a $4,500 crystal vase from a Nordstrom display rack or a blown-glass lamp from Fremont's Edge of Glass, where the total losses were estimated to be near $15,000.

....In court documents, one thief who had been confronted by police told officers he had once been asked to steal two overcoats from Nordstrom for Levy and Richard Calvo.

After he sold the overcoats to Leslie Calvo for a fraction of their retail cost, she sent the thief "back to Nordstrom's [sic] to get matching scarves and gloves," court documents allege.

Levy lives in a home on a half-acre lot on [exclusive] Mercer Island, court documents say. His son-in-law is a dentist in Burien.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hell is other people...

...who insist on getting value for their money, at Sartre's old hangout, where the workforce wants there to be No Exit strategy:

PARIS, Sept 14, 2006 (AFP) - The staff of France's iconic left-wing daily Liberation, crippled by falling circulation and mounting debt, on Thursday issued a public appeal to the main investor to ensure the title survives.

In a two-page open letter, the paper's staff and editors appealed to the financier Edouard de Rothschild to "ensure the longevity of the publication" by investing in new editorial projects alongside cost-cutting measures.

"Libération is entering a unique and difficult period in its history," the letter said, warning the coming few weeks would be "crucial" for the paper's future. "Today we have little time and little means left."

It said there was a "need to clean up the accounts, to lay flat the functioning of the company Liberation — but also, and especially, to invest," calling on Rothschild to "take his responsibilities".

His responsibility to be exploited by the workers?

A member of the European banking family, Rothschild invested EUR 20 million in Libération in January 2005, but is said to be furious at the newspaper's continuing losses which hit EUR five million in the first half of this year.

....The last official figures show that Libération sold just under 137,000 copies in France in 2005, down from 163,000 in 2001 and 182,000 in 1990.

The Higher They Are

The harder they fall, say oil pricing analysts:

WASHINGTON — The recent sharp drop in the global price of crude oil could mark the start of a massive sell-off that returns gasoline prices to lows not seen since the late 1990s — perhaps as low as $1.15 a gallon.

"All the hurricane flags are flying" in oil markets, said Philip Verleger, a noted energy consultant who was a lone voice several years ago in warning that oil prices would soar. Now, he says, they appear to be poised for a dramatic plunge.

Ah, what's a conspiracy monger to do?

For most of the past two years, oil prices have risen because the world's oil producers have struggled to keep pace with growing demand, particularly from China and India. Spare oil-production capacity grew so tight that market players feared that any disruption to oil production could create shortages.

.... Oil is traded in contracts for future delivery, and companies that take physical delivery of oil are just a small part of total trading. Large pension and commodities funds are the big traders and they're seeking profits. They've sunk $105 billion or more into oil futures in recent years, according to Verleger. Their bets that oil prices would rise in the future bid up the price of oil.

That, in turn, led users of oil to create stockpiles as cushions against supply disruptions and even higher future prices. Now inventories of oil are approaching 1990 levels.

But many of the conditions that drove investors to bid up oil prices are ebbing. ....With oil inventories high, refiners that turn oil into gasoline are expected to cut production. As refiners cut production, oil companies increasingly risk getting stuck with excess oil supplies. There's already anecdotal evidence of oil companies chartering tankers to store excess oil.

....As it stands now, the recent oil-price slump has brought the national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline down to $2.59, according to the AAA motor club. In the Seattle area, prices per gallon have fallen to $2.856 currently from $3.071 a month ago, a decline of 7 percent, according to AAA.

Should oil traders fear that this downward price spiral will get worse and run for the exits by selling off their futures contracts, Verleger said, it's not unthinkable that oil prices could return to $15 or less a barrel, at least temporarily. That could mean gasoline prices as low as $1.15 per gallon.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Next Governor of the 51st Etat

Nick presses the flesh over here to get elected over there:

Nicolas Sarkozy is campaigning hard to be the next president of France on the jogging trails of Central Park and in the corridors of the White House.

