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August 29, 2014

Notaries Were Useful in a Contractual Society



(p. 111) Notaries were not figures of great dignity, but in a contractual and intensely litigious culture, they were legion. The Florentine notary Lapo Mazzei describes six or seven hundred of them crowded into (p. 112) the town hall, carrying under their arms bundles of documents, " each folder thick as half a bible." Their knowledge of the law enabled them to draw up local regulations, arrange village elections, compose letters of complaint. Town officials who were meant to administer justice often had no clue how to proceed; the notaries would whisper in their ears what they were meant to say and would write the necessary documents. They were useful people to have around.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






August 25, 2014

Human Freedom and Dignity Lived in Florence



(p. 125) Ancona was, like Florence, an independent commune, and Salutati was urging its citizens to revolt against the papal government that had been imposed upon them: " Will you always stand in the darkness of slavery? Do you not consider, O best of men, how sweet liberty is? Our ancestors, indeed the whole Italian race, fought for five hundred years . . . so that liberty would not be lost ." The revolt he was trying to incite was, of course, in Florence's strategic interest, but in attempting to arouse a spirit of liberty, Salutati was not being merely cynical. He seems genuinely to have believed that Florence was the heir to the republicanism on which ancient Roman greatness had been founded. That greatness, the proud claim of human freedom and dignity, had all but vanished from the broken, dirty streets of Rome, the debased staging ground of sordid clerical intrigues, but it lived, in Salutati's view, in Florence. And he was its principal voice.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






August 24, 2014

U.S. Constitution Reflects Lockean Natural Rights



(p. A13) Over the past three decades, Richard A. Epstein has repeatedly argued--with analytical rigor and astonishing erudition--that governments govern best when they limit their actions to protecting liberty and property. He is perhaps best known for "Takings," his 1995 book on the losses that regulations impose on property owners. Of late, he has exposed the flaws of a government-administered health system.

In "The Classical Liberal Constitution," Mr. Epstein takes up the political logic of our fundamental law. The Constitution, he says, reflects above all John Locke's insistence on protecting natural rights--rights that we possess simply by virtue of our humanity. Their protection takes concrete form in the Constitution by restricting the federal government to specific, freedom-advancing and property-protecting tasks, such as establishing a procedurally fair justice system, minting money as a stable repository of value, preserving a national trade zone among the states, and, not least, guarding the rights listed in the Bill of Rights.



For the full review, see:

JOHN O. MCGINNIS. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 23, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 23, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state.")


The book under review is:

Epstein, Richard A. The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.






August 23, 2014

The Vagueness and Regulatory Discretion of Dodd-Frank Is "a Recipe for Cronyism"



(p. 218) Aaron Steelman has an "Interview" with John Cochrane. On Dodd-Frank: "I think Dodd-Frank repeats the same things we've been trying over and over again that have failed, in bigger and bigger ways. . . . The deeper problem is the idea that we just need more regulation--as if regulation is something you pour into a glass like water--not smarter and better designed regulation. Dodd-Frank is pretty bad in that department. It is a long and vague law that spawns a mountain of vague rules, which give regulators huge discretion to tell banks what to do. It's a recipe for cronyism and for banks to game the system to limit competition." On how to stop bailing out large financial institutions: "You have to set up the system ahead of time so that you either can't or won't need to conduct bailouts. Ideally, both. . . . The worst possible system is one in which everyone thinks bailouts are coming, but the government in fact does not have the legal authority to bail out." . . . Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Third Quarter 2013, pp. 34-38. https://www.richmondfed
.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2013/q3/pdf/interview.pdf
.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, and first two ellipses, are in original; the last ellipsis is added.)






August 21, 2014

Salutati Defended the Independence of Florence



(p. 124) The independence of Florence--the fact that it was not a client of another state, that it was not dependent on the papacy, and that it was not ruled by a king, a tyrant, or a prelate but governed by a body of its own citizens--was for Salutati what most mattered in the world. His letters, dispatches, protocols, and manifestos, written on behalf of the ruling priors of Florence, are stirring documents, and they were read and copied throughout Italy.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






August 18, 2014

"The Lone Commando Who Answers to No One and Breaks Rules to Save Patients Is No Longer a Viable Job Description"



(p. D5) A keen sense of loss permeates "Code Black," an affecting love letter from a young doctor to his hospital. Over the years, plenty of similar romances have been immortalized in book form, but this may be the first to play out as a documentary, and is surely the first to emerge from our newly reformed health care climate. You'd think you'd be in for some celebration.

But not in the least. In fact, among all its familiar themes, the film's most striking is the profound sense of estrangement between the young doctors on the screen and all the recent efforts at improving the health care system. The spirit that brought them to medicine and keeps them there, they say over and over, was never even part of the national discussion.


. . .


. . . , as their department chairman points out, the day of the cowboy doctor is over; the lone commando who answers to no one and breaks rules to save patients is no longer a viable job description. Newly smothered in paperwork and quality control, many of these young doctors grieve for a self-image that has ridden off into the sunset.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.. "Saving Lives and Pushing Paper." The New York Times (Tues., July 1, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 30, 2014.)






August 17, 2014

Salutati Imitated Antiquity "in Order to Produce Something New"



(p. 124) " I have always believed," Salutati wrote . . . , that "I must imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it, but in order to produce something new. . . ."


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: first ellipsis added, second ellipsis in original.)






August 14, 2014

Dogs, and Movie About Dog, Banned in Iran



(p. D6) In Jafar Panahi's new movie, a writer in Iran smuggles his pet dog into his home inside a tote bag. The film, "Closed Curtain," addresses Iranian lawmakers' recent ban on dog-walking in public, part of an effort to curb perceived Western influences including keeping pets. For two decades, Mr. Panahi has captured such vagaries of life in his native country.

"Closed Curtain," which won the best screenplay award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, opens at New York City's Film Forum on July 9. It is Mr. Panahi's second film since December 2010, when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court banned him from making movies for 20 years.



For the interview with Panahi, see:

TOBIAS GREY. "An Iranian Director's Best Friend." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 27, 2014): D6.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 26, 2014, an has the title "Iranian Director Flouts Ban on Filming.")






August 9, 2014

20 Years Before Fall of Rome, Ammianus Described "a World Exhausted by Crushing Taxes"



(p. 48) . . . ghosts surged up from the Roman past. An ancient literary critic who had flourished during Nero's reign and had written notes and glosses on classical authors; another critic who quoted extensively from lost epics written in imitation of (p. 49) Homer; a grammarian who wrote a treatise on spelling that Poggio knew his Latin-obsessed friends in Florence would find thrilling. Yet another manuscript was a discovery whose thrill might have been tinged for him with melancholy: a large fragment of a hitherto unknown history of the Roman Empire written by a high-ranking officer in the imperial army, Ammianus Marcellinus. The melancholy would have arisen not only from the fact that the first thirteen of the original thirty-one books were missing from the manuscript Poggio copied by hand--and these lost books have never been found--but also from the fact that the work was written on the eve of the empire's collapse. A clearheaded, thoughtful, and unusually impartial historian, Ammianus seems to have sensed the impending end. His description of a world exhausted by crushing taxes, the financial ruin of large segments of the population, and the dangerous decline in the army's morale vividly conjured up the conditions that made it possible, some twenty years after his death, for the Goths to sack Rome.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 2, 2014

Climate Models Allow "the Modeler to Obtain Almost Any Desired Result"




Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are the commonly-used models that attempt to integrate climate science models with economic effect models. In the passage quoted below, "SCC" stands for "social cost of carbon."


(p. 870) I have argued that IAMs are of little or no value for evaluating alternative climate change policies and estimating the SCC. On the contrary, an IAM-based analysis suggests a level of knowledge and precision that is nonexistent, and allows the modeler to obtain almost any desired result because key inputs can be chosen arbitrarily.

As I have explained, the physical mechanisms that determine climate sensitivity involve crucial feedback loops, and the parameter values that determine the strength of those feedback loops are largely unknown. When it comes to the impact of climate change, we know even less. IAM damage functions are completely made up, with no theoretical or empirical foundation. They simply reflect common beliefs (which might be wrong) regarding the impact of 2º C or 3º C of warming, and can tell us nothing about what might happen if the temperature increases by 5º C or more. And yet those damage functions are taken seriously when IAMs are used to analyze climate policy. Finally, IAMs tell us nothing about the likelihood and nature of catastrophic outcomes, but it is just such outcomes that matter most for climate change policy. Probably the best we can do at this point is come up with plausible estimates for probabilities and possible impacts of catastrophic outcomes. Doing otherwise is to delude ourselves.



For the full article, see:

Pindyck, Robert S. "Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?" Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 860-72.






July 30, 2014

Privatizing TSA Screeners Has Worked Well



(p. 241) Chris Edwards makes the case for "Privatizing the Transportation Security Administration." "More than 80 percent of Europe's commercial airports use private screening companies, including those in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain. The other airports in Europe use their own in-house security, but no major country in Europe uses the national government's aviation bureaucracy for screening. Europe's airports moved to private contracting during the 1980s and 1990s after numerous hijackings and terrorist threats, and it has worked very well. Canada also uses private screening companies at its commercial airports, and some airports also use private firms for general airport security. . . . The 2001 legislation that created TSA established the SPP [Screening Partnership Program], which has allowed some airports to opt out of TSA screening and use private firms. The firms contract with TSA and are under federal regulatory control. Originally, there were five airports in the program, with San Francisco being the largest. All five have had good results with private screening and have stuck with it. The number of SPP airports has grown to 16 today." Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 742, November 19, 2013, http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/privatizing-transportation-security-administration.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, in original.)






July 29, 2014

HR Regulations and Fear of Lawsuits Keep Managers from Firing Workers Who Do Not Work



(p. 1B) The biggest problem in your workplace has a name. His name is Jeff. . . .

Jeff sits two cubicles down from us, or three, or four. His real name may be John, Juan or Joan. He gets to the widget factory late, he leaves early and always mucks up his part of any group project. He complains, loudly, about the smallest things, and when you bring doughnuts for your birthday he probably takes three and then talks with his mouth full, too.


. . .


(p. 2B) . . . , morale suffers greatly when most of a company's employees perceive that their supervisor is failing to deal with their low-performing co-worker, month after month, year after year.

For this, Hoogeveen blames a corporate culture that is so concerned about HR regulations, and the often-imagined threat of litigation, that bosses often fail to take into account how the trouble employee affects the larger climate.


. . .


. . . if Jeff doesn't improve, he needs to be fired. This is perhaps the worst part of a boss's job, Hoogeveen thinks. His eyes mist as he recalls firing an employee whom he liked, but who was simply a bad fit at QLI.

It's human nature to avoid this conflict, to maintain the status quo and let Jeff be, he says. That's what can and does happen at most Omaha companies.

But it's bad for the employees, and it's bad for business.

"A lot of this stuff is incredibly easy to understand," says Omaha's workplace mechanic [Kim Hoogeveen]. "It's incredibly difficult to live."



For the full story, see:

Hansen, Matthew. "Workplace Guru: Don't Let Problem Worker Slide." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., July 21, 2014): 1B-2B.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "Hansen: Don't let Jeff -- the problem worker -- slide, workplace guru says.")






July 26, 2014

Countries that Protect Jobs Stifle Economic Growth



(p. 240) In an "Interview" conducted by Jessie Romero, John Haltiwanger discusses changing patterns of job creation and destruction: "But now we're seeing a decline in the entry rate and a pretty stark decline in the share of young businesses. . . . But it's also important to recognize that the decline in the share of young firms has occurred because the impact of entry is not just at the point of entry, it's also over the next five or 10 years. A wave of entrants come in, and some of them grow very rapidly, and some of them fail. That dynamic has slowed down. . . . If you look at young small businesses, or just young businesses period, the 90th percentile growth rate is incredibly high. Young businesses not only are volatile, but their growth rates also are tremendously skewed. It's rare to have a young business take off, but those that do add lots of jobs and contribute a lot to productivity growth. We have found that startups together with high-growth firms, which are disproportionately young, account for roughly 70 percent of overall job creation in the United States. . . . "I think the evidence is overwhelming that countries have tried to stifle the [job] destruction process and this has caused problems. I'm hardly a fan of job destruction per se, but making it difficult for firms to contract, through restricting shutdowns, bankruptcies, layoffs, etc., can have adverse consequences. The reason is that there's so much heterogeneity in productivity across businesses. So if you stifle that destruction margin, you're going to keep lots of low-productivity businesses in existence, and that could lead to a sluggish economy. I just don't think we have any choice in a modern market economy but to allow for that reallocation to go on. Of course, what you want is an environment where not only is there a lot of job destruction, but also a lot of job creation, so that when workers lose their jobs they either immediately transit to another job or their unemployment duration is low." Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Second Quarter 2013, pp. 30-34. http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2013/q2/pdf/interview.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, ellipses, and bracketed word, in original.)






July 6, 2014

Summers's Unbreakable Washington Power Elite Rule: Insiders Don't Criticize Other Insiders



(p. 5) A telling anecdote involves a dinner that Ms. Warren had with Lawrence H. Summers, then the director of the National Economic Council and a top economic adviser to President Obama. The dinner took place in the spring of 2009, after the oversight panel had produced its third report, concluding that American taxpayers were at far greater risk to losses in TARP than the Treasury had let on.

After dinner, "Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice," Ms. Warren writes. "I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People -- powerful people -- listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don't criticize other insiders."

"I had been warned," Ms. Warren concluded.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Summers did not respond to a request for comment.



For the full commentary, see:

GRETCHEN MORGENSON. "Fair Game; From Outside or Inside, the Deck Looks Stacked." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 27, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: italics in original commentary, and in Warren book. I added a missing quotation mark.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 26, 2014.)


The Warren passages quoted above are from p. 106 of her book:

Warren, Elizabeth. A Fighting Chance. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.









July 2, 2014

The Opportunity Cost of Surgeons Dictating and Documenting Health Records



(p. A13) Across the country, doctors waste precious time filling in unnecessary electronic-record fields just to satisfy a regulatory measure. I personally spend two hours a day dictating and documenting electronic health records just so I can be paid and not face a government audit. Is that the best use of time for a highly trained surgical specialist?


For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL F. CRAVIOTTO JR. "A Doctor's Declaration of Independence; It's time to defy health-care mandates issued by bureaucrats not in the healing profession." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 29, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 28, 2014.)






June 27, 2014

Instead of 50 Silicon Valleys, Andreessen Sees 50 Kinds of Silicon Valley



AndreessenMarcCofounderNetscape2014-05-31.jpg "Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first major web browser, Netscape, has a record for knowing what's coming next with technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) Mr. Andreessen said new valleys will eventually emerge. But they won't be Silicon Valley copycats.

Over the past couple of years, venture firms have invested in start-ups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and all over China. Los Angeles, for example, is home to Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Oculus VR and Beats, some of the big tech stories of the year. Mr. Andreessen said another hot place is Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech.

But he offers a caveat.

"My personal view is that Silicon Valley will continue to take a disproportionate share of the No. 1 positions in great new markets, and I think that's just a reflection that the fact that the valley works as well as it does," Mr. Andreessen said.

There is a caveat to his caveat.

In Mr. Andreessen's view, there shouldn't be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a 3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley. As he noted, there are huge regulatory hurdles in many of these fields. If a city wanted to spur innovation around drones, for instance, it might have to remove any local legal barriers to flying unmanned aircraft.



For the full interview, see:

NICK BILTON. "DISRUPTIONS; Forecasting the Next Big Moves in Tech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 19, 2014): B8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 18, 2014, and has the title "DISRUPTIONS; Marc Andreessen on the Future of Silicon Valley(s), and the Next Big Technology." )






June 20, 2014

How Medicaid Rewards Doctors Who Mistreat Patients



(p. A13) I recently operated on a child with strabismus (crossed eyes). This child was covered by Medicaid. I was required to obtain surgical pre-authorization using a Current Procedural Terminology, or CPT, code for medical identification and billing purposes. The CPT code identified the particular procedure to be performed. Medicaid approved my surgical plan, and the surgery was scheduled.

During the surgery, I discovered the need to change my plan to accommodate findings resulting from a previous surgery by another physician. Armed with new information, I chose to operate on different muscles from the ones noted on the pre-approved plan. The revised surgery was successful, and the patient obtained straight eyes.

However, because I filed for payment using the different CPT code for the surgery I actually performed, Medicaid was not willing to adjust its protocol. The government denied all payment. Ironically, the code-listed payment for the procedure I ultimately performed was an amount 40% less than the amount approved for the initially authorized surgery. For over a year, I challenged Medicaid about its decision to deny payment. I wrote numerous letters and spoke to many Medicaid employees explaining the predicament. Eventually I gave up fighting what had obviously become a losing battle.



For the full commentary, see:

ZANE F. POLLARD. "The Bureaucrat Sitting on Your Doctor's Shoulder; When I'm operating on a child, I shouldn't have to wonder if Medicaid will OK a change in the surgical plan.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 21, 2014.)






June 16, 2014

June 16th Is Liberalism Day




In the old days a "liberal" was someone who believed in freedom, including free markets and minimal government. Milton Friedman defended "liberal" in its original sense in his article "Liberalism, Old Style."

At some point the left hijacked the word, at least in the United States. (I understand that in much of the rest of the world "liberal" still retains more of its original meaning.)

Maybe there's some defensible justification for hijacking a word, but most of the time it seems like a dishonest and cowardly way to win an argument by muddying up the debate.

Dan Klein and Kevin Frei are trying to reclaim the word "liberal" from the pirates of the left. As part of their effort, they have proclaimed June 16th to be "Liberalism Day."

I believe their cause is just, but I am not sure it is efficient. Time and effort are scarce, so we must pick our battles.

On the other hand, the meaning of "libertarian" has narrowed over recent decades. It used to be that most libertarians believed in minimal government; increasingly more libertarians endorse anarchism. It used to be that most libertarians believed in national defense; increasingly more libertarians endorse total isolationism.

I do believe in some minimal night-watchman state, and I do believe that sometimes there is evil in the world that must be fought. So maybe I should start calling myself a "liberal" in the original sense, what Friedman called a "classical liberal"?


#LiberalismDay





June 13, 2014

Federal Tax Reduction Fueled Craft Beer Revolution



TheCraftBeerRevolutionBK2014-05-28.jpg













Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.




(p. 6) The story of craft beer's rise begins in 1965, when Fritz Maytag, an heir to the Maytag appliance fortune, bought and revived the Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, thus inspiring a generation of so-called home brewers to begin considering commercial ventures.


. . .


A 1976 federal tax reduction for small brewers fueled the industry's growth.


. . .


For years, the greatest challenge for craft brewers was distribution -- simply getting restaurants and grocery stores to sell their product. Most wholesale beer distributors, Mr. Hindy writes, were heavily reliant on the three megabreweries -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors -- and couldn't be bothered to spend time pushing obscure brands whose makers rarely had enough money to advertise. In 1996, Augustus Busch III demanded that its distributors devote a "100 percent share of mind" to Busch products. That left most microbrewers to beg and wheedle the Miller and Coors distributors, a situation so frustrating that, in time, Mr. Hindy's Brooklyn Brewery began distributing its own products.



For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; Craft Brewers, Finding a Better Seat at the Bar." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MAY 11, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 10, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Hindy, Steve. The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.






June 11, 2014

"A Backhanded Slap to Overweening European Union Rule Makers"



LemonsSoldByUglyFruit2014-05-31.jpg "Lemons sold by Ugly Fruit." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) At a time of lingering economic hardship for many in the European Union, whose penchant for regulation has extended even to the shape, size and color of the foods its citizens eat, Ms. Soares has bet that there is a market for fruits and vegetables deemed too ugly by government bureaucrats, supermarkets and other retailers to sell to their customers.

Six months ago, she and a handful of volunteers started a cooperative called Fruta Feia, or Ugly Fruit, which in its short life is already verging on a kind of countercultural movement. It has taken off with hard-pressed consumers, won applause from advocates outraged by Europe's skyrocketing food waste, and provided a backhanded slap to overweening European Union rule makers. In its own way, it has even quietly subverted fixed notions of what is beautiful, or at least edible.

"The E.U. norms are based on the mistaken idea that quality is about appearance," said Ms. Soares, 31, who formerly worked in Barcelona as a renewable energy consultant. "It's of course easier to measure the exterior aspect rather than interior features like sugar levels, but that is the wrong way to determine quality."

She said her goal was "to break the dictatorship of aesthetics, because it has really helped increase food wastage."

Europe wastes 89 million tons of food a year, according to a study presented in May by the Dutch and Swedish governments, which called on the European Union "to reduce the amount of food waste caused by the labeling system."

For her part, Ms. Soares estimates that a third of Portugal's farming produce goes to waste because of the quality standards set by supermarkets and their consumers. She says the waste is also a striking example of misplaced regulatory intervention by the European Union, which has tried to unify food standards across the 28-nation bloc.



For the full story, see:

RAPHAEL MINDER. "Tempting Europe With Ugly Fruit." The New YorkTimes, First Section (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 6 & 8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 24, 2014.)






June 9, 2014

Government Regulations Favor Health Care Incumbents



WhereDoesItHurtBK2014-05-28.jpg





Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.





(p. A11) The rise in U.S. health-care costs, to nearly 18% of GDP today from around 6% of GDP in 1965, has alarmed journalists, inspired policy wonks and left patients struggling to find empathy in a system that tends to view them as "a vessel for billing codes," as the technologist Dave Chase has put it.

Enter Jonathan Bush, dyslexic entrepreneur, . . .


. . .


. . . , Mr. Bush touts technology as a driver of change. It has revolutionized the way we shop for books and select hotels, but health-care delivery has been stubbornly resistant. Mr. Bush notes that the number of people supporting each doctor has climbed to 16 today from 10 in 1990--half of whom, currently, are administrators handling the mounting paperwork. Astonishingly, as Mr. Bush observes, the government had to pay doctors billions of dollars, via the 2009 HITECH Act, to incentivize them to upgrade from paper to computers. Meanwhile, fast-food chains discovered computers on their own, because the market demanded it.


. . .


Let entrepreneurs loose on these challenges, Mr. Bush believes, and they will come up with solutions.

Mr. Bush identifies three major obstacles to the kinds of change he has in mind. First, large hospital systems leverage their market position to charge hefty premiums for basic services, then use the proceeds to buy more regional hospitals and local practices. "As big ones take over the small," Mr. Bush laments, "prices shoot up. Choices vanish." Second, government regulations, especially state laws, favor powerful incumbents, shielding "imaging centers and hospitals from competition." Third, heath care suffers from a risk-avoidant culture. The maxim "do no harm," Mr. Bush says, should not be an excuse for clinging to a flawed status quo.



For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. "BOOKSHELF; A System Still in Need of Repair; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 19, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Where Does It Hurt?' by Jonathan Bush; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore.")


The book under review is:

Bush, Jonathan, and Stephen Baker. Where Does It Hurt?: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Fixing Health Care. New York: Portfolio, 2014.






June 3, 2014

Public Cannot Go into Space Because of Government Run Space Programs



BransonRichard2014-04-25.jpg "'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be able to run a spaceship company,' says Richard Branson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C11) Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is just months away from launching what he considers "the biggest Virgin company we've ever built." At 63, he's already founded multiple businesses worth billions, including a record label and a mobile company. But it's his foray into outer space with Virgin Galactic that has Mr. Branson excited.


. . .


Safety has been one of the biggest challenges in building Virgin Galactic. In 2007, two workers died after a tank explosion during a rocket test, and three were seriously wounded. The accident, which occurred at a partner company's facility, delayed the program for an estimated 18 months.

Risk factors weigh on the minds of potential customers as well, especially after NASA's 1986 Challenger disaster, in which seven crew members, including a schoolteacher, died. Mr. Branson thinks that today most people would want to go into space if they could be guaranteed a safe return trip. "Sadly, I think because the space program was run by governments, there was never any real interest in enabling members of the public to go to space after they tried once" with the Challenger, he explains. "After that, they decided not to take any risks whatsoever." He adds, "I would say 90% of people my age thought they would go to space because they saw the moon landing."



For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson; The Virgin Group founder on his out-of-this world venture: space travel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 1, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson on Space Travel; The Virgin Group founder on his latest out-of-this world venture, Virgin Galactic'.")






May 24, 2014

"A Libertarian Celebration of Hustling, Hacking and Free-Form Development"



TheBrightContinentBK2014-04-28.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/the-bright-continent/9780547678313#



(p. 21) Africa's gains have come not because of Western largess or painful structural adjustment programs set out by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Olopade argues, nor are they the work of governments. They are largely the fruit of Africans' efforts to help themselves, through creative means that sometimes involve breaking the rules.


. . .


She excavates a hopeful narrative about a continent on the rise, "a libertarian celebration of hustling, hacking and free-form development."

The best solutions, according to Olopade, are local, developed by people closest to the problem, not bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels: the South African gynecologist who operates out of two shipping containers stacked together, the Kenyan family who take over an abandoned plot of land to grow vegetables to eat and sell.

Central to Olopade's thesis is the concept of kanju, a term that describes "the specific creativity born from African difficulty." It is the rule-bending ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of headaches like crumbling infrastructure, corrupt bureaucracy and tightfisted banks unwilling to make loans to people without political connections.

Many countries have these kinds of hacks and workarounds. In India, the term is jugaad, and it has had its moment in the sun as a business school concept. India runs on this informal hacking of the system that makes life and business ­possible.



For the full review, see:

LYDIA POLGREEN. "Home Improvement." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 13, 2014): 21.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 11, 2014, and has the title "Home Improvement; 'The Bright Continent,' by Dayo Olopade.")


The book under review is:

Olopade, Dayo. The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2014.






May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"



SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.


. . .


A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."


. . .


(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.


. . .


Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."


. . .


"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)




SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 15, 2014

Koch Industries Was Only Major Ethanol Producer to Oppose Ethanol Tax Credits



(p. A17) I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles--the principles of a free society--that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.

Unfortunately, the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation's own government. That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles.


. . .


Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs--even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers--many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "OPINION; I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "OPINION; Charles Koch: I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." )


Koch's philosophy of the free market is more fully elaborated in:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.






May 14, 2014

Delta Overcomes Obstacles that Ground Other Airlines



DeltaOvercomesObstaclesToKeepFlyingGraphic.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


Cancellations due to mechanical failures, piliot illness and government regulations are often announced as though they were acts of God, outside the possible control of airlines, for which the airline is blameless. But airlines can take actions, and improve processes, to reduce the frequency and consequences of such cancellations. In airlines, and in other firms, there is not a sharp line between what can and what cannot be under the firm's control.


(p. D3) Atlanta

The crew of Delta Air Lines Flight 55 last Thursday couldn't legally fly from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta unless they waited a day due to new limits on how much pilots can fly in a rolling 28-day period. The trip would have to be canceled.

Instead, Delta headquarters told the captain to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which they could reach within their duty limits. There, two new pilots would be waiting to take the Boeing 767 on to Atlanta. The plane arrived in San Juan at 2:44 a.m., quickly took on fuel and pilots, and landed in Atlanta only 40 minutes late.

The episode, unorthodox in the airline industry, illustrates the fanaticism Delta now has for avoiding cancellations. Last year, Delta canceled just 0.3% of its flights, according to flight-tracking service FlightStats.com. That was twice as good as the next-best airlines, Southwest and Alaska, and five times better than the industry average of 1.7%.


. . .


Managers in Delta operations centers move planes, crews and parts around hourly trying to avoid canceling flights. How well an airline maintains its fleet and how smartly it stashes spare parts and planes at airports affect whether your flight goes or not.

Delta thinks it has come up with new analytical software and instruments that can help monitor the health of airplanes and predict which parts will soon fail. Empty planes are ferried to replace crippled jets rather than waiting for overnight repairs.

Mechanics developed a vibration monitor to install on cooling fans for cockpit instruments. A plane can't be sent out on a new trip with a broken fan.

Now when vibration starts to increase, indicating that a bearing may be wearing down and getting close to failing, a new fan is swapped in. The wobbly fan goes to the shop for new bearings. That has reduced canceled flights.

So has spending $2 million to have spare starters for Boeing 767 engines at all 767 stations abroad. Starters last about five years. While each plane has two and both engines can be started with one, you can't send a plane out on a long trip over oceans with only one working.



For the full story, see:

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; How Smartly an Airline Stashes Spare Parts and Planes at Airports Affects Whether or Not Your Flight Takes Off." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; Inside Delta's new strategies to avoid stranding fliers.")






May 8, 2014

Government Pushed Kiewit to Ignore Worker Safety



TrappedUnderTheSeaBK2014-04-25.jpg

















Source of book image: http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1369819962l/17934699.jpg



(p. C9) Boston Harbor's filth is legendary. It was mock-celebrated in the 1966 song "Dirty Water." The city's water-treatment plants were hopelessly inadequate, and barely treated sewage had been pouring into the harbor for decades.


. . .


The Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant was supposed to solve these problems. Begun in 1990, the $3.8 billion facility would process human and industrial waste on a small island in Boston Harbor and then send it through a 9.5-mile tunnel into the deep waters of the Atlantic. Fifty-five vertical pipes called risers spurred off the tunnel's final section to further diffuse waste before releasing it into the sea. Temporary safety plugs, likened to giant salad bowls, had been placed near the bottom of each riser to keep water from seeping in before construction was complete.

These plugs were a source of conflict between the tunnel's owner, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), and the company they hired to build it, Kiewit, "the Omaha-based construction giant" that, Mr. Swidey notes, "had built more miles of the U.S. highway system than any other contractor." The director of MWRA, Doug MacDonald, had left a job as a partner in a Boston law firm to take over the authority, a behemoth of 1,700 employees and, at the peak of harbor cleanup, an additional 3,000 construction workers. Mr. MacDonald's job included mollifying various parties who disagreed about how the Deer Island project would reach completion: Kiewit; the tunnel's designers, mostly out of the picture by 1998; ICF Kaiser Engineers, hired by MWRA to protect its interests and act as Mr. MacDonald's eyes and ears; the union "sandhogs" who bored out 2.4 million tons of rock to create the tunnel; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ostensibly looking out for worker safety but seeming more interested in handing out fines; and, though federal funds for harbor cleanup had long since dried up, "a bow-tied federal judge who served as the cleanup project's robed referee, threatening stiff fines or worse if the deadlines he imposed were not met."


. . .


The problem weighed most heavily on Kiewit. The firm was contractually obligated to deliver on time, subject to late-fee penalties of $30,000 a day, and to cover cost overruns. More, Kiewit had fronted the construction costs and would only be paid by selling the tunnel, piece by piece, to MWRA. The contract further obligated Kiewit to provide "lighting and ventilation (or breathing apparatus) for the personnel" that pulled the plugs but, in what seemed a senseless conflict, mandated that the plugs "could be removed only after the tunnel was completed," writes Mr. Swidey, "meaning after the sandhogs had cleared out, taking their extensive ventilation, transportation, and electrical systems with them."

Kiewit protested that clearing the tunnel of its life-sustaining infrastructure would make "the risk of catastrophe [to the workers pulling the plugs] . . . exponentially higher !" They offered several sound alternatives. In response, ICF Kaiser accused them of just wanting their payday. After a "year-long memo war," Kiewit capitulated, cleared the tunnel and hired a commercial dive team to go into a pitch-black airless tube.



For the full review, see:

NANCY ROMMELMANN. "BOOKS; One Mile Down, Ten Miles Out; Their oxygen was starting to get thin. On the verge of passing out, Hoss radioed back to the Humvees. The reply was an expletive, and the line went dead." The Wall Street Journal (Sat.,March 15, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis inside last paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Trapped Under the Sea' by Neil Swidey; In 1999, five deep-sea welders had to traverse a tunnel beneath Boston Harbor with no breathable air, no light and no chance for rescue should things go horribly wrong." )


The book under review is:

Swidey, Neil. Trapped under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014.






May 3, 2014

Sweden Shows ObamaCare Will Cause Health Care Delays and Rationing



(p. A11) President Obama has declared the Affordable Care Act a success--a reform that is "here to stay." The question remains, however: What should we expect to come out of it, and do we want the effects to stay? If the experiences of Sweden and other countries with universal health care are any indication, patients will soon start to see very long wait times and difficulty getting access to care.


. . .


Rationing is an obvious effect of economic planning in place of free-market competition. Free markets allow companies and entrepreneurs to respond to demand by offering people what they want and need at a better price. Effective and affordable health care comes from decentralized innovation and risk-taking as well as freedom in pricing and product development. The Affordable Care Act does the opposite by centralizing health care, minimizing or prohibiting differentiation in pricing and offerings, and mandating consumers to purchase insurance. It effectively overrides the market and the signals it sends about supply and demand.

Stories of people in Sweden suffering stroke, heart failure and other serious medical conditions who were denied or unable to receive urgent care are frequently reported in Swedish media. Recent examples include a one-month-old infant with cerebral hemorrhage for whom no ambulance was made available, and an 80-year-old woman with suspected stroke who had to wait four hours for an ambulance.

Other stories include people waiting many hours before a nurse or anyone talked to them after they arrived in emergency rooms and then suffering for long periods of time before receiving needed care. A 42-year-old woman in Karlstad seeking care for meningitis died in the ER after a three-hour wait. A woman with colon cancer spent 12 years contesting a money-saving decision to deny an abdominal scan that would have found the cancer earlier. The denial-of-care decision was not made by an insurance company, but by the government health-care system and its policies.



For the full commentary, see:

PER BYLUND. "OPINION; What Sweden Can Teach Us About ObamaCare; Universal public health care means the average Swede with 'high risk' prostate cancer waits 220 days for treatment." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 17, 2014.)






May 2, 2014

"If You Do the Right Thing and Lose, You Still Did the Right Thing"



CoburnTom2014-04-25.jpg







Senator Tom Coburn. Source of photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.











(p. 12) You recently learned you have prostate cancer and announced that you'll be leaving the Senate next January two years before the scheduled end of your term. How are you feeling? I'm feeling good. I'm not cured of the disease, but I'm on my way to marked improvement. And they may potentially have a cure. But I've got 5 or 10 years in front of me even if they don't cure it.


. . .


Do you really think the problem in Washington is that people don't listen to one another? My philosophy is different than most of the people up here. I think if you do the right thing and lose, you still did the right thing. I think if you do less than the right thing and win, it's morally reprehensible.



For the full interview, see:

Leibovich, Mark, interviewer. "Power Is a Tool'." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 16, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 13, 2014, and has the title "Senator Tom Coburn: 'Power Is a Tool'.")






April 27, 2014

Government Wire Inspectors Only Showed Up to Get Their Pay



(p. 121) Edison had originally planned to offer service to the entirety of south Manhattan, south of Canal Street and north of Wall Street, but engineering considerations forced him to carve out a smaller district, bounded by Wall, Nassau, Spruce, and Ferry Streets. Still, his company had to place underground some eighty thousand linear feet of electrical wire. This had never been attempted before, so it should not have been a surprise when H. O. Thompson, the city's commissioner of public works, summoned Edison to his office to explain that the city would have to be assured that the lines were installed safely. Thompson was assigning five inspectors to oversee the work, whose cost would be covered by an assessment of $5 per day, per inspector, payable (p. 122) each week. When Edison left Thompson's office, he was crestfallen, anticipating the harassment and delays ahead that would be caused by the inspectors' interference. On the day that work began, however, the inspectors failed to appear. Their first appearance was on Saturday afternoon, to draw their pay. This set the pattern that the inspectors followed as the work proceeded through 1881 and into 1882.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






April 25, 2014

Bill Clinton Says U.S. Control of Internet Protects Free Speech



(p. A11) . . . , Mr. Clinton, appearing on a panel discussion at a recent Clinton Global Initiative event, defended U.S. oversight of the domain-name system and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann.


. . .


"I understand why the reaction in the rest of the world to the Edward Snowden declarations has given new energy to the idea that the U.S. should not be in nominal control of domain names on the Internet," Mr. Clinton said. "But I also know that we've kept the Internet free and open, and it is a great tribute to the U.S. that we have done that, including the ability to bash the living daylights out of those of us who are in office or have been.

"A lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the U.S. want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empower their people."

Mr. Clinton asked Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia: "Are you at all worried that if we give up this domain jurisdiction that we have had for all these years that we will lose Internet freedom?"

"I'm very worried about it," Mr. Wales answered. People outside the U.S. often say to him, "Oh, it's terrible. Why should the U.S. have this special power?" His reply: "There is the First Amendment in the U.S., and there is a culture of free expression."

He recalled being told on Icann panels to be more understanding of differences in cultures. "I have respect for local cultures, but banning parts of Wikipedia is not a local cultural variation that we should embrace and accept. That's a human-rights violation."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Open Internet: Clinton vs. Obama; The former president strongly defends the current system of oversight by the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the shorter title "INFORMATION AGE; Open Internet: Clinton vs. Obama.")






April 24, 2014

Little Estonia Prepares Defense Against Russia's Evil Empire



IlvesToomasEstoniaPresident2014-04-23.jpg










Toomis Hendrick Ilves, President of Estonia. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Perched alone up in eastern Baltic are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Their fear of Moscow propelled them to become the first and only former Soviet republics to seek the refuge of NATO. But now doubts are appearing. The West has responded tepidly to the Crimean aggression. Military budgets are at historic lows as a share of NATO economies. The alliance, which marked its 65th anniversary on Friday, has never faced the test of a hot conflict with Moscow.

In this new debate over European security, Mr. Ilves plays a role out of proportion to Estonia's size (1.3 million people) and his limited constitutional powers. A tall man who recently turned 60, he has the mouth of a New Jersey pol--he grew up in Leonia--and wears the bow ties of a lapsed academic. Americans may recall his Twitter TWTR -0.15% feud two years ago over Estonia's economy with economist Paul Krugman, whom Mr. Ilves called "smug, overbearing & patronizing."


. . .


Estonia managed on Thursday to get NATO's blessing to turn the brand-new Amari military airfield near Tallinn into the first NATO base in the country. This small Balt tends to be proactive. While European governments axed some $50 billion from military budgets in the last five year amid fiscal belt-tightening, Estonia is only one of four NATO allies to devote at least 2% of gross domestic product to defense, supposedly the bare minimum for security needs.

"It lessens your moral clout if you have not done what you have agreed to do," Mr. Ilves says of defense budgets. His barb hits directly at neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which both spend less than 1% of GDP on their militaries.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW KAMINSKI. "THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW; An American Ally in Putin's Line of Fire; Estonia's president, who was raised in New Jersey, on how Crimea has changed 'everything' and what NATO should do now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 5, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 4, 2014.)






April 21, 2014

Where Ideas Go to Launch Versus Where Ideas Go to Die



(p. 1) PALO ALTO, Calif. -- THE most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours.


. . .


Curt Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, which invented Siri for your iPhone, recalls how one leading innovator (p. 11) just told him that something would never happen and "then I pick up the paper and it just did."

What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: "What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?" They're fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is "off the table."


. . .


