Friday, July 31, 2015

These Black Lives Also Matter


I just finished reading a book that has affected me greatly. Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy, a crime reporter at the LA Times, is the story of the murder of an 18 year old boy in Southeast Los Angeles, and the heroic and successful efforts of one detective to bring the killers to justice. The story, which reads like a thriller even though the end is known, serves as the backdrop for Leony's thesis that the ongoing violence in poor segregated neighborhoods is the direct result of the  State's failure to control that violence through effective policing. In between riveting vignettes of the crime and the subsequent investigation, she recounts the long and dismal history of black-on-black murder and the larger indifference of white society, a reality that extends as far back as the end of Reconstruction. It is that indifference, combined with policing tactics that focus on petty crimes and rely on harassment as a means of crime prevention, that have produced an "underground law" of that honors block-to-block tribalism and promotes reprisal in a society that that more closely resembles a medieval revenge culture than an post enlightenment society.

The statistics alone are appalling; African American men between the ages of 18-30 are murdered at a rate 15 times greater than whites; even now, with the marked decline in murder rates, more than half of the killings in LA occurred in just 2 precincts in South Los Angeles. At the height of the murder epidemic in the early 90s, less than 40% of killings were solved.

But what is far more affecting than statistics are the heart rending accounts of the effect upon the survivors; the loved ones whose lives decay in a waking death full of grief. Several passages left me heaving in agony. Violence is a scourge upon these communities, a soul breaking, life destroying plague no less destructive than cholera or a tidal wave.

Some elements of Leovy's thesis withstand scrutiny with difficulty. Her analysis most critically does not explain the marked drop in violent crime in the absence of any real improvement in the efficacy of crime solving. She also gives little examination or counter weight to the widely held belief that crime prevention tactics, such as gang units, are an effective deterrent. Still,her account convinced me that along with effective reductions in teen pregnancy, effective control of violence is a key element in improving the lives of the poor. These black lives also matter.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trump vs. Scrooge McDuck


The Federalist has a great piece on Trump. Well worth the view.


Winner And Losers


Your impressive catalog of analyses of the likely consequences of the raising the minimum wage deserves praise. There's no question that such a policy will produce winners and losers. The widely quoted CBO analysis  (next to last in your list) see the tradeoff in these terms

Increasing the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers. Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.

So, if  the CBO analysis is right, poverty for some (I believe the specific figure is about 900,000), would improve, and worsen for others.

The larger problem is the arbitrariness of how the latest effort (a 1$5 minimum for fast food workers) rewards those winners and losers. This may be gratifying politics for the left, but it is poor public policy. As our favorite newspaper points out today in the Upshot section:

A wage increase applying to such a narrow segment of the economy is bound to have unintended consequences...

Some of the problems with a narrow minimum wage are obvious. It doesn’t do much to raise incomes for workers who don’t work at fast-food chains. And it imposes higher costs on some businesses than others ...

The rule could cause business owners to change their business models to avoid the higher minimum wage....

Economists call these changes “distortions,” and they cause two kinds of problems. One, fewer workers get a raise as a result of the minimum wage. Two, it encourages businesses to do things that customers may not prefer...

I would prefer a universal increase in the minimum wage, as you know. I think it would do much more good than harm. I am skeptical of the current piecemeal approach


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Maybe Rick Perry Can do For America What He's Done For Texas


One can't fail to be impressed by the eloquence of Governor Perry's remarks. As the longest serving governor in Texas history he certainly has a record to run on.

Indicator                                                              Texas Rank Among the States (highest to lowest)

Employment Rate                                                       15

Education Achievement                                              39

Percentage of high school graduates                            50

High School Graduation Rate                                      44

Percent minimum wage earners                                      1

Percentage with health insurance                                   50

Percentage living in poverty                                            4

Home insurance Rates                                                  50

Infant Mortality                                                             30

Murder rate                                                                   23

Execution Rate                                                               2



Monday, July 27, 2015

At a Minimum. I Doubt this Will Convince You


I doubt this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this,  or this,  or this, or this, or this, or this, or this, will convince you, and I'm sure you could come up with your own set of this's, but it's worth glancing at anyway.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

One of Mrs. Clinton's More Obvious Attributes


I thought this statement from Mrs. Clinton hilarious:

"Clearly I'm not asking people to vote for me simply because I'm a woman," presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in West Columbia, South Carolina on Thursday. "I'm asking people to vote for me on the merits. And I think one of the merits is I am a woman and I can bring those views and perspectives to the White House."
Even better was Andrea Mitchell's comment after playing the video clip, "That's actually, one of her more obvious attributes." Seems, actually, an obviously sexist remark to me.