On a four-day trip to the United States, the 51-year-old minister of the interior, France’s leading presidential hopeful on the right, pinned the Legion of Honor on the police commissioner of New York, honored firefighters in Midtown Manhattan for their losses on 9/11 and signed hundreds of copies of his new best-selling book on France’s future.

He told Jewish leaders of his love of Israel, American business leaders of his love of free enterprise, and Francophiles of his love of America. He confessed that he loves to read Hemingway and watch movies like “Miami Vice.”

.... “My devotion to our relationship with America is well known and has earned me substantial criticism in France,” Mr. Sarkozy declared in a speech before the French-American Foundation in Washington on Tuesday, his last day here. “I’m not a coward. I’m proud of this friendship, and I proclaim it gladly.”

....The French, he said, “wear American jeans and love American burgers and pizza.

“Nothing makes a French person prouder than seeing a French actor in an American film,” he added.

“All French parents dream of sending their child to an American university.”

Americans, he said, are “so successful and so misunderstood.”


Good riddance to the rubbish in Italy:

(ANSA) - Milan, September 13 - An Egyptian Muslim cleric allegedly abducted by the CIA from Milan three years ago was a full-fledged terrorist, a Milan prosecutor said on Wednesday.

....[Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar] was a leader whose speeches were capable of firing up his followers to such an extent that some leaders of the Milan Islamic community had asked for him to be removed," he said.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Go Long on Gini

Tuesday Morning Quarterback Gregg Easterbrook has bad news for those who lie awake nights worrying about inequality of incomes:

All rights fees shot up in the new round of NFL network contracts in effect this season, reflecting the incredible popularity of professional football. For television broadcast rights, the NFL now gets about $3.7 billion annually from ESPN, CBS, Fox, NBC and DirecTV ....

The way the latest NFL-NFLPA agreement works, for all intents and purposes, broadcast fees go directly to players. ...This season, average NFL pay -- monies actually received, not contract paper value -- will be somewhat more than $1.7 million per gentleman. That's almost exactly the $3.7 billion in broadcast rights fees, divided by roughly 2,000 NFL players on rosters or on injured reserve.

Nick à l'esprit vif

SuperFrenchie translates an interview in Le Monde with the probable next President of France, and he likes us. He really likes us:

Le Monde: How do you react to the criticisms of your adversaries, portraying you as a pro-American candidate?

Sarkozy: If, after twenty-five years of political life, the only serious criticism one could make against me is being too close to a country with which we have never been in war, to a country with which we have fought in the past to eradicate Nazism, with which we fight today to vanquish terrorism, I think I can deal with it. Here is a country which has had full employment for nearly fifteen years, a country where economic growth is each year higher than ours by a point to a point and half, a country where democracy harmoniously combines power rotation with political stability; and, finally, a country that is an example to the world regarding integration: half of the [American] Nobel prizewinners are of foreign origin.

I am not a blind fan of the U.S.; but any impartial observer must consider that this is not an embarrassing record, and that we have no reason to be angry at the American people.

Full of it

Not surprisingly he didn't say anything about being a convicted felon either:

As he sold investors on an improbable plan for turning Inland Empire cow manure into electricity, W. Patrick Moriarty had an answer for everything.

With a folksy delivery, the Orange County businessman promised cutting-edge technology, a respected engineering firm and tax-exempt financing to extract methane gas from mountains of manure and use it to generate enough power to light a small city.

.... What Moriarty and his business partner, Wayne Stephens, didn't tell Erde and numerous others who altogether invested more than $10 million was that their company, Chino Organic Power Inc., had no licensed technology, no equipment, no permits — not even a guaranteed supply of manure.

.... Another thing Moriarty didn't tell Erde and the others was that he had gone to prison in the 1980s in what then-U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner called "the most significant corruption case in recent California history."

Not surprisingly, the lofty energy plan has come crashing down, followed by a bankruptcy and accusations from angry investors, a number of whom have filed lawsuits alleging fraud by Moriarty and Stephens, a San Bernardino County businessman.