What a contrast. Silicon Valley: where ideas come to launch. Washington, D.C., where ideas go to die. Silicon Valley: where there are no limits on your imagination and failure in the service of experimentation is a virtue. Washington: where the "imagination" to try something new is now a treatable mental illness covered by Obamacare and failure in the service of experimentation is a crime. Silicon Valley: smart as we can be. Washington: dumb as we wanna be.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas L. Friedman. "Start-Up America: Our Best Hope." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 16, 2014): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 15, 2014.)






April 14, 2014

Detailed Government Rules Impede Progress



TheRuleOfNobodyBK2014-04-08.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) The rulebooks should be "radically simplified," Mr. Howard says, on matters ranging from enforcing school discipline to protecting nursing-home residents, from operating safe soup kitchens to building the nation's infrastructure: Projects now often require multi-year, 5,000-page environmental impact statements before anything can begin to be constructed. Unduly detailed rules should be replaced by general principles, he says, that take their meaning from society's norms and values and embrace the need for official discretion and responsibility.

Mr. Howard serves up a rich menu of anecdotes, including both the small-scale activities of a neighborhood and the vast administrative structures that govern national life. After a tree fell into a stream and caused flooding during a winter storm, Franklin Township, N.J., was barred from pulling the tree out until it had spent 12 days and $12,000 for the permits and engineering work that a state environmental rule required for altering any natural condition in a "C-1 stream." The "Volcker Rule," designed to prevent banks from using federally insured deposits to speculate in securities, was shaped by five federal agencies and countless banking lobbyists into 963 "almost unintelligible" pages. In New York City, "disciplining a student potentially requires 66 separate steps, including several levels of potential appeals"; meanwhile, civil-service rules make it virtually impossible to terminate thousands of incompetent employees. Children's lemonade stands in several states have been closed down for lack of a vendor's license.



For the full review, see:

STUART TAYLOR JR. "BOOKSHELF; Stop Telling Us What to Do; When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Rule of Nobody' by Philip K. Howard; When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it.")


The book under review is:

Howard, Philip K. The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.






April 12, 2014

Rob Lowe: Libertarian Nerd



LoweRob2014-04-08.jpg










Rob Lowe. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 12) Chris Traeger on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" was a total nerd. Was it hard for you to play such an uncool character? My deep dark secret is that I was a nerd in school. I liked the theater. I liked to study. I wasn't very good at sports. It took being famous to make me cool, which, by the way, I never forgot.


.. .


. . . what do you believe? My thing is personal freedoms, freedoms for the individual to love whom they want, do with what they want. In fact, I want the government out of almost everything.



For the full interview, see:

Brodesser-Akner, Taffy, interviewer. "''It's Time to Get Back in the Pool': Rob Lowe on Aging into the Good Roles and Cashing in on His Scandalous Legacy." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date APRIL 4, 2014, and has the title "Rob Lowe on the Problems With Being Pretty.")






April 9, 2014

Patent Trial and Appeal Board May Be Invalidating Low Quality Patents




One of the common complaints about the U.S. patent system for the past couple of decades is that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been approving too many low quality patents, that are then used by patent holders to extort licensing fees or out-or-court settlements from alleged infringers. One way in which the America Invents Act, signed in September 2011, tried to respond to the complaint was to strengthen the post-approval re-examination process for patents. The article quoted below suggests that the strengthened process may be having the intended effect.



(p. B4) The Patent Trial and Appeal Board is a little known but powerful authority that often allows a company embroiled in a lawsuit to skip the question of whether it infringed a patent--and challenge whether the patent should have been issued in the first place.

The board was launched in September 2012 as part of the massive patent overhaul passed by Congress the previous year and is currently staffed by 181 judges, many of whom have deep experience in intellectual property or technical fields like chemical and electrical engineering. Through last Thursday it had received 1,056 requests to challenge patents, far more than were received by any federal court over the same time period.

The board is part of the Patent and Trademark Office. But so far, it hasn't shied away from upending the office's decisions to issue certain patents. As of last week, the board had issued 25 written decisions concerning patent challenges, and upheld parts of challenged patents in only a few of them.


. . .


In recent months, Randall Rader, the chief judge of the Federal Circuit, has been one of the board's most outspoken critics. At a conference of intellectual-property lawyers last fall, the judge called the board's panels "death squads...killing property rights."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rader said the board is too quick to toss out patents that demonstrate only modest innovation. "The board needs to incentivize human progress--and understand that it often happens one small step at a time," he said.

But many company lawyers think the board is doing exactly as it should--taking a skeptical look at patents that have added little to the world.



For the full story, see:

ASHBY JONES. "New Weapon in Intellectual Property Wars; Panel Can Upend Patent Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far; 'Like Getting CAT-Scanned, MRI-ed, and X-Rayed'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis inside paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "A New Weapon in Corporate Patent Wars; Patent Trial and Appeal Board Can Upend PTO Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far.")






April 8, 2014

Government Regulations Slow U.S. Use of Drones



DronesThreeSophisticatedCommerical2014-04-03.jpgThree sophisticated drones. From top to bottom, the Insitu ScanEagle, the Yamaha RMAX, and the Trimble UX5. Source and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) After Greek land surveyor George Papastamos bought his first drones a year ago, he let go most of his workers. Now, instead of a team of 12, he shows up to work sites with just a drone and an assistant.

"I could see this was the future," said Mr. Papastamos, a second-generation surveyor from Athens. The drones have improved his maps and lowered his costs, enabling him to win more business. "It is much, much more profitable," he said.

As U.S. regulators and courts grapple with when and how to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes, flying robots already are starting to change the way companies do business in countries from Australia to Japan to the U.K. They are showing the potential to provide cheaper and more effective alternatives to manned aircraft--and human workers--in industries like mining, construction and filmmaking.

The U.S. is "the world leader in producing drones," but "the reality is the rest of the world has moved further ahead of us in terms of commercial applications," said drone researcher Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "From Farms to Films, Drones Find Commercial Uses." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "Drones Find Fans Among Farmers, Filmmakers; FAA Still Debating Rules but Drones are Spraying 40% of Japan's Rice Fields.")






April 5, 2014

18 Unions Each Spent More on Politics than Koch Brothers



(p. A13) Harry Reid is under a lot of job-retention stress these days, so Americans might forgive him the occasional word fumble. When he recently took to the Senate floor to berate the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch for spending "unlimited money" to "rig the system" and "buy elections," the majority leader clearly meant to be condemning unions.

It's an extraordinary thing, in a political age obsessed with campaign money, that nobody scrutinizes the biggest, baddest, "darkest" spenders of all: organized labor. The IRS is muzzling nonprofits; Democrats are "outing" corporate donors; Jane Mayer is probably working on part 89 of her New Yorker series on the "covert" Kochs. Yet the unions glide blissfully, unmolestedly along. This lack of oversight has led to a union world that today acts with a level of campaign-finance impunity that no other political giver--conservative outfits, corporate donors, individuals, trade groups--could even fathom.


. . .


The Center for Responsive Politics' list of top all-time donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries No. 59. Above Koch were 18 unions, which collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries ($18 million).



For the full commentary, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "POTOMAC WATCH; The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs; Harry Reid surely must have meant the unions when he complained about buying elections." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2014.)






March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine



RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.


. . .


(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.



For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)



PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 28, 2014

Paul Ryan Warns that the Safety Net Can Be a Hammock



(p. A21) . . . Mr. Ryan said two years ago: "We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives."


For the full commentary, see:

Krugman, Paul. "The Hammock Fallacy." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 7, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2014.)



The original source of the Paul Ryan quote appears to be:

"Paul Ryan Wants 'Welfare Reform Round 2'." The Huffington Post (posted 03/20/2012).


Ryan made similar comments in his January 25th official Republican response to the State of the Union speech:

We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.

Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked -- and it won't work now.


Source:

NPR transcript of Paul Ryan response, January 25, 2011.






March 17, 2014

Margaret Thatcher Left Britain "Prosperous, Confident and Free"



MargaretThatcherBK2014-03-06.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/thatchercover_custom-e43e3b7aec14140f5606737ab274110160f0c94a-s2-c85.jpg



Daniel Hannan, a European Parliament representative from Britain, discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C9) We've waited a long time for the authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, and it has been worth the wait. Through Charles Moore's vivid prose, we relive the extraordinary story of Britain's greatest peacetime leader--how she found her country bankrupt, demoralized and dishonored and left it prosperous, confident and free. Mr. Moore weaves numerous new revelations into the narrative of the single-minded, humorless, workaholic, patriotic force of nature that was Margaret Thatcher.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Hannan praises is:

Moore, Charles. Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.






March 14, 2014

Carnegie Was Depressed by Initial Inactivity of Retirement



(p. 592) IT IS DIFFICULT to picture Andrew Carnegie depressed, but there is no other way to describe his state of being in the months following his retirement. Carnegie confessed as much in an early draft of his Autobiography, but the editor John Van Dyke, chosen by Mrs. Carnegie after her husband's death, perhaps thinking his melancholic ruminations would displease her, edited them out of the manuscript.


. . .


(p. 593) The vast difference between life in retirement and as chief stockholder of the Carnegie Company was brought home to him as he prepared to leave for Britain in the early spring of 1901. For close to thirty years, he had scurried about for weeks prior to sailing tying up loose ends. There were documents to be signed, instructions to be left with his partners in Pittsburgh and his private secretary in New York. Retirement brought an end to this round of activities and a strange, inescapable melancholy.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 4, 2014

Better Wheat Is "Mired in Excessive, Expensive and Unscientific Regulation"



(p. A19) Monsanto recently said that it had made significant progress in the development of herbicide-tolerant wheat. It will enable farmers to use more environmentally benign herbicides and could be ready for commercial use in the next few years. But the federal government must first approve it, a process that has become mired in excessive, expensive and unscientific regulation that discriminates against this kind of genetic engineering.

The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered crops are as safe as the non-genetically engineered hybrid plants that are a mainstay of our diet.


. . .


Much of the nation's wheat crop comes from a section of the central plains that sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted.


. . .


New crop varieties that grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could increase yields and lengthen the time farmland is productive. Varieties that grow with lower-quality water have also been developed.


. . .


Given the importance of wheat and the confluence of tightening water supplies, drought, a growing world population and competition from other crops, we need to regain the lost momentum. To do that, we need to acquire more technological ingenuity and to end unscientific, excessive and discriminatory government regulation.



For the full commentary, see:

JAYSON LUSK and HENRY I. MILLER. "We Need G.M.O. Wheat." The New York Times (Mon., Feb. 3, 2014): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 2, 2014.)






February 28, 2014

Growth Slow Due to Policies Impeding Start-Ups



(p. A11) The most recent period of rapid productivity growth in the U.S.--and rapid economic growth--was in the 1980s and '90s and reflected the remarkable success of new businesses in information and communications technologies, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel and Google. These new companies not only created millions of jobs but transformed modern society, changing how much of the world produces, distributes and markets goods and services.

Rising living standards in the future will depend on the continued success of these businesses but also on the next generation of success stories. Getting the U.S. economy back on track will require a much higher annual rate of new business startups. Sadly, the annual rate of new business creation is about 28% lower today than it was in the 1980s, according to our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics annual data series.

Why is the startup rate so low? The answer lies in Washington and the policies implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that were, ironically, intended to grow and stabilize the economy.    . . .

This explosion in federal regulation, intervention and subsidies has retarded productivity growth by protecting incumbents at the expense of more efficient producers, including startups. The number of pages in the Federal Code of Regulations peaked at nearly 175,000 in 2012, an increase of more than 7% in President Obama's first three years.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "U.S. Productivity Growth Has Taken a Dive; It has averaged about 1.1% since 2011, less than half the historical rate since 1948. Here's how to increase it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 3, 2014.)






February 26, 2014

Carnegie's Not-Fully-Grown-Infant-Industry Argument for Steel Tariffs



(p. 375) The steel industry was doubly dependent on state and national governments for the generous loans and subsidies that fueled railway expansion and rail purchases and the protective tariffs that enabled the manufacturers to keep their prices--and profits--higher than would have been possible had they been compelled to compete with European steelmakers. If, in the beginning, as Carnegie had argued, the tariff had been needed to nurture an infant steel industry, by the mid-1880s that infant had become a strapping, abrasive youth, who kept on growing. Why then, one might inconveniently ask, was there need for a protective tariff? Because, as Carnegie argued in the North American Review in July 1890, the steel industry was not yet fully grown and would have to be protected until it was.

On the issue of the tariff--as on few others--Pittsburgh's workingmen were in agreement with Carnegie. They voted Republican in large numbers because the Republicans were the guardians of the protective tariff, and the tariff, they believed, protected their wage rates.

The argument linking the tariff and wages in the manufacturing sector was a compelling one in the industrial states, but nowhere else. As the Democrats took great delight in pointing out, high tariffs led to high prices for all consumers.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 22, 2014

Jay Gould Said Railroad Rates Should Be Set by "the Laws of Supply and Demand"



(p. 344) Jay Gould, asked in 1885 by a Senate investigating committee if he believed a "general national law" was needed to regulate railroad rates, responded that they were already regulated by "the laws of supply and demand, production, and consumption."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 21, 2014

Hero Rebels Against the Bureau of Technology Control



InfluxBK2014-02-19.jpg
















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. D8) In "Influx," . . . , a sinister Bureau of Technology Control kidnaps scientists that have developed breakthrough technologies (the cure to cancer, immortality, true artificial intelligence), and is withholding their discoveries from humanity, out of concern over the massive social disruption they would cause. "We don't have a perfect record--Steve Jobs was a tricky one--but we've managed to catch most of the big disrupters before they've brought about uncontrolled social change," says the head of the bureau, the book's villain. The hero has developed a "gravity mirror" but refuses to cooperate, despite the best efforts of Alexa, who has been genetically engineered by the Bureau to be both impossibly sexy and brilliant.

In the publishing world, there is a growing sense that "Influx," Mr. Suarez's fourth novel, may be his breakout book and propel him into the void left by the deaths of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. "Influx' has Mr. Suarez's largest initial print run, 50,000 copies, and Twentieth Century Fox bought the movie rights last month.

An English major at the University of Delaware with a knack for computers, Mr. Suarez started a consulting firm in 1997, working with companies like Nestlé on complex production and logistics-planning issues. "You only want to move 100 million pounds of sugar once," says Mr. Suarez, 49 years old.

He began writing in his free-time. Rejected by 48 literary agents--(a database expert, he kept careful track)--he began self-publishing in 2006 under the name Leinad Zeraus, his named spelled backward. His sophisticated tech knowledge quickly attracted a cult following in Silicon Valley, Redmond, Wash., and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT bookstore was the first bookstore to stock his self-published books in 2007.



For the full review, see:

EBEN SHAPIRO. "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 7, 2014): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2014, and the title "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future.")


The book under review, is:

Suarez, Daniel. Influx. New York: Dutton, 2014.



SuarezDanielAuthorInflux2014-02-19.jpg










Author of Influx, Daniel Suarez. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.








February 18, 2014

Carnegie Donated to Pro-Steel-Tariff Republicans



(p. 331) Through good times and bad, protected tariffs on imported steel rails had kept the domestic steel business strong--and the steelmakers, a major force in Pennsylvania politics, had responded by doing all they could to reelect pro-tariff Republicans. Three weeks before the 1884 elections, Carnegie had written his partners in Pittsburgh that "Bethlehem, Penna. Steel Co., Cambria, and Lackawanna I & C [Iron & Coal] have each given $ 5,000 to the Republican National Committee and we have been asked to give the same amount which I think is only fair."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 16, 2014

Incandesce



(p. A11) When I am asked if I want a Compact Fluorescent Light, the only thought I have is that I don't want my light to be compact, nor do I wish it to be florescent. I want a light that will incandesce across my room, filling it with a familiar yellow surf, and remind me that it was not with wax or kerosene, but with incandescent bulbs that man conquered the night.


. . .


I imagine what will happen when the filaments in my final incandescent bulbs grow weak, and I can hardly read my notes before me. Will I no longer be able to write at night? Or worse, will living with CFLs and LEDs make every day feel like I have just spent nine hours plastered before a computer screen? One day, soon, I will turn on my light and hear for the last time the signature, explosive death rattle of an incandescent bulb, and I'll hold a vigil for the light that shaped and witnessed more than a century of human history. Tender is the light, Keats might say.

In my lightless room, I'll sit for a moment and wonder how many more times in my life I'll watch a bulb go out again. As I look to my dead bulb, I'll think of the poet again and whisper: Darkling, you were not a piece of technology born for death.



For the full commentary, see:

ALEXANDER ACIMAN. "Tender Is the Light of My Incandescents; Bracing myself for life once the filaments in my beloved bulbs grow weak." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 30, 2014.)






February 15, 2014

Big Island of Hawaii Bans G.M.O.s Despite Papaya Saved from Disease



IlaganGreggorDefenderOfGMOs2014-01-19.jpg "Greggor Ilagan initially thought a ban on genetically modified organisms was a good idea." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) KONA, Hawaii -- From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.

Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill's proponents called a "G.M.O.-free oasis."

"You just type 'G.M.O.' and everything you see is negative," he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone's re-election prospects.

Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island's papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban's supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.

And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.

"Are we going to just ignore them?" Mr. Ilagan wondered.

Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban's sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to "act before it's too late," the Council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Mr. Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence.


. . .


(p. 19) Ms. Wille urged a vote for the ban. "To do otherwise," she said, "would be to ignore the cries from round the world and on the mainland."

"Mr. Ilagan?" the Council member leading the meeting asked when it came time for the final vote.

"No," he replied.

The ban was approved, 6 to 3.

The mayor signed the bill on Dec. 5.



For the full story, see:

Amy Harmon. "On Hawaii, a Lonely Quest for Fact." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 5, 2014): 1 & 18-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 4, 2014, and has the title "A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.")



PapayaGeneticallyModified2014-01-19.jpg













"Papaya genetically modified to resist a virus became one part of a controversy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







February 12, 2014

It Does Not Take a Government to Raise a Railroad



(p. A17) . . . , All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won't go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida's Treasure Coast without stopping.

Nor will the train qualify as "high speed," except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company, the Florida East Coast Railway.

But the sponsoring companies, all owned by the private-equity outfit Fortress Investment Group, appear to have done their sums. By minimizing stops, the line will be competitive with road and air in connecting the beaches, casinos and resorts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the big airport and theme-park destination of Orlando. Capturing a small percentage of the 50 million people who travel between these fleshpots, especially European visitors accustomed to intercity rail at home, would let the train cover its costs and then some.

But Fortress has a bigger fish in the pan. Its local operation, Florida East Coast Industries, is a lineal progeny of Henry Flagler, the 1890s entrepreneur who created modern Florida when he built a rail line to support his resort developments. Flagler's heirs are adopting the same model. A Grand Central-like complex will rise on the site of Miami's old train station. A similar but smaller edifice is planned for Fort Lauderdale.

The project is a vivid illustration of the factors that have to fall in place to make passenger rail viable nowadays. If the Florida venture succeeds, it would be the only intercity rail service anywhere in the world not dependent on government operating subsidies. It would be the first privately run intercity service in America since the birth of Amtrak in 1971.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Private Railroad Is Born; All Aboard Florida isn't looking for government operating subsidies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 14, 2014.)






February 4, 2014

Teles Argues the Evils of Government Arise More from Its Complexity than Its Size



(p. A21) Steven M. Teles had a mind-altering essay in National Affairs called "Kludgeocracy in America." While we've been having a huge debate about the size of government, the real problem, he writes, is that the growing complexity of government has made it incoherent. The Social Security system was simple. But now we have a maze of saving mechanisms -- 401(k)'s, I.R.A.'s, 529 plans and on and on. Health insurance is now so complicated that only 14 percent of beneficiaries could answer basic questions about deductibles and co-pays.

This complexity stymies rational thinking, imposes huge compliance costs, and aids special interests who are capable of manipulating the intricacies. One of the reasons we have such complex structures, Teles argues, is that Americans dislike government philosophically, but like government programs operationally. Rather than supporting straightforward government programs, they support programs in which public action is hidden behind a morass of tax preferences, obscure regulations and intricate litigation.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Sidney Awards, Part 2." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)


The article praised by Brooks is:

Teles, Steven M. "Kludgeocracy in America." National Affairs 17 (Fall 2013): 97-114.






January 20, 2014

AquaBounty Has Waited More than 17 Years for FDA Approval



EnviropigDevelopedAtGuelph2013-12-31.jpg

"The Enviropig Scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, developed these pigs to produce more environmentally friendly waste than conventional pigs. But the pigs were killed because the scientists could not get approval to sell them as food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 4) If patience is a virtue, then AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotech company, might be the most virtuous entity on the planet.

In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period, one of the last steps in the approval process, was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline -- members of the public now have until late April to submit their thoughts on the AquAdvantage salmon. It's just one more delay in a process that's dragged on far too long.

The AquAdvantage fish is an Atlantic salmon that carries two foreign bits of DNA: a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is under the control of a genetic "switch" from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the chilly deep. Normally, Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone only in the warm summer months, but these genetic adjustments let the fish churn it out year round. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon typically reach their adult size in a year and a half, rather than three years.


. . .


We should all be rooting for the agency to do the right thing and approve the AquAdvantage salmon. It's a healthy and relatively cheap food source that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks. But most important, a rejection will have a chilling effect on biotechnological innovation in this country.


. . .


Then there's the Enviropig, a swine that has been genetically modified to excrete less phosphorus. Phosphorus in animal waste is a major cause of water pollution, and as the world's appetite for meat increases, it's becoming a more urgent problem. The first Enviropig, created by scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, was born in 1999, and researchers applied to both the F.D.A. and Health Canada for permission to sell the pigs as food.

But last spring, while the applications were still pending, the scientists lost their funding from Ontario Pork, an association of Canadian hog farmers, and couldn't find another industry partner. (It's hard to blame investors for their reluctance, given the public sentiment in Canada and the United States, as well as the uncertain regulatory landscape.) The pigs were euthanized in May.

The F.D.A. must make sure that other promising genetically modified animals don't come to the same end. Of course every application needs to be painstakingly evaluated, and not every modified animal should be approved. But in cases like AquaBounty's, where all the available evidence indicates that the animals are safe, we shouldn't let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we'll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals -- and perhaps ourselves.



For the full commentary, see:

EMILY ANTHES. "Don't Be Afraid of Genetic Modification." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 10, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 9, 2013.)


Emily Anths, who is quoted above, has written a related book:

Anthes, Emily. Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts. New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.






January 8, 2014

Unpedigreed, Self-Educated, Obese Knox Understood Artillery



SonsOfTheFatherBK2013-12-29.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A17) In "Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés," we can see how Washington's ideas about character evolved over the course of the war and after. This collection of essays, edited by Robert M.S. McDonald, explores Washington's relationships with a series of younger men.


. . .


Knox came to Washington's attention in 1775 for his work on the defenses around Boston. His resourcefulness and keen interest in military science proved invaluable. When Washington allowed Knox to head for Fort Ticonderoga in hopes of retrieving some 50 British cannon captured by Ethan Allen, Knox succeeded against long odds. Over nine harrowing weeks, Mark Thompson writes, Knox and his men hauled 60 tons of artillery 300 miles "through the New York backcountry, along waterways and gullied roads, across ice and snow." Deployed on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston, the guns helped persuade the British to abandon the city. But Knox was far more than a herculean teamster. Washington put him in charge of all Continental artillery, and the batteries under his direction loomed large at Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth and Yorktown. After the war, Knox became Washington's secretary of war.

Washington saw merit in the unprepossessing Knox, as he did in others, despite the lack of a "gentlemanly" pedigree. Forced as a child to support his mother when his father abandoned the family, Knox was a mere bookseller before the war, self-educated and obese. But he understood artillery and could see its role in sieges and in the mobile warfare that would characterize the Revolution. More than that, he could discuss its theory and application with Washington. Jefferson and Madison, in their more playful approach to ideas, complicated matters; Knox clarified them.



For the full review, see:

ALAN PELL CRAWFORD. "Bookshelf; A Few Men of Character." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Dec. 10, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'George Washington: Gentleman Warrior,' by Stephen Brumwell and 'Sons of the Father,' edited by Robert M.S. McDonald; By 1775, Washington had strong ideas about how to run an army. Officers, he said, should be men of independent financial means.")


Book under review:

McDonald, Robert M. S., ed. Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés, Jeffersonian America. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2013.






January 6, 2014

Ignorance of Economics Makes U.S. Agency Complicit in Elephant Deaths



IvoryCrushedByUS2013-11-27.jpg "Crushed ivory falls out of the crusher as the U.S. crushed its six-ton stock of confiscated ivory at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



The higher the price of ivory, the greater the incentive for ivory poachers to kill elephants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could have put their cache of ivory on the market, thereby increasing the supply, and reducing the price. If they had done so, they would have reduced the incentive of the poachers to poach. (This is basic price theory that I teach in each of my micro-economic principles classes.) Instead they crushed the ivory and thereby doomed some elephants to death, who otherwise could have been saved.



(p. A3) COMMERCE CITY, Colo.--The U.S. government spent the past 25 years amassing contraband ivory in a warehouse here, with pieces ranging from tiny statuettes to full elephant tusks tattooed by intricate carvings. Ultimately, the pile grew to six tons--equivalent to ivory from at least 2,000 elephants.

On Thursday, the stash collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was pulverized by an industrial rock crusher as government officials, conservationists from around the world and celebrities gathered to watch the destruction.

The move, which follows similar events in the Philippines and Gabon in recent years, is part of a global effort to combat elephant poaching, on the rise because of growing demand for ivory trinkets in Asia. Proponents argue that crushing the ivory conveys to illegal traffickers and collectors that it has no value unless it is attached to an elephant.


. . .


But critics of the practice said they worry that destroying the coveted commodity, sometimes referred to as "white gold," could instead create the perception that the world's remaining ivory is more valuable--and drive poachers to kill more elephants for their tusks. "This could be self-defeating," said Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, an independent conservation economist.


. . .


While praising efforts to preserve elephants, some in conservation circles consider crushing contraband ivory to be an ineffective strategy.

Kirsten Conrad, a wildlife conservation consultant who has studied the Chinese ivory market, said elephants could be better served if sustainably harvested ivory--from elephants that died from natural causes, for example--were regularly offered for sale.

The proceeds would give communities in Africa an incentive to better protect wildlife, and the steady supply would dissuade speculators in China from stockpiling, as she says they are doing now. A kilo of raw ivory can sell for up to $3,000. "We're losing an elephant every 16 minutes," she said. "We should look really hard at legal trade."



For the full story, see:

ANA CAMPOY. "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, U.S. Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 15, 2013): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 14, 2013, and has the title "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, Government Agency Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'.")



IvoryToBeCrushedInUS2013-11-27.jpg "Ivory on display before the U.S. crushed it in Commerce City, Colo., Thursday. On Thursday the government destroyed nearly six tons of seized contraband ivory tusks and trinkets." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






December 31, 2013

"Western Union Bullied the Makers of Public Policy into Serving Private Capital"



WesternUnionAndTheCreationOfTheAmericanCorporateOrderBK2013-12-28.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A13) Until now there has been no full-scale, modern company history. Joshua D. Wolff's "Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893" ably fills the bill, offering an exhaustive and yet fascinating account.


. . .


If people today remember anything about Western Union, it is that its coast-to-coast line put the Pony Express out of business and that its leaders didn't see the telephone coming. Mr. Wolff tells us that neither claim is exactly true. It was Hiram Sibley, Western Union's first president, who went out on his own, when his board balked, to form a separate company and build the transcontinental telegraph in 1861; he made his fortune by eventually selling it to Western Union. And the company was very aware of Alexander Graham Bell's invention, patented in 1876, but history had supposedly shown that it wasn't necessary to control a patent to win the technology war. The company's third president, William Orton, was sure that Bell and his "toy" would not get the better of Western Union: "We would come along and take it away from him." They didn't.


. . .


Mr. Wolff contends that the company's practices set the template for today's "corporate triumphalism," not least in the way Western Union bullied the makers of public policy into serving private capital. Perhaps, but telecom competition today is so ferocious and differently arranged from that of the late 19th century that a "triumphant" company today may be toast tomorrow--think of BlackBerry--and can't purchase help with anything like Western's Union's brazenness and scope. Western Union had friends in Congress, the regulatory bureaucracy and the press. Members of the company's board of directors chaired both the 1872 Republican and Democratic national conventions. It seemed that, whatever the battles in business, politics, technology or the courts, the company's shareholders won.



For the full review, see:

STUART FERGUSON. "Bookshelf; The Octopus of the Wires." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 22, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893,' by Joshua D. Wolff.")


Book under review:

Wolff, Joshua D. Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.






December 30, 2013

Wind Power Fined $1 Million for Killing Birds



GoldenEagleOverWindTurbine2013-12-29.jpg "A golden eagle flies over a wind turbine on Duke Energy's wind farm in Converse County, Wyo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A17) The Justice Department announced late . . . [in the week of Nov. 17-23] that a subsidiary of Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing golden eagles and other federally protected birds at two of the company's wind projects in Wyoming. The guilty plea was a long-overdue victory for the rule of law and a sign that green energy might be going out of vogue.

As Justice noted in its news release, this is the first time a case has been brought against a wind company for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The 1918 law makes it a federal crime to kill any bird of more than 1,000 different species. Over the past few decades, federal authorities have brought hundreds of cases against oil and gas companies for killing birds, while the wind industry has enjoyed a de facto exemption. By bringing criminal charges against Duke for killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, Justice has ended the legal double standard on enforcement.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Wind Power Is Brought to Justice; Duke Energy's guilty plea for killing protected birds is an ominous sign for renewable energy." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 29, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2013.)






December 24, 2013

Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin Expected to Make a Good Profit Starting a Private Lending Library




Shortly after arriving in Allegheny City (near Pittsburgh) Andrew Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin had complained in a letter:


(p. 42) "There is no possibility of getting papers or periodicals to read here for a small sum--most of the people being in the habit of purchasing them for their own use. This has been to me a great deprivation. I really find that books here are as dear as in the old country everything considered."

Uncle Aitkin hoped to remedy this flaw in American cultural life--and make a profit at it--by starting up his own lending library. "I am now convinced that for any one to keep a library and to give works out at a cheaper rate would pay very well & I think I will be engaged in this business in a short time,--after I make a little money by lecturing etc." Regrettably--for Uncle Aitkin and for Allegheny City's starved readers--he never got around to setting up his business.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 23, 2013

Over-Regulated Tech Entrepreneurs Seek Their Own Country



The embed above is provided by YouTube where the video clip is posted under the title "Balaji Srinivasan at Startup School 2013."




(p. B4) At a startup conference in the San Francisco Bay area last month, a brash and brilliant young entrepreneur named Balaji Srinivasan took the stage to lay out a case for Silicon Valley's independence.

According to Mr. Srinivasan, who co-founded a successful genetics startup and is now a popular lecturer at Stanford University, the tech industry is under siege from Wall Street, Washington and Hollywood, which he says he believes are harboring resentment toward Silicon Valley's efforts to usurp their cultural and economic power.

On its surface, Mr. Srinivasan's talk,—called "Silicon Valley's Ultimate Exit,"—sounded like a battle cry of the libertarian, anti-regulatory sensibility long espoused by some of the tech industry's leading thinkers. After arguing that the rest of the country wants to put a stop to the Valley's rise, Mr. Srinivasan floated a plan for techies to build an "opt-in society, outside the U.S., run by technology."

His idea seemed a more expansive version of Google Chief Executive Larry Page's call for setting aside "a piece of the world" to try out controversial new technologies, and investor Peter Thiel's "Seastead" movement, which aims to launch tech-utopian island nations.



For the full commentary, see:

FARHAD MANJOO. "HIGH DEFINITION; The Valley's Ugly Complex." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 4, 2013): B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 3, 2013, and has the title "HIGH DEFINITION; Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem.")






December 22, 2013

Spain's $11 Billion Per Year Slows Global Warming by 61 Hours



(p. A17) Today Spain spends about 1% of GDP throwing money at green energy such as solar and wind power. The $11 billion a year is more than Spain spends on higher education.

At the end of the century, with current commitments, these Spanish efforts will have delayed the impact of global warming by roughly 61 hours, according to the estimates of Yale University's well-regarded Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model. Hundreds of billions of dollars for 61 additional hours? That's a bad deal.



For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "Green Energy Is the Real Subsidy Hog; Renewables receive three times as much money per energy unit as fossil fuels." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 12, 2013): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 11, 2013.)






December 19, 2013

Regulators Harass Saucy and Irreverent Buckyball Entrepreneur



ZuckerCraigBuckyballs2013-12-07.jpg










"Craig Zucker, former head of Maxfield & Oberton, which made Buckyballs, sells Liberty Balls to raise a legal-defense fund against an unusual action by federal regulators." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) Over the last three weeks, more than 2,200 people have placed orders for $10-to-$40 sets of magnetic stacking balls, rising to the call of a saucy and irreverent social media campaign against a government regulatory agency.


. . .


It involves an effort by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall Buckyballs, sets of tiny, powerfully magnetic stacking balls that the magazines Rolling Stone and People once ranked on their hot products lists.

Last year, the commission declared the balls a swallowing hazard to young children and filed an administrative action against the company that made the product, demanding it recall all Buckyballs, and a related product called Buckycubes, and refund consumers their money. The company, Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, challenged the action, saying labels on the packaging clearly warned that the product was unsafe for children.

But the fuss now has less to do with safety. After Maxfield & Oberton went out of business last December, citing the financial toll of the recall battle, lawyers for the product safety agency took the highly unusual step of adding the chief executive of the dissolved firm, Craig Zucker, as a respondent in the recall action, arguing that he con-
(p. B6)trolled the company's activities. Mr. Zucker and his lawyers say the move could ultimately make him personally responsible for the estimated recall costs of $57 million.

While the "responsible corporate officer" doctrine (also known as the Park doctrine) has been used frequently in criminal cases, allowing for prosecutions of individual company officers in cases asserting corporate wrongdoing, experts say its use is virtually unheard-of in an administrative action where no violations of law or regulations are claimed.


. . .


Three well-known business organizations -- the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association -- banded together this summer to file a brief urging the administrative law judge reviewing the recall case to drop Mr. Zucker as a respondent.

The groups argue that holding an individual responsible for a widespread, expensive recall sets a disturbing example and runs counter to the business desire for limited liability. They contend that such risk would have a detrimental effect on entrepreneurism and openness in dealing with regulatory bodies.


. . .


Conservative legal groups like Cause of Action, a nonprofit that targets what it considers governmental overreach, have been watching the proceedings with interest and weighing taking some action.

"This really punishes entrepreneurship and establishes a bad precedent for businesses working to create products for consumers," said Daniel Z. Epstein, the group's executive director. "It undermines the business community's ability to rely upon the corporate form."


For the full story, see:

HILARY STOUT. "In Regulators' Sights; Magnetic-Toy Recall Gives Rise to Wider Legal Campaign." The New York Times (Fri., November 1, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 31, 2013, and has the title "Buckyball Recall Stirs a Wider Legal Campaign.")






December 14, 2013

In Britain Right and Left Support "Libertarian Paternalism"



(p. 4) In 2010, Mr. Cameron set up the Behavioral Insights Team -- or nudge unit, as it's often called. Three years later, the team has doubled in size and is about to announce a joint venture with an external partner to expand the program.

The unit has been nudging people to pay taxes on time, insulate their attics, sign up for organ donation, stop smoking during pregnancy and give to charity -- and has saved taxpayers tens of millions of pounds in the process, said David Halpern, its director.


. . .


Creating Commitment

One morning in late May 2008, 10 copies of a little red book arrived for Rohan Silva in Norman Shaw South, the Westminster wing where the leader of the political opposition -- at the time, the Conservatives -- is traditionally housed.

The book was "Nudge," and Mr. Silva, then 27 and David Cameron's youngest adviser, piled them up on his desk. He had read the book as soon as it came out, a few weeks before. In fact, he had read deeply on behavioral economics and social psychology and met many of the American academics who specialized in the field. He was eager to spread the message in his country. "We used to joke about Ro being on commission for Thaler and Sunstein," said Steve Hilton, Mr. Cameron's former director of strategy and now a visiting scholar at Stanford.


. . .


Libertarian Paternalism


. . .


. . . , the question in Britain no longer seems to be whether, but how, to nudge. In their book, Professor Thaler and Mr. Sunstein defined their approach as steering people toward decisions deemed superior by the government but leaving them free to choose. "Libertarian paternalism," they called it, and while that term is not used much in Britain, there is broad agreement on the subject among the left and the right.

Mr. Halpern used to be policy chief for Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, and later wrote a report on behavioral policy-making commissioned by Mr. Blair's Labour Party successor, Gordon Brown. In one small way, the 2010 election campaign was also a race to decide which party would carry out an idea that had been percolating in the intellectual ranks of both for some years.

Wider Horizons

One of Mr. Thaler's favorite nudges is something that Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam adopted in public bathrooms: a small sticker of a fly in the center of a urinal has been shown to improve aim. It saves the airport cleaning costs.

During a recent visit to Downing Street, Mr. Thaler ran into Mr. Cameron in the men's room. There were no fly stickers.

"What's the deal?" he joked.


For the full story, see:

KATRIN BENNHOLD. "The Ministry of Nudges." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 8, 2013): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2013, and has the title "Britain's Ministry of Nudges.")


The Nudge book is:

Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Revised & Expanded (pb) ed: Penguin Books, 2009.






December 11, 2013

Portland Government Stops Girl from Selling Mistletoe to Pay for Braces






In Portland, the government is stopping an 11 year old girl from selling mistletoe to raise money for her braces. Here is a link to the KATU local Portland ABC news station video report: http://www.katu.com/news/local/11-year-old-told-not-to-sell-mistletoe-but-begging-is-fine-234014261.html?tab=video&c=y It also has been posted to YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj4caXi0wdw






December 10, 2013

Use of Floppy Disks Shows Slowness of Government



(p. A14) WASHINGTON -- The technology troubles that plagued the HealthCare.gov website rollout may not have come as a shock to people who work for certain agencies of the government -- especially those who still use floppy disks, the cutting-edge technology of the 1980s.

Every day, The Federal Register, the daily journal of the United States government, publishes on its website and in a thick booklet around 100 executive orders, proclamations, proposed rule changes and other government notices that federal agencies are mandated to submit for public inspection.

So far, so good.

It turns out, however, that the Federal Register employees who take in the information for publication from across the government still receive some of it on the 3.5-inch plastic storage squares that have become all but obsolete in the United States.


. . .


"You've got this antiquated system that still works but is not nearly as efficient as it could be," said Stan Soloway, chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents more than 370 government contractors. "Companies that work with the government, whether longstanding or newcomers, are all hamstrung by the same limitations."

The use of floppy disks peaked in American homes and offices in the mid-1990s, and modern computers do not even accommodate them anymore. But The Federal Register continues to accept them, in part because legal and security requirements have yet to be updated, but mostly because the wheels of government grind ever slowly.


. . .


. . . , experts say that an administration that prided itself on its technological savvy has a long way to go in updating the computer technology of the federal government. HealthCare.gov and the floppy disks of The Federal Register, they say, are but two recent examples of a government years behind the private sector in digital innovation.