Friday, July 24, 2015

What Happened to Harry Reid?

The Washington Examiner has a story titled, "McConnell and Reid may have just set a 51-vote threshold for passing Obamacare repeal." 

The story is interesting enough, but I can't stop looking at this picture. It's like Harry Reid is channeling Ray Charles. Reid says he had an accident while exercising. The less charitable say he was beaten up by his organized crime associates. Others say he was involved in S&M that got out of hand. Crazy stuff.

Have you noticed the Senate is actually moving on legislation, as is the House? Noticed how the cries of "disfunctional Congress" have subsided? I never subscribed to the theory of a broken government. To me it was a function of divided government. Divided government headed by a lackluster leader results in stasis. Nothing broken about that. Elections have consequences. Personnel changes. Life goes on.

"Next week, Senate Republicans could pass Obamacare repeal with a simple 51-vote majority as part of the long-term highway bill, according to Sen. Mike Lee.

The Utah Republican laid out the argument in a press release after party leaders set the sequencing of votes:

"The first Obamacare vote on Sunday will have a 60 vote threshold, and Democrats will likely block it," Lee continued. "But thanks to the sequencing of the votes we just locked in, Republicans will have the opportunity resurrect that Obamacare amendment later on in the process, and put it back before the Senate in a manner that only requires a simple-majority vote."

After cloture is reached on the Export-Import Bank amendment, senators will still be allowed to offer germane amendments to the highway bill, each of which would only require a simple-majority to pass. If the Chair rules that the Obamacare amendment is non-germane, Senate Rule 22 also allows any senator to appeal that ruling to the full Senate. At that point, a simple-majority of Senators would have the power to add the Obamacare repeal amendment to the highway bill.

If Lee is correct, then Democrats, in order to save Obamacare, would need to kill the highway bill — and thus their effort to restart the expired Export-Import Bank. (Unless, of course, Republicans bail Democrats out and sink the repeal efforts.)"


Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith and Obamacare


This is from  Milton Friedman's, "From Galbraith to Economic Freedom"

The relationship between size and government control, in my opinion, is the reverse of that which Galbraith presents. He presents a picture in which the large enterprises grow and then take the government in to help them plan. Now there is no doubt that business enterprises will in fact try to use the government for their purposes and often are successful in doing so. Adam Smith wrote that two centuries ago. But the relationship in the United States has been that government measures have promoted the concentration of industry and the growth of large enterprises; and in the absence of the government measures that need not have happened at all. So I don’t think there is any necessity for the Galbraithian picture, either for the present or for the future.

Cause and effect are difficult to prove. I'll just say it's seems more than coincidental there is a merger spree in the insurance industry as well as the hospital industry since the passage of Obamacare. One of the smarter hedge funds bet on that very thing:

Glenview Capital Management LLC made a bold decision when President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul was rolling out: Bet on it.

The result has been one of the most successful hedge-fund wagers in recent years. New York-based Glenview has realized and paper gains of more than $3.2 billion since it started making investments in hospitals and insurers four years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of securities filings.


Rick Perry


I guess I kind of like Rick Perry. Maybe more accurate to say I want to like him. He may get over the "Oops" moment from last time, or not. To me it's not a big deal. We are both lucky we're not held to account every time we forget something. Even the world's greatest orator at one time forgot how many states are in the Union. (Obama Claims He's Visited 57 States).

I do like what Perry has been saying about race, opportunity and Trump. (You do have to go outside of the NY Times however to find it).

There was this, from a July 2nd speech at the National Press Club

We are a country with Hispanic CEOs, with Asian billionaires, and a black president. So why is it that today so many black families feel left behind? Why is it that a quarter of African-Americans live below the poverty line? Even after the impact of federal programs like food stamps and housing subsidies, the supplemental poverty rate for African-Americans is nearly double the rate for other Americans.

Democrats have long had the opportunity to govern African-American communities. It is time for black families to hold them accountable for the results. I am here to tell you that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves and their children.