.... Both Moriarty and Stephens have acknowledged in recent interviews that their plan never got off the drawing board. But they said they didn't defraud anyone, and they insisted that the electric plant would have worked if it hadn't been hampered by an uncertain energy market and litigious investors.

"I am absolutely very sorry if anyone, including me and Wayne, lost money — especially me," said Moriarty, 75.

That which we call a rose...

...we can grow next door--even if next door is Ethiopia--if things don't improve around here:

Investors in flower farms around Naivasha [Kenya] are threatening to relocate their business from the country due to poor infrastructure and insecurity.

Some of the flower farms in the area have already started investing in Ethiopia, claiming that new farmers are enjoying favourable economic terms there.

.... Sher Agencies, a leading world producer of rose flower, has already acquired a large tract of land in Ethiopia. The firm produces 600 million stems annually.

According to Human Resource Manager Mr Martin Kamwaro, Ethiopia is offering them a 10-year tax holiday.

"The country has better road network and has a well equipped security system," he said.

.... Naivasha has more than 37 flower farms with an estimated workforce of over 40,000 people.
Speaking during a tour by a parliamentary committee on health, housing, labour and social welfare, the investors voiced concern over poor infrastructure and rising insecurity, saying that they might consider relocating if the problems are not addressed.

Sher Agencies Chief Executive, Mr Gerrit Barnhoon, said they were incurring heavy expenses due to the poor state of the Naivasha- Mai Mahiu road.

"We are incurring heavy losses due to frequent breakdown of our vehicles and delay of our produce in reaching at the market," he said.

Markets in Communists

For the perfect souvenir of that trip to Moscow:

Going to see the embalmed remains of Lenin, the leader of Russia's communist revolution, would be surreal at any time. But the sense of unreality was heightened by the presence of Lenin himself, peaked cap, pointed beard and all, wandering with his sometime colleague and successor Stalin, in a uniform festooned with self-awarded medals, alongside where we were queuing in Red Square.

Apparently, you can have yourself photographed with the two titans of history, in front of the walls of the Kremlin where they once ruled, for R100 (about $6).

This is modern Russia. Intensely protective of its history, including the communist era, but in its new capitalist persona, happy to exploit that history for a few bucks on the side.

Because WE Punish Rapists?

Is that why they hate us, it should be considered adultery?

In a setback for women's rights in Pakistan, the ruling party in Islamabad has caved in to religious conservatives by dropping its plans to reform rape laws.

Statutes known as the Hudood ordinances, based on sharia law, currently operate in Pakistan. They require a female rape victim to produce four male witnesses to corroborate her account, or she risks facing a new charge of adultery.

.... The Hudood ordinances were enshrined in Pakistani law in 1979 by General Zia ul-Haq in an attempt to appease the country's powerful religious elite following his military coup.

They have been routinely criticised by local and international rights groups.

Previous governments under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have tried to repeal the laws but failed.

.... Most women refuse to report a rape for fear they will be treated as a criminal.

Under current laws, a victim risks courting punishment if she reports a rape allegation as the Hudood ordinances criminalise all extra-marital sex.

A woman who fails to prove that she was raped could then be charged with adultery under the same legislation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Good News/Bad News

France is number one:

LONDON, Sept 11, 2006 (AFP) - Seven French business schools are among the top 10 in Europe, according to a ranking published Monday by the Financial Times.

First is HEC Paris, second is Cems, a network of 17 different European universities including HEC, and third is ESCP-EAP in Paris, according to Britain's leading business daily.

The ranking assesses Masters in Management programs, which most students join after their undergratuate degree, rather than those of Masters of Business Administration which usually requires several years of work experience.

But they suck:

PARIS, Sept 11, 2006 (AFP) - French industrial output fell 1.3 percent in July from the June figure, notably in the automobile industry, official figures showed Monday, a decline economists said highlights the fragility of the French recovery.