For the full story, see:

JADA F. SMITH. "Slowly They Modernize: A Federal Agency That Still Uses Floppy Disks." The New York Times (Sat., December 7, 2013): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 6, 2013.)






December 5, 2013

Wind Power Increases Government Corruption



LaclairKathyDislikesWindTurbines2013-10-27.jpg "Kathy Laclair of Churubusco, N.Y., dislikes the noise from the wind turbine blades and says their shadows give her vertigo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

"It really is renewable energy gone wrong," said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the (p. A16) wind companies.


. . .


. . . corruption is a major concern. In at least 12 counties, Mr. Champagne said, evidence has surfaced about possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.

In Prattsburgh, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, the town supervisor cast the deciding vote allowing private land to be condemned to make way for a wind farm there, even after acknowledging that he had accepted real estate commissions on at least one land deal involving the farm's developer.

A town official in Bellmont, near Burke, took a job with a wind company after helping shepherd through a zoning law to permit and regulate the towers, according to local residents. And in Brandon, N.Y., nearby, the town supervisor told Mr. Champagne that after a meeting during which he proposed a moratorium on wind towers, he had been invited to pick up a gift from the back seat of a wind company representative's car.

When the supervisor, Michael R. Lawrence, looked inside, according to his complaint to Mr. Champagne, he saw two company polo shirts and a leather pouch that he suspected contained cash.

When Mr. Lawrence asked whether the pouch was part of the gift, the representative replied, "That's up to you," according to the complaint.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "In Rural New York, Windmills Can Bring Whiff of Corruption." The New York Times (Mon., August 18, 2008): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 17, 2008.)



NoWindTurbinesSign2013-10-27.jpg









"To some upstate towns, wind power promises prosperity. Others fear noise, spoiled views and the corrupting of local officials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






November 19, 2013

Booker Bravely Boosted Bain



MurphyAndBookerMeetThePress2010-10-25.jpg "Cory A. Booker, right, the Democratic mayor of Newark, on "Meet the Press" with Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist. "Enough is enough," Mr. Booker said of attacks in the presidential race." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Romney was criticized for his past association with Bain Capital which was criticized for its role in the process of creative destruction. Democrat Cory Booker, to his credit, defended Bain. (But to his discredit, he later went wobbly when fellow Democrats were appalled by his defense.)


(p. A15) Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark, a prominent Democrat enlisted as a surrogate for President Obama's campaign, sharply criticized it on Sunday for attacking Mitt Romney's work at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Mr. Booker, speaking on the NBC program "Meet the Press," made his comments in response to a television advertisement the president's campaign unveiled last week. It portrays Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as someone who eliminated jobs for the sake of profits during his years running Bain Capital.

"I have to just say, from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," Mr. Booker said. "To me, it's just we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I'm very uncomfortable with."



For the full story, see:

RAYMOND HERNANDEZ. "Newark Mayor Criticizes Obama's Ad." The New York Times (Mon., May 21, 2012): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 20, 2012, and has the title "Surrogate for Obama Denounces Anti-Romney Ad.")






November 17, 2013

Foreign Aid Frees Despots from Having to Seek the Consent of the Governed



TheGreatEscapeBK2013-10-24.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.






(p. 4) IN his new book, Angus Deaton, an expert's expert on global poverty and foreign aid, puts his considerable reputation on the line and declares that foreign aid does more harm than good. It corrupts governments and rarely reaches the poor, he argues, and it is high time for the paternalistic West to step away and allow the developing world to solve its own problems.

It is a provocative and cogently argued claim. The only odd part is how it is made. It is tacked on as the concluding section of "The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality" (Princeton University Press, 360 pages), an illuminating and inspiring history of how mankind's longevity and prosperity have soared to breathtaking heights in modern times.


. . .


THE author has found no credible evidence that foreign aid promotes economic growth; indeed, he says, signs show that the relationship is negative. Regretfully, he identifies a "central dilemma": When the conditions for development are present, aid is not required. When they do not exist, aid is not useful and probably damaging.

Professor Deaton makes the case that foreign aid is antidemocratic because it frees local leaders from having to obtain the consent of the governed. "Western-led population control, often with the assistance of nondemocratic or well-rewarded recipient governments, is the most egregious example of antidemocratic and oppressive aid," he writes. In its day, it seemed like a no-brainer. Yet the global population grew by four billion in half a century, and the vast majority of the seven billion people now on the planet live longer and more prosperous lives than their parents did.



For the full review, see:

FRED ANDREWS. "OFF THE SHELF; A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



The book reviewed is:

Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013.






November 12, 2013

How Adding Bike Lanes Increases Air Pollution



(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- New York is wooing cyclists with chartreuse bike lanes. Chicago is spending nearly $1 million for double-decker bicycle parking.

San Francisco can't even install new bike racks.

Blame Rob Anderson. At a time when most other cities are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That's put the brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city works on an environmental-impact report.


. . .


Cars always will vastly outnumber (p. A15) bikes, . . . [Mr. Anderson] reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr. Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It's an "attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy," he wrote in his blog this month.



For the full story, see:

PHRED DVORAK. "San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution?; City Backpedals on a Cycling Plan After Mr. Anderson Goes to Court." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 20, 2008): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)






November 11, 2013

Creating Parking Spaces by Variable Meter Pricing Saves Time and Reduces Air Pollution and Double-Parking



SanFranciscoStreetParking2013-10-25.jpg "San Francisco is a city chronically plagued with a shortage of street parking. On a recent night in the North Beach neighborhood, the slow chase for a parking space was well under way." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The maddening quest for street parking is not just a tribulation for drivers, but a trial for cities. As much as a third of the traffic in some areas has been attributed to drivers circling as they hunt for spaces. The wearying tradition takes a toll in lost time, polluted air and, when drivers despair, double-parked cars that clog traffic even more.

But San Francisco is trying to shorten the hunt with an ambitious experiment that aims to make sure that there is always at least one empty parking spot available on every block that has meters. The program, which uses new technology and the law of supply and demand, raises the price of parking on the city's most crowded blocks and lowers it on its emptiest blocks. While the new prices are still being phased in -- the most expensive spots have risen to $4.50 an hour, but could reach $6 -- preliminary data suggests that the change may be having a positive effect in some areas.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL COOPER and JO CRAVEN McGINTY. "A Meter So Expensive, It Creates Parking Spots." The New York Times (Fri., March 16, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 15, 2012.)



MetersWithVariablePricing2013-10-25.jpg "San Francisco has installed sensors and new meters on some blocks to track where cars are parked and set prices accordingly." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






November 10, 2013

If Feds Stalled Skype Deal, Google Would Have Been "Stuck with a Piece of Shit"




Even just the plausible possibility of a government veto of an acquisition, can stop the acquisition from happening. The feds thereby kill efficiency and innovation enhancing reconfigurations of assets and business units.


(p. 234) . . . , an opportunity arose that Google's leaders felt compelled to consider: Skype was available. It was a onetime chance to grab hundreds of millions of Internet voice customers, merging them with Google Voice to create an instant powerhouse. Wesley Chan believed that this was a bad move. Skype relied on a technology called peer to peer, which moved information cheaply and quickly through a decentralized network that emerged through the connections of users. But Google didn't need that system because it had its own efficient infrastruc-(p. 235)ture. In addition, there was a question whether eBay, the owner of Skype, had claim to all the patents to the underlying technology, so it was unclear what rights Google would have as it tried to embellish and improve the peer-to-peer protocols. Finally, before Google could take possession, the U.S. government might stall the deal for months, maybe even two years, before approving it. "We would have paid all this money, but the value would go away and then we'd be stuck with a piece of shit," says Chan.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






November 9, 2013

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values "Voyaging into the Unknown"



PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg











"Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C7) Edmund Phelps's "Mass Flourishing" could easily be retitled "Contra-Corporatism," for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America's current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which "voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," or in Republicans in the thrall of "traditional values," who see "the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance." He instead yearns for legislative solons who "could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?"


. . .


The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with "a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback."


. . .


In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a "panoply of new roles," from regulations "aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition" to lawsuits that "add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification." It is as if "every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract" in which "no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation." But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change--and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.


. . .


But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are "aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy," and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a "national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms"--not my favorite idea.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD GLAESER. "How to Unleash the Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Mass Flourishing' by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.")



The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.




Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg















Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg









October 31, 2013

After 25 Years of Government Harassment, A&P Was Finally Allowed to Lower Prices for Consumers




The two main types of creative destruction are: 1.) new products and 2.) process innovations. Much has been written about the new product type; much less about the process innovation type. Marc Levinson has written two very useful books on process innovations that are important exceptions. The first is The Box and the second is The Great A&P.


(p. A13) A prosecutor in Franklin Roosevelt's administration called it a "giant blood sucker." A federal judge in Woodrow Wilson's day deemed it a "monopolist," and another, during Harry Truman's presidency, convicted it of violating antitrust law. The federal government investigated it almost continuously for a quarter-century, and more than half the states tried to tax it out of business. For its strategy of selling groceries cheaply, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company paid a very heavy price.


. . .


A&P was Wal-Mart long before there was Wal-Mart. Founded around the start of the Civil War, it upset the tradition-encrusted tea trade by selling teas at discount prices by mail and developing the first brand-name tea. A few years later, its tea shops began to stock spices, baking powder and canned goods, making A&P one of the first chain grocers.

Then, in 1912, John A. Hartford, one of the two brothers who had taken over the company from their father, had one of those inspirations that change the course of business. He proposed that the company test a bare-bones format at a tiny store in Jersey City, offering short hours, limited selection and no home delivery, and that it use the cost savings to lower prices. The A&P Economy Store was an instant success. The Great A&P was soon opening one and then two and then three stores per day. By 1920, it had become the largest retailer in the world.


. . .


While shoppers flocked to A&P's 16,000 stores, small grocers and grocery wholesalers didn't share their enthusiasm. The anti-chain-store movement dates back at least to 1913, when the American Fair-Trade League pushed for laws against retail price-cutting.


. . .


Thanks in good part to the Hartfords' tenacity, the restraints on discount retailing began to fade away in the 1950s. Chain-store taxes were gradually repealed, and state laws limiting price competition to protect mom and pop were taken off the books. By 1962, when Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and other modern discount formats were born, the pendulum had swung in consumers' favor.



For the full commentary, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-Pops; The A&P grocery company may be nearing its sell-by date, but a century ago it was a fresh, revolutionary business." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 12, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 11, 2013, and had the title "Marc Levinson: When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-Pops; The A&P grocery company may be nearing its sell-by date, but a century ago it was a fresh, revolutionary business.")


Levinson's book on A&P is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






October 26, 2013

Under Humble Austerity Policy China Builds $11.4 Million Giant Brass Puffer Fish



PufferFishStatueYangshong2013-10-22.jpg "A puffer fish statue in Yangzhong has raised ire in view of a government pledge to end spending on vanity projects." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) HONG KONG -- Chinese Communist Party leaders' vows of a new era of humble austerity in government may have met their most exotic adversary yet: an $11 million, 2,300-ton, 295-foot-long puffer fish.

The brass-clad statue, which shimmers golden in the sunlight and switches into a garish light show at night, was built by the city of Yangzhong, in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, . . .


. . .


Chinese news outlets said the brass and steel for the fish cost about $1.7 million, raising questions about where the rest of the money went. Construction of the fish tower began on a previously isolated and undeveloped river island in March, four months after Mr. Xi was appointed party leader.


. . .


. . . China is speckled with outlandish works of official art that vie with even a giant, glow-in-the-dark puffer fish for attention and outrage.

Critics berated a county in Guizhou Province for building "the world's biggest teapot," a 243-foot-high teapot-shaped tower, complete with spout, that was part of a $13 million project.

In Henan Province, in central China, a government-backed charity has been accused of corruption in spending about $19.6 million on a vast, unsightly sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a revered founder of modern China. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is also home to a sculpture of two pigs in a frolicking embrace. From certain angles, the pigs might appear to be mating.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "As China Vows Austerity, Giant Brass Fish Devours $11 Million." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



SongQinglingSculpture2013-10-23.jpg









"A sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a founder of modern China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 5, 2013

"SEC Rules Demanded Complexity"



(p. 152) Google had considerable experience with pleasing users, but in the case of the auction, it could not create a simple interface. SEC rules demanded complexity. So the Google auction was a lot more complicated than buying Pokémon cards on eBay. People had to qualify financially as bidders. Bids had to be placed by a brokerage. If you made an error in reg-(p. 153)istering, you could not correct it but had to reregister. All those problems led to a few postponements of the start of the bidding period.

But the deeper problem was the uncertainty of Google's prospects. As the press accounts accumulated--with reporters informed by Wall Streeters eager to sabotage the process-- the perception grew that Google was a company with an unfamiliar business model run by weird people. A typical Wall Street insider analysis was reflected by Forbes.com columnist Scott Reeves, who concluded that Google's target price, at the time pegged to the range between $ 108 and $ 135 a share, was excessive. "Only those who were dropped on their head at birth [will] plunk down that kind of cash for an IPO," Reeves wrote.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






October 1, 2013

SEC Told Google to Delete "Making the World a Better Place" from Document



(p. 150) . . . , the Securities and Exchange Commission was unimpressed by the charms of Page's "Owner's Manual." "Please revise or delete the statements about providing 'a great service to the world,' 'to do things that matter,' 'greater positive impact on the world, don't be evil' and 'making the world a better place,'" they wrote. (Google would not revise the letter.) The commission also had a problem with Page's description of the lawsuit that Overture (by then owned by Yahoo) had filed against Google as "without merit." Eventually, to resolve this issue before the IPO date, (p. 151) Google would settle the lawsuit by paying Yahoo 2.7 million shares, at an estimated value of between $ 260 and $ 290 million.

That set a contentious tone that ran through the entire process. The SEC cited Google's irregularities on a frequent basis, whether it was a failure to properly register employee stock options, inadequate reporting of financial results to stakeholders, or the use of only first names of employees in official documents. It acted toward Google like a junior high school vice principal who'd identified an unruly kid as a bad seed, requiring constant detentions.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






September 24, 2013

Nanny Feds Take Revenge on Zucker for Trying to "Save Our Balls"



ZuckerCraigBuckyballsEntrepreneur2013-08-31.jpg











Craig Zucker. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A11) Mr. Zucker is the former CEO of Maxfield & Oberton, the small company behind Buckyballs, an office toy that became an Internet sensation in 2009 and went on to sell millions of units before it was banned by the feds last year.

A self-described "serial entrepreneur," Mr. Zucker looks the part with tussled black hair, a scraggly beard and hipster jeans. Yet his casual-Friday outfit does little to subdue his air of ambition and hustle.

Nowadays Mr. Zucker spends most of his waking hours fighting off a vindictive U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that has set out to punish him for having challenged its regulatory overreach. The outcome of the battle has ramifications far beyond a magnetic toy designed for bored office workers. It implicates bedrock American notions of consumer choice, personal responsibility and limited liability.


. . .


In August 2009, Maxfield & Oberton demonstrated Buckyballs at the New York Gift Show; 600 stores signed up to sell the product. By 2010, the company had built a distribution network of 1,500 stores, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Brookstone. People magazine in 2011 named Buckyballs one of the five hottest trends of the year, and in 2012 it made the cover of Brookstone's catalog.

Maxfield & Oberton now had 10 employees, 150 sales representatives and a distribution network of 5,000 stores. Sales had reached $10 million a year. "Then," says Mr. Zucker, "we crashed."

On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a "corrective-action plan" within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs' alleged safety defects. Around the same time--and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story--the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton's retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the "severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by" Buckyballs and requesting them to "voluntarily stop selling" the product.

It was an underhanded move, as Maxfield & Oberton and its lawyers saw it. "Very, very quickly those 5,000 retailers became zero," says Mr. Zucker. The preliminary letters, and others sent after the complaint, made it clear that selling Buckyballs was still considered lawful pending adjudication. "But if you're a store like Brookstone or Urban Outfitters . . . you're bullied into it. You don't want problems."


. . .


Maxfield & Oberton resolved to take to the public square.On July 27, just two days after the commission filed suit, the company launched a publicity campaign to rally customers and spotlight the commission's nanny-state excesses. The campaign's tagline? "Save Our Balls."

Online ads pointed out how, under the commission's reasoning, everything from coconuts ("tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?") to stairways ("are they really worth the risk?") to hot dogs ("delicious but deadly") could be banned.


. . .


. . . in February [2013] the Buckyballs saga took a chilling turn: The commission filed a motion requesting that Mr. Zucker be held personally liable for the costs of the recall, which it estimated at $57 million, if the product was ultimately determined to be defective.

This was an astounding departure from the principle of limited liability at the heart of U.S. corporate law.


. . .


Given the fact that Buckyballs have now long been off the market, the attempt to go after Mr. Zucker personally raises the question of retaliation for his public campaign against the commission. Mr. Zucker won't speculate about the commission's motives. "It's very selective and very aggressive," he says.



For the full interview, see:

SOHRAB AHMARI, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Zucker; What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds; Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Craig Zucker: What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds. Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back.")





September 22, 2013

Growth of Labor Safety Net Made Great Recession Deeper and Longer



TheRedistributionRecessionBK2013-09-05.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-VE881_bkrvre_GV_20121101145828.jpg






(p. 309) [Mulligan's empirical results suggest] that employment was dropping not only because of declining demand for the employees' products, but also because employers were substituting capital and other factors for labor. This surprising finding suggests that although a decline in aggregate demand for goods and services was one of the reasons for the decline in labor, other causes were also at play in most sectors of the economy. This fact is consistent with an inward shift in the supply of labor to the marketplace during this period.

In chapter 3, Mulligan introduces the main culprit responsible for this supplycurve shift--the unintended consequences of increases in the social safety net that substantially increased the marginal tax rate on work. In his model, Mulligan operationalizes this force into changes in the replacement rate (the fraction of productivity that the average nonemployed person receives in the form of means-tested benefits) and the self-reliance rate (1 minus the replacement rate), which is the fraction of lost productivity not replaced by means-tested benefits.

His conjecture is that, in a reverse of government policies in the 1990s that made work pay for single mothers by transforming welfare as we knew it into a program that nudged single mothers off the Aid to Families with Dependent Children rolls and into the workforce, "temporary" government program expansions to mitigate the (p. 310) short-run consequences of unemployment and the bursting of the housing bubble made a prolonged paid period of nonwork an offer that many Americans found too tempting to refuse.

Mulligan identifies and incorporates the major expansions in eligibility and benefit amounts for Unemployment Insurance and food stamps into an eligibility index that shows that most of the 199 percent growth in these programs between 2007 and 2009 was due to these changes. He uses this growth rate in a weighted index of overall statutory safety-net generosity to determine the degree to which it has influenced overall employment. He does a similar analysis of the means-tested Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which facilitated substantial lender-provided discounts on home mortgage expenses for unemployment insurance-eligible workers. He finds that these market distortions that increased the marginal tax on work grew substantially in 2008, peaked in 2009--at almost triple their 2007 level--and then modestly fell in 2010 to a level appreciably above the 2007 level.


. . .


But his empirical evidence shows that the implementation of these "recession cures" was primarily responsible for the Great Recession's depth and duration.



For the full review, see:

Burkhauser, Richard V. "Review of: "The Redistributive Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy" by Casey B. Mulligan." The Independent Review 18, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 308-11.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)


Book that is under review:

Mulligan, Casey B. The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.






September 20, 2013

Brazil's Cardozo Envies England's Rule of Law



PalinMichael2013-08-31.jpg















"Michael Palin." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C11) For his most recent project in Brazil, which will go on to become a PBS series, Mr. Palin interviewed former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, who is often credited with the country's economic turnaround. Whereas he says most political leaders are hesitant to say anything controversial, Mr. Cardoso was refreshingly straightforward. "I asked him, 'Brazil has so many good things going for it--the people are friendly and relaxed, the economy is booming. Is there anything you envy about us in England?' " He was surprised by Mr. Cardoso's answer. "He said straight out, 'The rule of law.' He said, 'Our problem here is we have endemic corruption,' " says Mr. Palin. "I just thought it was incredibly honest for a world leader."


For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Michael Palin Takes on the World; The former Monty Python performer is turning his global adventures into comic tales." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)






September 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Funeral: "Suddenly from the Crowd a Great Roar"



ThatcherSupporterWithSign203-09-02.jpg "A supporter of Margaret Thatcher holds a banner outside St. Clement Danes church in London." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A15) The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was beautiful, moving, just right. It had dignity and spirit, and in that respect was just like her. It also contained a surprise that shouldn't have been a surprise. It was a metaphor for where she stood in the pantheon of successful leaders of the 20th century.


. . .


At the end of the funeral they all marched down the aisle in great procession--the family, the queen, the military pallbearers carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. Demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.

England came. The people came. Later we would learn they'd stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. A man had held up a sign: "But We Loved Her."

. . . When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. "Santo Subito."

And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too.

What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "DECLARATIONS; Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Margaret Thatcher's coffin stood over he crypts that hold the tombs of Nelson and Wellington. It mattered." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 20, 2013): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 22, 2013 (I did not see any update in the part I quoted above), and has the title "DECLARATIONS; Noonan: Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Mrs. Thatcher is with Wellington and Nelson now.")






September 2, 2013

Jeb Bush Reads Clayton Christensen on His Kindle



BushJebCaricature2013-08-12.jpg














Jeb Bush. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




Clayton Christensen is a kindred spirit: he cares about making the world a better place through innovation in free markets. He research is almost always thought-provoking, and sometimes highly illuminating. So it speaks well of Jeb Bush that he has the good judgement to be reading one of Christensen's books on education.


(p. A11) Currently [Bush is] reading "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns" -- on his Kindle electronic reader.


For the full interview, see:

FRED BARNES. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with JEB BUSH; Republicans Must Be a National Party Florida's former governor on immigration, school choice, and the GOP's limited-government foundation." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 14, 2009): A11.

(Note: words in brackets added.)


The Christensen book mentioned on education, is:

Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

(Note: a revised edition of the book appeared in 2011.)






September 1, 2013

"Inflexible Labor Laws" Lead Indian Firms "to Substitute Machines for Unskilled Labor"



(p. A19) . . . , India is failing to make full use of the estimated one million low-skilled workers who enter the job market every month.

Manufacturing requires transparent rules and reliable infrastructure. India is deficient in both. High-profile scandals over the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, coal and land have undermined confidence in the government. If land cannot be easily acquired and coal supplies easily guaranteed, the private sector will shy away from investing in the power grid. Irregular electricity holds back investments in factories.

India's panoply of regulations, including inflexible labor laws, discourages companies from expanding. As they grow, large Indian businesses prefer to substitute machines for unskilled labor.



For the full commentary, see:

ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN. "Why India's Economy Is Stumbling." The New York Times (Sat., August 31, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)






August 28, 2013

Salt May NOT Be Bad for Our Health, After All



(p. A7) An influential government panel said there is no evidence that very low-salt diets prevent heart disease, calling into question current national dietary guidelines on sodium intake.

The Institute of Medicine, in a report released Tuesday [May 14, 2013], said there isn't sufficient evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams per day cuts the risk of heart disease. The group of medical experts also said there is no evidence that people who already have heart disease or diabetes should cut their sodium intake even lower.



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN. "U.S. NEWS; Low-Salt Benefits Questioned." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 15, 2013): A7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 14, 2013.)


For a summary of the Institute of Medicine report, see:

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. "Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence." Report Brief. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 2013.







August 27, 2013

Urban Planners Made La Défense an Architectural Statement, But a Terrible Place to Live



LaDefenseFrenchPlannedBusinessHubb2013-08-04.jpg "La Défense can feel like a ghost town after 5 p.m. and on weekends, once the district's office workers have left." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) . . . La Défense, begun during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s and built just west of Paris by bulldozing slums and paving over farmland, has always worked better in architectural theory than in anthropological practice.

Rather than the Parisian business hub its founders described, it often seems more like the isolated end of a spoke that has highlighted a crucial flaw in urban planning -- a concern with making architectural statements -- rather than an affinity for the people in and around the buildings.

When non-French planning experts assess La Défense, they say it shares the same problems as the Canary Wharf complex in London, where developers have tried to supplant the City with Big Architecture and whose artificial origins may be hard to overcome. The experts look more favorably on the somewhat organic mix of (p. B6) business and residential of Lower Manhattan, which has evolved over the last century.

"La Défense has always suffered from a creative hypothermia," said Wojciech Czaja, an Austrian architecture critic. "It is a sad area because it is atmospherically and emotionally perceived as a business district only."

The public agency that manages the complex has hired an architectural firm to draft a new master plan in hopes of making the grandiose vision for La Défense a livable reality.


. . .


"There is nothing good about living here," said Carlin Pierre, 54, who works at a waste disposal center in the district and resides in one of the Brutalist communal, rent-subsidized housing blocks tucked amid the high-rise office buildings. "Sure, it's a nice area to come as a tourist, or even to work," Mr. Pierre said, "but it's terrible to live in La Défense."



For the full story, see:

GEORGI KANTCHEV. "Plan Aims to Enliven Paris's Financial District, Long Called Soulless." The New York Times (Tues., July 30, 2013): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2013.)






August 25, 2013

Dubai Has Strong Ruling Clan, But Weak Institutions



DubaiBK2013-08-12.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.christopherdavidson.net/sitebuilder/images/DVOS_cover-210x300.jpg



(p. 4) For Mr. Davidson, Dubai's greatest weakness lies in its autocratic governing system. Politics in the emirate, as in most of the Middle East, pivots not on institutions but on clans -- a ruling dynasty and its favorites who own and run Dubai in opaque fashion.

True enough, but most of the Middle East is authoritarian, yet Dubai's enlightened despotism and welcoming social environment have stood out for fostering economic advance. Like China, albeit on a tiny scale, Dubai is engaged in an experiment of economic liberalization without political democracy.

Mr. Davidson further contends that unstable neighbors threaten Dubai's success, but here he may have matters reversed. When Egypt and Iran stifle their entrepreneurs, many of them find a wide berth in Dubai. When Saudi Arabia imposes cultural restrictions on its population, Dubai offers a place to drink and let loose. When India and Pakistan have trouble creating jobs for their large populations, Dubai absorbs labor migrants. When Iraq or Lebanon descends into war, Dubai profits from rebuilding them.

In short, until a vast arc of countries from East Africa to Southeast Asia changes substantially, Dubai will remain poised to benefit by providing a relatively open, secure, low-tax, business-friendly alternative.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN KOTKIN. "OFF THE SHELF; The Glittering Emirate, Revisited." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 7, 2008): 4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2008, and the title "OFF THE SHELF; Dubai, the Glittering Emirate, Revisited.")


The book under review, is:

Davidson, Christopher M. Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.






August 21, 2013

FDR and LaGuardia Legacy for NYC: Feds Fund Foolish Projects?



CityOfAmbitionBK2013-08-08.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-XZ916_bkrvam_DV_20130627152210.jpg






(p. 16) Fiorello La Guardia is regularly ranked not only as the greatest mayor of New York City, but as the greatest mayor of any city in all of American history. His pugnacious charisma, managerial competence and expansive vision still set a near-impossible standard for any candidate for municipal office.

But, as Mason B. Williams's fascinating new book "City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York" reminds us, La Guardia's success rested to a large degree on Franklin Roose­velt's decision to "channel the resources of the federal government through the agencies of America's cities and counties."

The questions raised by the New Deal's role in the development of New York remain relevant. President Obama champions infrastructure spending, but does that spending create local value? Should Washington support cities, like Detroit, that cannot support themselves? Does the power created by an expansive public sector lead to unacceptable abuse?


. . .


Williams tells the story of La Guardia and Roosevelt with insight and elegance, but his book doesn't address the deeper controversies around that partnership. Did La Guardia's New Deal spending saddle New York with obligations too expensive to maintain in the long run? Did a car-heavy construction strategy eventually enable an exodus from the city? La Guardia built much that still has value, but did the precedent of federal funding make foolish projects more likely?

Still, Williams's aim is to write history, not policy analysis, and he succeeds impressively at that. America's cities are the country's true economic heartland, and much of our most important past is urban. "City of Ambition" helps us to understand that past.




For the full review, see:

EDWARD L. GLAESER. "Fiorello!; LaGuardia's Outsize Personality Contributed to His Success, But So Did His Partnership with Franklin D. Roosevelt." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 18, 2013): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2013, and the title "Fiorello!; 'City of Ambition,' by Mason B. Williams.")


The book under review, is:

Williams, Mason B. City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.






August 20, 2013

In Greece, Votes Are Traded for Government Jobs



(p. A4) Some members of Parliament have lobbied for fishing licenses for the owners of pleasure boats in the Aegean islands. Others have asked for government jobs for award-winning athletes or members of dismantled state agencies. One sought to exempt theaters and cinemas from a controversial property tax. Another to reduce fines for the owners of illegally built homes in parts of northern Greece. The list goes on.

In all, more than 90 such budget-busting proposals have been floated as lawmakers scramble to push through last-minute amendments to bills otherwise intended to meet the demands of creditors who want Greece to liberalize its job market, cut red tape and shrink state payrolls.


. . .


But the proliferation of items threatens to delay that step, as lawmakers go to the trough one last time. Greece's practice of trading favors -- often government jobs -- for political support is as old as its 400 years of Ottoman rule, when the system evolved. The word for it, "rousfeti," which means favor, has its roots in the Turkish word for bribe.


. . .


"In Greece, the cross is sold in exchange for a government job," said one of them, Theodoros Pangalos, the outspoken deputy prime minister and seasoned Socialist, referring to the X that voters make on the ballot.

"No one has dared touch this system to date," Mr. Pangalos, who will not seek re-election, said this month in an interview with the French-German television channel Arte. "But it is time for it to change."



For the full story, see:

NIKI KITSANTONIS. "Despite Warning, Old Handouts Die Hard for Greek Politicians Facing Voters Soon." The New York Times (Tues., April 10, 2012): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 9, 2012.)






August 17, 2013

It's Hard to Be Consistent



TheFirstBillionIsTheHardestBK2013-08-08.jpg









Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) Both Adam Smith and Horatio Alger would find something to like in the rise of T. Boone Pickens. "Boy geologist" Boone quit a promising job at Phillips Petroleum in the mid-1950s and built, over the following decades, Mesa Petroleum, a top North American independent oil and gas producer. Mesa found lots of oil and gas, provided jobs for hundreds of workers, and earned wealth for thousands of investors. During the same years, Mr. Pickens's attempts to take over Cities Service, Gulf Oil, Phillips and Unocal made the whole oil industry shape up: His bids required the managers of each company to look hard at its practices and improve its shareholder returns.

Such accomplishments are the core of Mr. Pickens's 1987 autobiography, "Boone," which was updated 13 years later and retitled "The Luckiest Guy in the World." In those books, Mr. Pickens's political philosophy rang loud and clear. "I believe," he stated, "the greatest opportunity lies in a free marketplace." He warned: "There are powerful forces afoot trying to restrict that freedom in the interests of the vested and already wealthy. I am talking about a relatively small collection of corporate executives who would use the engine of American commerce for their own narrow ends."


. . .


Now Mr. Pickens has new dreams -- and he is lobbying Washington to make them come alive.

In particular, Mr. Pickens wants the federal government -- through a mix of tax incentives, mandates and subsidies -- to override the market and redirect the uses of natural gas.


. . .


"The First Billion" argues for this plan, along with recounting Mr. Pickens's business ups and downs. The book is often entertaining, featuring the usual "Boone-isms": e.g., "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." But readers unfamiliar with Mr. Pickens's earlier memoirs may not realize that the new one represents a kind of bait-and-switch. Mr. Pickens's standing to pronounce on energy matters was earned as a free-market producer. He is now using that standing to defy the market itself.



For the full review, see:

ROBERT BRADLEY JR. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; When Effort Is Energetic." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., September 10, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Pickens, T. Boone. The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future. New York: Crown Business, 2008.






August 8, 2013

Biofuels Like Ethanol Raise Food Costs About 30%



(p. 5) Until January [2008], Keith Collins was the longtime and widely respected chief economist for the Department of Agriculture. In that position, he was a frequent booster of government policies that encouraged biofuel production.

In the months after his departure, he was hired by Kraft Foods Global to analyze the impact of biofuels on food prices. He delivered a stunning, and unexpected, roundhouse to his former employers.

The Bush administration had said biofuels were a minor factor in rising food costs. In a May 1 [2008] press conference, Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said, "The bottom line is that we think that ethanol accounts for somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of the overall increase in global food prices."

A month later, in Rome at a United Nations conference on the food crisis, the agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, echoed Mr. Lazear's analysis in defending American biofuels policy.

But Mr. Collins pointed out that the administration's analysis was more like a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and that it hadn't accounted for the impact of biofuels on crops other than corn. The push for ethanol has led farmers to grow more corn and less of other food crops, one factor in rising prices for commodities like wheat.

Based on his own analysis, Mr. Collins maintains that biofuels have caused 23 to 35 percent of the increases in food costs.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. "THE FEED; The Man Who Dared to Question Ethanol." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., July 13, 2008): 5.

(Note: bracketed years added.)






August 7, 2013

Feds Drop Charge Against 4th Amendment Flasher



AaronTobeyAaronFourthAmendmentFlasher2013-08-04.jpg





















Source of photo: http://tsanewsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/AaronTobeyHero1.jpg (The WSJ article, cited below, had a similar photo in the print version of the article, but did not include it with the online version.)



(p. B6) Richmond International Airport officials have reached a settlement with Aaron Tobey, the so-called Fourth Amendment flasher.

Mr. Tobey in 2010 was arrested for alleged disorderly conduct at a checkpoint of the Virginia airport for stripping down to his running shorts. On his bare chest, Mr. Tobey had scrawled text of the Fourth Amendment on his chest in protest of the use of full-body scanners, which produced near-naked images of passengers.

The charge against him was dropped.


. . .


Government attorneys agreed not to appeal the Fourth Circuit ruling or further prosecute Mr. Tobey for interfering with TSA procedures, according to the Rutherford Institute, which represented him.

"Frankly, the nation would be better served if all government officials were required to undertake a training course on what it means to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal defense group.



For the full story, see:

Gershman, Jacob. "Airport Settles Lawsuit Over Full-Body Scanners." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 15, 2013,): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date July 14, 2013.)






August 2, 2013

For Right to Rise, French Youth Must Leave France's "Decrepit, Overcentralized Gerontocracy"



(p. 4) The French aren't used to the idea that their country, like so many others in Europe, might be one of emigration -- that people might actually want to leave. To many French people, it's a completely foreign notion that, around the world and throughout history, voting with one's feet has been the most widely available means to vote at all.


. . .


When the journalist Mouloud Achour, the rapper Mokless and I published a column in the French daily Libération last September, arguing that France was a decrepit, overcentralized gerontocracy and that French youths should pack their bags and go find better opportunities elsewhere in the world, it caused an uproar.


. . .


It was a divide between those who have found their place in the system and believe fervently in defending the status quo, and those who are aware that a country that has tolerated a youth unemployment rate of 25 percent for nearly 30 years isn't a place where the rising generations can expect to rise to much of anything.



For the full commentary, see:

FELIX MARQUARDT. "OPINION; The Best Hope for France's Young? Get Out." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 30, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated June 29, 2013.)






July 28, 2013

Children of Chinese Entrepreneurs Want to Work for Government



XieChaoboJoblessEngineeringStudent2013-07-23.jpg













"Engineering student Xie Chaobo has yet to land a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) BEIJING--Xie Chaobo figures he has the credentials to land a job at one of China's big state-owned firms. He is a graduate student at Tsinghua University, one of China's best. His field of study is environmental engineering, one of China's priorities. And he is experimenting with new techniques for identifying water pollutants, which should make him a valuable catch.

But he has applied to 30 companies so far and scored just four interviews, none of which has led to a job.

Although Mr. Xie's parents are entrepreneurs who have built companies that make glasses, shoes and now water pumps, he has no interest in working at a private startup. Chinese students "have been told since we were children to focus on stability instead of risk," the 24-year-old engineering student says.

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, (p. A10) leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China's remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and "jump into the sea," as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.



ChineseStudentAfterGraduationPlans2013-07-23.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






July 25, 2013

Slow Patent System Makes U.S. Look Like Third World Country



(p. 118) The absurd length of time and the outrageous cost of obtaining a patent is a national disgrace. If we heard it took two to five years to obtain title to real property somewhere, we would assume it was a corrupt third world country. And yet that is how long it takes to receive a patent now, depending on the area of technology.


Source:

Halling, Dale B. The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations Are Killing Innovation. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2009.






July 22, 2013

Great-Grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt Privately Built First Highway Dedicated to Cars



TheLongIslandMotorParkwayBK2013-07-21.jpg

















Source of book image: https://lihj.cc.stonybrook.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Motor-Parkway_review.jpg




(p. 13) It survives only as segments of other highways, as a right of way for power lines and as a bike trail, but the Long Island Motor Parkway still holds a sense of magic as what some historians say is the country's first road built specifically for the automobile. It opened 100 years ago last Friday as a rich man's dream.

As detailed in a new book, "The Long Island Motor Parkway" by Howard Kroplick and Al Velocci (Arcadia Publishing), the parkway ran about 45 miles across Long Island, from Queens to Ronkonkoma, and was created by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

. . .


The younger Vanderbilt was a car enthusiast who loved to race. He had set a speed record of 92 miles an hour in 1904, the same year he created his own race, the Vanderbilt Cup.

But his race came under fire after a spectator was killed in 1906, and Vanderbilt wanted a safe road on which to hold the race and on which other car lovers could hurl their new machines free of the dust common on roads made for horses. The parkway would also be free of "interference from the authorities," he said in a speech.

So he created a toll road for high-speed automobile travel. It was built of reinforced concrete, had banked turns, guard rails and, by building bridges, he eliminated intersections that would slow a driver down. The Long Island Motor Parkway officially opened on Oct. 10, 1908, and closed in 1938.


. . .


But by the end of Vanderbilt's life (he died in 1944), the public had come to feel entitled to car ownership. And there was growing pressure for public highways, like the parkways that the urban planner Robert Moses was building.

. . .


In 1938, Moses refused Vanderbilt's appeal to incorporate the motor parkway into his new parkway system. The motor parkway just could not compete with the public roads, even after the toll was reduced to 40 cents, and Moses eventually gained control of Vanderbilt's pioneering road for back taxes of about $80,000. The day of public roads had come, supplanting private highways.


. . .


The parkway marked the beginning of a process: the road was designed for the car. But in offering higher speeds, the parkway and other modern roads would push cars to their technical limits and beyond, inspiring innovation. In that sense, the first modern automobile highway helped to create the modern automobile.



For the full story, see:

PHIL PATTON. "A 100-Year-Old Dream: A Road Just for Cars." The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., October 12, 2008): 13.

(Note: the centered bold ellipses were in the original; the other ellipses were added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 9, 2008.)


The book mentioned in the article, is:

Kroplick, Howard, and Al Velocci. The Long Island Motor Parkway. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.