I am proud to live in a country that has an African-American president. But President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership. We cannot dismiss the historical legacy of slavery, nor its role in causing the problem of black poverty. And because slavery and segregation were sanctioned by government, there is a role for government policy in addressing their lasting effects....
There has been—and will continue to be—an important and legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights. Too often, we Republicans—myself included—have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th—an amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.

For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all. It is time for us to once again reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.
Here's Perry on Trump's views on Mexicans and the border:

I have a message for my fellow Republicans and the independents who will be voting in the primary process: what Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism – a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.

I suspect you agree with those sentiments as well.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Do the Democrats Hate Uber?


What's not to love? Convenience, good service, lower prices. Here's the NY Times on Democratic Mayor of New York Bill DeBlasio:

And now, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio is moving to halt the runaway expansion, citing a classic urban scourge to make its case: The infusion of vehicles, the city says, appears to be clogging Manhattan traffic.With a City Council vote expected as early as next week on a proposal that would place a cap on Uber’s growth, pending a study of traffic patterns, the sides have become entangled in a protracted struggle, on camera and off, over the future of mobility in the city.
Most companies roll over and play dead when politicians start to play dirty. I like Uber because they don't. When they enter a market, they just do. Regualtions be damned.

Here's what you get when you pull up the Uber app in midtown Manhattan:

If you aren't familiar with Uber there are different service levels, which can be accessed on the bottom. 4 minutes to get an UberX, which is a car driven by someone looking to make a few bucks. 

Here's what you get for the DeBlasio option:

25 minutes is what Uber claims for a wait if DeBlasio gets his way to restrict competition, and protect the incumbent cab industry.

Linking to "See What Happens"  results in this screen.

Hilary Clinton  is (naturally) ambiguous about Uber and other "gig economy," or as most of us call it, "sharing economy," companies. 

As I've said to you a few times. When I hail a cab I expect a bad ride. But I've only had enjoyable rides with uber.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Let Them Burn Wood


I saw this graph recently, "Fossil fuels have made up at least 80% of U.S. fuel mix since 1900," from 

Before 1850 wood generated all of the energy consumed in the US. Since then 80% from coal, gas and oil. I don't think it's coincidence the greatest reduction in poverty, and the greatest increase in human prosperity also took place since 1850. 

The chart shows all energy consumption, not just for electricity, which is why the share of coal is so low and the share of oil so high. In any case it shows, in my mind, just how unrealistic it is to think of an economy powered by renewables any time soon.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

What's A Moderate to Do?


It's not as if I'm jumping up and down with joy over the current state of the Democratic party. With important exceptions (minimum wage, gun control, single payer health insurance, immigration reform), more and more I find myself to the right of center of my party, and well beyond those who shout the loudest within it. On trade, on economic growth, on an all-of the-above-energy policy, on comprehensive tax reform I barely qualify as a Dem at all. And as far doing anything about inequality, I think the liberal schemes for redistribution are as likely to be as ineffective as conservative fantasies for growth. Every time I read through the comments section of David Brooks' columns I'm filled with disgust for those so blinded by hate that they can't even listen to what the man is actually saying.

So why don't I cross over to the other side, you might ask,. Why not end all the confusion and hypocrisy and at least vote my self interest? Why go on throwing in my lot with folks who resent people like me (and you)?

It's all well and good to believe that government is too big, that self reliance is the truest virtue, that self interest serves the collective good, and that change should be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. Those ideas we will continue to debate and and agree on with a frequency that perhaps surprises us both. It's quite another to consistently pander to the worst instincts of a body politic, and to do so with such relentlessness and cynicism. From the Southern Strategy to Philadelphia. Mississippi to welfare queens to Willie Horton, Republican candidates have been blowing the dog whistle of bigotry for as long as I can remember. The irony that the people who hear the dog whistle most clearly used to be Democrats is not lost on me. It doesn't excuse it. It's wrong, and the entire country (and maybe even the Republican Party) would be better off if it stopped.

The extremes on either side don't offer much of an answer, just a bunch of cheap polemics that may satisfy their fans but not much in the plausible way out of the thicket we're in.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

I Thank Almighty G-d I am an American


I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday. A distinguished physician, he's now in his mid 80s, debilitated by a chronic progressive disease, and frail. He's had a rich life full of joy and the dignity of work deeply honorable, but marked also by most terrible loss. I've never seen his innate gentleness desert  him. With limited mobility, he spends his time reading. "I can accept the loss of my body," he said to me. "As long as I have my mind I am OK." He doesn't feel sorry for himself or unsettled by his affliction. "I feel lucky for the life I've had. I feel lucky to have been born in this place and time."