The July performance, announced by the national statistics institute INSEE, followed a 0.1 percent slide in June.

.... While overall French momentum is projected by some economists to come 2.5 percent in 2006, after a disappointing 1.2 percent in 2005, "the figures published today reflect the fragility of the current economic climate," said analyst Alexander Law of the research group Xerfi.

For Nicolas Bouzou of Asteres, also a research group, "the problem today is to know if the French economy can continue to pick up with a tired industrial sector".

He said: "It's difficult to believe."

Friday, September 08, 2006

About that great European health care...

We beg to differ, if this is an example:

A Russian policeman has attempted suicide after performing a transgender surgery on himself. He was found with a rope around his neck in a pool of blood — his genitals had been cut off and the wound scrupulously stitched up. Painkillers and a bloody needle, as well as the remains of his genitals, were lying on the floor next to him.

Alexei’s wife Irina, who found the man half dead in his country cottage in the suburbs of Moscow, called the ambulance immediately. The doctors managed to save his life, but said he would never be able to have sex again, Zhisn daily reports.

When Alexei, 31, came to his senses in hospital, he said he had been attacked by a strange man who broke into the house, but the investigation has a different version.

“We found women’s cosmetics and lingerie, brand new, in the house,” local policemen who investigate the case said.

“Alexei’s wife said it was not hers. It looks like he had bought the stuff to put on after the surgery.”

“The wound was very neat, it did not look like made by someone in a rage or in a hurry. Besides, next to it doctors found an old scar, bearing resemblance to the new wound and also stitched up — as if it was not the first attempt.”

Looks healthy enough to us

But the Spaniards want to put some meat on her bones:

MADRID — Skinny models are to be banned from Madrid Fashion Week for the first time, the city council said on Friday.

Almost a third of the models who were to take part in the Pasarela Cibeles later this month have been rejected after they did not meet strict body mass index (bmi) rules.

....Spain's best-known model Esther Canadas does not qualify under the new rules which were brought in by Madrid city council.

The rules stipulate models who are 1.75 metres tall must weigh a minimum of 56 kilogrammes.

....Concha Guerra, of Madrid city council which sponsors Madrid Fashion Week to the tune of EUR 400,000 each year, said a nutritional expert would check all the models who took part.

Models whose bmi is below 16 would receive health treatment.

Que lastima.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Law and Order, Work Harder, School Choice Candidate

French Socialist Segolene Royal, back from the beach, picks another fight:

PARIS, Sept 6, 2006 (AFP) - French presidential front-runner Ségolène Royal has once again upset bigwigs inside her own Socialist Party (PS), this time with a call to liberalise the school system which brought a ringing condemnation Wednesday from the party hierarchy.

In a speech earlier this week, Royal — who is France's most popular politician according to a recent opinion poll — questioned one of the PS's educational taboos: the so-called "scholastic map" which obliges parents to send children to schools designated by the authorities.

The "map" has been regularly attacked by the political right, which says it removes parental choice and blocks educational improvement, but for the left it is an important mechanism for ensuring that all schools have a social and academic balance.

However Royal said in the southern Lozere department that, "We need to loosen the constraints associated with the 'map' — because some people have the feeling they are being dumped in underperforming establishments."

Previous spats arose over her ideas on the mandatory 35 hour work week and criminals.

Pick a Card, Any Card...

...but not a Swede, for the team:

A magician has been recruited by Ian Woosnam, the European Ryder Cup golf captain, to advise his players during the tournament later this month

Jamil Qureshi, a golf psychologist who works on the mental side of the game with some of the best names in the sport, will work with the squad at the K Club in Ireland when they attempt to retain the trophy against the American team in a fortnight.

....Qureshi has given frequent displays of psychological illusion on stage and television.

It was Gary Evans, who finished fifth in the 2002 Open championship at Muirfield, who first sought his services. If Qureshi could produce a rabbit out of a hat, he could surely come up with a few ideas on how to get a ball to disappear into a hole, thought Evans.