LongIslandMotorParkwayRouteMap2013-07-21.jpg "Approximate Route of Long Island Motor Parkway." Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







July 11, 2013

Millions Die Due to Precautionary Principle Ban of DDT



(p. 248) . . . , malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people worldwide, causing 2 million deaths per year. It is debilitating to those who don't die and leads to cyclic poverty. But in the 1950s the level of malaria was reduced by 70 percent by spraying the insecticide DDT around the insides of homes. DDT was so successful as an insecticide that farmers eagerly sprayed it by the tons on cotton fields--and the molecule's by-products made their way into the water cycle and eventually into fat cells in animals. Biologists blamed it for a drop in reproduction rates for some predatory birds, as well as local die-offs in some fish and aquatic life species. Its use and manufacture were banned in the United States in 1972. Other countries followed suit. Without DDT spraying, however, malaria cases in Asia and Africa began to rise again to deadly pre-1950s levels. Plans to reintroduce programs for household spraying in malarial Africa were blocked by the World Bank and other aid agencies, who refused to fund them. A treaty signed in 1991 by 91 countries and the EU agreed to phase out DDT altogether. They were relying on the precautionary principle: DDT was probably bad; better safe than sorry. In fact DDT had never been shown to hurt humans, and the environmental harm from the miniscule amounts of DDT applied in homes had not been measured. But nobody could prove it did not cause harm, despite its proven ability to do good.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 7, 2013

The Precautionary Principle Stops Technological Progress



(p. 247) All versions of the Precautionary Principle hold this axiom in common: A technology must be shown to do no harm before it is embraced. It must be proven to be safe before it is disseminated. If it cannot be proven safe, it should be prohibited, curtailed, modified, junked, or ignored. In other words, the first response to a new idea should be inaction until its safety is established. When an innovation appears, we should pause. Only after a new technology has been deemed okay by the certainty of science should we try to live with it.

On the surface, this approach seems reasonable and prudent. Harm must be anticipated and preempted. Better safe than sorry. Unfortunately, the Precautionary Principle works better in theory than in practice. "The precautionary principle is very, very good for one thing--stopping technological progress," says philosopher and consultant Max More. Cass R. Sunstein, who devoted a book to debunking the principle, says, "We must challenge the Precautionary Principle not because it leads in bad directions, but because read for all it is worth, it leads in no direction at all."



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 28, 2013

Discrete Caution Is Not Always Prudent in Corrupt China



TheLittleRedGuardBK2013-06-22.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) When economic reform and the seductive breeze of political liberalization come to China in the 1980s, the author's cautious father tells his children that if they want to succeed they should be discreet. He urges his son, who is at Shanghai's Fudan University, not to waste his time on useless foreign books. When the son first reads Shakespeare, he thinks that the expression "to be or not to be" is taken from Confucius. His father tells him that asking for too much freedom can land you in jail. "If you are not careful the government could crush you like a bug." Not long after this warning, the student democracy movement was smashed apart at Tiananmen Square, though Mr. Huang's father did not live to see it.

In the end, it is the father who suffers as his world collapses. Toward the end of his life he was told by the Party that he was to be rewarded for devising a money-saving program at his state factory with promotion and a better wage. Instead the promotion went to the girlfriend of the local Party secretary, and the firm's bosses split his wage rise among themselves. Embittered and exhausted, he died of a heart attack in 1988, ahead of his mother.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Coming of Age In Mao's China; Death cannot be controlled by the party, but disposing of a body can. So the author's father built a coffin in secret at his mother's request.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 30, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 29, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Huang, Wenguang. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012..






June 27, 2013

$30 Million First National Bank Regulatory Costs Due to Dodd-Frank Replacing Clear Rules with Regulator "Wild Card" Leeway



(p. 1D) The president of First National of Nebraska, the nation's largest privately held banking firm, said new federal regulatory and compliance efforts stand to cost the company as much as $30 million this year.

"It is a big uncertainty in the banking world," said Dan O'Neill, speaking Wednesday at the company's annual meeting in Omaha. "They are not operating off of concrete rules. A lot of it is their interpretation."

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed as a result of the federal Dodd-Frank laws passed in 2010 after widespread bank failures and bailouts using taxpayer money. . . .


. . .


The bureau, he said, worries banks because there is not a "clear body of rules" from which the regulator is operating in evaluating the fairness of a bank's business practices. He said the agency's regulators have a lot of leeway in deciding what to do af-(p. 2D)ter examining a bank; penalties for running afoul include fines.

"So it is a bit of a wild card," he said.



For the full story, see:

Russell Hubbard. "First National Chief Says Regulatory Costs Mounting." Omaha World-Herald (THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 2013): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 14, 2013

Federal Food Regs Drive Sharon Penner to Stop Baking for Nebraska Children



PennerSharonSlicesHerBakedBread2013-06-11.jpg "Sharon Penner slices fresh bread, which she bakes a few times a week for Hampton, Neb., students. Penner, who has fed the town's schoolchildren for 43 years, saw new school nutrition rules that cut many of her goodies as a sign it was time to retire. With her in the school kitchen is assistant Judy Hitzemann." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Have we gone too far when the preferences of Michelle Obama rule over the preferences of the parents of Hampton, Nebraska? And is it clear that the parents are wrong in thinking that fresh-baked bread (see photo above) and a timely pat on the shoulder (see photo below), are worth some extra calories?



(p. 1A) HAMPTON, Neb. -- Blame the broccoli. Blame the mandarin oranges. Blame all their cousins, from apples to yams, for removing Mrs. Penner's butter bars from the school lunch counter.

Then blame Mrs. Obama for removing Mrs. Penner.

So goes the thinking in this no-stoplight village of 423 people about 20 minutes northwest of York.

When the new federal school nutrition mandates went into effect this year, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, fresh-baked brownies, cookies and other sugary goodies disappeared from the school menu. And Sharon Penner, who has been feeding schoolchildren here for 43 years, decided it was a sign from above to retire.

Friday [May 17, 2013] will be the last school lunch the 70-year-old prepares for the Hampton Hawks.

Mrs. Penner is hanging up her apron.

"She is?" asked an incredulous sixth-grader named Treavar Pekar. (p. 2A) He stopped cold from scrubbing some of the six tables in the small cafeteria when I broke the news after lunch.

"NOOOOO!!!!!"

That about sums up the community response.



For the full story, see:

Grace, Erin. "Time to Hang Up Her Purple Apron." Omaha World-Herald (FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2013): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Grace: Hampton lunch lady ready to hang up apron.")




PennerSharonComfortsBryceJoseph2013-06-11.jpg "Sharon Penner with Bryce Joseph, who needed some help after dropping his breakfast tray." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.






June 11, 2013

Berkshire Agrees to Buy No More than 25% of DaVita, Firm Accused of Medicare Fraud




Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has agreed to cap its ownership of DaVita Healthcare Partners at 25%. A previous entry on this blog quoted a story saying that Ted Weschler is behind Berkshire's purchases of DaVita stock. An even earlier entry on this blog discussed accusations that DaVita Healthcare Partners has committed substantial healthcare fraud by charging the taxpayer millions of dollars for medicine that is needlessly thrown away.



(p. 2D) Berkshire agreed not to buy more than 25 percent of DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., a national network of medical infusion clinics.

Berkshire investment manager Ted Weschler has been buying DaVita stock for Berkshire since joining the Omaha investment company last year, totaling about 14 percent of the company, Bloomberg reported.

Weschler and DaVita President Javier Rodriguez signed a "standstill agreement" last week, a document often intended to clarify whether an investor wants to acquire controlling interest in a business. Some have speculated that Berkshire wants to acquire all of DaVita's stock, which artificially inflates the price of its shares.

DaVita legal officer Kim Rivera said Berkshire is a "supportive investor with a long-term view."



For the full story, see:

Steve Jordon. "WARREN WATCH; At Berkshire meeting, See's candymaker outshines Warren Buffett." Omaha World-Herald (SUNDAY, MAY 12, 2013): 1D & 2D.






June 8, 2013

The Eccentric History of How Bureaucratic Paper-Pushing Drives Clerks Crazy



TheDemonOfWritingBK2013-05-13.jpg















Source of book image: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1360928417l/15904345.jpg




(p. C4) If paperwork studies have an unofficial standard-bearer and theoretician, it's Mr. Kafka. In "The Demon of Writing" he lays out a concise if eccentric intellectual history of people's relationship with the paperwork that governs (and gums up) so many aspects of modern life. The rise of modern bureaucracy is a well-established topic in sociology and political science, where it is often related as a tale of increasing order and rationality. But the paper's-eye view championed by Mr. Kafka tells a more chaotic story of things going wrong, or at least getting seriously messy.

It's an idea that makes perfect sense to any modern cubicle dweller whose overflowing desk stands as a rebuke to the utopian promise of the paperless office. But Mr. Kafka traces the modern age of paperwork to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which guaranteed citizens the right to request a full accounting of the government. An explosion of paper followed, along with jokes, gripes and tirades against the indignity of rule by paper-pushing clerks, a fair number of whom, judging from the stories in Mr. Kafka's book, went mad.



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER. "The Paper Trail Through History." The New York Times (Mon., December 17, 2012): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 16, 2012.)


Kafka's book, mentioned above, is:

Kafka, Ben. The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork. Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books, 2012.



KafkaBenAuthor2013-05-13.jpg "Ben Kafka, author of "The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 29, 2013

When Howard Phillips Was Told He Could Not Dismantle His Agency, He Resigned



PhillipsHowardOfficeOfEconomicOpportunity2013-05-12.jpg

"Mr. Phillips [on left] was named the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1973 during President Richard M. Nixon's administration." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. A24) Howard J. Phillips, a pillar of conservative activism who ran for president three times on the ticket of a political party he helped found, died . . . at his home in Vienna, Va. He was 72.

. . .


Mr. Phillips's integrity as a conservative was on display in President Richard M. Nixon's administration. In early 1973, the president signaled his intention to withhold financing from the Office of Economic Opportunity, an antipoverty agency with roots in President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty. The president named Mr. Phillips acting director and charged him with dismantling it.

"I believe Richard Nixon epitomizes the American dream and represents all that is great in America," Mr. Phillips said at the time.

Nixon was unable to carry out his plans, however, after Democrats successfully sued to prevent him from starving an agency that Congress had authorized. And when Nixon yielded and continued to finance Johnson's Great Society programs, Mr. Phillips considered the president to have broken his word and resigned.



For the full obituary, see:

BRUCE WEBER. "Howard J. Phillips, Stalwart Conservative, Dies at 72." The New York Times (Thurs., April 25, 2013): A24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed words in caption, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 23, 2013.)






May 26, 2013

Harry Reid Hires GE Employee to Be His Chief Tax Policy Advisor




The "Capture Theory" associated with scholars George Stigler and Gabriel Kolko says that government regulatory bodies tend to be captured by the companies that they are intended to regulate. Stigler and Kolko would not be surprised by the passage quoted below.


(p. B5) . . . on Jan. 25, Mr. Reid's office announced that he had appointed Cathy Koch as chief adviser to the majority leader for tax and economic policy. The news release lists Ms. Koch's admirable and formidable experience in the public sector. "Prior to joining Senator Reid's office," the release says, "Koch served as tax chief at the Senate Finance Committee."

It's funny, though. The notice left something out. Because immediately before joining Mr. Reid's office, Ms. Koch wasn't in government. She was working for a large corporation.

Not just any corporation, but quite possibly the most influential company in America, and one that arguably stands to lose the most if there were any serious tax reform that closed corporate loopholes. Ms. Koch arrives at the senator's office by way of General Electric.

Yes, General Electric, the company that paid almost no taxes in 2010. Just as the tax reform debate is heating up, Mr. Reid has put in place a person who is extraordinarily positioned to torpedo any tax reform that might draw a dollar out of G.E. -- and, by extension, any big corporation.

Omitting her last job from the announcement must have merely been an oversight. By the way, no rules prevent Ms. Koch from meeting with G.E. or working on issues that would affect the company.



For the full story, see:

JESSE EISINGER, ProPublica. "A Revolving Door in Washington With Spin, but Less Visibility." The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)






May 21, 2013

Governments Stop Errol Joseph from Repairing His House



JosephErrolNewOrleansHouseFixer2013-05-04.jpg "Errol Joseph and his wife, Esther, at their Forstall Street property in New Orleans. Mr. Joseph, 62, had spent his life fixing houses." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) NEW ORLEANS -- Errol Joseph has the doorknobs. He has the doors, too, as well as a bathtub and a couple of sinks, stacks of drywall, a hot water heater, pipes, an air-conditioner compressor, and big pink rolls of insulation. They are sitting in a shed.

A few blocks up the street sits the gaunt frame of a house, the skeleton in which all these insides are supposed to fit. They have sat apart for years. The gap between: permits, procedures, policies, rules and the capricious demands of bureaucracy.

As people in the Northeast set off on the road back from Hurricane Sandy, there are those here, like Mr. Joseph, who are keen to offer warnings that recovery can be far more difficult than they imagine. Mr. Joseph sees his own story as a cautionary tale, though he admits he is unsure what he would have, or should have, done differently.

"Do the right thing and fall further behind," said Mr. Joseph, a big man with a soft voice.


. . .


(p. A4) But Mr. Joseph, who had spent his life repairing houses, figured he could do it himself, and would be back at home by that summer. He spent most of his rebuilding grant buying materials, including windows, shingles and everything else in the shed. In the spring of 2009, he elevated the frame of the house, leaving it propped on wooden cribbing.

Before he took any further steps, he contacted the state for an inspection, as he had been instructed.

Then the inspectors showed up.

" 'Do not do anything to this house until you get a letter of continuance,' " he recalled one inspector saying. "He said that three times. He said you would lose your money."

So Mr. Joseph did not do anything to the house. Months went by. No letter arrived. The inspector disappeared. Officials denied that anyone had ever said anything about a letter, said Mr. Joseph, who in his regular visits to state offices would then ask for written permission to move forward anyway.

In 2010, told that he would not be allowed to do the work himself, he drew up a contract with an elevation specialist. But permission from the state to move forward was still elusive. "Your paperwork is in the system," Mr. Joseph was told.

Though Mr. Joseph did not know it, his paperwork was blocked for months in the federal clearance process, but for reasons that remain a mystery.

The drywall rotted in the shed. The frame sat in the elements. The city, unaware of Mr. Joseph's travails, warned of demolition.



For the full story, see:

CAMPBELL ROBERTSON. "Katrina Rebuilder Can't Rise Above Red Tape." The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2012): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2012, and has the title "Routed by Katrina, Stuck in Quagmire of Rules.")


JosephErroBlockAfterKatrina2013-05-04.jpg "A photograph of Mr. Joseph's block taken shortly after Hurricane Katrina. It took years to prove his house was salvageable." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 18, 2013

Berkshire Buys Big into DaVita, Firm Accused of Medicare Fraud




Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway apparently has a large stake in DaVita Healthcare Partners. An earlier entry on this blog discussed accusations that DaVita Healthcare Partners has committed substantial healthcare fraud by charging the taxpayer millions of dollars for medicine that is needlessly thrown away. Apparently the DaVita investment is due to Ted Weschler, one of two deputies to whom Buffett has delegated the investment of some of Berkshire's funds.


(p. 3D) Weschler is believed to be behind Berkshire's aggressive move into DaVita Healthcare Partners -- a stock he owned when he ran his own hedge fund. Berkshire bought 10.9 million shares last year, becoming Da-Vita's largest stakeholder with 15.7 percent of the company. DaVita provides kidney dialy­sis services and is seen as a consistent cash-flow genera­tor. In November, the company closed its $4.7 billion purchase of Healthcare Partners, one of the country's largest operators of medical groups and physi­cian networks. DaVita shares rose more than 35 percent in the past 12 months.


For the full story, see:


MarketWatch . "Buffett was avid hunter of 6 stocks last year; Wells Fargo, GM and DirecTV top Berkshire's list." Omaha World-Herald (Tues., March 12, 2013): 1D & 3D.






April 29, 2013

David Kay Johnston Defends Entrepreneurial Capitalism Against Crony Capitalism



FinePrintBK2013-04-28.jpg

















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/fineprint_custom-c26eb6a3f6c4d9bc09220769911f3cbeaa900b7f-s6-c10.jpg



I saw an informative C-SPAN interview with David Cay Johnston a while back. I had known from Johnston's previous books and reporting, that he was devoted to exposing the outrages of crony capitalism. What the interview revealed to me was that Johnston was not opposed to capitalism in general, and in fact viewed himself as friendly to entrepreneurial capitalism.

I believe that big companies are not bad when they got and stay big by honestly earning big profits from willing and delighted consumers. But big companies are bad when, as often happens, they use their size to get the government to suppress start-up competitors or to take money from taxpayers to subsidize their activities.

I have not yet read Johnston's latest book on the big and bad, but I expect it to present sad, but useful, examples.




Book discussed:

Johnston, David Cay. The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind. New York: Portfolio, 2012.






April 25, 2013

The Costs of Green Jobs Policies



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Source of book image: http://javelindc.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/regulating_to_disaster.jpg



I caught part of a C-SPAN presentation on the Regulating to Disaster book. It sounded plausible and intriguing---consistent with other evidence I have seen that "green" jobs have been over-hyped and under-delivered.

Perhaps more important, there are the high opportunity costs of the tax dollars devoted to the "green" jobs, in terms of the non-green jobs that would have been created by entrepreneurs if less of their income had been taxed away.

I hope to look at the book in the near future.


Book discussed:

Furchtgott-Roth, Diana. Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy. New York: Encounter Books, 2012.






April 22, 2013

Today Is 13th Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2013) is the 13th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.










April 16, 2013

Tax Rates Have Big Effect on Labor Supply and Rate of Entrepreneurial Start-Ups



(p. A23) Higher taxes will produce long-term changes in social norms, behavior and growth. Edward Prescott, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that, in the 1950s when their taxes were low, Europeans worked more hours per capita than Americans. Then their taxes went up, reducing the incentives to work and increasing the incentives to relax. Over the next decades, Europe saw a nearly 30 percent decline in work hours.

The rich tend to be more sensitive to tax-rate changes because they've got advisers who are paid to be. Martin Feldstein, an economics professor at Harvard, looked into tax changes in the 1980s and concluded that raising rates causes people to shift compensations to untaxed fringe benefits and otherwise suppresses their economic activity. A study last year by the economists Michael Keane and Richard Rogerson found that tax rates can have a surprisingly large influence on how much people invest in education, how likely they are to create businesses and which professions they go into.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Progressive Shift." The New York Times (Tues., March 19, 2013): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 18, 2013.)


The Keane and Rogerson paper summarized by Brooks is:

Keane, Michael, and Richard Rogerson. "Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 2 (June 2012): 464-76.






April 12, 2013

Non-Paying Nations Send Heavy-Drinking Delegates to United Nations



(p. A20) UNITED NATIONS -- When the United Nations began renovating its Manhattan headquarters in 2009, one of the first casualties of the construction was the storied Delegate's Lounge, where for decades the delicate work of diplomacy was aided by a good stiff drink.

The loss of the bar led to protest from diplomats and their staffs, and a temporary outpost was soon established.

That bar is also now gone, but the thirst for liquor at the United Nations is apparently still strong.

This week, an American diplomat offered what he called a "modest proposal" that he hoped would speed along the United Nations' notoriously protracted budgetary proceedings. He asked delegates to put a cork in it.

"The negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone," the diplomat, Joseph M. Torsella, said.


. . .


The United States' plea for sobriety was reported on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine. The article cited anonymous diplomats saying that the most recent budget negotiations, which concluded in December, featured at least one delegate who became sick from too much alcohol.


. . .


The United States, Japan and western European countries provide the majority of the United Nations' budget. And many of the dozens of countries that make up the committee that sets the budget have little financial stake in the negotiations, so partaking of alcohol may seem a good way to endure marathon sessions that can last well into the night.



For the full story, see:

MARC SANTORA. "Diplomat Calls for End to Drunkenness During Negotiations at United Nations." The New York Times (Fri., March 8, 2013): A20.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 7, 2013 and has the title "Diplomat Calls for End to Drunkenness During U.N. Negotiations.")

(Note: ellipses added.)






March 26, 2013

New York Resisted Roosevelt's Enforcing "Stupid" Vice Laws



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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/i/island-of-vice/9780385519724_custom-e38a25fc66f104a049d4d24aa39dbe92d42fbd57-s6-c10.jpg



(p. C9) . . . as Richard Zacks's excellent "Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York" ably shows, while we might like to believe that the stretch from 1970 to 1995 represents the city's nadir, it was just about business as usual in New York over the centuries.

From its time as a Dutch colonial outpost, the city has always been pretty bad. You'd almost think New Yorkers prefer it that way. Of course, we don't like fraud, robbery, assault, arson, rape or murder any more than anyone else does. But the deliberate injury of one's fellow citizen isn't the only way to break the law. There are also those crimes that fall under the broad category of "vice": things such as gambling, prostitution, indecent exposure and selling alcohol at a convenient time. Historically, the average New Yorker has not greeted these acts with the same immediate urge to suppress that many of his or her fellow Americans have had. You don't get a nickname like "The City That Never Sleeps" without having a certain amount of things worth staying up for.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Zacks's exhaustively researched yet lively story is a classic battle between an irresistible force, Roosevelt's ego, and an immovable object, the people of New York's unwillingness to follow laws they thought were stupid. In this case, the object won, and handily. Mr. Zacks's account of the way the city's saloonkeepers instantly turned their establishments into hotels to take advantage of a loophole in the law is particularly amusing. Eventually, the police department, not unsympathetic to the Sunday tippler, began finding ways to wriggle out from under the commissioner's thumb, and beer-friendly Tammany Hall, with the people solidly behind it, began peeling away his allies.



For the full review, see:

DAVID WONDRICH. "BOOKSHELF; Teddy's Rough Ride." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 17, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 30, 2012.)



Book under review:

Zacks, Richard. Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York. New York: Doubleday, 2012.






March 9, 2013

Chicago Gun Ban Laws Do Not Stop Chicago Gun Deaths



(p. A1) CHICAGO -- Not a single gun shop can be found in this city because they are outlawed. Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban. Despite a continuing legal fight, Illinois remains the only state in the nation with no provision to let private citizens carry guns in public.

And yet Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013, including a fatal shooting of a 15-year-old girl on Tuesday.

To gun rights advocates, the city provides stark evidence that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. "The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they've essentially made the citizens prey," said Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.



For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can't Stem Fatal Shots." The New York Times (Weds., January 30, 2013): A1 & A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 29, 2013, and has the slightly different title "Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can't Stem Fatal Shots.")






March 8, 2013

Most in NYC Oppose Bloomberg's Nanny State Soda Ban



OgunbiyiRocheDrinksLargeSodaTimesSquare2013-02-23.jpg "Theodore Ogunbiyi-Roche, 10, who is visiting from London, drank a large soda in Times Square . . . " Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A18) . . . , New Yorkers are cool to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan to prohibit sales of large sugary drinks in city restaurants, stadiums and movie theaters, according to a . . . poll by The New York Times.

Six in 10 residents said the mayor's soda plan was a bad idea, compared with 36 percent who called it a good idea. A majority in every borough was opposed; Bronx and Queens residents were more likely than Manhattanites to say the plan was a bad idea.


. . .


. . . those opposed overwhelmingly cited a sense that Mr. Bloomberg was overreaching with the plan and that consumers should have the freedom to make a personal choice . . .

"The ban is at the point where it is an infringement of civil liberties," Liz Hare, 43, a scientific researcher in Queens, said in a follow-up interview. "There are many other things that people do that aren't healthy, so I think it's a big overreach."

Bob Barocas, 64, of Queens, put it more bluntly: "This is like the nanny state going off the wall."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM and MARJORIE CONNELLY. "60% in City Oppose Soda Ban, Calling It an Overreach by Bloomberg, Poll Finds." The New York Times (Thurs., August 23, 2012): A18.

(Note: ellipses in caption and article added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 22, 2012, and the title "60% in City Oppose Bloomberg's Soda Ban, Poll Finds.")






March 1, 2013

Google's Eric Schmidt Saw that "Regulation Prohibits Real Innovation"



(p. A13) Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, gave a remarkable interview this month to The Washington Post. So remarkable that Post editors preceded the transcript with this disclosure: "He had just come from the dentist. And he had a toothache."

Perhaps it was the Novocain talking, but Mr. Schmidt has done us a service. He said in public what most technologists will say only in private. Whatever caused him to speak forthrightly about the disconnects between Silicon Valley and Washington, his comments deserve wider attention.

Mr. Schmidt had just given his first congressional testimony. He was called before the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee to answer allegations that Google is a monopolist, a charge the Federal Trade Commission is also investigating.

"So we get hauled in front of the Congress for developing a product that's free, that serves a billion people. OK? I mean, I don't know how to say it any clearer," Mr. Schmidt told the Post. "It's not like we raised prices. We could lower prices from free to . . . lower than free? You see what I'm saying?"


. . .


"Regulation prohibits real innovation, because the regulation essentially defines a path to follow," Mr. Schmidt said. This "by definition has a bias to the current outcome, because it's a path for the current outcome."


. . .


Washington is always slow to recognize technological change, which is why in their time IBM and Microsoft were also investigated after competing technologies had emerged.

Mr. Schmidt recounted a dinner in 1995 featuring a talk by Andy Grove, a founder of Intel: "He says, 'This is easy to understand. High tech runs three times faster than normal businesses. And the government runs three times slower than normal businesses. So we have a nine-times gap.' All of my experiences are consistent with Andy Grove's observation."

Mr. Schmidt explained there was only one way to deal with this nine-times gap, which this column hereby christens "Grove's Law of Government." That is "to make sure that the government does not get in the way and slow things down."

Mr. Schmidt recounted that when Silicon Valley first started playing a large role in the economy in the 1990s, "all of a sudden the politicians showed up. We thought the politicians showed up because they loved us. It's fair to say they loved us for our money."

He contrasted innovation in Silicon Valley with innovation in Washington. "Now there are startups in Washington," he said, "founded by people who were policy makers. . . . They're very clever people, and they've figured out a way in regulation to discriminate, to find a new satellite spectrum or a new frequency or whatever. They immediately hired a whole bunch of lobbyists. They raised some money to do that. And they're trying to innovate through regulation. So that's what passes for innovation in Washington."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Google Speaks Truth to Power; About the growing regulatory state, even Google's Eric Schmidt--a big supporter of the Obama administration--now feels the need to tell it like it is." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 24, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to Schmidt quote, in original WSJ commentary.)


The original Eric Schmidt interview with the Washington Post, can be read at:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-10-01/national/35278181_1_google-chairman-eric-schmidt-regulation-disconnects







February 28, 2013

Greek Government Buries Olive Oil Entrepreneur in Red Tape



AntonopoulosFotisGreekOliveOil2013-02-23.jpg "Fotis Antonopoulos's struggles to start OliveShop.com have made him a reluctant emblem of thwarted Greek entrepreneurship." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Vassilis Korkidis, who is quoted below, is (p. A3) "the president of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, a trade association in Athens."



(p. A1) ATHENS -- It was about a year ago that Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, decided he wanted to open an e-business selling olive products.

Luckily, he already had a day job.

It took him 10 months -- crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions -- before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays -- and stool samples -- since this was a food company.


. . .


With Greece's economy entering its fourth year of recession, its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece; nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them vanished. Predictions for 2012 are also bleak.

But despite the government's repeated promises to improve things, the climate for doing business here remains abysmal. In a recent report titled "Greece 10 Years Ahead," McKinsey & Company described Greece's economy as "chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business." Start-ups faced immense amounts of red tape, complex administrative and tax systems and procedural disincentives, it said.


. . .


(p. A3) Part of Mr. Antonopoulos's problem, Mr. Korkidis ventured, was his unwillingness to pay what is routinely referred to here as the "speed tax" -- bribes to move things along.

Nor is Mr. Korkidis much of a fan of recent government efforts to improve things. He pointed to a pamphlet produced by the Ministry of Development, which explained a new "one-stop shop" program for new businesses.

"This doesn't work," he said. "You have to collect 10 papers first -- and then it is one-stop shopping. Ridiculous."

At 36, Mr. Antonopoulos is an aging computer whiz kid with long hair and an easy smile.


. . .


The worst moment, he said, was when representatives from two agencies came to inspect the shop and disagreed about the legality of a circular staircase. They walked out telling him that he "would have to figure it out."

"At that point, we actually thought about just going to the U.K. with this," he said. "One of the inspectors knew about new legislation. The other didn't. And they just refused to come up with a solution."

At one point, the company got a huge order from Denmark, he said. But the paperwork for what amounted to a wholesale transaction was so onerous that they decided not to even try to fill the order.



For the full story, see:

SUZANNE DALEY. "A Tale of Greek Enterprise and Olive Oil, Smothered in Red Tape." The New York Times (Mon., March 19, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2012.)






February 24, 2013

Entrepreneur Mackey Says Whole Foods Drops Prices as Larger Size Creates Economies of Scale



MackeyJohnWholeFoodsCEO2013-02-23.jpg











"John Mackey." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. 16) In your new book, "Conscious Capitalism," you write that Whole Foods sees its customers as its "most important stakeholders" and that the company is obsessed with their happiness. The biggest complaint I hear about Whole Foods is how expensive it is. Why not drop prices to make your customers happier? People always complain about prices being too high. Whole Foods prices have dropped every year as we get to be larger and we have economies of scale. Also, people are not historically well informed about food prices. We're only spending about 7 percent of our disposable personal income on food. Fifty years ago, it was nearly 16 percent.


. . .


In 2009, some Whole Foods customers organized boycotts after you wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal expressing opposition to Obama's health care proposals. Do you wish you hadn't written it?
No, I don't. I regret that a lot of people didn't actually read it and it got taken out of context. President Obama asked for ideas about health care reform, and I put my ideas out there. Whole Foods has a good health care plan. It's not a solution to America's health care problems, but it's part of the solution.

So did you vote for Romney?
I did.

I imagine a certain percentage of Whole Foods customers will also boycott because of this.
I don't know what to say except that I'm a capitalist, first. There are many things I don't like about Romney, but more things I don't like about Obama. This is America, and people disagree on things.



For the full interview, see:

Andrew Goldman, Interviewer. "TALK; The Kale King." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 20, 2013): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original, indicating interviewer questions.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 18, 2013, and has the title "TALK; John Mackey, the Kale King.")


Mackey's book is:

Mackey, John, and Rajendra Sisodia. Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.






February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education



(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






February 17, 2013

Higher Taxes Would Slow Creation of Entrepreneur Bronfein's Time-Saving Medical Robotic Systems



(p. A11) . . . in Baltimore, . . . a local entrepreneur, following the logic of need, invested seven years and $30 million developing a robotic system for packaging prescription drugs for long-term patients in nursing homes and hospitals.

In a conversation last year, inventor Michael Bronfein told me if he'd known what it would cost him in time and money, he might never have started. How many entrepreneurs say the same? Probably all of them. But Mr. Bronfein saw a need and the power of technology to meet it, and the result was the Paxit automated medication dispensing system.

He saw workers spending hours under the old system sticking pills in monthly blister packs known as "bingo cards," a process expensive and error-prone. He saw nurses on the receiving end then spending time to pluck the pills out of blister packs and into paper cups, to create the proper daily drug regimen for each patient.


. . .


He followed the economic logic that indicated that all the people involved in the old system were becoming too valuable to have their time wasted by the old system. Backed by his company, Remedi SeniorCare, Paxit--in which a robot packages, labels and dispatches a daily round of medicines for each patient--is spreading across the mid-Atlantic and Midwest and winning plaudits from medical-care providers.

. . .


We need to preserve the incentive for investors to bring us the robots that will make the future bearable, rather than burying entrepreneurs in taxes in a vain attempt to seize the returns of investments before those investments are made.



For the full commentary, see:

Jenkins, HOLMAN W., JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Robots to the Rescue? The flip side of an entitlements crisis is a labor shortage." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)






February 16, 2013

IKEA Says Government Bureaucracy Slows Job Creation



OhlssonMikaelCEOofIKEA2013-02-03.jpg "The economy 'will remain challenging for a long time,' says IKEA Chief Executive Mikael Ohlsson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) MALMO, Sweden--IKEA is poised to embark on a global spending spree, but its departing chief executive says red tape is slowing how fast the home-furnishings retailer can open its pocket book.

With the company set to report record sales on Wednesday, CEO Mikael Ohlsson said the amount of time it takes to open a store has roughly doubled in recent years.

"What some years ago took two to three years, now takes four to six years. And we also see that there's a lot of hidden obstacles in different markets and also within the [European Union] that's holding us back," he said in an interview recently at an IKEA store on Sweden's western coast.


. . .


IKEA plans to invest €2 billion in stores, factories and renewable energy this year. But the company fell €1 billion short of its goal of investing €3 billion in new projects last year, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles, he said. For 10 years IKEA has tried unsuccessfully to relocate a store in France, for example. The company also is challenging German policy dictating what can be sold and where, saying the rules are out of sync with EU legislation.

"It's a pity, because it can help create jobs and investments at a time when unemployment is high in many countries," Mr. Ohlsson said. A new IKEA store creates construction and store jobs for about 1,000 workers, he said.


. . .


The company's highest-profile headaches have come in India, an untapped market where IKEA wants to open a first store in at least five years and roll out an additional three soon thereafter.



For the full story, see:

ANNA MOLIN. "IKEA Chief Takes Aim at Red Tape." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 23, 2013): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 22, 2013.)






February 13, 2013

Behavioral Economists and Psychologists Pledged to Keep Silent on Their Advice to Re-Elect Obama



(p. D1) Late last year Matthew Barzun, an official with the Obama campaign, called Craig Fox, a psychologist in Los Angeles, and invited him to a political planning meeting in Chicago, according to two people who attended the session.

"He said, 'Bring the whole group; let's hear what you have to say,' " recalled Dr. Fox, a behavioral economist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

So began an effort by a team of social scientists to help their favored candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Some members of the team had consulted with the Obama campaign in the 2008 cycle, but the meeting in January signaled a different direction.

"The culture of the campaign had changed," Dr. Fox said. "Before then I felt like we had to sell ourselves; this time there was a real hunger for our ideas."


. . .


(p. D6) When asked about the outside psychologists, the Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with them.


. . .


For their part, consortium members said they did nothing more than pass on research-based ideas, in e-mails and conference calls. They said they could talk only in general terms about the research, because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with the campaign.

In addition to Dr. Fox, the consortium included Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University; Samuel L. Popkin of the University of California, San Diego; Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University; Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago's business school; and Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia.

"A kind of dream team, in my opinion," Dr. Fox said.



For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "Academic 'Dream Team' Helped Obama's Effort." The New York Times (Tues., November 13, 2012): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 12, 2012.)






February 12, 2013

The War on Drugs Likely "Increased the Rate of Addiction"



DrugPrisonerGraph2013-02-03.jpg






Source of graph: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.







(p. C1) President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing--and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated. By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don't include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify. For example, over the past 40 years the fraction of students who have dropped out of American high schools has remained large, at about 25%. Dropout rates are not high for middle-class white children, but they are very high for black and Hispanic children living in poor neighborhoods. Many factors explain the high dropout rates, especially bad schools and weak family support. But another important factor in inner-city neighborhoods is the temptation to drop out of school in order to profit from the drug trade.

The total number of persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the U.S. has grown from 330,000 in 1980 to about 1.6 million today. Much of the increase in this population is directly due to the war on drugs and the severe punishment for persons convicted of drug trafficking. About 50% of the inmates in federal prisons and 20% of those in state prisons have been convicted of either selling or using drugs. The many minor drug traffickers and drug users who spend time in jail find fewer opportunities for legal employment after they get out of prison, and they develop better skills at criminal activities.


. . .


(p. C2) It is generally harder to break an addiction to illegal goods, like drugs. Drug addicts may be leery of going to clinics or to nonprofit "drugs anonymous" groups for help. They fear they will be reported for consuming illegal substances. Since the consumption of illegal drugs must be hidden to avoid arrest and conviction, many drug consumers must alter their lives in order to avoid detection.

Usually overlooked in discussions of the effects of the war on drugs is that the illegality of drugs stunts the development of ways to help drug addicts, such as the drug equivalent of nicotine patches. Thus, though the war on drugs may well have induced lower drug use through higher prices, it has likely also increased the rate of addiction. The illegality of drugs makes it harder for addicts to get help in breaking their addictions. It leads them to associate more with other addicts and less with people who might help them quit.


. . .


The decriminalization of both drug use and the drug market won't be attained easily, as there is powerful opposition to each of them. The disastrous effects of the American war on drugs are becoming more apparent, however, not only in the U.S. but beyond its borders. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has suggested "market solutions" as one alternative to the problem. Perhaps the combined efforts of leaders in different countries can succeed in making a big enough push toward finally ending this long, enormously destructive policy experiment.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER and KEVIN M. MURPHY. "Have We Lost the War on Drugs? After more than four decades of a failed experiment, the human cost has become too high. It is time to consider the decriminalization of drug use and the drug market." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 5, 2013): C1 & C2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2013.)






January 23, 2013

David Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research



LangerRobertResearchLab2013-01-12.jpg "Dr. Robert Langer's research lab is at the forefront of moving academic discoveries into the marketplace." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) HOW do you take particles in a test tube, or components in a tiny chip, and turn them into a $100 million company?

Dr. Robert Langer, 64, knows how. Since the 1980s, his Langer Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spun out companies whose products treat cancer, diabetes, heart disease and schizophrenia, among other diseases, and even thicken hair.

The Langer Lab is on the front lines of turning discoveries made in the lab into a range of drugs and drug delivery systems. Without this kind of technology transfer, the thinking goes, scientific discoveries might well sit on the shelf, stifling innovation.

A chemical engineer by training, Dr. Langer has helped start 25 companies and has 811 patents, issued or pending, to his name. More than 250 companies have licensed or sublicensed Langer Lab patents.

Polaris Venture Partners, a Boston venture capital firm, has invested $220 million in 18 Langer Lab-inspired businesses. Combined, these businesses have improved the health of many millions of people, says Terry McGuire, co-founder of Polaris.


. . .


(p. 7) Operating from the sixth floor of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research on the M.I.T. campus in Cambridge, Mass., Dr. Langer's lab has a research budget of more than $10 million for 2012, coming mostly from federal sources.


. . .


David H. Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, the conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., wrote in an e-mail that "innovation and education have long fueled the world's most powerful economies, so I can't think of a better or more natural synergy than the one between academia and industry." Mr. Koch endowed Dr. Langer's professorship at M.I.T. and is a graduate of the university.



For the full story, see:

HANNAH SELIGSON. "Hatching Ideas, and Companies, by the Dozens at M.I.T." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 25, 2012): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 24, 2012.)






January 4, 2013

How Chavez Punished Those Who Opposed Him



(p. 196) In 2004, the Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela distributed the list of several million voters who had attempted to remove him from office throughout the government bureaucracy, allegedly to identify and punish these voters. We match the list of petition signers distributed by the government to household survey respondents to measure the economic effects of being identified as a Chávez political opponent. We find that voters who were identified as Chávez opponents experienced a 5 percent drop in earnings and a 1.3 percentage point drop in employment rates after the voter list was released.