To that I simply say "Amen." I remind myself of this regularly. I marvel at our nation's endless resilience, its enduring optimism (yes, I said that), it's refusal to remain complacent, its insistence, however uneven, however long it takes, on correcting its mistakes, of moving ever fitfully toward the betterment of all its citizens. As a member of a once scorned, now deeply privileged minority I have experienced this up close. If my immigrant ancestors had not fled the shtetl, I wouldn't have had the life I've had. I wouldn't have any life at all.  

So here's a hearty Happy Birthday to our exceptional nation.  Exceptional not so much for what we are as what we strive to be.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

University of Wisconsin Micro Agressions


I didn't believe this when I heard it, but at the University of Wisconsin in November of 2014 as part of the New Faculty & Staff Seminar Series, at the seminar titled, "Creating a Safe Zone in the Classroom: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity," a Racial Microagressions Table listed the following as microagressions:

“I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Better for Whom-A Response


You wrote:

Economic and political progress remains limited for most African Americans. By any measure they are poorer than whites, and the gap has increased in the wake of the Great Recession. They achieve less education. They live less healthy lives and they die sooner. The criminal justice system systematically punishes them disproportionately for the same crimes as compared to whites. The proportion of black men <35 yrs of age incarcerated any given time defies belief.  
I agree with your assessment that Republicans are mostly indifferent and the Democrats aren't much better.

I suspect you agree with me that the difference in educational opportunities and outcomes is a major issue. However I doubt you'll agree with me a solution is removing government from the education business. I was served well by public education but my children less so. I've become convinced it would be much better if we shopped for elementary schools like we shopped for groceries or iPhones, or higher education. That is, lots of choice and suppliers constantly seeking new, better more efficient, effective ways to satisfy consumer demand. Vouchers for all if you insist on a government role.

I doubt many would agree with this since it would be disruptive to the affluent communities, where schools mostly satisfy the demands of the consumer. But it would also be disruptive to the communities where schools are not serving the consumer. As you point out the Republicans are mostly indifferent, and the Democrats mostly ask to do more of what clearly isn't working. They haven't heard the first rule of holes: When you are in a hole, stop digging.

Even in affluent communities like mine, children can be better served. At a recent school board election I asked the candidates what they thought of new teaching methods like Khan Academy, Coursera and Udacity. Not a single person running for the board had heard of these. But why should they? Our schools are funded from property taxes, and house values are partly driven by the perception of school quality. The Board is really only elected to vote as much as possible for the schools so property values are maintained or increased. But what are we doing: finding the best way to educate children or reinforcing a system to keep our house prices elevated?

Vouchers for all and free entry into the education market would jeopardize too much for too many. Kids be damned. Vouchers in NY and DC have introduced some competition into the market but to the eternal shame of the Democrats, these reforms are being resisted. Only when the problem becomes exigent will change be possible. I don't see how communities with low educational achievement can improve unless we in essence blow up the current educational establishment. Or maybe the start will come from affluent communities, like Douglas County, CO, which has embraced vouchers.

I would also cease the Wars on America (War on Drugs, War on Crime, War on Terror), which I believe mostly hurts the poor and politically weak.  The Washington Post has been focusing more on civil asset forfeiture, a weapon used in the War on America. See "Drug cops took a college kid’s savings and now 13 police departments want a cut," for how out-of-control this has become.

As you point out, incarceration rates for blacks is significantly higher than for whites, and this is true for drug-related incarcerations as well, but I seriously doubt drug use among whites is significantly different than drug use among blacks.

So again we agree. What we are doing isn't working. But from the Republicans, except for Rand Paul, I hear little. And from the Democrats, I hear little different.


Progress, in small steps

As you know, I think the Ex-Im Bank is way to funnel money to the customer's of Boeing, GE and Catepillar. Each of these companies have internal financing arms, begging the question why they need the Ex-Im Bank. The answer of course is, why risk you own money if you can get the US taxpayer to risk his money instead.

Good news is Ex-Im authority has expired.