The golfer got in touch with Qureshi's agent and asked, "Can this guy help me?" and Qureshi obliged. As Evans' results showed a marked improvement, so other players followed in Evans' footsteps.

Qureshi's best-known client is Sweden's Thomas Bjorn, the player who gave Woosnam a volley of abuse last Sunday when he was not handed one of the captain's two wild cards for the Ryder Cup.

Qureshi said he did not follow the Swedish approach to golf's mental side, in which all emotions are kept so ruthlessly in check that the players look as if they have escaped from Madame Tussauds.

Not Cricket, Old Boyz!

In Ty Cobb's hometown as well as The Hood:

One of the fastest-growing games in the United States is, surprisingly, cricket.

The game flourished there for a while in the 19th century, but a combination of war and baseball sent it into decline. That is, until now.

Atlanta, Georgia is not a place you normally associate with cricket. It is famous for a fizzy drink and a baseball team called The Braves. So I was pleasantly surprised, on a recent visit, to hear the distinctive "thock" of leather on willow.

....Today, Atlanta boasts 23 teams, with 600 players competing in a well-organised league.
Though few people either side of the Atlantic know it, cricket has a long history in the United States.

It was once the national game and the annual fixture against Canada, which was first played in the 1840s. It is the oldest international sporting event in the modern world, predating today's Olympic Games by nearly 50 years. 1860 an estimated 10,000 Americans were playing the game. Presidents turned out to watch. When Chicago hosted Milwaukee in 1859, Abraham Lincoln was among the spectators.

....Today, thanks to a huge influx of immigrants from India, Pakistan and the West Indies, cricket is bouncing back.

There are 29 leagues nationwide, with an estimated 700 clubs and 50,000 active cricketers. As well as traditional bastions like Philadelphia and New York, where Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a $1.5m investment for a purpose built pitch in Queens, cricket is now being played in such unlikely places as Dallas, Texas, and Wichita, Kansas.

In Los Angeles, a team called Compton Homies & Popz uses cricket to teach "boyz from the hood" old-fashioned virtues like discipline and manners.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ya think?

The climate for business isn't warming in Belgium:

BRUSSELS — Belgium has slipped in the rankings of nations in a World Bank study examining favourable business climates.

....Belgium did not perform as well and is now ranked behind countries such as Estonia, Lithuania, Thailand and Puerto Rico, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported on Wednesday.

On the other side, Belgium is performing better than the Netherlands, France and Germany in establishing a favourable climate for new businesses.

.... company tax rates which claim on average 70 percent of a firm's profits are a negative factor. The average in the 30 OECD nations is 45 percent.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Corn...David Corn

The swashbuckling columnist and blogger wanders into the casino and places a few chips on a high stakes game:

Valerie Plame was recruited into the CIA in 1985, straight out of Pennsylvania State University. After two years of training to be a covert case officer, she served a stint on the Greece desk, according to Fred Rustmann, a former CIA official who supervised her then. Next she was posted to Athens and posed as a State Department employee. Her job was to spot and recruit agents for the agency. In the early 1990s, she became what's known as a nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA's frontline officers. They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA.

Mr Corn has the lovely Val moving from no cover at all, a State Department employee in the Athens embassy, to a deep cover "NOC". That would really fool everybody!

When it rains... pours more wine into the lake:

PARIS, Sept 5, 2006 (AFP) - A wet month of August will mean a bumper grape crop for French vineyards, wine industry officials said Tuesday as harvesting got underway in several regions. ....

A high yield is not necessarily good news for producers and dealers, as France already produces a large annual surplus of wine and unsold stocks continue to build despite subsidies every year from the EU to distil large quantities.

But at least fuel prices should decline:

Producers like Sylvain Pitiot, who makes the seductive, voluptuous Clos de Tart, a grand cru Burgundy, are doing exceptionally well, regardless of how many gallons of French wine the European Union wishes to convert to fuel.

Socialistas for Growth?