Source:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, Edward Miguel, Daniel Ortega, and Francisco Rodriguez. "The Price of Political Opposition: Evidence from Venezuela's Maisanta." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3, no. 2 (2011): 196-214.







December 30, 2012

"The Arpanet Was Not an Internet"



XeroxParcSign2012-12-18.jpg "Xerox PARC headquarters." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."


. . .


Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s, sent an email to fellow technologists in 2004 setting the record straight: "The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war. The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks."

If the government didn't invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet's backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.

According to a book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning" (by Michael Hiltzik), its top researchers realized they couldn't wait for the government to connect different networks, so would have to do it themselves. "We have a more immediate problem than they do," Robert Metcalfe told his colleague John Shoch in 1973. "We have more networks than they do." Mr. Shoch later recalled that ARPA staffers "were working under government funding and university contracts. They had contract administrators . . . and all that slow, lugubrious behavior to contend with."



For the full commentary, see:

Gordon Crovitz. "INFORMATION AGE; Who Really Invented the Internet?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 23, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 22, 2012.)



I read the Hiltzik book several years ago, and my memory of it is not sharp, but I remember thinking that it was a useful book:

Hiltzik, Michael A. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. New York: HarperBusiness, 1999.






December 28, 2012

Chávez Supporters Feared Losing Government Jobs



ChavezSupporter2012-12-18.jpg "A Chávez supporter. The president runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under pressure to vote for him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


After the story quoted below was published, Chávez (alas) was re-elected.


(p. A1) Many Venezuelans who are eager to send Mr. Chávez packing, fed up with the country's lackluster economy and rampant crime, are nonetheless anxious that voting against the president could mean being fired from a government job, losing a government-built home or being cut off from social welfare benefits.

"I work for the government, and it scares me," said Luisa Arismendi, 33, a schoolteacher who cheered on a recent morning as Mr. Chávez's challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, drove by in this northeastern city, waving from the back of a pickup truck. Until this year, she always voted for Mr. Chávez, and she hesitated before giving her name, worried about what would happen if her supervisors found out she was switching sides. "If Chávez wins," she said, "I could be fired."


. . .


(p. A6) The fear has deep roots. Venezuelans bitterly recall how the names of millions of voters were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chávez out of office. Many government workers whose names were on the list lost their jobs.

Mr. Chávez runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under other pressures.

"They tell me that I have to vote for Chávez," said Diodimar Salazar, 37, who works at a government-run day care center in a rural area southeast of Cumaná. "They always threaten you that you will get fired."

Ms. Salazar said that her pro-Chávez co-workers insisted that the government would know how she voted. But experience has taught her otherwise. She simply casts her vote for the opposition and then tells her co-workers that she voted for Mr. Chávez.

"I'm not going to take the risk," said Fabiana Osteicoechea, 22, a law student in Caracas who said she would vote for Mr. Chávez even though she was an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Capriles. She said she was certain that Mr. Chávez would win and was afraid that the government career she hoped to have as a prosecutor could be blocked if she voted the wrong way.

"After the election, he's going to have more power than now, lots more, and I think he will have a way of knowing who voted for whom," she said. "I want to get a job with the government so, obviously I have to vote for Chávez."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Fear of Losing Benefits Affects Venezuela Vote." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 5, 2012, and has the title "Fears Persist Among Venezuelan Voters Ahead of Election.")






December 26, 2012

Students Protest (and Toss) Federally Mandated "Healthy" ("Gross") Food



GarbageCanVegetables2012-12-18.jpg "Lunch hour at Middle School 104 in Manhattan, where, on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables "gross." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Outside Pittsburgh, they are proclaiming a strike, taking to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. In a village near Milwaukee, hundreds staged a boycott. In a small farming and ranching community in western Kansas, they have produced a parody video. And in Parsippany, N.J., the protest is six days old and counting.

They are high school students, and their complaint is about lunch -- healthier, smaller and more expensive than ever.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.

Because the lunches must now include fruits and vegetables, those who clamor for more cheese-laden nachos may find string beans and a peach cup instead. Because of limits on fat and sodium, some of those who crave French fries get baked sweet-potato wedges. Because of calorie restrictions, meat and carbohydrate portions are smaller. Gone is 2-percent chocolate milk, replaced by skim.

"Before, there was no taste and no flavor," said Malik Barrows, a senior at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, who likes fruit but said his classmates threw away their mandatory helpings on the cafeteria floor. "Now there's no taste, no flavor and it's healthy, which makes it taste even worse."

Students organized lunch strikes in a suburb of Pittsburgh, where in late August the hashtag "brownbagginit" was trending on Twitter, and outside Milwaukee, where the Mukwonago High School principal, Shawn McNulty, said participation in the lunch program had fallen 70 percent.


. . .


(p. A3) In Sharon Springs, Kan., lunch protesters at Wallace County High School posted a video on YouTube, "We Are Hungry"; in it, students faint in the hallways and during physical education class, acting as if they had been done in by meager helpings of potato puff casserole and chicken nuggets. To the tune of the song "We Are Young" by Fun, one student on the video sings, "My friends are at the corner store, getting junk so they don't waste away."

Since it was uploaded three weeks ago, "We Are Hungry" has had nearly 900,000 views.

Callahan Grund, a junior who stars in the video, said, "My opinion as a young farmer and rancher is that we produced this protein and it's not being used to its full advantage." He wakes up early every morning to do chores, stays after school for two hours of football practice and returns home for another round of chores. If it were not for the lunches his mother now packs him, he said, he would be hungry again just two hours after lunch.

In New York City, where school officials introduced whole-wheat breads, low-fat milk and other changes several years ago, the most noticeable change this year is the fruit and vegetable requirement, which has resulted in some waste, according to Eric Goldstein, the Education Department official who oversees food services. It is not hard to see why. At Middle School 104 in Gramercy Park on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables "gross."

"I just throw them out," said Danielson Gutierrez, 12, carrying a slice of pizza, which he had liberally sprinkled with seasonings, and a pear. He also offered his opinion on fruit: "I throw them out, too. I only like apples."



For the full story, see:

VIVIAN YEE. "No Appetite for Good-for-You School Lunches." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 5, 2012.)


LunchYouTubeParody2012-12-18.jpg "Dissatisfied with healthier school lunches, some Kansas students made a video parody." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





December 24, 2012

Williams Made Providence a Sanctuary for the Persecuted



RogerWilliamsAndTheCreationOfTheAmericanSouldBK2012-12-18.jpg















Source of book image: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320716933l/11797348.jpg





I have not yet read Barry's book on Roger Williams, but I did enjoy and learn from his earlier The Great Influenza book.



(p. 12) Williams struck overland, through snow and bitter cold, "wch I feele yet," he reminisced later in life. He survived because he had help. "The ravens fed me in the wilderness," he said, comparing himself to the scriptural prophets sustained by bird-borne morsels, though his "ravens" were Indians. With their assistance, he reached the upper bend of a bay that would be named for its inhabitants, the Narragansett. There, Williams bought land from its native proprietors and established a settlement he called Providence, to honor the divine assistance given to him and other Christians on their flights from persecution.


. . .


Next, Williams refused to take an oath of fidelity to Massachusetts, on the grounds that anything sworn in God's name for worldly purposes was corrupt.

The authorities in Massachusetts were so outraged that having failed to arrest Williams, they tried to obliterate his new settlement. He went back to England to get a charter to protect his colony on his own terms: with a "hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world." In several publications, he argued that the individual conscience should not -- could not -- be governed, let alone persecuted. If God was the ultimate punisher of sin, it was impious for humans to assume his authority. And it was "directly contrary to the nature of Christ Jesus . . . that throats of men should be torne out for his sake."

Barry shows how controversial these beliefs were at the time, and in this way reinforces the standard image of Williams as an early proponent of liberty of conscience.



For the full review, see:

JOYCE E. CHAPLIN. "Errand in the Wilderness." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 26, 2012): 12.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to quotation was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012 and has the title "Roger Williams: The Great Separationist.")


The book being reviewed, is:

Barry, John M. Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty. New York: Viking Adult, 2012.






December 22, 2012

Unused Electric Car Chargers Multiply Due to Federal Subsidies



EVchargersWhiteBlains2011-11-10.jpg "Any takers?: Two EV chargers sit unused in White Plains, MD." Source of photo: http://metablognews.com/wp-content/plugins/rss-poster/cache/d6fff_MK-BP785_CHARGE_G_20111016172708.jpg Source of caption: slightly edited from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) When McDonald's franchisee Tom Wolf built his latest restaurant in Huntington, W. Va., late last year, he installed two chargers for all-electric cars so customers could juice their batteries while eating. So far, the charging station has been used a few times.


. . .


Across the U.S., such equipment is proliferating even though it is unclear whether plug-in cars will prove popular.


. . .


Fewer than 15,000 all-electric cars are on U.S. roads, says Plug In America, a group promoting the technology.


. . .


(p. B11) Charging equipment is popping up largely because of subsidies. As part of a $5 billion federal program to subsidize development of electric vehicles and battery technology, the U.S. Energy Department over the past two years provided about $130 million for two pilot projects that help pay for chargers at homes, offices and public locations.


. . .


Opinions vary on demand. J.D. Power & Associates expects all-electric vehicles will account for less than 1% of U.S. auto sales in 2018, or about 102,000 cars and light trucks. Including hybrids and plug-in hybrids the market share is forecast at 8%.

"The premiums associated with these products are still more than what the consumer is willing to bear," says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power.



For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY And MIKE RAMSEY. "Charging Stations Multiply But Electric Cars Are Few." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 17, 2011): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)






December 19, 2012

"The Only Benefit of War Rationing"



(p. 538) The only benefit of war rationing, of which I am aware, is that an alert entrepreneur invented the bikini so as to conserve on the textiles that were then hard to come by for civilian use.


Source:

Shughart II, William F. "The New Deal and Modern Memory." Southern Economic Journal 77, no. 3 (Jan. 2011): 515-42.






December 16, 2012

EU Costs Britain $238 Billion Per Year According to Congdon Report



FarageNigelEnemyEU2012-12-08.jpg "Nigel Farage has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) Strasbourg, France  THE floor of the European Union's cavernous and mostly vacant parliamentary chamber here is hardly known for its lively debates. At least not until Nigel Farage, the Brussels-bashing leader of Britain's fastest growing political party, gets up to speak.

The vast majority of the European Parliament's 754 members, as they process the torrent of rules and regulations that Europe bestows upon them, are not inclined to question why they are here. The pay and perks are generous for those elected to five-year terms in low-turnout elections throughout the European Union's 27 member countries. And the mission -- to extend the sweep of European federalism -- is for most a shared one.

But for Mr. Farage, who has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, Strasbourg has become the perfect stage to disseminate his anti-European Union message by highlighting the bloc's bureaucratic absurdities and spendthrift tendencies as well as by mocking with glee the most prominent proponents of a European superstate: the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy. "I said you'd be the quiet assassin of nation-state democracy," Mr. Farage has declared, as his target, Mr. Van Rompuy, squirmed in his seat just opposite, "and sure enough, in your dull and technocratic way, you've gone about your course."


. . .


Last year, in net terms, Britain paid $16 billion to the European Union. But according to a recent study by the economist Tim Congdon, himself an Independence Party member, if the cost of regulation, waste and misallocated resources is included, the annual cost of membership rises to $238 billion a year, or about 10 percent of Britain's economic output.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this profligacy is the spot where Mr. Farage has found fame: the European Parliament. As most of the legislative work is done in Brussels, the building is in use just three days each month. Analysts estimate that it costs taxpayers about $250 million a year to transport each month 754 members of Parliament, several thousand support staff members and lobbyists to this French city.

Mr. Farage lights another cigarette and shakes his head. "I just would like for my grandchildren to read some day that I did my part in saving my country from this lunacy," he said with a sigh.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; An Enemy of Brussels, and Not Afraid to Say So." The New York Times (Sat., December 8, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2012.)


The Tim Congdon report mentioned is:

Congdon, Tim. "How Much Does the European Union Cost Britain?" UK Independence Party, 2012.

(Note: the report calculates a total cost of about 150 billion British pounds, which when converted to dollars is equal to the $238 billion reported in the article, at an exchange rate of about $1.587 per British pound.)





December 14, 2012

Does Washington Want "to Regulate Everything That's Warm"?



TaylorMikeDisplaysGasLogSet2012-12-01.jpg "Mike Taylor displays a gas-log set at Acme Stove in Rockville, Md." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) Rett Rasmussen sells gas-log sets, which use a "dancing flame" design that his father invented more than 50 years ago to replicate a cozy wood fire.

They are just for decoration, he says. But as the season approaches for families to gather around the hearth--real or fake--Mr. Rasmussen and other makers of hearth products are having a flare-up with the Department of Energy. The federal agency says it has the authority to regulate the log sets as heating equipment, though it isn't proposing any changes now.

The issue "just hit us out of left field," said Mr. Rasmussen. His company of about 50 employees--Rasmussen Iron Works Inc. of Whittier, Calif.--has spent at least $20,000 to fight any regulatory change, he says.


. . .


Judge A. Raymond Randolph expressed sympathy for the industry, saying that an object is not a heater simply "because it makes the air around it warm."

"I don't understand that as a matter of pure English," said Judge Randolph, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. He added: "That's like saying a match is designed to furnish warm air. It's designed to furnish a flame."

H. Thomas Byron, a Justice Department lawyer, said it was "rhetorical hyperbole" to suggest Washington wanted to regulate everything that's warm.   . . .

Mr. Rasmussen, who says the family business has struggled in the weak economy, monitors the case closely. "We're alive and kicking, but it's not what it used to be, and when you have to fight your government, it's hard to see where it's going to get back anywhere near where it has been," he said.



For the full story, see:

RYAN TRACY. "Hearth Makers Get Hot Over Regulations." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., October 23, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 22, 2012.)

(Note: in the third paragraph "he says" appeared in the online, but not the print, version.)






December 12, 2012

"Planning Is Crap"



WeShallNotBeMovedBK2012-12-01.jpg
















Source of book image: http://images.indiebound.com/636/044/9780807044636.jpg



(p. C8) As Mr. Wooten recounts, obstacles abounded from a municipality bent on redesigning New Orleans while the city was still in crisis. Neighborhoods from middle-class Lakeview to the devastated Lower Ninth Ward began to fear that the city they loved didn't love them back.

"Planning is crap," said Martin Landrieu, a member of a prominent local political family, at a meeting of Lakeview residents. "What you really need is the cleaning up of houses . . . . Where are the hammers and nails?" Yet five months after Katrina, a city commission called Bring New Orleans Back presented an ambitious plan to restore the city that included converting neighborhoods that had heavy flooding into green space. The commission also imposed a temporary moratorium on rebuilding there. Residents would have to show that their communities were viable or risk being planned out of existence; they were given four months.



For the full review, see:

CARLA MAIN. "After the Waters Receded." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 4, 2012): C8.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 3, 2012.)






November 30, 2012

DaVita Threw Out Medicine and Billed Taxpayer: Huge Medicare Fraud



DaVitaMedicareFraudDrewGriffin2012-11-29.jpg



























I saw this clip broadcast on Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room" broadcast on 11/29/12 (if memory serves--it might have been the day before).

The clip shows the magnitude of the fraud, but also emphasizes that there were significant incentives for those who knew about the fraud to keep their mouths shut.

This is one huge case of over-billing, but over-billing happens all the time. Taxpayers could have used that money for other purposes. The opportunity cost is huge.



A link to the clip posted on CNN, is:

http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/29/company-accused-of-giant-medicare-fraud/?iref=allsearch

(Note: I believe the November 29, 2012 date in the image above is the date that Drew Griffin posted the clip to the CNN blog, not necessarily the date of the broadcast.)






November 17, 2012

AMA Resists the Democratization of DNA




The "Walgreens flap" mentioned below was the episode in 2010 when Walgreens announced that it would cell a genome testing saliva kit, but was pressured by government regulatory agencies, and withdrew the kit from the market within two days of the announcement.


(p. 119) . . . there will likely never be a "right time"---after we have passed some imaginary tipping point giving us critical, highly actionable, and perfectly accurate information---for it to be available to the public. The logical conclusion is that the tests should be made available. What's more, the fact that they have been available has meant that democratization of DNA is real. Consumers now realize that they have the right to obtain data on their DNA. As a blogger wrote in response to the Walgreens flap, "To say that this information has to be routed through your doctor is a little like the Middle Ages, when only priests were allowed (or able) to read the Bible. Gutenberg came along with the printing press even though few people were able to read. This triggered a literacy/literature spiral that had incredible benefits for civilization, even if it reduced the power of the priestly class."

The American Medical Association (AMA) sees things differently. In a pointed letter to the FDA in 2011, the AMA wrote: "We urge the Panel ... that genetic testing, except under the most limited circumstances, should carried out under the personal supervision of a qualified health professional." The FDA has indicated it is likely to accept the AMA recommendations, which will clearly limit consumer direct access to their DNA information. But this arrangement ultimately appears untenable, and eventually there will need to be full democratization of DNA for medicine to (p. 120) be transformed. Of course, health professionals can be consulted as needed, but it is the individual who should have the decision authority and capacity to drive the process.

The physician and entrepreneur Hugh Rienhoff, who has spent years attempting to decipher his daughter's unexplained cardiovascular genetic defect and formed the online community MyDaughtersDNA.org, had this to say: "Doctors are not going to drive genetics into clinical practice. It's going to be consumers .... The user interface, whether software or whatever will be embraced first by consumers, so it has to be pitched at that level, and that's about the level doctors are at. Cardiologists do not know dog shit about genetics."



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

(Note: first ellipsis added; other ellipses in original.)






November 13, 2012

Personal Genomics Startups Struggle Under a "Circus" of Government Regulation



(p. 118) Government regulation of consumer genomics companies has been centerpiece (and the semblance of a circus) in their short history. Back in 2008, the states of California and New York sent "cease and desist" letters to the genome scan companies. State officials were concerned that the laboratories that generated the results were not certified as CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and that the tests were being performed without a physician's order. All three companies developed work-around plans in California and remained operational but were unable to market the tests in New York.

In 2010, the regulation issues escalated to the federal level. In May it was announced that 7,500 Walgreens drugstores throughout the United States would soon sell Pathway Genomics's saliva kit for disease susceptibility and pharmacogenomics. While the tests produced by all four companies had been widely available via the Internet for three years, the announcement of wide-scale availability in drugstores (which was cancelled by Walgreens within two days) appeared to "cross the line" and set off a cascade of investigations and hearings by the FDA, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Congressional House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The FDA's Alberto Gutierrez said, "We don't think physi-(p. 119)cians are going to be able to interpret the results," and "genetic tests are medical devices and must be regulated." The GAO undertook a "sting" operation with its staff posing as consumers who bought genetic tests and detailed significant inconsistencies, misleading test results, and deceptive marketing practices in its report.

All four personal genomics companies are struggling.



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






November 2, 2012

A Rising Tax Gathers No Rolling Stone



life-keith-richardsBK2012-10-31.jpg















Source of book image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Nhhn-YcP9IY/TjkQHfGGEeI/AAAAAAAAAVA/_jKMGRBm9Ac/s1600/life-keith-richards.jpg



(p. 289) The tax rate in the early '70s on the highest earners was 83 percent, and that went up to 98 percent for investments and so-called unearned income. So that's the same as being told to leave the country. ... The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with the super-super tax is that we'd say, fine, we'll leave. We'll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn't factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did. They didn't believe we'd be able to continue as we were if we didn't live in England. And in all honesty, we were very doubtful too. We didn't know if we would make it, but if we didn't try, what would we do? Sit in England and they'd give us a penny out of every pound we earned? We had no desire to be closed down. And so we upped and went to France.


Source:

Richards, Keith. Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

(Note: I first saw the quote on the back cover of: Journal of Political Economy 119, no. 1 (Feb. 2011).)

(Note: ellipsis added.)






November 1, 2012

FDA and ACS Wrongly Endorsed Sunscreen with Retinyl Palmitate



Some consumers let their guard down on medical issues, assuming that the government Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and large incumbent bureaucratic non-profits, like the American Cancer Society (ACS), will protect them---it ain't necessarily so. Caveat emptor should remain the rule for consumers.


(p. 39) Of note, one of the reasons for the lack of updating the rules and acknowledging UVA rays has been heavy pressure from sunscreen manufacturers, which include Johnson and Johnson (Neutrogena), Merck-Schering Plough (Coppertone), Proctor and Gamble (Olay), and L'Oreal. Interestingly, in Europe products that provide solid UVA protection have been available for years. The concerns run even deeper because many of the products (41 percent in the United States) contain a form of vitamin A known as retinyl palmitate, which has been associated with increased likelihood of skin cancer. There are, however, no randomized studies, but biological plausibility and the observational findings of a rising incidence of basal cell (p. 40) carcinoma and melanoma, despite the widespread use of sunscreens. In mid-2011, the FDA finally unveiled some new rules about sunscreen claims.

This issue really hit home when my wife brought out a tube of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Tough SPF 30 Sunblock. It claims "Broad Spectrum UVNUVB Protection" despite repeatedly failing UVA tests. But the real eye-opener is to find the American Cancer Society logo on the front of the tube with the message "Help Block Out Skin Cancer." Now what is the American Cancer Society logo doing on the tube of Neutrogena? The fine print on the bottom reads: "The American Cancer Society (ACS) and Neutrogena, working together to help prevent skin cancer, support the use of sunscreen. The ACS does not endorse any specific product. Neutrogena pays a royalty to the ACS for the use of its logo."



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






October 29, 2012

China's State-Owned Enterprises Lose Money and Slow Growth



NoAncientWisdomNoFollowersBK2012-10-12.jpg














Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-UU147_mcgreg_DV_20121001022644.jpg





In the passages quoted below "SOE" means "state-owned enterprise."



(p. B1) If the U.S. needs another wake-up call, it will get one this week with the publication of a bracing account of the danger that China's state capitalism poses to global business--and to China itself. James McGregor's new book, "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism," dissects the complex policies and state structures that produced China's novel system. And it describes the limited recourse the U.S. and other nations have. (Full disclosure: Mr. McGregor is a friend and former colleague at the Journal.)

"The Communist Party of China has two unwavering objectives: Make China rich and powerful and guarantee the Party's political monopoly," Mr. McGregor writes. "At the center of this are behemoth state-owned enterprises that dominate all key sectors and have been instrumental to the country's current success.

"As China's global reach expands, this one-of-a-kind system is challenging the rules and organizations that govern global trade as well as the business plans and strategies of multinationals around the globe. At the same time, the limits of authoritarian capital-(p.B2)ism are increasingly evident at home, where corruption is endemic, the SOEs are consuming the fruits of reform, and the economic engine is running out of gas."

Born in the 1950s when 10,000 Soviet advisers helped China organize central planning, the state-owned enterprises quickly became bloated extensions of the Party's patronage and power.


. . .


The enterprises themselves, meanwhile, crowded out private competition. SOEs account for about 96% of China's telecom industry, 92% of power and 74% of autos. The combined profit of China Petroleum & Chemical and China Mobile in 2009 alone was greater than all the profit of China's 500 largest private firms, Mr. McGregor writes.

An independent Chinese study, he adds, says that if you subtract government subsidies from the biggest SOEs they actually lose money.

Mr. McGregor believes pressures are building within China for change--the result of SOEs that don't innovate enough, slowing growth, an angry private sector, and a pending leadership change, among other factors. Even some top leaders say reform is needed.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Tackling the Many Dangers of China's State Capitalism." The New York Times (Fri., September 28, 2012): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date September 27, 2012.)


Book under discussion:

McGregor, James. No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism. Westport, CT: Prospecta Press, 2012.






October 27, 2012

Instead of Fixing "Inadequate Schools," Adderall Is Prescribed to "Struggling" Students



RocafortAmandaAndSonQuintn2012-10-12.jpg "Amanda Rocafort and her son Quintn in Woodstock, Ga. Quintn takes the medication Risperdal." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) CANTON, Ga. -- When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder "made up" and "an excuse" to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children's true ill -- poor academic performance in inadequate schools.



For the full story, see:

ALAN SCHWARZ. "Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School." The New York Times (Tues., October 9, 2012): A1 & A18.






October 26, 2012

Government Disaster Relief Crowds Out Private Self-Protection



(p. 242) This paper has investigated the role of natural disaster shocks in determining gross migration flows, controlling for other place-based features. Using two micro datasets, we documented that in the 1920s and 1930s population was repelled from tornado-prone areas, with a larger effect on potential in-migrants than on existing residents, while flood events were associated with net inmigration. The differential migration responses by disaster type raises the question of whether public efforts at disaster mitigation counteract individual migration decisions. The nascent investment in rebuilding and protecting flood-prone areas could provide one example of public investment crowding out private self-protection (i.e., migration).

(p. 243) In future work, we plan to explore the role of New Deal disaster management more directly by exploiting variation across SEAs in federal expenditures and representation on key congressional committees. We predict that residents of areas that received federal largesse after a disaster in the 1930s will be less likely to move out and that new arrivals may be more likely to move in, while residents of areas that benefited less from New Deal spending will continue to use migration as a means of self-protection.



For the full article, from which the above conclusion is quoted, see:

Boustan, Leah Platt, Matthew E. Kahn, and Paul W. Rhode. "Moving to Higher Ground: Migration Response to Natural Disasters in the Early Twentieth Century." American Economic Review 102, no. 3 (May 2012): 238-44.






October 21, 2012

Chamber Blitz Clip for Tort Reform



BlitzGasolineCans2012-10-11.jpg "Blitz gasoline cans, at Ace Hardware in Miami, Okla., will soon disappear from stores. The company closed because of the costs of lawsuits contending that the cans were unsafe." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The "Mr. Flick" quoted below is Rocky Flick, the former CEO of Blitz.


(p. B1) Crusading against what it considers frivolous lawsuits, the United States Chamber of Commerce has had no shortage of cases to highlight, like the man suing a cruise line after burning his feet on a sunny deck or the mother claiming hearing loss from the screaming at a Justin Bieber concert.

Now, the lobbying group's Institute for Legal Reform is showing a 30-second commercial that uses Blitz USA, a bankrupt Oklahoma gasoline can manufacturer, to illustrate the consequences of abusive lawsuits. The ad shows tearful workers losing their jobs and the lights going out at the 46-year-old company as a result of steep legal costs from lawsuits targeting the red plastic containers, according to the company and the institute.

The closing of the 117-employee operation this summer became a rallying point for proponents of tort reform. . . .


. . .


(p. B2) Blitz executives note that the company, which was the nation's leading gas can producer, sold more than 14 million cans a year over the last decade, with fewer than two reported incidents per million cans sold. The company said the most serious incidents usually involved obvious misuse of the cans, like pouring gasoline on an open fire.


. . .


A decade ago, Mr. Flick said, the company would face one or two lawsuits a year. The number grew to six or seven a year, and finally to 25 or so last year when Blitz filed for bankruptcy.



For the full story, see:

CLIFFORD KRAUSS. "Two Sides of Product Liability: A Factory's Closing Focuses Attention on Tort Reform." The New York Times (Fri., October 4, 2012): B1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 5, 2012 and has the shorter title "A Factory's Closing Focuses Attention on Tort Reform.")



View the Chamber video clip on the Blitz example:





FlickRockyFormerBlitzCEO2012-10-11.jpg













"Rocky Flick, Blitz's former chief executive." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 13, 2012

Romney Praises Dan Senor Book on Israeli Entrepreneurship



SenorDanRomneyAdviserBriefing2012-09-03.jpg "Dan Senor, left, a leading campaign adviser, at a briefing on Saturday for the Romney campaign on the plane en route to Israel." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) WASHINGTON -- Moments after making remarks in Jerusalem about Middle East culture that enraged Palestinians and undermined the public relations value of his trip to Israel, Mitt Romney looked around the room for Dan Senor, one of his campaign's top foreign policy advisers.

It was Mr. Senor's book about entrepreneurs in Israel that informed his comments, Mr. Romney explained to the group of Jewish-American donors he had assembled at the King David hotel. The book, "Start-up Nation," is among Mr. Senor's writings that Mr. Romney frequently cites in public.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL D. SHEAR. "Adviser Draws Attention to Romney Mideast Policy." The New York Times (Thurs., August 2, 2012): A10.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 1, 2012.)



The Senor book is:

Senor, Dan, and Saul Singer. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. hb ed. New York: Twelve, 2009.



BremerSenor2012-09-03.jpg







"L. Paul Bremer III, left, in 2004 when he was the top United States envoy in Iraq, with Mr. Senor, who was his spokesman." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 11, 2012

Garfield's Doctors "Basically Tortured Him to Death"



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Source of book image: http://rsirving.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/destinyrepublic.jpeg


(p. 15) Had Garfield been left where he lay, he might well have survived; the bullet failed to hit his spine or penetrate any vital organs. Instead, he was given over to the care of doctors, who basically tortured him to death over the next 11 weeks. Two of them repeatedly probed his wound with their unsterilized fingers and instruments before having him carted back to the White House on a hay-and-horsehair mattress.

There, control of the president was seized by a quack with the incredible name of Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss. Dr. Doctor Bliss insisted on stuffing Garfield with heavy meals and alcohol, which brought on protracted waves of vomiting. He and his assistants went on probing the wound several times a day, causing infections that burrowed enormous tunnels of pus throughout the president's body.

Garfield's medical "care" is one of the most fascinating, if appalling, parts of Millard's narrative. Joseph Lister had been demonstrating for years how his theories on the prevention of infection could save lives and limbs, but American doctors largely ignored his advice, not wanting to "go to all the trouble" of washing hands and instruments, Millard writes, enamored of the macho trappings of their profession, the pus and blood and what they referred to fondly as the "good old surgical stink" of the operating room.

Further undermining the president's recovery was his sickroom in the White House -- then a rotting, vermin-ridden structure with broken sewage pipes. Outside, Washington was a pestilential stink hole; besides the first lady, four White House servants and Guiteau himself had contracted malaria. Hoping to save Garfield from the same, Bliss fed him large doses of quinine, causing more intestinal cramping.

The people rallied around their president even as his doctors failed him. The great Western explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell helped design Ameri­ca's first air-conditioning system to relieve Garfield's agony. Alexander Graham Bell worked tirelessly to invent a device that could locate the bullet. (It failed when Dr. Bliss insisted he search only the wrong side of Garfield's torso.) Two thousand people worked overnight to lay 3,200 feet of railroad track, so the president might be taken to a cottage on the Jersey Shore. When the engine couldn't make the grade, hundreds of men stepped forward to push his train up the final hill.

The president endured everything with amazing fortitude and patience, even remarking near the end, when he learned a fund was being taken up for his family: "How kind and thoughtful! What a generous people!"

"General Garfield died from malpractice," Guiteau claimed, defending himself at his spectacle of a trial. This was true, but not enough to save Guiteau from the gallows.



For the full review, see:

KEVIN BAKER. "Death of a President." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 2, 2011): 14-15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 30, 2011, and has the title "The Doctors Who Killed a President.")


The full reference for the book under review, is:

Millard, Candice. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. New York: Doubleday, 2011.






October 10, 2012

The Precautionary Principle Would Have Blocked Many Great Innovations



(p. 351) The intense aversion to trading increased risk for some other advantage plays out on a grand scale in the laws and regulations governing risk. This trend is especially strong in Europe where the precautionary principle, which prohibits any action that might cause harm, is a widely accepted doctrine. In the regulatory context, the precautionary principle imposes the entire burden of proving safety on anyone who undertakes actions that might harm people or the environment. Multiple international bodies have specified that the absence of scientific evidence of potential damage is not sufficient justification for taking risks. As the jurist Cass Sunstein points out, the precautionary principle is costly, and when interpreted strictly it can be paralyzing. He mentions an impressive list of innovations that would not have passed the test, including "airplanes, air conditioning, antibiotics, automobiles, chlorine, the measles vaccine, open-heart surgery, radio, refrigeration, smallpox vaccine, and X-rays." The strong version of the precautionary principle is obviously untenable. But enhanced loss aversion is embedded in a strong and widely shared moral intuition; it originates in System 1. The dilemma between intensely loss-averse moral attitudes and efficient risk management does not have a simple and compelling solution.


Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)





October 7, 2012

"Education Bubble": "A Spurious Inflation of the Credentials Required for Many Jobs"



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Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-N1hV093ckVc/T8YmCXE2sQI/AAAAAAAAAYc/1B5hWDeXbzQ/s1600/basement.jpg



(p. 17) In June 2008, The Atlantic published an essay by an adjunct instructor of English, identified only as "Professor X," whose job filled him with despair. Although the courses he taught were introductory, success was beyond many of his students, who, he wrote, were "in some cases barely literate." X found giving F's to be excruciating -- "I am the man who has to lower the hammer," he lamented -- in part because he identified with his older students, who seemed to have lost their way in their careers much as X himself had.


. . .


. . . X's function, in the ecology of the colleges where he teaches, is gatekeeper -- most students who fail his classes will drop out -- and he articulates the ethical challenge before him this way: "What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th- to a 10th-grade level of achievement?" X gives F's.


. . .


X and his wife got snookered in the housing bubble, and he wonders if the misery in his classroom might result from a similar education bubble. In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X's opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige. To him, the human cost is more conspicuous.


. . .


Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students' unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.



For the full review, see:

CALEB CRAIN. "Lost in the Meritocracy." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 1, 2011): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 29, 2011.)


The full reference for the book under review, is:

X, Professor. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic. New York: Viking, 2011.






September 27, 2012

The Mockingjay as Symbol and Reality



MockingjayBurningPoster2012-09-03.jpg












A burning Mockingjay symbol appears on this movie poster for "The Hunger Games." Source of poster: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. D4) "They're funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol," Katniss explains in the first book. And the nature of that slap in face is a new twist on the great fear about genetic engineering, that modified organisms or their genes will escape into the wild and wreak havoc. The mockingjay is just such an unintended consequence, resulting from a failed creation of the government, what Katniss means when she refers to "the Capitol." But rather than being a disaster, the bird is a much-loved reminder of the limits of totalitarian control.


. . .


I asked Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist and science fiction writer at Kenyon College in Ohio, about her take on the mockingjay. Dr. Slonczewski, whose recent books include a text and a novel, "The Highest Frontier," teaches a course called "Biology in Science Fiction." The tools needed to modify organisms are already widely dispersed in industry and beyond. "Now anybody can do a start-up," she said.

That's no exaggeration. Do-it-yourself biology is growing. The technology to copy pieces of DNA can be bought on eBay for a few hundred dollars, as Carl Zimmer reported in The New York Times in March. As to where D.I.Y. biology may lead, Freeman Dyson, a thinker at the Institute for Advanced Study known for his provocative ideas, presented one view in 2007 in The New York Review of Books. He envisioned the tools of biotechnology spreading to everyone, including pet breeders and children, and leading to "an explosion of diversity of new living creatures."

Eventually, he wrote, the mixing of genes by humans will initiate a new stage in evolution. Along the way, if he is right, the world may have more than its share of do-it-yourself mockingjays.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "SIDE EFFECTS; D.I.Y. Biology, on the Wings of the Mockingjay." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 15, 2012): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 10, 2012.)






September 23, 2012

Ice Melts too Slowly for Obama Backed Arctic Oil Project



ArcticDrillingMap2012-09-03.jpgSource of map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) Royal Dutch Shell . . . is spending billions of dollars to drill the first oil wells in U.S. Arctic waters in 20 years, backed by an Obama administration eager to show it wasn't opposed to offshore exploration.

But the closely watched project isn't going the way the company or the government hoped--illustrating the continuing challenge of plumbing for natural riches in one of the world's most unforgiving locations.

Sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northern Alaska coast was slow to break up this year, leaving the drilling areas inaccessible much later than anticipated.



For the full story, see:

TOM FOWLER. "Shell Races the Ice in Alaska; Delays Put $4.5 Billion Arctic Drilling Plan in Danger of Missing Window Before Next Freeze." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 20, 2012): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 19, 2012.)






September 19, 2012

EU Is "Infused with the Spirit of Yesterday's Future"



ThatcherMargaretIronLady2012-09-02.jpg "Mrs. Thatcher at a Conservative Party Conference in 1982." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.


(p. C2) . . . , it was Mrs. Thatcher . . . , a couple of years after she left office, who identified the problem with European construction. It was, she said, "infused with the spirit of yesterday's future." It made the "central intellectual mistake" of assuming that "the model for future government was that of a centralized bureaucracy." As she concluded, "The day of the artificially constructed megastate is gone."


For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES MOORE. "What Would The Iron Lady Do? She preached a gospel of self-discipline, free enterprise and national autonomy. As Europe implodes and the West's economic woes mount, it's time to re-examine Margaret Thatcher's ambiguous legacy, writes Charles Moore." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 17, 2011): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)






September 18, 2012

Raising Minimum Wage Hurts Working Poor



(p. 592) Using data drawn from the March Current Population Survey, we find that state and federal minimum wage increases between 2003 and 2007 had no effect on state poverty rates. When we then simulate the effects of a proposed federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, we find that such an increase will be even more poorly targeted to the working poor than was the last federal increase from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. Assuming no negative employment effects, only 11.3% of workers who will gain live in poor households, compared to 15.8% from the last increase. When we allow for negative employment effects, we find that the working poor face a disproportionate share of the job losses. Our results suggest that raising the federal minimum wage continues to be an inadequate way to help the working poor.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Sabia, Joseph J., and Richard V. Burkhauser. "Minimum Wages and Poverty: Will a $9.50 Federal Minimum Wage Really Help the Working Poor?" Southern Economic Journal 76, no. 3 (Jan. 2010): 592-623.






September 14, 2012

How Politics Trumps Peer Review in Medical Research



Abstract

The U.S. public biomedical research system is renowned for its peer review process that awards federal funds to meritorious research performers. Although congressional appropriators do not earmark federal funds for biomedical research performers, I argue that they support allocations for those research fields that are most likely to benefit performers in their constituencies. Such disguised transfers mitigate the reputational penalties to appropriators of interfering with a merit‐driven system. I use data on all peer‐reviewed grants by the National Institutes of Health during the years 1984-2003 and find that performers in the states of certain House Appropriations Committee members receive 5.9-10.3 percent more research funds than those at unrepresented institutions. The returns to representation are concentrated in state universities and small businesses. Members support funding for the projects of represented performers in fields in which they are relatively weak and counteract the distributive effect of the peer review process.

Source:

Hegde, Deepak. "Political Influence Behind the Veil of Peer Review: An Analysis of Public Biomedical Research Funding in the United States." Journal of Law and Economics 52, no. 4 (Nov. 2009): 665-90.






September 6, 2012

Macaulay Argues that a Limited Government that Protects Property Will Promote Economic Growth



Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.


Source:

Macaulay, Thomas Babington, Lord. "Review of: Robert Southey's "Sir Thomas More; or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society"." In Critical and Historical Essays Contributed to the Edinburgh Review. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1830.