That's what the European Union thinks Romano Prodi had better be:

(ANSA) - Rome, September 5 - Italy is in economic decline and Romano Prodi's government must take urgent action to stop the rot, according to a panel of European experts.

A new report by the European Union's observatory for the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy said Italy is in trouble because of a "series of structural lags that the country has accumulated with respect to its main competitors".

The Lisbon Strategy is a 10-year EU-wide plan devised in 2000 to address the problem of low productivity, unemployment and economic stagnation in Europe.

The Observatory for the Lisbon Strategy identified four main areas of concern - Italy's bloated public sector, excess market regulation, falling productivity and lower investment in human resources, and high taxes.

The report revealed that central and local government employ five million people in Italy, a fifth of the working population. It said that this level is "without equivalent in Europe".

....the report said the government should also "intervene where the interests of its own electoral base" are at stake.

This means making the pension system sustainable by raising the retirement age, cutting the number of public-sector employees and introducing greater flexibility to the labour market by making it easier to hire and fire workers .

Geek Chic

Well, at least useful:

Britain's biggest electrical retailer is threatening to make 12-year-old nephews redundant with a "rent-a-geek" service that will repair broken computers, sort out wi-fi systems and even help to programme the video.

DSG International, the parent company of Currys and PC World, yesterday announced a nationwide fix-it service aimed at tackling the complexity of modern electrical gadgets.

The move follows the growing popularity of companies such as Geeks on Wheels that help to sort out domestic computer problems.

According to some retail experts, rent-a-geeks could one day become as common as plumbers, electricians and decorators.

DSG said its TechGuys team would offer homes and small businesses round-the-clock help via a telephone line and on-the-road engineers.

Unemployed Shrinekeepers Alert

The FLUBA Committee on Dealing With the Uneducable notes this exchange from Russell Roberts' interview with Milton Friedman:

Russ Roberts: Focusing on the central bank role, going back again to the '70s when I was in school and shortly after your book came out, the focus was on the money supply—the quantity of money, counting it, controlling it through open market operations.

Something changed in the last 25 or 30 years. That's not what Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke talk about. They talk about other things and they play with that short-term interest rate, not the so-called stock of money that you focused on so intensely in the book.

Milton Friedman: That's what the talk about but that's not what they do.

Russ Roberts: What do they do?

Milton Friedman: They use the short-term interest rate as a way of controlling the quantity of money. ....

The Fed says the short-term interest rate should be 4.5 percent. How do they keep it there? By buying and selling securities on the open market. Now you're Mr. Bernanke; you're Mr. Greenspan. You're watching that. And with the current short-term interest rate, you find that the quantity of money is starting to creep up more rapidly than you really want. Well, then you will tend to be favorable to raising to a higher rate of interest.

At that higher rate of interest, the demand for money is less and so the supply of money under that phenomenon, instead of having to sell government bonds to keep it there, they have to buy government bonds to keep it there or vice versa. Maybe I'm getting it mixed up. But in any event, the short-term interest rate is a tool with which you can control the quantity of money.

Russ Roberts: But they don't talk about it that way.

Milton Friedman: No, they don't talk about it that way.

Monday, September 04, 2006

France's Thatcher?

It may not be Labor Day in France, but the election campaign is in full swing:

MARSEILLE, France, Sept 3, 2006 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy appeared almost certain to lead the right into next year's presidential election, after a triumphant party congress which concluded Sunday in Marseille with a blistering attack on the "generation of May 1968".

Speaking before 7,000 young members of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Sarkozy, 51, said modern France had been betrayed by the left-wing ideals that took root after the 1968 student uprising, and called for a society built around "a reassertion of the value of work".

"(The generation of 1968) inculcated everywhere — in politics, in education, in society — an inversion of values and a political correctness of which today's young people are the principal victims," Sarkozy said to applause.

"The truth is that the students of May '68 were the spoiled children of 30 years of prosperity. You are the children of crisis. They lived a life without constraints. Today you are picking up the bill," he said.

Francs for FRappers

Who'da guessed it would be a Socialist Mayor:

NANTES, France, Sept 3, 2006 (AFP) - Two French rappers from the western city of Nantes are facing possible legal action after they used a local council grant to make a video accused of glorifying violence against the police.

Downloadable over the Internet, 'Colt 44' by rappers Tipikal and K-Pster contains images of guns and drugs as well as scenes filmed during a clash earlier this year between police and youths in a poor suburb of the city.

The lyrics include the words, "Fill the police HQ with mustard gas, do it Russian-style", as well as other threats.
The Socialist Party (PS) mayor of Nantes Jean-Marc Ayrault admitted Friday that the rappers had received a subsidy of EUR 700 euros to make a video "on the malaise in the suburbs" following last year's riots, but he said the city hall later withdrew its support from the project.

Economists Not Ready for Prime Time

Max Sawicky makes the mistake of reading only the Washington Post rather than the Nick Eberstadt paper on which the Post piece is based, and says something worse than dopey:

The fundamental value of the measure is to compare different points in time, not to provide a scientific assessment of deprivation at any point in time. Criticizing it in this dimension is idiotic. A rate of 11.7 percent means nothing in and of itself. It could mean something compared to, say, 10.5. The rate is based on a family budget that inevitably derives from prevailing social standards, not the cost of biological survival.

Had Max bothered to even read the beginning of Eberstadt's lengthy paper, he'd have known that, in fact, Mollie Orshanky, an economist at the Social Security Administration, devised it to be a fixed and unchanging measurement of absolute poverty. She based it on the cost of providing food at a minimal level (i.e. 'biological survival' as we emphasized in the hapless Max's prose).

Whether one agrees with Eberstadt's analysis of its efficacy, is irrelevant to the history of the metric.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why, oh why can't Bad, Bad DeLong be a better economist?

Or, at least grow up. Cheap shot at Mickey Kaus Dept:

But what is the "good poverty news" in the Census Bureau's report? What is the "good poverty news" in this table?

Is it that there are more people in extreme poverty than in any year since 1993? Is it that the proportion of Americans in extreme poverty is greater than in any year since 1997? Is it that the extreme poverty rate is 0.9%--2,336,000 people--higher than in 2000, at the last business cycle peak?

....If you parse Kaus closely, he doesn't actually say that there is "good poverty news."

We regretfully have to point out to the distinguished economist that one only makes valid comparisons by using same points in the business cycle. And when we do, we find that Mickey Kaus could have easily pointed to 'good poverty news'.

Say, that four years after the 1990 recession ended (1994) the percentage of people living in 'extreme poverty' was 5.9%. And at the same point in the cycle (2005) it's only 5.4%.

Of course, as we've posted earlier, the poverty rate is a bogus construct anyway, since it moves in the wrong direction on good news.

We'd expect 'trained professionals' to know these things.

It Will Be a Dark and Stormy Night

In Holland, at the soccer game next week:

AMSTERDAM — Economic Affairs Minister Joop Wijn has lashed out at power company workers who have threatened to cut electricity during Wednesday's European Cup qualification match between the Netherlands and Belarus.

.... LME, the central organisation of workers councils in the energy industry, notified the Dutch soccer federation KNVB on Thursday evening that workers of the four major power companies will cut electricity in and around the stadium during the soccer international.

It is a protest against the plan to split up the generation and distribution activities of the power companies. MPs have already voted in favour of the legislation and now the matter is before the Senate.

In Troyes, Not an Ounce of a Clue

France goes to war to reduce their unemployment rate to about 8.2%:

TROYES, France, Aug 31, 2006 (AFP) - The French government vowed Thursday to knock unemployment — the chief concern of French voters — below the symbolic two-million mark, as it unveiled a new jobs plan eight months ahead of presidential elections.

Jobless figures for July showed the unemployment rate below nine percent — at 8.9 percent of the workforce, or 2,159,900 people — for the first time in four years, and the government said it was confident it could slash the rate further still.