(Note: the quote above appeared on the back cover of The Cato Journal 30, no. 1 (Winter 2010); Macaulay's full review, including the quote, can be viewed online at: http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/macS1.html )

(Note: the online version does not give page numbers, but gives what I think are "screen" numbers. The passage quoted is all of "SC.96" which appears at the very end of the essay.)





September 1, 2012

Mitt Romney on Innovation and Creative Destruction



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Source of book image: http://mittromneycentral.com/uploads/No-Apology1.jpg






(p. 108) Innovation and Creative Destruction

The key to increasing national prosperity is to promote good ideas and create the conditions that can lead them to be fully exploited--in existing businesses as well as new ones. Government is generally not the source of new ideas, although innovations from NASA and the military have provided frequent exceptions. Nor is government where innovation is commercially developed. But government policies do, in fact, have a major impact on the implementation of innovative ideas. The degree to which a nation makes itself productive, and thus how prosperous its citizens become, is determined in large measure by whether government adopts policies that stimulate innovation or that stifle it.

The government policy that has the greatest effect on innovation is simply whether or not the government will allow it. It's sad but true: Government can and often does purposefully prevent innovation and the resulting improvement in productivity. Recall my hypothetical example of a society in which half the farming jobs were lost due to innovation in the use of a plow? Some nations accept and encourage such "creative destruction," recognizing that in the long run it leads to greater productivity and wealth for its citizens. But other nations succumb to the objections of those in danger of becoming unemployed and prevent innovation that may reduce short-term employment.

Two centuries ago, more than three-quarters of our workforce actually did labor on farms. Over the succeeding decades, innovations like irrigation, fertilizer, and tractors were welcomed, and eventually large farming corporations were allowed to prosper, despite protests from family farmers and the often heart-wrenching dislocations that accompanied consolidation of farmlands. The result was the disappearance of millions of agricultural jobs and the large-scale migration of Americans from rural regions to our cities. Once there, they provided the labor that powered America's new industrial age. And at the same time, because farming innovation and productivity were allowed to flourish, America became the leader in agriculture education, research, and industry. Innovations from these sources have enabled us to produce sufficient food to feed not only our growing population but other parts of the world as well.



Source:

Romney, Mitt. No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010.

(Note: bold in original.)






August 30, 2012

"People Were Being Infantilized and Made Dependent"



JohnsonBorisLondonMayor2012-08-20.jpg









Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.















(p. 16) While I was reading your book "Johnson's Life of London," in which you take readers on a tour of the city while discussing some of history's most famous Londoners, I thought to myself, Being mayor of London can't be that taxing if you could find time to write such a decent book.
The job of mayor of London is unbelievably taxing, particularly in the run-up to the Olympics. It just happens I write fast and always have done. Some people play the piano, some do Sudoku, some watch television, some people go out to dinner parties. I write books.


. . .


Do you remember the moment you knew that you were a Conservative?
When I was a 22- or 23-year-old reporter in a place called Wolverhampton. I got impatient with some of the stuff I saw going on about damp and mold, about who's ultimately responsible for improving the ventilation in people's houses. I felt that people were being infantilized and made dependent by the system and that the local Labour politicians had no interest in sorting it out, were content to harvest these people's votes without improving their lives.

Wow. You were politically formed by mold.
It was the spores of damp, of mold forming on the walls in Wolverhampton.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW GOLDMAN, interviewer. "TALK; Boris Johnson, Tory With an Attitude." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., June 3, 2012): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)



Johnson's book is:

Johnson, Boris. Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.






August 27, 2012

Overly Optimistic Entrepreneurs Seek Government Support for Projects that Will Usually Fail




People have a right to be overly-optimistic when they invest their own money in entrepreneurial projects. But governments should be prudent caretakers of the money they have taken from taxpayers. The overly-optimistic bias of subsidy-seeking entrepreneurs weakens the case for government support of entrepreneurial projects.


(p. 259) The optimistic risk taking of entrepreneurs surely contributes to the economic dynamism of a capitalistic society, even if most risk takers end up disappointed. However, Marta Coelho of the London School of Economics has pointed out the difficult policy issues that arise when founders of small businesses ask the government to support them in decisions that are most likely to end badly. Should the government provide loans to would-be entrepreneurs who probably will bankrupt themselves in a few years? Many behavioral economists are comfortable with the "libertarian paternalistic" procedures that help people increase their savings rate beyond what they would do on their own. The question of whether and how government should support small business does not have an equally satisfying answer.


Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.





August 24, 2012

"Discovering a Viper in the Bed of Their Child"



ArguablyBK2012-08-21.jpg













Source of book image: http://files.list.co.uk/images/2011/09/15/arguably-lst090367.jpg





(p. 8) Anyone who occasionally opens one of our more serious periodicals has learned that the byline of Christopher Hitchens is an opportunity to be delighted or maddened -- possibly both -- but in any case not to be missed. He is our intellectual omnivore, exhilarating and infuriating, if not in equal parts at least with equal wit. He has been rather famously an aggressive critic of God and his followers, after cutting his sacrilegious teeth on Mother Teresa. He wrote a deadpan argument for trying Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, then was branded an apostate by former friends on the left for vigorously supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (He memorably -- a lot of what Hitchens has written merits the adverb -- shot back that his antiwar critics were "the sort who, discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.") And he is dying of esophageal cancer, a fact he has faced with exceptional aplomb.

This fifth and, one fears, possibly last collection of his essays is a reminder of all that will be missed when the cancer is finished with him.


. . .


(p. 9) At times the book feels like an ongoing argument with the leftist intellectuals on the other side of the Atlantic, who tend to view America as lacking in history, culture or moral standing.

In an essay on the journalism of Karl Marx, written for the left-leaning Guardian, he puts an elbow in the ribs of his old socialist friends: "If you are looking for an irony of history, you will find it . . . in the fact that he and Engels considered Russia the great bastion of reaction and America the great potential nurse of liberty and equality. This is not the sort of thing they teach you in school (in either country)."

"There is currently much easy talk about the 'decline' of my adopted country, both in confidence and in resources," he writes in his introduction. "I don't choose to join this denigration."

Christopher Hitchens: American patriot. We've done a lot worse.

If there is a God, and he lacks a sense of irony, he will send Hitchens to the hottest precinct of hell. If God does have a sense of irony, Hitchens will spend eternity in a town that serves no liquor and has no library. Either way, heaven will be a less interesting place.



For the full review, see:

BILL KELLER. "Christopher Hitchens, a Man of His Words." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., September 11, 2011): 8-9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to a Hitchens quote was in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 9, 2011.)


The full reference for Arguably, is:

Hitchens, Christopher. Arguably: Essays. New York: Twelve, 2012.



HitchensChristopher2012-08-21.jpg













"Christopher Hitchens." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.








August 20, 2012

Catherine the Great as Benevolent Despot



CatherineTheGreatBK2012-08-18.jpg















Source of book image: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204644504576653083743832432.html?KEYWORDS=Catherine+Great



(p. C3) Bereft of husband and child, a lonely Catherine began to read the histories, philosophy and literature of Greece and Rome and of the Enlightenment. Montesquieu's "The Spirit of Laws," which analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of despotic rule, had a powerful impact on her. She was particularly interested in his thesis that the conduct of a specific despot could partially redeem that form of rule. Thereafter, she attributed to herself a "republican soul" of the kind advocated by Montesquieu.

Voltaire, the venerated patriarch of the Enlightenment, had concluded that a despotic government might well be the best possible form of government--if it were reasonable. But to be reasonable, he said, it must be enlightened; if enlightened, it could be both efficient and benevolent. Soon after ascending to the throne, Catherine began a correspondence with Voltaire that eventually extended to hundreds of letters over more than 20 years.


. . .


Near the end of her reign Catherine was asked how she understood the "blind obedience with which her orders were obeyed." Catherine smiled and answered, "It is not as easy as you think.... I examine the circumstances, I take advice, I consult the enlightened part of the people, and so in this way I find out what sort of effect my laws will have. And when I am already convinced in advance of good approval, then I issue my orders and have the pleasure of observing what you call blind obedience."

Catherine died in 1796, when George Washington was finishing his second term in office. Since then, the temptations of absolute power have remained great; despots have continued to appear, afflicting people everywhere. We have learned, at enormous cost, the difficulty of combining despotism with benevolence. Few rulers have even tried. Catherine tried.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT K. MASSIE. "Catherine the Great's Lessons for Despots; Russia's erudite empress tried to redeem absolute rule; her failures highlight dangers still present today." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 12, 2011): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


For Massie's full biography of Catherine the Great, see:

Massie, Robert K. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. New York: Random House, 2011.






August 17, 2012

"If Apple Is a Fruit on a Tree, Its Branches Are the Freedom to Think and Create"



(p. B3) Millions of Chinese flooded the popular micro blogging site Sina Weibo to tweet their condolences on the death of Steve Jobs over the past two days. They also raised the question: Why isn't there a Steve Jobs in China?


. . .


One of the most popular postings on Mr. Jobs' legacy came from scholar Wu Jiaxiang. "If Apple is a fruit on a tree, its branches are the freedom to think and create, and its root is constitutional democracy," he wrote. "An authoritarian nation may be able to build huge projects collectively but will never be able to produce science and technology giants." On that, Wang Ran, founder of a boutique investment bank China eCapital Corp., added, "And its trunk is a society whose legal system acknowledges the value of intellectual property."



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "China Frets: Innovators Stymied Here." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 8, 2011): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





August 16, 2012

Dems Take Taxpayers' Earnings to Spend on Senator Reid's Cowboy Poets



SeemanCharlieWesternFolklifeFestival2012-08-15.jpg "Charlie Seemann at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nev., home to an annual festival that draws thousands of cowboy poets and their fans." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A15) ELKO, Nev. -- This isolated town in the northeast Nevada mountains is known for gold mines, ranches, casinos, bordellos and J. M. Capriola, a destination store with two floors of saddles, boots, spurs and chaps. It is also the birthplace of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a celebration of range song and poetry that draws thousands of cowboys and their fans every January and receives some money from the federal government.


. . .


Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat and the majority leader, invoked the event in arguing against Republican cuts in arts financing in the budget debate, setting off a conflagration of conservative scorn.


. . .


"He was trying to defend the National Endowment for the Humanities and the N.E.A., and he thought, this is something that he was familiar with and he's always liked, and he was holding this up as an example," said Charlie Seemann, the executive director of the Western Folklife Center, a converted 98-year-old hotel on Railroad Street. "And, whoops! In this political climate it was too good a target: 'Cowboy poetry, say what? We're paying for that?'


. . .


"Given where we are with our financial situation -- and some people would argue regardless of that -- this is not something that the federal government should be doing," said Thomas A. Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste. "If people want to support a certain amount of activity in the arts or humanities, they should be paying for it. And the fact that Senator Reid for some reason picked this as an example of how extreme the Republican budget was -- he might have picked something else."

Inevitably, some of the argument, as it were, is taking place in verse. Representative Jeff Flake, a conservative Republican from Arizona, posted this on his Twitter account:

Way out in the prairie

To a rustler named Harry

Being broke ain't no reason to sweat

Just sit in yer barn

Spin a rhythmic yarn

And you'll pay down the national debt!



For the full story, see:

ADAM NAGOURNEY. "For Cowboy Poets, Unwelcome Spotlight in Battle Over Spending." The New York Times (Mon., April 11, 2011): A15 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added; italics and indents in original print version.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the article is April 10, 2011.)







August 15, 2012

"Planning Fallacy": Overly Optimistic Forecasting of Project Outcomes



(p. 250) This should not come as a surprise: overly optimistic forecasts of the outcome of projects are found everywhere. Amos and I coined the term planning fallacy to describe plans and forecasts that

  • are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios
  • could be improved by consulting the statistics of similar cases


. . .


The optimism of planners and decision makers is not the only cause of overruns. Contractors of kitchen renovations and of weapon systems readily admit (though not to their clients) that they routinely make most of their profit on additions to the original plan. The failures of forecasting in these cases reflect the customers' inability to imagine how much their wishes will escalate over time. They end up paying much more than they would if they had made a realistic plan and stuck to it.

Errors in the initial budget are not always innocent. The authors of unrealistic plans are often driven by the desire to get the plan approved--(p. 251)whether by their superiors or by a client--supported by the knowledge that projects are rarely abandoned unfinished merely because of overruns in costs or completion times. In such cases, the greatest responsibility for avoiding the planning fallacy lies with the decision makers who approve the plan. If they do not recognize the need for an outside view, they commit a planning fallacy.



Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)





August 14, 2012

"Let the Consumers Decide When and Where They Want to Eat"



BillowRachelLaCocinita2012-08-13.jpg"Rachel Billow is the co-founder of La Cocinita, a food truck in New Orleans that serves Latin American cuisine. She says the city's requirement that mobile food vendors change locations after 45 minutes in one spot isn't feasible. "It takes about a half-hour to set up," she says." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) A street fight is brewing between gourmet food-truck vendors and restaurants--not over the grub, but how it's sold.

Under pressure to protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants from increased competition, several big cities are starting to apply the brakes on a rising tide of food-truck vendors with fully loaded kitchens.

Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Seattle are among the cities enacting laws that restrict where food trucks can serve customers in proximity to their rivals and for how long. Some food-truck operators argue that they shouldn't be punished for offering an innovative service, especially since many cities already allow restaurants to open up alongside one another.

"The rules are unfair," says Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, a food truck in Chicago serving Asian-style cuisine that includes short ribs and mango lychee.

Three weeks after she launched the business last fall, she received a ticket from local law enforcement for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar--50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments.

Ms. Le says she later had to spend nearly a full day in court to find out what the violation would cost her--about $300--and that she lost an estimated $600 to $700 in sales as a result.

"The 200-foot buffer prohibits me from competing," says Ms. Le, 32 years old, who also opposes a new rule requiring food trucks to install global-positioning devices so the city can track their whereabouts. "It is a free market. Let the consumers decide when and where they want to eat."


. . .


Gourmet food-truck operators say another problem is that in many cities they are still relegated to antiquated rules intended for ice-cream, hot-dog and other traditional mobile vendors with smaller and less complex menus.

New Orleans, for example, requires mobile food vendors to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot, among other restrictions.

"It's not a feasible amount of time for this business model," says 31-year-old Rachel Billow, who last year co-founded La Cocinita, a food truck that serves Latin American cuisine such as plantains and arepas. "It takes about a half-hour to set up."

Ms. Billow says she and her business partner, Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo, started La Cocinita after several years of working in the restaurant industry. They invested $50,000 in start-up costs, an amount that included $12,000 in modifications to their vehicle to satisfy the city's fire code, she adds.



For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Street Fight: Food Trucks vs. Restaurants; Some Big Cities Jump Into the Fray, Enacting Parking Restrictions to Cope With Rising Tide of Gourmet Vendors." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 9, 2012): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



LeAmyDuckNRollTruck2012-08-13.jpg "Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, an Asian-style food truck in Chicago, says last fall she received a fine for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar--50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






August 5, 2012

In Health Care, He Who Pays the Piper, Calls the Tune



(p. A15) Under the Bloomberg plan, any cup or bottle of sugary drink larger than 16 ounces at a public venue would be verboten, beginning early next year.


. . .


Here is the ultimate justification for the Bloomberg soft-drink ban, not to mention his smoking ban, his transfat ban, and his unsuccessful efforts to enact a soda tax and prohibit buying high-calorie drinks with food stamps: The taxpayer is picking up the bill.

Call it the growing chattelization of the beneficiary class under government health-care programs. Bloombergism is a secular trend. Los Angeles has sought to ban new fast-food shops in neighborhoods disproportionately populated by Medicaid recipients, Utah to increase Medicaid copays for smokers, Arizona to impose a special tax on Medicaid recipients who smoke or are overweight.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The 5th Avenue to Serfdom; Nobody thought about taking away your Big Gulp until the government began to pay for everyone's health care." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 2, 2012): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2012.)





August 4, 2012

Veterinarians Can Suggest Innovative Hypotheses to Doctors



ZoobiquityBK2012-08-01.jpg














Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.





Vets face less government regulation and so are freer to rapidly innovate. They may thus be a promising source of innovative hypotheses for medical doctors.


(p. D2) Cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz made her first foray into the world of animal medicine when she was asked to treat Spitzbuben, an exceedingly cute emperor tamarin suffering from heart failure.

But first, the veterinarian at the Los Angeles Zoo warned Dr. Natterson-Horowitz: Mere eye contact with the tiny primate could trigger a potentially fatal surge of stress hormones. What she learns from that experience spurs a journey to examine the links between the human and animal condition--and the discovery that the species are closer than she ever imagined.


. . .


The authors recommend that doctors, who often look with disdain on veterinarians, go the next step and collaborate with them in a cross-disciplinary "zoobiquitous" approach--using knowledge about how animals live, die and heal to spark innovative hypothesis for advancing medicine.



For the full review, see:

LAURA LANDRO. "Healthy Reader." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 12, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 11, 2012.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Natterson-Horowitz, Barbara, and Kathryn Bowers. Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.





August 1, 2012

Take U.S.D.A. and C.D.C. Advice with a Grain of Salt



(p. 8) When I spent the better part of a year researching the state of the salt science back in 1998 -- already a quarter century into the eat-less-salt recommendations -- journal editors and public health administrators were still remarkably candid in their assessment of how flimsy the evidence was implicating salt as the cause of hypertension.

"You can say without any shadow of a doubt," as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had "made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts."

While, back then, the evidence merely failed to demonstrate that salt was harmful, the evidence from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying prematurely. Put simply, the possibility has been raised that if we were to eat as little salt as the U.S.D.A. and the C.D.C. recommend, we'd be harming rather than helping ourselves.


. . .


When researchers have looked at all the relevant trials and tried to make sense of them, they've continued to support Dr. Stamler's "inconsistent and contradictory" assessment. Last year, two such "meta-analyses" were published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international nonprofit organization founded to conduct unbiased reviews of medical evidence. The first of the two reviews concluded that cutting back "the amount of salt eaten reduces blood pressure, but there is insufficient evidence to confirm the predicted reductions in people dying prematurely or suffering cardiovascular disease." The second concluded that "we do not know if low salt diets improve or worsen health outcomes."


. . .


(p. 9) A 1972 paper in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the less salt people ate, the higher their levels of a substance secreted by the kidneys, called renin, which set off a physiological cascade of events that seemed to end with an increased risk of heart disease. In this scenario: eat less salt, secrete more renin, get heart disease, die prematurely.

With nearly everyone focused on the supposed benefits of salt restriction, little research was done to look at the potential dangers. But four years ago, Italian researchers began publishing the results from a series of clinical trials, all of which reported that, among patients with heart failure, reducing salt consumption increased the risk of death.

Those trials have been followed by a slew of studies suggesting that reducing sodium to anything like what government policy refers to as a "safe upper limit" is likely to do more harm than good. These covered some 100,000 people in more than 30 countries and showed that salt consumption is remarkably stable among populations over time.


. . .


One could still argue that all these people should reduce their salt intake to prevent hypertension, except for the fact that four of these studies -- involving Type 1 diabetics, Type 2 diabetics, healthy Europeans and patients with chronic heart failure -- reported that the people eating salt at the lower limit of normal were more likely to have heart disease than those eating smack in the middle of the normal range. Effectively what the 1972 paper would have predicted.


. . .


Maybe now the prevailing beliefs should be changed. The British scientist and educator Thomas Huxley, known as Darwin's bulldog for his advocacy of evolution, may have put it best back in 1860. "My business," he wrote, "is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations."



For the full commentary, see:

GARY TAUBES. "OPINION; Salt, We Misjudged You." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 3, 2012): 8-9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 2, 2012.)







July 15, 2012

Hitchens Adds to the Case Against Woodrow Wilson



ToEndAllWarsBK2012-06-22.jpg

















Source of book image:
http://media.oregonlive.com/books_impact/photo/9635633-large.jpg



Reading the review quoted below, reminded me of how much I will miss Christopher Hitchens.


(p. 12) If General Pershing's fresh and plucky troops had not reached the scene in the closing stages of the bloodbath, universal exhaustion would almost certainly have compelled an earlier armistice, on less savage terms. Without President Wilson's intervention, the incensed and traumatized French would never have been able to impose terms of humiliation on Germany; the very terms that Hitler was to reverse, by such relentless means, a matter of two decades later. In this light, the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs, who publicly opposed the war and was kept in prison by a vindictive Wilson until long after its ending, looks like a prescient hero. Indeed, so do many of the antiwar militants to whose often-buried record Hochschild has done honor. (Unsentimental to the last, though, he shows that many of them went on to lose or waste their lives on Bolshevism, the other great mutant system to emerge from the abattoir.) This is a book to make one feel deeply and painfully, and also to think hard.


For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS. "Mortal Debate." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 15, 2011): 1 & 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 13, 2011, and has the title "The Pacifists and the Trenches.")


The book under review is:

Hochschild, Adam. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2011.






July 13, 2012

Riots, Arson and Looting Returned in Spite of "State Largesse Lavished on Tottenham"



TottenhamRiotFire2012-06-22.jpg "As unrest flared in the U.K. on Aug. 7, fire raged through a building in Tottenham, north London--an area also the scene of riots 26 years ago." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) LONDON--After furious race riots broke out in London's Tottenham area 26 years ago, government and local authorities poured millions of pounds into the district and especially Broadwater Farm estate, a notorious housing project that was the epicenter of the 1985 unrest.

Yet last week, Tottenham returned to an unwelcome spotlight as the point of ignition for riots here--and this time the unrest spread far beyond the neighborhood, to other parts of London and distant cities like Birmingham and Manchester.

What started as a peaceful protest over the killing of a local man by police was quickly seized on as an excuse for looting, arson and other unruly behavior by roaming packs of people that gripped the country for days. The result as of Sunday night: 1,401 arrests nationwide and a debate over who is to blame and how to prevent it happening again.

Tottenham's repeat appearance in the rioting shows the sometimes limited effectiveness of urban-regeneration programs that fail to tackle the deep-seated problems of poor communities. The state largesse lavished on Tottenham has resulted in better facilities and nicer surroundings, yet the area is still blighted by high unemployment, a thriving gang culture and social breakdown, according to official data.



For the full story, see:

GUY CHAZAN And ALISTAIR MACDONALD. "State Aid Failed to Stem U.K. Unrest; Tottenham, Site of Past Violence, Saw Renewed Clashes Despite Government Efforts to Boost the Area." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 15, 2011): A8.





July 9, 2012

Bicyclists Create Negative Externalities for Pedestrians



BicyclistsSanFrancisco2012-06-22.jpg "Bicyclists weave through pedestrians and motor traffic on Friday in San Francisco, where a fatal bike-pedestrian collision has sparked debate." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO--City prosecutors said they would file felony vehicular-manslaughter charges against a bicyclist who allegedly hit and killed a pedestrian, in a case that has become a flash point for debate over bicyclists' rights in the city.

The manslaughter charges--unusually stiff for a bicycle accident--stem from a March 29 incident, when 36-year-old bicyclist Chris Bucchere allegedly ran a red traffic light and plowed into 71-year-old Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk. Mr. Hui died April 2 of injuries related to the collision.


. . .


The bicycle backlash has come to a head after a series of pedestrian deaths in the San Francisco Bay area. A 67-year-old woman died last August after a bicyclist allegedly hit her in a crosswalk after running a red light; the cyclist was convicted of a misdemeanor. Earlier this month, a cyclist allegedly struck and killed a 92-year-old woman in the suburb of El Cerrito while crossing a street; that case is under investigation.



For the full story, see:

JIM CARLTON. "U.S. NEWS; Reckless Riders Spur Backlash; Fatal Collision in San Francisco Leads to Manslaughter Charges Against Cyclist." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 16, 2012): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 7, 2012

"At Least Here I Am in Control of My Destiny"



MesgaranAliSandwichShopTehran2012-06-12.jpg "Ali Mesgaran and a friend at the sandwich shop he opened this year in Tehran. He said his shop was one place where he controlled his destiny." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) TEHRAN -- About two months ago, when many Iranian families were stocking up on rice and meat to prepare for seemingly inevitable military conflict with the West over Iran's nuclear program, Ali Mesgaran, 35, decided to open a sandwich shop.

Iran's national currency, the rial, had just lost nearly half of its value amid new international sanctions, and banks and exchange offices were spilling over with orders for gold and foreign currency from people hoping to protect family savings from soaring inflation.

"There are always problems in this country," Mr. Mesgaran said, explaining why he decided to open his shop, Piyaz Jafari, named after a traditional Iranian sandwich spread of onions and herbs. "We felt that if we ever wanted to be successful, we just had to ignore those."


. . .


The widespread sense of hopelessness is reinforced by memories of the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Mr. Ahmadinejad's predecessor, who was in power from 1997 to 2005. During his two terms, he tried to promote personal freedom, to encourage better relations with the West and to relax suffocating dress codes, drawing anger from conservatives but attracting millions of votes from youths and women.


. . .


(p. A12) On a recent day at Mr. Mesgaran's sandwich shop, the talk was not about politics, but about the odd torrential rains that in recent weeks had flooded even parts of the city's subway system. "This is my world," he said, gesturing at his shop and his customers. "At least here I am in control of my destiny. That is a good feeling."



For the full story, see:

THOMAS ERDBRINK. "TEHRAN JOURNAL; Pinched Aspirations of Iran's Young Multitudes." The New York Times (Tues., May 8, 2012): A4 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 7, 2012.)






July 1, 2012

Behavioral Economics Does Not Undermine Capitalism



thinkingfastandslowBK2012-06-21.jpg












Source of book image: http://www.brainpickings.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/thinkingfastandslow.jpg





Daniel Kahneman first gained fame in economics through research with Tversky in which they showed that some of economists' assumptions about human rationality do not always hold true.

Kahneman, whose discipline is psychology, went on to win the Nobel Prize in economics, sharing the prize with Vernon Smith. (Since the Prize is not normally awarded posthumously, Tversky was not a candidate.)

I have always thought that ultimately there should be only one unified science of human behavior---not claims that are "true" in economics and other claims that are "true" in psychology. (I even thought of minoring in psychology in college, before I realized that the price of minoring included taking time-intensive lab courses where you watched rats run through mazes.)

But I don't think the implications of current work in behavioral economics are as clear as has often been asserted.

Some important results in economics do not depend on strong claims of rationality. For instance, the most important "law" in economics is the law of demand, and that law is due to human constraints more than to human rationality. Gary Becker, early in his career, wrote an interesting paper in which he showed that the law of demand could also be derived from habitual and random behavior. (I remember in conversation, George Stigler saying that he did not like this paper by Becker, because it did not hone closely to the rationality assumption that Stigler and Becker defended in their "De Gustibus" article.)

The latest book by Kahneman is rich and stimulating. It mainly consists of cataloging the names of, and evidence for, a host of biases and errors that humans make in thinking. But that does not mean we cannot choose to be more rational when it matters. Kahneman believes that there is a conscious System 2 that can over-ride the unconscious System 1. In fact, part of his motive for cataloging bias and irrationality is precisely so that we can be aware, and over-ride when it matters.

Sometimes it is claimed, as for instance in a Nova episode on PBS, that bias and irrationality were the main reasons for the financial crisis of 2008. I believe the more important causes were policy mistakes, like Clinton and Congress pressuring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make home loans to those who did not have the resources to repay them; and past government bailouts encouraging finance firms to take greater risks. And the length and depth of the crisis were increased by government stimulus and bailout programs. If instead, long-term cuts had been made in taxes, entrepreneurs would have had more of the resources they need to create start-ups that would have stimulated growth and reduced unemployment.

More broadly, aspects of behavioral economics mentioned, but not emphasized, by Kahneman, can actually strengthen the underpinnings for the case in favor of entrepreneurial capitalism. Entrepreneurs may be more successful when they are allowed to make use of informal knowledge that would not be classified as "rational" in the usual sense. (I discuss this some in my forthcoming paper, "The Epistemology of Entrepreneurship.")

Still, there are some useful and important examples and discussions in Kahneman's book. In the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of these.


Book discussed:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.


The Becker article mentioned above is:

Becker, Gary S. "Irrational Behavior and Economic Theory." Journal of Political Economy 70, no. 1 (Feb. 1962): 1-13.


The Stigler-Becker article mentioned above is:

Stigler, George J., and Gary S. Becker. "De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum." American Economic Review 67, no. 2 (March 1977): 76-90.





June 28, 2012

Feds Subsidize First Solar's Losing Technology



(p. B2) First Solar's solar-panel business, which is focused on large solar installations that feed electricity to power companies, is dependent on government subsidies awarded to such developments.


. . .


But some worry that First Solar isn't well positioned for industry trends. The global solar-power market is moving toward rooftop solar-power systems, rather than the large-scale utility power plants where First Solar's products are most effective, said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Jefferies Group Inc.

"This was a market leader, but its technology is being usurped or surpassed by the Chinese," said Mr. Pichel. "Their product is not competitive in the most economic and sustainable solar market, which is rooftop."



For the full story, see:

CASSANDRA SWEET And RUSSELL GOLD. "First Solar Cuts 2,000 Jobs; Panel Maker Laying Off 30% of Workers, Slashing Production Amid Supply Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 18, 2012): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 17, 2012.)






June 21, 2012

"A123 Systems" Battery Company Is Another Example of Failed Industrial Policy






The YouTube video embedded above was from a CBS Evening News broadcast in June 2012. It illustrates the difficulty of the government successfully selecting the technologies, and companies, that will eventually prove successful. (The doctrine that government can and should do such selection is often called "industrial policy.")


The Obama administration has bet billions of tax dollars on lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles that A123 Systems won $249 million of. But as Sharyl Attkisson reports, expensive recalls and other setbacks have put substantial doubt in the company's ability to continue.


The text above, and the embedded video clip were published on YouTube on Jun 17, 2012 by CBSNewsOnline at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4Ugklc0rIo






June 19, 2012

Crop Insurance Is Worse for Taxpayers than a One-Time Bailout



GrasslandBurnedInNorthDakota2012-06-11.jpg "A grassland field in North Dakota that was burned and then seeded with soybeans. More than one million acres have become farmland in the state since 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A13) By guaranteeing income, farmers say, crop insurance removes almost any financial risk for planting land where crop failure is almost certain.

"When you can remove nearly all the risk involved and guarantee yourself a profit, it's not a bad business decision," said Darwyn Bach, a farmer in St. Leo, Minn., who said that he is guaranteed about $1,000 an acre in revenue before he puts a single seed in the ground because of crop insurance. "I can farm on low-quality land that I know is not going to produce and still turn a profit."


. . .


Environmentalists, hunting groups and even some farmers say the prospect of expanding insurance will only speed the push to turn grasslands into farms.


. . .


The existing crop insurance subsidy ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation, according to another G.A.O. report released in April. The costs of the program have risen as the value of crops has increased. Over the next 10 years, a Congressional Budget Office study estimates, the premium subsidy for the existing program will cost about $90 billion.

"This is better than a government bailout," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington. "A bailout is a one-time thing when something bad happens. But crop insurance keeps giving, good or bad. And it's about to give even more."



For the full story, see:

RON NIXON. "Amid Growth, Plan to Insure Risks on Crops." The New York Times, First Section (Thurs., June 7, 2012): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 6, 2012 and has the title "Crop Insurance Proposal Could Cost U.S. Billions.")






June 17, 2012

Same Government that Allows Violence, Prioritizes Taxing Soda



BoozeCourtlandRichmondCityCouncil2012-06-11.jpg "One vocal opponent of the tax is Courtland Boozé, a City Council member who calls it a hardship on poor people." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 14) Even here at a sweaty Zumba class sponsored by a nonprofit group called Weigh of Life, the city's proposal for a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which is to appear on the November ballot, meets up against the hard realities of residents' lives.

"What don't I have?" asked Rita Cerda, a longtime soda devotee, ticking off her ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. She is also overweight.

"I have problems drinking water," she said. "I don't like water."

The proposed tax, a license fee on businesses selling sweetened drinks, would require owners of bodegas, theaters, convenience stores and other outlets to tally ounces sold and, presumably, pass the cost on to customers.


. . .


Courtland Boozé is a City Council member and a vocal opponent of the soda tax. "We are primarily an economically suppressed community," he said. "It will be a huge hardship.

"I eat sweet potato pie and candied yams," continued Mr. Boozé, who is from Louisiana. "And what about cupcakes? Are they going to tax those?"

The city's Chamber of Commerce is also opposed to the tax. A group fighting the tax that includes the beverage industry has begun dropping off "Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes" placards at La Flore de Jalisco Market, a small, cheerful grocery store where soda bottles in dozens of hues match the colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling.


. . .


Charles Finnie, known as Chuck, a vice president of BMWL, a San Francisco lobbying firm, called the tax "an administrative nightmare for local businesses" that would also put them at a competitive disadvantage, with customers opting for cheaper soda in nearby cities.


. . .


At the RYSE Youth Center, founded 12 years ago after the killing of four high school students, the soda issue seemed both close to the heart and far away.

Kayla Miller, an 18-year-old college freshman, said that if complexion problems from too much sugar would not deter her friends from drinking sodas, neither would a tax.

Shivneel Sen, 14, does not favor the tax but knows how the money should be spent if it passes.

"The police came heck of late," he said, recalling the recent death of a best friend. "We need more of them."

Kimberly Aceves, the center's executive director, says that too often, the burden for making healthy choices falls unfairly on young people. Society may say "go exercise," she said, "but if the community isn't safe, how many kids are going to go out running?"

"Soda is bad for you," Ms. Aceves said. "So is violence."



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN. "RICHMOND JOURNAL; Plan to Tax Soda Gets a Mixed Reception." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 3, 2012): 14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 2, 2012.)






June 13, 2012

Lincoln "Would Abhor" Roosevelt's "Progressivism"



LifeOfRobertTLincolnBK2012-06-11.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A13) In 1912, . . . , Robert Lincoln uncharacteristically leapt into the arena of national debate to challenge Theodore Roosevelt's appropriation of his father's name for TR's "New Nationalism" agenda. Robert, writing in the Boston Herald, labeled Roosevelt's progressivism a doctrine that the elder Lincoln "would abhor if living."


For the full review, see:

RYAN L. COLE. "BOOKSHELF; The Son Also Rises; Prominent lawyer, self-made millionaire, cabinet secretary--Robert Lincoln was more than just his father's greatest advocate." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 9, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 9, 2012.)


The book under review is:

Emerson, Jason. Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.






June 11, 2012

For Federal Regulators "It's Easier Not to Approve than to Approve"



LauthXavierAquacultureScientist2012-06-04.jpg "Xavier Lauth, a scientist, working with zebra fish in a lab at the Center for Aquaculture Technologies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) SAN DIEGO -- If Americans ever eat genetically engineered fast-growing salmon, it might be because of a Soviet biologist turned oligarch turned government minister turned fish farming entrepreneur.

That man, Kakha Bendukidze, holds the key to either extinction or survival for AquaBounty Technologies, the American company that is hoping for federal approval of a type of salmon that would be the first genetically engineered animal in the human food supply.

But 20 months since the Food and Drug Administration tentatively concluded that the fish would be safe to eat and for the environment, there has been no approval. And AquaBounty is running out of money.

Mr. Bendukidze, the former economics minister of Georgia and AquaBounty's largest shareholder, says the company can stay afloat a while longer. But he is skeptical that genetically altered salmon will be approved in the United States in an election year, given the resistance from environmental and consumer groups.

"I understand politically that it's easier not to approve than to approve," Mr. Bendukidze said during a recent visit to a newly acquired laboratory in San Diego, where jars of tiny zebra fish for use in genetic engineering experiments are stacked on shelves. While many people would be annoyed by the approval, he said, "There will be no one except some scientists who will be annoyed if it is not approved."


. . .


(p. B6) Mr. Bendukidze, 56, began his career as a molecular biologist in a research institute outside Moscow, working on genetically engineering viruses for vaccine use. He later started a company selling biology supplies. When parts of the Soviet economy were privatized, he earned a reputation as a corporate raider, building through acquisitions and leading United Heavy Machinery, a large maker of equipment for mining, oil drilling and power generation.

In 2004, Mr. Bendukidze returned to his native Georgia as economics minister under Mikheil Saakashvili, the newly elected president. With a free-market philosophy and a penchant for insulting those who disagreed with him, Mr. Bendukidze earned his share of enemies as he moved to deregulate and privatize the economy.

He still lives in Georgia and now spends his time as chairman of the Free University of Tbilisi, which he founded. He also set up Linnaeus Capital Partners to manage his money. It has increasingly focused on aquaculture, with stakes in companies in Greece, Israel and Britain, in addition to AquaBounty.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "An Entrepreneur Bankrolls a Genetically Engineered Salmon." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 21, 2012.)



BendukidzeKakhaEntrepreneur2012-06-04.jpg "Kakha Bendukidze acquired the lab after agreeing to give AquaBounty more cash." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 4, 2012

In Wisconsin a Choice Between the Party of the Takers and the Party of the Payers



(p. A3) Craig Dedo, a computer consultant and Walker supporter, said the race boiled down to one question: Who runs Wisconsin? "The Democrats and the unions, who are the takers?" he asked, "or the Republicans, the party of the private sector and the people who pay the bills?"


For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Recall Election Could Foretell November Vote." The New York Times (Fri., June 1, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 31, 2012.)





June 2, 2012

In Antitrust, as in Medicine, First Do No Harm



(p. 94) Western Union's lawyers carne up with a dusty old New York Stale law, dated 1905, that said no one could buy more than 10 percent of a telegraph company chartered in that state without the approval of Albany lawmakers. Hard to believe, but it was right there in black and white and there was no possibility of getting the New York State legislature to understand why it was vital to build digital highways.

Talk about unintended consequences!

(p. 95) Originally, the law was written to stop Western Union from monopolizing the telegram business, but the law backfired and was used by the monopolist for its own protection.



Source:

Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.





May 28, 2012

Proof of Concept: "A Determined Entrepreneur Can Start a Rocket Company from Scratch"



Falcon9RocketLiftoff2012-05-27.jpg 'The Falcon 9 rocket seen in a time-exposure photograph during liftoff." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- He does not have the name recognition of some other space entrepreneurs, people like Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin empire, or Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, or Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com billionaire.

That will probably change if things keep going his way. Elon Musk, a computer prodigy and serial entrepreneur whose ambitions include solving the world's energy needs and colonizing the solar system, was the man of the hour -- or of 3:44 a.m. Tuesday, Eastern time -- when the rocket ship built by his company, SpaceX, lifted off gracefully in a nighttime launching and arced off in a streak of light amid loud applause.


. . .


If all goes as planned, his unmanned Dragon capsule, lifted into orbit by his Falcon 9 rocket, will berth at the International Space Station on Friday bearing a modest cargo: 162 meal packets (45 of them low-sodium), a laptop computer, a change of clothes for the station astronauts and 15 student experiments.

Far more important than the supplies is the proof of concept. Mr. Musk is trying to show the world that a determined entrepreneur can start a rocket company from scratch and, a decade later, end up doing a job that has until now been the exclusive province of federal governments.


. . .