"Getting unemployment below the two-million mark: that is the next frontier. All our decisions must tend towards that aim," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said as he unveiled the latest employment measures.

Villepin has put fighting unemployment at the centre of his agenda and has pledged to lower the number of unemployed workers to below two million by 2007.

Don't bite off more than you can chew, Monsieur. Remember that little fiasco the last time?

Perversion of Poverty

Nick Eberstadt has a lengthy piece out today that provides more evidence that the government's official measurement of poverty is misguided:

The curious behavior of the official poverty rate in relation to these four other important measures bearing on material deprivation is underscored by simple econometrics, through regression equations in which these other measures are utilized in an attempt to “predict” the poverty rate for a 30-year period (1972–2002). Under ordinary circumstances, we would expect unemployment and poverty to be positively associated (the higher the unemployment level, the higher the poverty level), while per capita income, educational attainment, and anti-poverty spending should all correlate negatively with any absolute measure of poverty. Between 1972 and 2002, however, the official poverty rate happens to correlate positively with increases in per capita income — and the statistical association is a strong one. Indeed, controlling for changes in unemployment levels, a rise in real U.S. per capita income of $1,000 (in 2002 dollars) would be predicted to push up the official poverty rate for the entire population by over half a percentage point.

If we exclude per capita income from the tableau, the other three measures — unemployment, education, and anti-poverty spending — can in tandem do a very good job of predicting changes in the poverty rate, together explaining over 90 percent of the variation in the poverty rate during the period in question. But the relationships between the poverty rates and these other variables are perverse: The poverty rate falls when unemployment rises; and when education or anti-poverty spending rise, the poverty rate rises too. And if we use all four measures to try to predict the poverty rate, the common-sense (i.e. negative) correlation between per capita income and poverty at last emerges, and that relationship is statistically strong — yet strong relations between the poverty rate and the other three measures also emerge, and all of those are perverse. Those relationships, in fact, imply that an eight-point jump in the unemployment rate would reduce the official poverty rate by a point, while a ten point drop in the percentage of adults without high school degrees would raise it by a point! No less striking: A nationwide increase in means-tested public spending of $1,000 per capita (in 2002 dollars) would be predicted to make the official poverty rate rise — by over three percentage points.

Clearly, something is badly amiss here.

No kidding, and it should be obvious to anyone with their eyes open, but usually isn't.

As should be Eberstadt's conclusion:

The official poverty rate is incapable of representing what it was devised to portray: namely, a constant level of absolute need in American society. The biases and flaws in the poverty rate are so severe that it has depicted a great period of general improvements in living standards — three decades from 1973 onward — as a time of increasing prevalence of absolute poverty. We would discard a statistical measure that claimed life expectancy was falling during a time of ever-increasing longevity, or one that asserted our national finances were balanced in a period of rising budget deficits.

Central as the “poverty rate” has become to antipoverty policy — or, more precisely, especially because of its central role in such policies — the official poverty rate should likewise be discarded in favor of a more accurate index, or set of indices, for describing material deprivation in modern America.

Look for the Union Libel?

An e-mail correspondent with children in NYC's public schools alerts the FLUBA to how his tax dollars are at work:

Forty-four assistant principals are so inept that no city school wants to hire them - but they'll all have jobs when classes begin next week, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein bemoaned yesterday.

Klein said he must waste "millions of dollars creating jobs we don't need" - money that could be used to hire 80 teachers - because the assistant principals' jobs are protected by their union contract and state law.

In a letter to city principals, Klein said even though he has to find spots for the assistant principals, he will not "force them upon you."

"I believe that is wrong for you and, more importantly, wrong for our kids," he wrote.

"This means I have no choice but to create new jobs - jobs that I wouldn't otherwise create and jobs that this system doesn't need . . .,"

To which the Principals Union had this response:

"If I were one of these 44 [assistant principals], I would try to sue the chancellor for defamation of character," said Jill Levy, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. "In fact, the union may investigate [a lawsuit] ourselves."