Just four years ago, SpaceX went through a near-death experience. The first three launchings of the company's small Falcon 1 rocket failed. One more failure, Mr. Musk said, and he would have run out of money. As he went through a divorce from his first wife, with whom he has five sons, he had to borrow money from friends.

The fourth launching succeeded. Late in 2008, NASA awarded SpaceX the cargo contract. The first two Falcon 9 launchings, in 2010, also succeeded.

Early Tuesday morning, the success streak continued. As the countdown clock hit zero, the engines remained ignited. Less than 10 minutes later, the Dragon was in orbit. It then aced several other early tasks like the deployment of solar arrays and navigational sensors and the testing of GPS equipment.

"Anything could have gone wrong," Mr. Musk said. "And everything went right, fortunately."



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Big Day for Entrepreneur Who Promises More." The New York Times (Weds., May 23, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 22, 2012, and has the title "Big Day for a Space Entrepreneur Promising More.")



MuskElon2012-05-27.jpg











"Elon Musk." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.








May 23, 2012

First Principle for Trustbusters Should Be "Do No Harm"



(p. A2) In essence, Justice says that, beginning in 2008, several plankton, in the form of five publishers, conspired against a whale, Amazon, whose monopoly clout had imposed a $9.99 retail price for e-books.

The deal the publishers eventually reached with Apple unfixed the price of e-books by linking their prices to the cover price of the print version. More importantly, publishers could begin to reclaim the right to set e-book retail prices generally.


. . .


Apple, with 15% of the e-book market, is no monopolist. The five publishers, though Justice insists they dominate trade publishing, account for only about half of e-book sales. Crucially for antitrust, the barriers to entry are zilch: Amazon, with 60% market share, could create its own e-book imprint tomorrow and begin bidding for the most popular authors.


. . .


Let's go back to "per se" vs. "rule of reason." Because the 1890 Sherman Act is so sweeping and almost any business arrangement could be read as prohibited, courts understandably evolved a "rule of reason" to distinguish the permissible from the impermissible. Unfortunately, the result has been antitrust as we know it: wild and fluctuating discretion masquerading as law. Retail price maintenance alone has been embraced and dumped so many times by the courts that it must feel like Jennifer Aniston.

"Do no harm" would be a better principle for trustbusters.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Washington vs. Books; What about piracy, low barriers to entry and the fact that literature isn't chopped liver?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 14, 2012): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated April 13, 2012.)






May 20, 2012

"An Entrenched Favors-for-Votes Culture Is Now Coming Unglued"



TsochatzopoulosAkisGreekOfficial2012-05-07.jpg








"Akis Tsochatzopoulos on April 11 became the highest-ranking Greek official ever to be detained on corruption charges." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. A6) Prosecutors accuse the former defense minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, 73, a founding member of the Socialist Party and the highest-ranking Greek official ever to be detained on corruption charges, of pocketing at least $26 million in kickbacks for Greece's purchase of submarines and missile systems and funneling the money through offshore accounts to buy property.


. . .


The case of Mr. Tsochatzopoulos (pronounced zok-at-ZOP-ou-los) marks the rise -- and perhaps fall -- of a political culture that has dominated Greece for decades, in which alternating Socialist and center-right New Democracy governments helped spread the spoils and, critics say, the corruption, during the boom years. That system helped drive up Greece's public debt to the point that it was forced to seek a foreign bailout in 2010.

As the money has run out, an entrenched favors-for-votes culture is now coming unglued, and Greeks have become less forgiving of high-level missteps.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL DONADIO and NIKI KITSANTONIS. "Corruption Case Hits Hard in a Tough Time for Greece." The New York Times (Thurs., May 3, 2012): A6 & A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 2, 2012.)






May 10, 2012

Four Million Former Californians Voted with Their Feet



KotkinJoel2012-04-30.jpg










Joel Kotkin. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) 'California is God's best moment," says Joel Kotkin. "It's the best place in the world to live." Or at least it used to be.


. . .


Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.


. . .


"Basically, if you don't own a piece of Facebook or Google and you haven't robbed a bank and don't have rich parents, then your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak," says Mr. Kotkin.


. . .


And things will only get worse in the coming years as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and his green cadre implement their "smart growth" plans to cram the proletariat into high-density housing. "What I find reprehensible beyond belief is that the people pushing [high-density housing] themselves live in single-family homes and often drive very fancy cars, but want everyone else to live like my grandmother did in Brownsville in Brooklyn in the 1920s," Mr. Kotkin declares.

"The new regime"--his name for progressive apparatchiks who run California's government--"wants to destroy the essential reason why people move to California in order to protect their own lifestyles."

Housing is merely one front of what he calls the "progressive war on the middle class." Another is the cap-and-trade law AB32, which will raise the cost of energy and drive out manufacturing jobs without making even a dent in global carbon emissions. Then there are the renewable portfolio standards, which mandate that a third of the state's energy come from renewable sources like wind and the sun by 2020. California's electricity prices are already 50% higher than the national average.

Oh, and don't forget the $100 billion bullet train. Mr. Kotkin calls the runaway-cost train "classic California." "Where [Brown] with the state going bankrupt is even thinking about an expenditure like this is beyond comprehension. When the schools are falling apart, when the roads are falling apart, the bridges are unsafe, the state economy is in free fall. We're still doing much worse than the rest of the country, we've got this growing permanent welfare class, and high-speed rail is going to solve this?"



For the full interview, see:

ALLYSIA FINLEY, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus; A leading U.S. demographer and 'Truman Democrat' talks about what is driving the middle class out of the Golden State." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 21, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added; bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated April 20, 2012.)






May 7, 2012

"Environmentalists" Yawn at Windmills Killing Thousands of Migratory Birds



(p. A15) Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported that about 70 golden eagles are being killed per year by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass, about 20 miles east of Oakland, Calif. A 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks--as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act--are being killed every year by the turbines at Altamont.

A pernicious double standard is at work here. And it riles Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who wrote the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He told me, "It's absolutely clear that there's been a mandate from the top" echelons of the federal government not to prosecute the wind industry for violating wildlife laws.

Mr. Glitzenstein comes to this issue from the left. Before forming his own law firm, he worked for Public Citizen, an organization created by Ralph Nader. When it comes to wind energy, he says, "Many environmental groups have been claiming that too few people are paying attention to the science of climate change, but some of those same groups are ignoring the science that shows wind energy's negative impacts on bird and bat populations."



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Windmills vs. Birds; About 70 golden eagles are killed every year by turbines at California's Altamont Pass, reports the LA Times.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 8, 2012): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 7, 2012.)





May 3, 2012

Steve Jobs Channels Ellis Wyatt



(p. 260) In 2007 Forbes magazine named Steve Jobs the highest-paid exec-(p. 261)utive of any of America's five hundred largest companies, based on gains in the value of stock granted to him at Apple. He was on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co. Yet his former residence in Woodside, where he had once met with Catmull and Smith and mused about buying Lucasfilm's Computer Division, was now in a state of decay under his ownership.

He had wanted to demolish it; after a group of neighborhood residents opposed his plan to do so, he left the house open to the elements. The interior suffered damage from water and mold. Vines crept up the stucco walls and wandered inside.

The memories that haunted its hallways were those of Jobs's darkest times. He had bought the house only months before the humiliation of his firing from Apple; he lived in it through that firing and through the hard, money-hemorrhaging years of Pixar and NeXT. He left it as his fortunes were about to change, as he was sending Microsoft away from Pixar, convinced that he had something he should hold on to.

When a judge ruled against his quest for a demolition permit, Jobs appealed in 2006 and 2007 all the way to the California Supreme Court, but he lost at every stage. He received proposals from property owners offering to cart the house away in sections and restore it elsewhere; he rejected them. One way or another, it seemed, he meant for the house to be destroyed.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: The passage above is from the Epilogue and the pages given above are from the hardback edition (pp. 260-261). The identical passage also appears in the 2009 paperback edition, but on p. 265.





May 2, 2012

"There Was Never a Plan . . . Just a Series of Mistakes"



CaroRobert2012-04-30.jpg "Robert Caro in his Manhattan office. The later volumes of his L.B.J. biography have taken more years to write than it took the former president to live them." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 37) "There was never a plan," Caro said to me, explaining how he had become a historian and biographer. "There was just a series of mistakes."


. . .


(p. 38) Caro had a[n] . . . epiphany about power in the early '60s. He had moved on to Newsday by then, where he discovered that he had a knack for investigative reporting, and was assigned to look into a plan by Robert Moses to build a bridge from Rye, N.Y., across Long Island Sound to Oyster Bay. "This was the world's worst idea," he told me. "The piers would have had to be so big that they'd disrupt the tides." Caro wrote a series exposing the folly of this scheme, and it seemed to have persuaded just about everyone, including the governor, Nelson Rockefeller. But then, he recalled, he got a call from a friend in Albany saying, "Bob, I think you need to come up here." Caro said: "I got there in time for a vote in the Assembly authorizing some preliminary step toward the bridge, and it passed by something like 138-4. That was one of the transformational moments of my life. I got in the car and drove home to Long Island, and I kept thinking to myself: 'Everything you've been doing is baloney. You've been writing under the belief that power in a democracy comes from the ballot box. But here's a guy who has never been elected to anything, who has enough power to turn the entire state around, and you don't have the slightest idea how he got it.' "

The lesson was repeated in 1965, when Caro had a Nieman fellowship at Harvard and took a class in land use and urban planning. "They were talking one day about highways and where they got built," he recalled, "and here were these mathematical formulas about traffic density and population density and so on, and all of a sudden I said to myself: 'This is completely wrong. This isn't why highways get built. Highways get built because Robert Moses wants them built there. If you don't find out and explain to people where Robert Moses gets his power, then everything else you do is going to be dishonest.' "



For the full story, see:

CHARLES McGRATH. "Robert Caro's Big Dig." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., April 15, 2012): 34-39 & 52.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed letter added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 12, 2012.)


Caro's book on Robert Moses is:

Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1974.





April 28, 2012

The Danger and Despair of Dark Streets



StreetlightsDarkHighlandPark2012-04-08.jpg""I don't go out to get gas at night. I don't run to any stores. I try to do everything in the daytime and to be back before night falls," said Juanita Kennedy, a resident of Highland Park, Mich." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. -- When the sun sets in this small city, its neighborhoods seem to vanish.

In a deal to save money, two-thirds of the streetlights were yanked from the ground and hauled away this year, and the resulting darkness is a look that is familiar in the wide open cornfields of Iowa but not here, in a struggling community surrounded on nearly all sides by Detroit.

Parents say they now worry more about allowing their children to walk to school early in the morning. Motorists complain that they often cannot see pedestrians until headlights -- and cars -- are right upon them. Some residents say they are reshaping their lives to fit the hours of daylight, as the members of the Rev. D. Alexander Bullock's church did recently when they urged him to move up Saturday Bible study to 4 p.m. from the usual 7 p.m.

"It's just too dark," said Mr. Bullock, of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church. "I come out of the church, and I can't see what's in front of me. What happened to our streetlights is what happens when politicians lose hope. All kinds of crazy decisions get made, and citizens lose faith in the process."


. . .


(p. A16) "The people were basically left in the dark," said DeAndre Windom, who was elected mayor in November. He said the disappearing streetlights were the top concern of residents as he campaigned door to door.

"When you come through at night, it's scary; you have to wonder if anyone is lurking around waiting to catch you off your guard," said Juanita Kennedy, 65, who said she had installed a home security system and undergone training to carry a handgun in the weeks since workmen carried away the streetlight in front of her house. "I don't go out to get gas at night. I don't run to any stores. I try to do everything in the daytime and to be back before night falls."



For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Darker Nights as Some Cities Turn Off Lights for Savings." The New York Times (Fri., December 30, 2011): A11 & A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 29, 2011, and has the title "Darker Nights as Some Cities Turn Off the Lights.")






April 26, 2012

NGO Workers Are More Concerned with Following Plan than Achieving Mission



BazaarPoliticsBK2012-04-08.jpg













Source of book image: http://www.bibliovault.org/thumbs/978-0-8047-7672-1-frontcover.jpg






In the quote below, "NGO" means "Non-Government Organization," for instance, a philanthropy.


(p. 17) As for the state's representatives, their authority was what Coburn calls a "useful fiction." The district governor wielded his connections to Kabul as best he could, but did not possess great influence, in part because -- in keeping with the most sophisticated state-building methods -- government aid was mainly distributed by locally elected committees. Istalif's police were seen as hapless at best, predatory at worst; Coburn found that villagers were eager to protect him from a local officer. The French soldiers who periodically showed up in the bazaar had little impact, though their presence did become an excuse for keeping women out of the area. But Coburn observed that "no group was less effective at accumulating influence" than the NGO community. The best development experts accomplished little: their turnover was high, and they frequently bestowed their largess on deserving locals -- women, refugees who'd returned from abroad with some education, victims of wartime injuries -- who didn't have the connections or ability to capitalize on their good fortune. NGO workers seemed less concerned with achieving a valuable outcome than with demonstrating to their backers that they had followed a mission plan to the letter.


For the full review, see:

ALEXANDER STAR. "Applied Anthropology." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 20, 2011): 16-17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated November 18, 2011, and has the title "Afghanistan: What the Anthropologists Say.")


The book being discussed is:

Coburn, Noah. Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town. Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.





April 23, 2012

Wilson's Advice to Conservative Academics: "Be Twice as Productive and Four Times as NIce"



(p. A13) Pat Moynihan once reportedly told Richard Nixon (who was known for his disdain for intellectuals), "Mr. President, James Q. Wilson is the smartest man in the United States. The president of the United States should pay attention to what he has to say."


. . .


At one point in my academic career, I called Jim for advice about how best to navigate the waters of liberal academia when one is openly conservative. "Simple," he told me lightheartedly, "Be twice as productive and four times as nice as your colleagues." It was a formula he himself had followed.



For the full commentary, see:

ARTHUR C. BROOKS. "OPINION; Social Science With a Soul; Life for James Q. Wilson was like a roadside curio shop, full of hidden and unrecognized intellectual treasures.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 3, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 22, 2012

Today Is Tweflth Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2012) is the twelfth anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.










April 18, 2012

"Scratch a White Liberal and You'll Find a Bigot"



My-long-trip-homeBK2012-04-04.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowldc/files/2011/10/my-long-trip-home.jpg



(p. C1) As a social studies major in his junior year at Harvard, Mark Whitaker attended a debate on the subject of ethnicity. One participant was the chairman of the department. Mr. Whitaker stood up to raise some questions.

"What would you tell someone who didn't have a clear ethnic identity?" he asked. "For example, what would you tell someone who had one parent who was black and another who was white? Who had one parent who was American and another who was European? Who had moved dozens of times as a child and didn't have a specific place to call home?" Everyone in the room knew that Mr. Whitaker was talking about himself.

"I guess I would say that that's too bad," the professor answered. "In the future I hope we don't have too many more people like you."

Mr. Whitaker recounts this story in "My Long Trip Home," a book filled with as much family tumult as Jeannette Walls described in "The Glass Castle" and a racial factor to boot. It's a story that registers not only for its shock value but also for the perspective and wisdom with which it can now be told.

The episode did not anger him, he said. He saw it as his professor's Freudian slip, "exposing a wish to hold on to a sense of certainty about his roots in the face of a gathering demographic storm that threatened to wash them away." But Mr. Whitaker's troubled and combative black father, who is the book's central figure through sheer force of personality, had a more heated reaction. "As I always say, scratch a white liberal and you'll find a bigot," Cleophaus Sylvester Whitaker Jr. told his son.



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Born Along the Racial Fault Line." The New York Times (Mon., November 7, 2011): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated November 6, 2011.)


The book under review is:

Whitaker, Mark. My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.




WhitakerMark2012-04-04.jpg











"Mark Whitaker" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.









April 16, 2012

"Mind-Your-Own-Business Cowboy Libertarianism"



MeadMattWyoming2012-03-31.jpg "Gov. Matt Mead at a meeting in the Capitol in Cheyenne. A portrait of his grandfather Clifford P. Hansen, a former governor, hangs behind him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A15) If Washington is broken and unable to lead -- as millions of Americans believe, according to polls -- then who is left to fill the void? Mr. Mead's answer: States functional enough to soldier on through a time of dystopian crisis should be given the room to run. Whether they are led by conservatives or liberals does not matter so much, he said, as the ability to get things done.

"There certainly have to be national policies, and national rules and regulations -- I understand that," Mr. Mead, 49, a Republican and former prosecutor, said in an interview in his office here. "But I am in part a states' rights guy because I think we can do so many things better."

Better or not, Wyoming's way -- always idiosyncratic in the windblown, rural grain that mixes mind-your-own-business cowboy libertarianism and fiscal penny-pinching -- is getting its moment in the spotlight.



For the full story, see:

KIRK JOHNSON. "STATEHOUSE JOURNAL; Idiosyncrasy Runs Deep in the Soil of Wyoming." The New York Times (Fri., November 25, 2011): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated November 24, 2011.)





April 15, 2012

Regulation Sunset Would Aid Entrepreneurs



John Mackey is the entrepreneur behind the Whole Foods Market.



(p. A17) The success of economic freedom in increasing human prosperity, extending our life spans and improving the quality of our lives in countless ways is the most extraordinary global story of the past 200 years.


. . .


Economic freedom is declining in the U.S. In 2000, the U.S. was ranked third in the world behind only Hong Kong and Singapore in the Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by this newspaper and the Heritage Foundation. In 2011, we fell to ninth behind such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland.

The reforms we need to make are extensive.


. . .


According to the Small Business Administration, total regulatory costs amount to about $1.75 trillion annually, nearly twice as much as all individual income taxes collected last year. While some regulations create important safeguards for public health and the environment, far too many simply protect existing business interests and discourage entrepreneurship. Specifically, many government regulations in education, health care and energy prevent entrepreneurship and innovation from revolutionizing and re-energizing these very important parts of our economy.

A simple reform that would make a monumental difference would be to require all federal regulations to have a sunset provision. All regulations should automatically expire after 10 years unless a mandatory cost-benefit analysis has been completed that proves the regulations have created significantly more societal benefit than harm. Currently thousands of new regulations are added each year and virtually none ever disappear.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN MACKEY. "OPINION; To Increase Jobs, Increase Economic Freedom; Business is not a zero-sum game struggling over a fixed pie. Instead it grows and makes the total pie larger, creating value for all of its major stakeholders, including employees and communities.." The New York Times (Fri., November 16, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 14, 2012

Libertarian Law Professor Defends Free Choice in Health Care



BarnettRandyLibertarianLawProfessor2012-03-31.jpg





"Randy E. Barnett has argued against the health care law." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- When Congress passed legislation requiring nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance, Randy E. Barnett, a passionate libertarian who teaches law at Georgetown, argued that the bill was unconstitutional.


. . .


. . . over the past two years, through his prolific writings, speaking engagements and television appearances, Professor Barnett has helped drive the question of the health care law's constitutionality from the fringes of academia into the mainstream of American legal debate and right onto the agenda of the United States Supreme Court.


. . .


. . . the challenge championed by Professor Barnett: that Congress's power to set rules for commerce does not extend to regulating "inactivity," like choosing not to be insured.


. . .


(p. A14) He is a fierce advocate of economic freedom who is accustomed to being a legal underdog. In 2004, in his first (and, he says, probably his last) appearance before the Supreme Court, he argued that Congress could not criminalize the production of home-grown marijuana for personal medical use. There again, critics said he would lose 8 to 1. He did lose, but took satisfaction in the actual vote, 6 to 3.


. . .


Professor Barnett's work on the health care law fits into a much broader intellectual project, his defense of economic freedom. He has long argued that the Supreme Court went too far in upholding New Deal economic laws -- a position that concerns his liberal critics.

Even a close friend and fellow Georgetown law professor, Lawrence B. Solum, says that Professor Barnett is aware of the "big divide between his views and the views of lots of other people," and that his political philosophy is "much more radical" than his legal argument in the health care case. Professor Barnett, for his part, insists that if the health law is struck down, it will not "threaten the foundation of the New Deal." But, he allowed, it would be "a huge symbolic victory for limited government."



For the full story, see:

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and CHARLIE SAVAGE. "Libertarian's Pet Cause Reaches Supreme Court." The New York Times (Tues., March 27, 2012): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 26, 2012 and has the title "Vindication for Challenger of Health Care Law.")





April 12, 2012

Benefits of Driverless Cars Justify Changing Liability Laws



DriverlessCar2012-03-26.jpg "The car is driven by a computer that steers, starts and stops itself. A 360 degrees laser scanner on top of the car, a GPS system and other sensors monitor the surrounding traffic." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p A13) Expect innovations that change the nature of driving more than anything since the end of the hand-crank engine--so long as the legal and regulatory systems don't strangle new digital technologies before they can roll off the assembly line.


. . .


Mr. Ford outlined a future of what the auto industry calls "semiautonomous driving technology," meaning increasingly self-driving cars. Over the next few years, cars will automatically be able to maintain safe distances, using networks of sensors, V-to-V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communications and real-time tracking of driving conditions fed into each car's navigation system.

This will limit the human error that accounts for 90% of accidents. Radar-based cruise control will stop cars from hitting each other, with cars by 2025 driving themselves in tight formations Mr. Ford describes as "platoons," cutting congestion as the space between cars is reduced safely.


. . .


Over the next decade, cars could finally become true automobiles. Our laws will have to be updated for a new relationship between people and cars, but the benefits will be significant: fewer traffic accidents and fewer gridlocked roads--and, perhaps best of all, young people will be in self-driving cars, not teenager-driven cars.



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; The Car of the Future Will Drive You; A truly auto-mobile is coming if liability laws don't stop it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 5, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 9, 2012

Web Sites Expose Petty Corruption



RamanathanSwatiBribeSite2012-03-07.jpg "Swati Ramanathan, a founder of the site I Paid a Bribe, in India." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) The cost of claiming a legitimate income tax refund in Hyderabad, India? 10,000 rupees.

The going rate to get a child who has already passed the entrance requirements into high school in Nairobi, Kenya? 20,000 shillings.

The expense of obtaining a driver's license after having passed the test in Karachi, Pakistan? 3,000 rupees.

Such is the price of what Swati Ramanathan calls "retail corruption," the sort of nickel-and-dime bribery, as opposed to large-scale graft, that infects everyday life in so many parts of the world.

Ms. Ramanathan and her husband, Ramesh, along with Sridar Iyengar, set out to change all that in August 2010 when they started ipaidabribe.com, a site that collects anonymous reports of bribes paid, bribes requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming.

About 80 percent of the more than 400,000 reports to the site tell stories like the ones above of officials and bureaucrats seeking illicit payments to provide routine services or process paperwork and forms.

"I was asked to pay a bribe to get a birth certificate for my daughter," someone in Bangalore, India, wrote in to the Web site on Feb. 29, recording payment of a 120-rupee bribe in Bangalore. "The guy in charge called it 'fees' " -- except there are no fees charged for birth certificates, Ms. Ramanathan said.

Now, similar sites are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ms. Ramanathan said nongovernmental organizations and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery Worldwide." The New York Times (Weds., March 7, 2012): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date March 6, 2012.)



RaguiAntonyBribeSite2012-03-07.jpg











"Antony Ragui started an I Paid a Bribe site in Kenya." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.








March 3, 2012

Freedom Grew from the Greek Agora



Culture-Of-FreedomBK2012-02-29.jpg











Source of book image: http://images.borders.com.au/images/bau/97801997/9780199747405/0/0/plain/a-culture-of-freedom-ancient-greece-and-the-origins-of-europe.jpg





(p. C9) A city's central space reveals much about the society that built it. In the middle of the typical Greek city-state, or polis, stood neither a palace nor a temple--the dominant centering structures of Asian and Egyptian cities--but an open public square, an agora, useful for gatherings and the conduct of business. When Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, first encountered Greeks on his western boundaries, he sneered at the race of shopkeepers who hung about the agora cheating one another all day. Yet that same race would later defeat his descendants, Darius and Xerxes, in two of the most consequential battles the Western world has seen, at Marathon in 490 B.C. and at Salamis 10 years later.


. . .


Mr. Meier's approach runs counter to a tendency in recent classical scholarship to trace Greek ideas to non-Greek sources or to seek common ground on which East and West once met. The polis itself has been claimed in the past few decades as a Near Eastern, or Phoenician, invention; Carthage too, it seems, had an agora at its hub. But Mr. Meier takes pains to dismiss this claim. Relying on expertise amassed in his long academic career, he reasserts the uniqueness of Greek political evolution, the mysterious and somewhat miraculous process that culminates, at the end of this account, in the emergence of Athenian democracy.


. . .


After surveying the crucial reforms of the Athenian leader Cleisthenes, the foundation stones of the world's first democratic constitution, Mr. Meier asks: "Was it just a matter of time before the Attic citizenry was reorganized--so that Cleisthenes did something that would have happened sooner or later anyway? Or were Cleisthenes' achievements beyond the scope of men less able and daring?"



For the full review, see:

JAMES ROMM. "The Greeks' Daring Experiment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., FEBRUARY 11, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Meier, Christian. A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011.





February 28, 2012

Carnegie and Twain Opposed Roosevelt's Imperialism



HonorInDustBK2012-02-22.jpg










Source of book image: http://www.chinarhyming.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/51Hr-aIgESL._SL500_AA300_.jpg





Marxists and others on the left often claim that big business is the main force behind U.S. imperialism. Is it not ironic that the most imperialistic U.S. President was the anti-big-business "progressive" Teddy Roosevelt who was vehemently opposed by big businessman Andrew Carnegie?

Mark Twain is sometimes accused of insufficient sympathy with the downtrodden. Those who so accuse, misunderstand his message. He too opposed Roosevelt's war on the Filipinos.

(Carnegie and Twain's friendship is discussed in David Nasaw's biography of Carnegie.)



(p. 13) There was within the United States a strong and vocal anti-imperialist movement, which included former President Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain, but it struggled to tamp down the country's growing expansionist zeal, and to compete with the energy, tenacity and bulldog ambition of one man in particular: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who in just six years rose meteorically from New York City police commissioner to president, nurtured a deep and unshakable contempt for what he called the "unintelligent, cowardly chatter for 'peace at any price.' " Not only had the "clamor of the peace faction" left him unmoved, Roosevelt wrote, it had served to strengthen his conviction that "this country needs a war."


. . .


Although Roosevelt moves in and out of Jones's narrative, disappearing for long stretches, he still manages to steal the spotlight, just as he does in every book in which he appears. When McKinley dragged his feet before sending troops to Cuba, Roosevelt sneered that the president had "no more backbone than a chocolate éclair." In the Department of the Navy, Roosevelt gleefully took over while his boss was on summer vacation, anointing himself the "hot weather secretary" and crowing to a friend that he was having "immense fun running the Navy." In Cuba, after choosing his regiment of Rough Riders from 23,000 applicants, he ordered his famous charge up Kettle Hill wearing a custom-made fawn-colored Brooks Brothers uniform with canary-yellow trim.



For the full review, see:

CANDICE MILLARD. "Looking for a Fight; At the Turn of the 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt Set Out to Transform the United States into a Major World Power." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., February 19, 2012): 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 17, 2012 and has the title "Looking for a Fight; A New History of the Philippine-American War.")



The book under review is:

Jones, Gregg. Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America's Imperial Dream. New York: New American Library, 2012.



The Nasaw book on Carnegie mentioned in my initial comments is:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 26, 2012

In China the Rich and Creative Prepare to Vote with Their Feet



ShiKangBeijingMillionaire2012-02-22.jpg "Shi Kang, a millionaire writer living in Beijing, started thinking about emigrating after a long road trip last year around the U.S." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) BEIJING--This time last year, Shi Kang considered himself a happy man.

Writing 15 novels had made him a millionaire. He owned a luxury apartment and a new silver Mercedes. He was so content with his carefree life in Beijing that he never even traveled overseas.

Today, a year later, Mr. Shi is considering emigrating to the U.S.--one of a growing number of rich Chinese either contemplating leaving their homeland or already arranging to do it.


. . .


(p. A12) A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so. The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China's wealthy.


. . .


Mr. Su was no dissident, though. Like many of his generation, he turned his attention to getting rich. Today, at 46, Mr. Su runs his own aerospace technology company and estimates his own net worth, including the various properties he owns, at around 80 million yuan, or close to $13 million.

His main reason for leaving, he says, is the business environment. "The government has too much power," he says. "Regulations here mean that businessmen have to do a lot of illegal things. That gives people a real sense of insecurity." He said four of his distributors have also applied for investment immigration to Canada.


. . .


"The problem is that government power is too great," Mr. Su says. "When the economy is going up, they think that everything they are doing is right." If they don't change, he worries, "another revolution will come soon."


. . .


The current migrant wave is different in that they are escaping neither poverty nor political unrest--and many say they are leaving for good. The Hurun survey showed that the average respondent had 60 million yuan in assets and was 42, old enough to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but young enough to have learned how to prosper in a market economy.

Deng Jie fits the profile. Twenty-seven years ago, in the fledgling years of China's market reforms, he began his career in a state-run ceramics factory in Beijing, sharing a cramped dormitory with colleagues and earning 50 yuan a month (about $13 in those days).

Today, at 48, he runs his own chemical pigments business and lives with his wife and daughter in one of the three luxury apartments he owns. In dollar terms, he is a millionaire several times over. His properties alone have appreciated by 800% in a decade.

Yet the hope he felt for his country in the 1980s, he says, has "been doused with bucket after bucket of cold water." He cited a host of concerns, including rampant corruption among the officials he deals with, and new labor regulations that he says have made his work force too costly and demanding.

"I'm representing a lot of other people like me," he says. "We used to want to contribute to the nation. But now we just feel so disappointed. China cannot continue like this. It has to change."



For the full story, see:

JEREMY PAGE. "Plan B for China's Wealthy: Moving to the U.S., Europe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)



ChineseEB5visaApplicationGraph.jpg














Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.










February 23, 2012

"The Government Is a Crappy Venture Capitalist"



(p. A13) Like the mythical monster Hydra--who grew two heads every time Hercules cut one off--President Obama, in both his State of the Union address and his new budget, has defiantly doubled down on his brand of industrial policy, the usually ill-advised attempt by governments to promote particular industries, companies and technologies at the expense of broad, evenhanded competition.

Despite his record of picking losers--witness the failed "clean energy" projects Solyndra, Ener1 and Beacon Power--Mr. Obama appears determined to continue pushing his brew of federal spending, regulations, mandates, special waivers, loan guarantees, subsidies and tax breaks for companies he deems worthy.

Favoring key constituencies with taxpayer money appeals to politicians, who can claim to be helping the overall economy, but it usually does far more harm than good. It crowds out valuable competing investment efforts financed by private investors, and it warps decisions by bureaucratic diktats susceptible to political cronyism. Former Obama adviser Larry Summers echoed most economists' view when he warned the administration against federal loan guarantees to Solyndra, writing in a 2009 email that "the government is a crappy venture capitalist."



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL J. BOSKIN. "OPINION; Washington's Knack for Picking Losers; Former Obama adviser Larry Summers warned the administration against federal loan guarantees to Solyndra, writing in a 2009 email that 'the government is a crappy venture capitalist'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., FEBRUARY 15, 2012): A13.







February 19, 2012

Economic Freedom and Growth Depend on Protecting the Right to Rise



(p. A19) Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. . . .


. . .


But when it comes to economic freedom, we are less forgiving of the cycles of growth and loss, of trial and error, and of failure and success that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.


. . .


. . . , we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.



For the full commentary, see:

JEB BUSH. "OPINION; Capitalism and the Right to Rise; In freedom lies the risk of failure. But in statism lies the certainty of stagnation." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., December 19, 2011): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)







February 9, 2012

Euro Haiku



Welfare states' debt due
Ratings downgrades, states default
Euro muddles through


Arthur Diamond





The haiku above was my entry in response to the haiku challenge in the Kauffman Foundation's First Quarter 2012 survey "of top economics bloggers." The haiku challenge was: "The euro is troubled, so what is its fate in 2012 and/or what should policymakers do?"

The results of the Q1 2012 survey can be found at: http://www.kauffman.org/uploadedFiles/econ_bloggers_outlook_q1_2012.pdf






February 3, 2012

How to Slow Down Creative Destruction



(p. 356) This catallaxy will not go smoothly, or without resistance. Natural and unnatural disasters will still happen. Governments will bail out big corporations and big bureaucracies, hand them special favours such as subsidies or carbon rations and regulate them in such a way as to create barriers to entry, slowing down creative destruction. Chiefs, priests, thieves, financiers, consultants and others will appear on all sides, feeding off the surplus (p. 357) generated by exchange and specialisation, diverting the life-blood of the catallaxy into their own reactionary lives. It happened in the past. Empires bought stability at the price of creating a parasitic court; monotheistic religions bought social cohesion at the price of a parasitic priestly class; nationalism bought power at the expense of a parasitic military; socialism bought equality at the price of a parasitic bureaucracy; capitalism bought efficiency at the price of parasitic financiers.


Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





January 21, 2012

"Just What Ailments Are Pylos Tablets Supposed to Alleviate?"



LinearBscript2012-01-14.jpg










"Professor Bennett's work opened a window to deciphering tablets written in Linear B, a Bronze Age Aegean script." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.



(p. 22) Deciphering an ancient script is like cracking a secret code from the past, and the unraveling of Linear B is widely considered one of the most challenging archaeological decipherments of all time, if not the most challenging.


. . .


Linear B recorded the administrative workings of Mycenaean palatial centers on Crete and the Greek mainland 3,000 years ago: accounts of crops harvested, flocks tended, goods manufactured (including furniture, chariots and perfume), preparations for religious feasts and preparations for war.

It was deciphered at last in 1952, not by a scholar but by an obsessed amateur, a young English architect named Michael Ventris. The decipherment made him world famous before his death in an automobile accident in 1956.

As Mr. Ventris had acknowledged, he was deeply guided by Professor Bennett's work, which helped impose much-needed order on the roiling mass of strange, ancient symbols.

In his seminal monograph "The Pylos Tablets" (1951), Professor Bennett published the first definitive list of the signs of Linear B. Compiling such a list is the essential first step in deciphering any unknown script, and it is no mean feat.


. . .


"We know how much Ventris admired Bennett, because he immediately adopted Bennett's sign list of Linear B for his own work before the decipherment," said Mr. Robinson, whose book "The Man Who Deciphered Linear B" (2002) is a biography of Mr. Ventris. "He openly said, 'This is a wonderful piece of work.' "


. . .


As meticulous as Professor Bennett's work was, it once engendered great confusion. In 1951, after he sent Mr. Ventris a copy of his monograph, a grateful Ventris went to the post office to pick it up. As Mr. Robinson's biography recounts, a suspicious official, eyeing the package, asked him: "I see the contents are listed as Pylos Tablets. Now, just what ailments are pylos tablets supposed to alleviate?"



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Emmett L. Bennett Jr., Ancient Script Expert, Dies at 93." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 1, 2012,): 22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated December 31, 2011, and has the title: "Emmett L. Bennett Jr., Expert on Ancient Script, Dies at 93.")


The book on the amateur, uncredentialed Ventris is:

Robinson, Andrew. The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris. London, UK: Thames & Hudson, 2002.



BennettEmmettJr2012-01-14.jpg













"Emmett L. Bennett Jr." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited above.







January 19, 2012

Branson Advises Entrepreneurs: "Think of What Frustrates You"



BransonRichardCaricature2012-01-13.jpg















Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.





(p. A13) Governments have long dominated space, starting with the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of Sputnik 1. The U.S. soon followed. "If they'd used just a small fraction of that money as prize money and given it to the best commercial companies, that money would've been far better spent," Mr. Branson muses. "The $10 million [Ansari] X Prize very much sparked our move into space travel," he notes, referring to the competition organized by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and launched in 1996.

Mr. Branson had dreamed of exploring the final frontier for decades. "I think it just simply goes back to watching the moon landing on blurry black-and-white television when I was a teenager and thinking, one day I would go to the moon--and then realizing that governments are not interested in us individuals and creating products that enable us to go into space," he says. In 1995, after making billions of dollars in the music and airline businesses, Mr. Branson registered a new company, Virgin Galactic (the name "sounded good"), at London's Companies House. Then the company started searching for rocket scientists and the right technology.

Several years later, in July 2002, Virgin's team traveled to California to check on American aerospace designer Burt Rutan's progress on the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, a plane built "to circumnavigate the globe non-stop on a single tank of fuel," according to Virgin's website. Virgin discovered that Mr. Rutan intended to compete for the X Prize with SpaceShip One, the world's first privately developed spacecraft, financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Mr. Branson quickly struck a deal: Virgin would license Mr. Rutan's SpaceShip One technology from Mr. Allen if he won the competition. In 2004, Mr. Rutan did just that, and Virgin Galactic was off to the races.


. . .


So what advice does Mr. Branson have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Think of what frustrates you--and if you're frustrated by something and you feel 'Dammit, if only people could do this better,' then go try to do it better yourself. It can start off in a really small way . . . and you'll be surprised: If you're doing it better yourself, in whatever field it is, you'll be filling a gap and you suddenly might start creating a business."



For the full interview, see:

MARY KISSEL. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Richard Branson; Space: The Next Business Frontier; By next Christmas the airline mogul could be ferrying paying customers outside the atmosphere--and, later, to the bottom of the ocean." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 17, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 13, 2012

Indian Middle Class: "The State Is Preventing Me from Doing What I Want to Do"



NagParthoIndianEntrepreneur2011-11-14.jpg"Partho Nag, a childhood friend of Shubhrangshu Roy's who lives in the same New Delhi suburb. Mr. Nag, who runs an IT service company out of his home, joined Mr. Roy and other friends as they volunteered at the Hazare protests. "We've been told since our childhoods, 'Politics is bad, don't get into politics,'" Mr. Nag said. "But the point is that somebody has to clean it up. We can't just scold people."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) DWARKA, India -- Shubhrangshu Barman Roy and his childhood friends are among the winners in India's economic rise. They have earned graduate degrees, started small companies and settled into India's expanding middle class. They sometimes take vacations together and meet for dinners or parties, maybe to celebrate a new baby or a new business deal.

Yet in August, Mr. Roy and his friends donned white Gandhi caps, boarded a Metro train in this fast-growing suburb of the Indian capital and rode into New Delhi like a band of revolutionaries to join the large anticorruption demonstrations led by the rural activist Anna Hazare. They waved Indian flags, distributed water to the crowds and vented their outrage at India's political status quo.

"I could feel that people really wanted change," Mr. Roy, 36, recalled proudly.

It may seem unlikely that middle-class Indians would crave change. They mostly live in rapidly growing cities and can afford cars, appliances and other conveniences that remain beyond the reach of most Indians. Theirs is the fastest growing demographic group in the country, and their buying power is expected to triple in the next 15 years, making India one of the most important consumer markets in the world.

But buying power is not political power, at least not yet in India. The wealthier India has become, the more politically disillusioned many of the beneficiaries have grown -- an Indian paradox. The middle class has vast economic clout yet often remains politically marginalized in a huge democracy where the rural masses still dominate the outcome of elections and the tycoon class has the ear of politicians.


. . .


(p. 10) "This middle class is less about 'what the state can do for me' than 'the state is preventing me from doing what I want to do,' " said Devesh Kapur, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Hazare movement rattled India's political establishment because it offered a glimpse of what could happen if the middle class was mobilized across the country. Professionals and college students provided the organizational spine, and money, that brought hundreds of thousands of people of all backgrounds onto the streets in what many described as a political awakening.


. . .


Mr. Roy and his friends, including Mr. Nag, had grown up in New Delhi in the same government housing development. They were all the sons of government bureaucrats who would later offer similar advice: Get a government job.

"He always insisted," Mr. Nag recalled of his father's prodding. "But we had an idea that a government job was too lousy."

They were teenagers in the early 1990s when Indian leaders embarked on the reforms that began dismantling the stifling licensing regulations that had choked the economy. Private enterprise, large and small, would steadily emerge as the engine of Indian growth and the delivery vehicle of growing aspirations. Mr. Nag would open a small IT service firm. Two other friends would start a textile trading company. Mr. Roy would earn graduate degrees and start a consulting firm.


. . .


On a recent afternoon, Mr. Roy pointed to a crude asphalt scar in the road where workers had installed an underground water connection. The scar extended along the road toward Mr. Roy's house, only to abruptly turn left in the direction of another building.

"You see this?" he asked, angrily. "This is a connection that comes here, but it is illegal."

For Mr. Roy, the scar in the street marks the corruption and collusion and the failure of the state to deliver on its end of India's social contract. His family is supposed to get water from a legal connection for $4 a month. Except that water is unusable. For years, his father had paid a fee to fill large jugs from a private water tanker -- until his father slipped while carrying one of them.

Mr. Roy then spent about $1,000 to build an underground water storage tank beside his home. Now, every week a tanker delivers a $30 shipment of water into the tank, while Mr. Roy also buys bottled water for drinking, bringing his monthly bill to about $160. Mr. Roy suspects that local officials, rather than correcting the situation, allow it to continue in exchange for kickbacks from the owners of the private water tankers. In the end, though, he pays.

These tales of petty graft proliferate across India, but especially in cities, analysts say, for the simple reason that cities now have more money.

McKinsey Global Institute, a consulting group, has estimated that India's middle class could grow to nearly 600 million people by 2030. Today, nearly three-quarters of India's gross domestic product comes from cities, where less than a third of India's population lives, an imbalance that correlates with the divide between middle-class economic and political power.

"For politicians, the city has primarily become a site of extraction, and the countryside is predominantly a site of legitimacy and power," Ashutosh Varshney, an India specialist at Brown University, wrote recently. "The countryside is where the vote is; the city is where the money is. Villages do have corruption, but the scale of corruption is vastly greater in cities."



For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY. "INDIA'S WAY; Protests Help Awaken a Goliath in India." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 30, 2011): 1 & 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 29, 2011 and has the title "INDIA'S WAY; Protests Awaken a Goliath in India.")





January 9, 2012

Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires Wins Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership



PiresPedroDeVeronaRodrigues2011-11-14.jpg














"Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) MONROVIA, Liberia -- Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires, the former president of Cape Verde, the desertlike archipelago about 300 miles off the coast of West Africa, has won one of the world's major prizes, the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

The record of governing in Africa has been poor enough lately that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided not to award the prize for the past two years. In many African countries, leaders have refused to leave office after losing elections, tried to alter constitutions to ensure their continued tenure or gone back on pledges not to run for re-election.


. . .


Mr. Pires served two terms -- 10 years -- as president until stepping down last month. During that period, the foundation noted, Cape Verde became only the second African nation to move up from the United Nations' "least developed" category. The foundation says the prize is given only to a democratically elected president who has stayed "within the limits set by the country's constitution, has left office in the last three years and has demonstrated excellence in office."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Ex-President of Cape Verde Wins Good-Government Prize." The New York Times (Tues., October 11, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 10, 2011.)





January 7, 2012

Few Banks Give S.B.A. Loans, They Take Two Years, and Have "Absolutely No Flexibility"



BlumenthalNeilEntrepreneur2011-11-14.jpg"Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders of Warby Parker, an online eyewear company, was invited to Washington in an initiative to encourage companies owned by members of the millennial generation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B7) Mr. Blumenthal, 31, one of the founders of Warby Parker, an online eyewear company that sells designer frames for less than $100, was among 150 young chief executives invited to Washington by Our Time, a youth advocacy group, . . .


. . .


The following is a condensed version of a recent conversation in which Mr. Blumenthal spoke, among other things, about what politicians don't understand about business, . . .


. . .


Q. What was it like trying to get an S.B.A. loan?

A. Finding a bank that did S.B.A.-term loans was a challenge. We were surprised that they needed two years and that banks had absolutely no flexibility. Many of the loan officers said we had a reputable business that was cash-flow positive and we had the most sophisticated business plan they'd ever seen, but they can't provide loans to people who don't have two years of tax returns.

Q. Isn't that a reasonable request when you're talking about using taxpayer dollars to guarantee a loan to a private company?

A. I understand where the banks are coming from. It probably was necessary to implement hard and fast rules to stop the bleeding when the crisis hit, but they should be looking at the policies and thinking: Does this make sense now?

Q. Was the application process difficult?

A. We had to sign so many documents that my hand hurt after I was done. I had to pledge not to open a zoo, swimming pool or aquarium. It struck me as strange. Yes, it's the bank's duty to do due diligence, but this was just a silly restriction.

Q. But there was a happy ending, right?

A. Yes, after being turned down by 15 banks, it was a personal relationship that introduced us to a regional bank in New Jersey that gave us a $200,000 loan.

Q. What reasons did the 15 banks give for turning you down?

A. They didn't have the authority to bypass the rule that you have to have two years of tax returns.

Q. Was your company profitable at the time?

A. Yes, we were profitable and we had a ton of traction. We had higher customer satisfaction scores than Zappos or Apple. A rational bank should have wanted to support us, even though we were a more risky bet than a company that had been around longer.

Q. What did the bank that lent you money do differently? Did it demand collateral?

A. We came through a personal relationship at a very high level at a regional bank in New Jersey that didn't have the draconian guidelines because their management was empowered to make decisions. For the $200,000 S.B.A.-backed loan that we got, the bank wanted $100,000 in collateral in either cash or marketable products. The reason they wanted so much collateral was that if we default, the regional bank is not going to go through the process of getting the money from the S.B.A. because it's so onerous.


. . .


Q. Are you involved in the political process?

A. We have never met with politicians. I don't know the first thing about how to get heard. My suspicion is that it's to donate a lot of money.


. . .


Q. What do you make of the economic turmoil we've been experiencing?

A. It highlights that it might be too much to ask Washington to help with entrepreneurship when they can't even get the basics right, like maintaining a decent credit rating.



For more of the conversation, see:

HANNAH SELIGSON. "SMALL BUSINESS; Young Entrepreneur Sees Little Help In Washington." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 18, 2011): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 17, 2011.)





January 2, 2012

The Kauffman Foundation's Startup Act Would Encourage Entrepreneurs




The WSJ tells us the credentials of the authors of the following advice: "Mr. Muller is CEO of GenOn Energy. Mr. Zimpleman is president and CEO of the Principal Financial Group."



(p. A15) In our view, there is no hope of giving consumers renewed confidence in America unless governments at all levels mount a vigorous effort to get rid of rules that discourage entrepreneurs from launching and growing new businesses.

The Kauffman Foundation recently proposed a way to do that with a set of ideas aptly called the Startup Act. Those ideas, which would cost the government virtually nothing, include:

• Letting in immigrant entrepreneurs who hire American workers.

• Reducing the cost of capital through capital gains tax relief for early stage investments.

• Reducing barriers to IPOs by allowing shareholders to opt out of Sarbanes-Oxley.

• Charging higher fees for patent applicants who want quick decisions to remove the backlog of applications at the Patent Office.

• Giving licensing freedom to academic entrepreneurs at universities to accelerate the commercialization of their ideas.

• Having the government provide data to permit rankings of startup friendliness of states and localities.

• Regular sunsets for regulations and a consistent policy of putting new ones in place only if their benefits exceed their costs.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD R. MULLER and LARRY ZIMPLEMAN. "OPINION; An Entrepreneurial Fix for the U.S. Economy; Several reforms can make it faster and easier for new business startups.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., AUGUST 29, 2011): A15.






December 31, 2011

Federal Subsidies Create Few Green Jobs



(p. F2) . . . solar power, which makes extensive use of robots in fabricating the cells, and has no moving parts to service once it is up and running, may be an odd choice for job creation.

"It's just not that labor-intensive," said Howard Axelrod, an engineer and economist. And as for the jobs it creates, there may be a price elsewhere, Dr. Axelrod said.


. . .


Build enough solar plants and some coal plants will shut down; that would amount to firing Peter to hire Paul.


. . .


And, economists point out, some of the work that renewable energy creates goes to people who already have jobs -- roofers who install the panels or truck drivers who move them around, or steel workers who make towers for new wind machines.

Some of the jobs could eventually go elsewhere. Two years ago, Evergreen Solar, which got $58 million in aid from Massachusetts for a factory in Devens, said it would shift production to China instead.


. . .


The debate is part of a larger discussion of what constitutes a "green" job. In October 2009, Congress gave the Bureau of Labor Statistics a special appropriation to count them.


. . .


"Driving a bus is driving a bus, right?" said Connie Mack, Republican of Florida. Hilda Solis, the secretary of labor, said they were "green buses." But aides later clarified that the bureau counted any bus driving job as green because it preserved natural resources.

None of this suggests that green is bad, just that it is not particularly job-heavy. In December 2010, Susan Combs, the comptroller of Texas, reported that school districts in her state were giving tax abatements to lure new jobs, but had to give $1.6 million for every wind energy job. Manufacturing jobs could be created for $166,000 each.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Solar Power Industry Falls Short of Hopes in Job Creation." The New York Times (Weds., October 26, 2011): F2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 25, 2011.)





December 29, 2011

The Case Against Fluoridating Public Water Supplies



(p. A18) Last week, Pinellas County, on Florida's west coast, voted to stop adding fluoride to its public water supply after starting the program seven years ago. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have chosen to end the practice in the last four years, motivated both by tight budgets and by skepticism about its benefits.

Eleven small cities or towns have opted out of fluoridating their water this year, including Fairbanks, Alaska, which acted after much deliberation and a comprehensive evaluation by a panel of scientists, doctors and dentists. The panel concluded that in Fairbanks, which has relatively high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride, the extra dose no longer provided the help it once did and may, in fact, be harmful.


. . .


The movement to stop fluoridating water has gained traction, in large part, because the government has recently cautioned the public about excessive fluoride. A report released late last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked fluoride to an increase among children in dental fluorosis, which causes white or yellow spots on teeth. About 40 percent of children ages 12 to 15 had dental fluorosis, mostly very mild or mild cases, from 1999 to 2004. That percentage was 22.6 in a 1986-87 study.

Fluorosis is mostly a cosmetic problem that can sometimes be bleached away. But critics argue that spotted teeth are a warning that other bones in the body may be absorbing too much fluoride. Excessive fluoride can lead to increases in bone fractures in adults as well as pain and tenderness.

"Teeth are the window to the bones," said Paul Connett, a retired professor of environmental chemistry and the director of the Fluoride Action Network, which advocates an end to fluoridated water.

Experts say that one possible factor in this increase may be that fluoridated water is consumed in vegetables and fruit, and juice and other beverages as well as tap water. And the consumption of beverages continues to increase.


. . .


The conclusion among these communities is that with fluoride now so widely available in toothpaste and mouthwash, there is less need to add it to water, which already has naturally occurring fluoride. Putting it in tap water, they say, is an imprecise way of distributing fluoride; how much fluoride a person gets depends on body weight and water consumed.

Doctors, scientists and dentists, including Dr. Bailey of the Public Health Service, mostly agree that fluoride works best when applied topically, directly to the teeth, as happens with brushing.

"The fact that no one really knows what dosage a given person receives from fluoridated water makes the subject of benefits and harms very difficult to quantify," said Rainer Newberry, a professor of geochemistry at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who sat on the committee that studied the issue prior to the June vote in Fairbanks. "And this presumably explains the number of studies with diverging conclusions."



For the full story, see:

LIZETTE ALVAREZ. "Looking to Save Money, More Places Decide to Stop Fluoridating the Water." The New York Times (Fri., October 14, 2011): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 13, 2011.)






December 23, 2011

When a Graph Is a Matter of Life and Death



(p. 72) In her authoritative book The Challenger Launch Decision, sociologist Diane Vaughan demolishes the myth that NASA managers ignored unassailable data and launched a mission absolutely known to be unsafe. In fact, the conversations on the evening before launch reflected the confusion and shifting views of the participants. At one point, a NASA manager blurted, "My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?" But at another point on the same evening, NASA managers expressed reservations about the launch; a lead NASA engineer pleaded with his people not to let him make a mistake and stated, "I will not agree to launch against the contractor's recommendation." The deliberations lasted for nearly three hours. If the data had been clear, would they have needed a three-hour discussion? Data analyst extraordinaire Edward Tufte shows in his book Visual Explanations that if the engineers had plotted the data points in a compelling graphic, they might have seen a clear trend line: every launch below 66 degrees showed evidence of (p. 73) O-ring damage. But no one laid out the data in a clear and convincing visual manner, and the trend toward increased danger in colder temperatures remained obscured throughout the late-night teleconference debate. Summing up, the O-Ring Task Force chair noted, "We just didn't have enough conclusive data to convince anyone."


Source:

Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

(Note: italics in original.)






December 22, 2011

Feds Increase Seizure of Property from Those Who Have Not Been Convicted of a Crime



CaswellMotelOwner2011-11-10.jpg"Mr. Caswell, here in the motel's lobby, is not accused of any wrongdoing but stands to lose his business under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to crimes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) TEWKSBURY, Mass.--The $57-a-night Motel Caswell, magnet for hard-luck cases, police patrol cars and the occasional drug deal, is the unlikely prize in a high-stakes tug-of-war between conservative legal activists and the government.

The motel's owner, spurred by a recent Supreme Court decision, is trying to convince a federal court that the Constitution bars the U.S. Department of Justice from seizing his property, where guests have been found guilty of drug offenses. The owner, Russell Caswell, isn't accused of any wrongdoing. But he stands to lose his business nonetheless under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to

Mr. Caswell's federal court case challenges the U.S. government's ballooning asset-forfeiture system that in more than 15,000 cases last year confiscated cash, cars, boats and real estate valued at $2.5 billion. While many asset forfeitures are tied to convictions, the federal government can seize properties stained by crime even if owners face no charges.

"People shouldn't lose their property if they haven't been convicted of any crime," said Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Arlington, Va., that has joined in the motel's defense. "Mr. Caswell hasn't even been accused."

(p. A14) Civil rights groups, libertarians and attorneys defending against seizures say the government is overstepping its bounds in a practice that has swelled in the past decade to encompass some 400 federal statutes, covering crimes from drug trafficking to racketeering to halibut poaching.



For the full story, see:

JOHN R. EMSHWILLER, GARY FIELDS and JENNIFER LEVITZ. "Motel Is Latest Stopover in Federal Forfeiture Battle." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 18, 2011): A1 & A14.






December 4, 2011

In Greece's Bloated Bureaucracy "It's All about Who You Know"



GreekGovernmentWorkerProtest2011-11-10.jpg "Police officers, firefighters and coast guard officers protested austerity measures in Athens on Monday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) ATHENS -- Stories of eye-popping waste and abuse of power among Greece's bureaucrats are legion, including officials who hire their wives, and managers who submit $38,000 bills for office curtains.

The work force in Greece's Parliament is so bloated, according to a local press investigation, that some employees do not even bother to come to work because there are not enough places for all of them to sit.


. . .


Some experts believe that Greece could reap significant savings by reducing its bureaucracy, which employs one out of five workers in the country and by some estimates could be trimmed by as much as a third without materially affecting services. But though salaries have been cut, the government has yet to lay off anyone.

The main reason is also one of the very reasons that Greece got into trouble in the first place: The government is in many ways an army of patronage appointments built up over decades. When election time rolls around, state workers become campaign workers, and their reach is enormous. There are so many of them that almost every family has one.


. . .


Whether the right workers will be laid off remains an open question. "A lot of people in the government are terrified," Mr. Hlepas said. "They don't think any of those people over in Parliament are going to go. They think the ones that do the work will get cut."

Thomas Tsamatsoulis, 41, who works for the Greek equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration, said he found himself on an early list headed for the reserve pool, though he had been sent to the United States for electronics training and now has a skill that is rare in his agency. At the same time, Mr. Tsamatsoulis said, the agency, which has just two airplanes, has more than 15 pilots.

"You want to believe the government will do this right," he said. "But it is very difficult. It's not how it has worked in the past. It's all about who you know."

Greece's bureaucracy has been growing steadily since democracy was reinstated in 1974, with each new administration adding its supporters to the payroll -- and wages rising steeply in the past decade, experts say.

"There was really a party going on," said Yannis Stournaras, an economist and the director of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research in Athens. "The government kept adding bonuses and benefits and pensions. At election time there was a boom cycle as they handed out jobs."

"Now they need to cut," he added. "But they have already lost precious time."

Stories of excesses abound. Mr. Papandreou told Parliament that one of his ministers found a predecessor's $38,000 bill for curtains when the Socialists returned to power in 2009. Mr. Mossialos said he found that his own ministry, for media and communication, was spending $750,000 a year for office space for just 11 people.

But some experts question whether the culture of bloat and favoritism will ever be conquered.



For the full story, see:

SUZANNE DALEY. "Bureaucracy in Greece Defies Efforts to Cut It." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., October 18, 2011): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 17, 2011.)






December 1, 2011

Justice for He Who Taxed Unjustly



(p. 444) At the height of the agricultural crisis, the British government under the Liberals did an odd thing. It invented a tax designed to punish a class of people who were already suffering severely and had done nothing in particular to cause the current troubles. The class was large landowners. The tax was death duties. Life was about to change utterly for thousands of people, including our own Mr Marsham.

The designer of the new tax was Sir William George Granville Venables Vernon Harcourt, the chancellor of the exchequer, a man who seems not to have been liked much by anyone at any point in his life, including his own family. Known familiarly, if not altogether affectionately, as 'Jumbo' because of his magnificent rotundity, Harcourt was an unlikely persecutor of the landed classes since he was one of them himself. The Harcourt family home was Nuneham Park in Oxfordshire, which we have visited in this book already. Nuneham, you may remember, was where an earlier Harcourt reconfigured the estate but failed to recollect where the old village well had been, fell into it and drowned. For as long as there had been (p. 445) Tories, the Harcourts had numbered themselves among them, so William's joining of the Liberals was seen within his family as the darkest treachery. Even Liberals were startled by his tax. Lord Rosebery, the prime minister (who was himself a big landowner), wondered if some relief should at least be granted in those cases where two inheritors died in quick succession. It would be harsh, Rosebery thought, to tax an estate a second time before the legatee had had a chance to rebuild the family finances. Harcourt, however, refused all appeals for concessions.

That Harcourt stood almost no chance of inheriting his own family property no doubt coloured his principles. In fact, to his presumed surprise, he did inherit it when his elder brother's son died suddenly, but heirlessly, in the spring of 1904. Harcourt didn't get to enjoy his good fortune long, however. He expired six months later himself, which meant that his heirs were among the first to be taxed twice over in exactly the way that Rosebery had feared and he had dismissed. Life doesn't often get much neater than that.




Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





November 30, 2011

Venezuelans Flee Chávez's Socialism



VenezuelanHomicide2011-11-10.jpg"Street crime, such as a man's killing in Caracas last year, is high." Note the big-brother-sized image of Chávez surveying what his socialism has wrought. Source of quoted part of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



Those who favor socialism should observe Venezuela carefully and ponder whether they like what they see.



(p. A13) Gerardo Urdaneta moved to Houston from Venezuela for a job in 1998, the same year Hugo Chávez was first elected president. Mr. Urdaneta, an energy-shipping specialist, planned for a temporary stop and wouldn't even buy a house.

Thirteen years later, Mr. Chávez is still in power, Mr. Urdaneta is still here. He has been joined by thousands of other Venezuelans, and Houston shops now stock native delicacies like Pampero aged rum and guayanés cheese.

"There are Venezuelans everywhere," Mr. Urdaneta, 50 years old, said. "Before we were passing through. That's not the case anymore."

Waves of white-collar Venezuelans have fled the country's high crime rates, soaring inflation and expanding statist controls, for destinations ranging from Canada to Qatar. The top U.S. destinations are Miami, a traditional shopping mecca for Venezuelans, and Houston, which has long-standing energy ties to Venezuela, a major oil exporter.

There were some 215,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. in 2010, up from about 91,500 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of Venezuelans living in Spain has quintupled in the same period to more than 40,000, and the number of Venezuelan-born Spaniards has more than doubled to 90,000.



For the full story, see:

ÁNGEL GONZÁLEZ and EZEQUIEL MINAYA. "Venezuelan Diaspora Booms Under Chávez." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 17, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the following phrase, at the end of the quoted portion above, is in the online, but not the print, version of the article: "and the number of Venezuelan-born Spaniards has more than doubled to 90,000."



ZulianStafanoHoustonChocolateShop2011-11-10.jpg "Venezuelan exile Stefano Zullian owns a Houston chocolate shop." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.



VenezuelanHomicideEmigrationGraph2011-11-10.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






November 24, 2011

"What Happens in America Is Defined by Tort Lawyers"



JungleGymRelic2011-11-09.jpg "CHILDHOOD RELIC; Jungle gyms, like this one in Riverside Park in Manhattan, have disappeared from most American playgrounds in recent decades." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) "There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds," said David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University in London. He noted that the risk of some injuries, like long fractures of the arm, actually increased after the introduction of softer surfaces on playgrounds in Britain and Australia.

"This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn't, because it is a common phenomenon," Dr. Ball said. "If children and parents believe they are in an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe, but because they don't understand its properties, they overrate its performance."

Reducing the height of playground equipment may help toddlers, but it can produce unintended consequences among bigger children. "Older children are discouraged from taking healthy exercise on playgrounds because they have been designed with the safety of the very young in mind," Dr. Ball said. "Therefore, they may play in more dangerous places, or not at all."

Fear of litigation led New York City officials to remove seesaws, merry-go-rounds and the ropes that young Tarzans used to swing from one platform to another. Letting children swing on tires became taboo because of fears that the heavy swings could bang into a child.

"What happens in America is defined by tort lawyers, and unfortunately that limits some of the adventure playgrounds," said Adrian Benepe, the current parks commissioner.



For the full story, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "FINDINGS; Grasping Risk in Life's Classroom." The New York Times (Tues., July 19, 2011): D1 & D3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 18, 2011, and has the title "FINDINGS; Can a Playground Be Too Safe?.")





November 11, 2011

Unable to Compete with Cotton "European Textile Workers Bayed for Protection"



(p. 390) Cotton is such a commonplace material now that we forget that it was once extremely precious - more valuable than silk. But then in the seventeenth century, the East India Company began importing calicoes from India (from the city of Calicut, from which they take their name), and suddenly cotton became affordable. Calico was then essentially a collective term for chintzes, muslins, percales and other colourful fabrics, which caused unimaginable delight among western consumers because they were light and washable and the colours didn't run. Although some cotton was grown in Egypt, India dominated the cotton trade, as we are reminded by the endless numbers of words that came into English by way of that trade: khaki, dungarees, gingham, muslin, pyjamas, shawl, seersucker, and so on.

The sudden surge of Indian cotton pleased consumers, but not (p. 391) manufacturers. Unable to compete with this wonder fabric, European textile workers bayed for protection almost everywhere, and almost everywhere they received it. The importation of finished cotton fabrics was banned in much of Europe throughout the eighteenth century.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)





November 7, 2011

The Penalty for Insulting the Future King



(p. 390) Brummell's fall from grace was abrupt and irreversible. He and the Prince of Wales had a falling out and ceased speaking. At a social occasion, the prince pointedly ignored Brummell and instead spoke to his companion. As the prince withdrew, Brummell turned to the companion and made one of the most famously ill-advised remarks in social history. 'Who's your fat friend?' he asked. Such an insult was social suicide. Shortly afterwards Brummell's debts caught up with him and he fled to France. He spent the last two and a half decades of his life living in poverty, mostly in Calais, growing slowly demented but always looking, in his restrained and careful way, sensational.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





November 3, 2011

Wigmakers Petitioned King "to Make Wig-Wearing by Males Compulsory"



(p. 384) . . . , pretty abruptly, wigs went out of fashion. Wigmakers, in desperation, petitioned George III to make wig-wearing by males compulsory, but the king declined. By the early 1800s nobody wanted them and old wigs were commonly used as dust mops. Today they survive only in certain courtrooms in Britain and the Commonwealth. Judicial wigs these days are made of horsehair and cost about £600,

I'm told. To avoid a look of newness - which many lawyers fear might suggest inexperience - new wigs are customarily soaked in tea to give them a suitable air of age.




Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





November 2, 2011

Reagan Fought "Tyranny" of Big Government



London-statue-of-Reagan-2011-08-10.jpg


















Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and London statue of Ronald Reagan. Source of photo: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2011/7/4/1309780763409/London-statue-of-Reagan-u-001.jpg



The McCarthy mentioned in the passage quoted below is a California representative who also serves as majority whip.


(p. A9) The statue of a smiling Reagan, dressed in a crisp suit, was paid for by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation as part of a worldwide effort to promote his legacy, according to the organization's executive director.


. . .


Though Mrs. Thatcher is in poor health and did not attend, she provided a statement that was read by Mr. Hague. "Through his strength and conviction," she wrote, "he brought millions of people to freedom as the Iron Curtain finally came down."

In a speech, Mr. McCarthy described Mr. Reagan's fight not only against the forces of Communism, but against the "tyranny" of debt and big government. He and Mrs. Thatcher, he said, "did not move to the center to gather votes, they moved the center to them."



For the full story, see:

RAVI SOMAIYA. "Finding a New Perch, Americana Takes a Stand in London." The New York Times (Tues., July 5, 2011): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 4, 2011 and has the title "Statue of Reagan Is Unveiled in London.")





October 29, 2011

Statute of Caps "Required People to Wear Caps Instead of Hats"



(p. 381) Sumptuary laws were enacted partly to keep people within their class, but partly also for the good of domestic industries, since they were often designed to depress the importation of foreign materials. For the same reason for a time there was a Statute of Caps, aimed at helping national capmakers through a depression, which required people to wear caps instead of hats. For obscure reasons, Puritans resented the law and were often fined for flouting it. But on the whole sumptuary laws weren't much enforced. Various clothing restrictions were enshrined in (p. 382) statutes in 1337, 1363, 1463, 1483, 1510, 1533 and 1554, but records show they were never much enforced. They were repealed altogether in 1604.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





October 23, 2011

Obama Regulations Are "Choking Off Innovation"



From 2007 to 2010 Nina V. Fedoroff was the science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in the Obama administration. Fedoroff is currently a Professor of Biology at Penn State. The passages quoted below are from her courageous commentary in The New York Times op-ed section:



(p. A21) . . . even as the Obama administration says it wants to stimulate innovation by eliminating unnecessary regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to require even more data on genetically modified crops, which have been improved using technology with great promise and a track record of safety. The process for approving these crops has become so costly and burdensome that it is choking off innovation.

Civilization depends on our expanding ability to produce food efficiently, which has markedly accelerated thanks to science and technology. The use of chemicals for fertilization and for pest and disease control, the induction of beneficial mutations in plants with chemicals or radiation to improve yields, and the mechanization of agriculture have all increased the amount of food that can be grown on each acre of land by as much as 10 times in the last 100 years.

These extraordinary increases must be doubled by 2050 if we are to continue to feed an expanding population. . . .


. . .


Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny. And, although many concerns have been expressed about the potential for unexpected consequences, the unexpected effects that have been observed so far have been benign. Contamination by carcinogenic fungal toxins, for example, is as much as 90 percent lower in insect-resistant genetically modified corn than in nonmodified corn. This is because the fungi that make the toxins follow insects boring into the plants. No insect holes, no fungi, no toxins.


. . .


Only big companies can muster the money necessary to navigate the regulatory thicket woven by the government's three oversight agencies: the E.P.A., the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.


. . .


. . . the evidence is in. These crop modification methods are not dangerous. The European Union has spent more than $425 million studying the safety of genetically modified crops over the past 25 years. Its recent, lengthy report on the matter can be summarized in one sentence: Crop modification by molecular methods is no more dangerous than crop modification by other methods. Serious scientific bodies that have analyzed the issue, including the National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society, have come to the same conclusion.



For the full commentary, see:

NINA V. FEDOROFF. "Engineering Food for All." The New York Times (Fri., August 19, 2011): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated August 18, 2011.)







October 18, 2011

"It's Our Right to Choose What We Want to Put in Our Bodies"



FoodSovereigntySign2011-08-06.jpg "Protesters outside the Los Angeles Courthouse on Thursday denounced the police's moves against Rawesome, which offers raw milk products." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


LOS ANGELES -- Raw food enthusiasts fit right in here, in the earthy, health-conscious beach communities of Venice and Santa Monica, along with the farmers' markets, health food stores and vegan restaurants.

But this week, the police cleared the shelves of Rawesome, an establishment in Venice Beach, loading $70,000 of raw, organic produce and dairy products on the back of a flatbed truck.

And then, on Thursday, James Stewart, the proprietor, was arraigned on charges of illegally making, improperly labeling and illegally selling raw milk products, as well as other charges related to Rawesome's operations. Two farmers who work with Rawesome were also named in the district attorney's complaint.


. . .


The raid on Rawesome has riled people here who say that unpasteurized milk is safer and healthier. About 150 raw food advocates gathered at the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Thursday to oppose the crackdown.

"It's our right to choose what we want to put in our bodies," Ms. Buttery said. "When members filled out an application, they were saying they wanted natural bacteria in their systems. We don't want labeling. We don't want animals full of antibiotics."



For the full story, see:

IAN LOVETT. "Raw Food Co-op Is Raided in California." The New York Times (Fri., August 5, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated August 4, 2011.)





October 12, 2011

If Truman Had Not Used the Bomb, Hundreds of Thousands More American Soldiers Would Have Died



MostControversialDecisionBK2011-08-10.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A15) . . . , the author reminds us of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who had died in the conventional bombings of places like Tokyo and Kyoto while Roosevelt was president, but with relatively little opprobrium attaching to FDR. Father Miscamble cites as well the horrific massacre of innocents for which the Japanese were responsible, a savagery still being unleashed in the summer of 1945, and the awful cost of battle in the Pacific, including 6,000 American dead and 20,000 wounded at Iwo Jima and 70,000 casualties suffered while capturing Okinawa. With these precedents, Herbert Hoover warned Truman that an invasion of the Japanese home islands could result in the loss of between half a million and a million American lives. Marshall, Leahy and Gen. Douglas MacArthur each had his own projected figures, none of them wildly different from Hoover's.

Under these circumstances, it was inconceivable that Truman would not have ordered the use of a potentially war-winning weapon the moment it could be deployed. It is impossible to imagine the depth of the public's fury if after the war Americans had discovered that their president, out of concern for his own conscience, had not used the weapons but instead condemned hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to certain death on the beaches and in the cities of mainland Japan.



For the full review, see:

ANNE JOLIS. "BOOKSHELF; In Defense Of 'Little Boy'; Herbert Hoover warned President Truman that invading Japan would cost at least half a million American lives." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 13, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Book reviewed:

Miscamble, Wilson D. The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan, Cambridge Essential Histories. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.






October 10, 2011

In Greece "Entrepreneurial Activity Was Denigrated"



CoustasDanaosGreekShippiingEntrep2011-08-10.jpg











John Coustas. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.







(p. A15) Athens

If you've ever wondered why so many Greeks succeed in shipping, John Coustas has a plausible theory: "Greek shipping has nothing to do with the Greek state."

His firm, Danaos Corporation, is a case in point. Mr. Coustas took over the company, which owns container ships, from his father in 1987 and has since transformed it from a three-vessel outfit into the third-largest company of its kind in the world, with a fleet of 56 ships. Danaos is incorporated in the Marshall Islands, a popular and stable jurisdiction for the global industry, and handles many of its operations through its German, Ukrainian, Russian and Tanzanian offices.

Nevertheless, Mr. Coustas is deeply concerned with the fate of his country. The government is now on the brink of default after passing its latest round of spending cuts and tax hikes. Yet the biggest risk to Greece, he says, is brain drain, that "all the good people, who really have something to offer, are either leaving or seriously considering it."


. . .


On top of misguided government spending, Mr. Coustas says entrepreneurial activity was denigrated for many years and profit was regarded as "wrong." "Anyone who wanted to make an investment here was considered a kind of bloodsucker."



For the full commentary, see:

ANNE JOLIS. "Greece: Where Profit Is Taboo; A shipping magnate on the fate of his country." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 13, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





October 3, 2011

"Coolidge Helped Americans Prosper by Letting Them Be Free"



(p. A15) Ronald Reagan, who grew up during the Coolidge presidency, admired "Silent Cal," even going so far as to read a biography of the 30th president as he recovered from a surgery in 1985 and to praise him in letters to his constituents. To Reagan, Coolidge wasn't silent, but was silenced by New Deal supporters, whose intellectual heirs control much of Washington today.


. . .


Unlike President Obama, President Coolidge didn't want to "spread the wealth around," but to grow it. He didn't call for "shared sacrifice"--Americans had sacrificed enough during the great war--but for good character.

There "is no surer road to destruction than prosperity without character," he said in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in 1921. And from the White House lawn in 1924 he said, "I want the people of America to be able to work less for the Government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom."


. . .


As Coolidge saw things in 1924, "A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. It condemns the citizen to servitude." Coolidge helped Americans prosper by letting them be free.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES C. JOHNSON. "How Silent Cal Beat a Recession; The late president inherited a bad economy, and he cut taxes and slashed spending to spur growth." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 4, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 29, 2011

McKinsey Finds 30% of Employers Will Drop Health Coverage in Response to Obamacare



McKinsey is probably the best known business consulting and forecasting firm in the United States. Many well-known management gurus, and corporate executives, have spent time working for McKinsey (as did Chelsea Clinton). One of their senior partners (Foster) co-authored a useful book called Creative Destruction.


(p. A2) A report by McKinsey & Co. has found that 30% of employers are likely to stop offering workers health insurance after the bulk of the Obama administration's health overhaul takes effect in 2014.


. . .


Previous research has suggested the number of employers who opt to drop coverage altogether in 2014 would be minimal.

But the McKinsey study predicts a more dramatic shift from employer-sponsored health plans once the new marketplace takes effect. Starting in 2014, all but the smallest employers will be required to provide insurance or pay a fine, while most Americans will have to carry coverage or pay a different fine. Lower earners will get subsidies to help them pay for plans.

In surveying 1,300 employers earlier this year, McKinsey found that 30% said they would "definitely or probably" stop offering employer coverage in the years after 2014. That figure increased to more than 50% among employers with a high awareness of the overhaul law.



For the full story, see:

JANET ADAMY. "Study Sees Cuts to Health Plans." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 8, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Foster book is:

Foster, Richard N., and Sarah Kaplan. Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market---and How to Successfully Transform Them. New York: Currency Books, 2001.






September 26, 2011

Solyndra Debacle Illustrates Why Feds Should Not Pick Tech Winners



The clip above is embedded from the Jon Stewart "The Daily Show" episode that was aired on Thurs., September 15, 2011.



Government "industrial policy" is likely to fail for many reasons. One is that the government decision makers are unlikely to know which future technologies will turn out to be the best ones. Another reason is that even if they know, government decision makers often decide based on what is politically expedient or what is beneficial to their friends.

Solyndra is a case in point, as Jon Stewart hilariously reveals.






September 24, 2011

Chinese Boom Financed by Government Debt and "Clever Accounting"



EmptyLotForWuhanTower2011-08-08.jpg "An empty lot in Wuhan, China, where developers intend to build a tower taller than the Empire State Building in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) . . . the Wuhan Metro is only one piece of a $120 billion municipal master plan that includes two new airport terminals, a new financial district, a cultural district and a riverfront promenade with an office tower half again as high as the Empire State Building.


. . .


The plans for Wuhan, a provincial capital about 425 miles west of Shanghai, might seem extravagant. But they are not unusual. Dozens of other Chinese cities are racing to complete infrastructure projects just as expensive and ambitious, or more (p. A8) so, as they play their roles in this nation's celebrated economic miracle.

In the last few years, cities' efforts have helped government infrastructure and real estate spending surpass foreign trade as the biggest contributor to China's growth. Subways and skyscrapers, in other words, are replacing exports of furniture and iPhones as the symbols of this nation's prowess.

But there are growing signs that China's long-running economic boom could be undermined by these building binges, which are financed through heavy borrowing by local governments and clever accounting that masks the true size of the debt.

The danger, experts say, is that China's municipal governments could already be sitting on huge mountains of hidden debt -- a lurking liability that threatens to stunt the nation's economic growth for years or even decades to come. Just last week China's national auditor, who reports to the cabinet, warned of the perils of local government borrowing. And on Tuesday the Beijing office of Moody's Investors Service issued a report saying the national auditor might have understated Chinese banks' actual risks from loans to local governments.

Because Chinese growth has been one of the few steady engines in the global economy in recent years, any significant slowdown in this country would have international repercussions.



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload." The New York Times (Thurs., July 7, 2011): C8.

(Note: online version of the article is dated July 6, 2011 and has the title "Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 23, 2011

Navigation Acts, Were "Insanely Inefficient, but Gratifyingly Lucrative to British Merchants and Manufacturers"




(p. 297) Many of Monticello's quirks spring from the limitations of Jefferson's workmen. He had to stick to a simple Doric style for the exterior columns because he could find no one with the skills to handle anything more complex. But the greatest problem of all, in terms of both expense and frustration, was a lack of home-grown materials. It is worth taking a minute to consider what the American colonists were up against in trying to build a civilization in a land without infrastructure.

(p. 298) Britain's philosophy of empire was that America should provide it with raw materials at a fair price and take finished products in return. The system was enshrined in a series of laws known as the Navigation Acts, which stipulated that any product bound for the New World had either to originate in Britain or pass through it on the way there, even if it had been created in, say, the West Indies, and ended up making a pointless double crossing of the Atlantic. The arrangement was insanely inefficient, but gratifyingly lucrative to British merchants and manufacturers, who essentially had a fast-growing continent at their commercial mercy. By the eve of the revolution America effectively was Britain's export market. It took 80 per cent of British linen exports, 76 per cent of exported nails, 60 per cent of wrought iron and nearly half of all the glass sold abroad. In bulk terms, America annually imported 30,000 pounds of silk, 11,000 pounds of salt and over 130,000 beaver hats, among much else. Many of these things - not least the beaver hats - were made from materials that originated in America in the first place and could easily have been manufactured in American factories - a point that did not escape the Americans.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





September 22, 2011

Deregulation Revived Railroads



RailroadMogulsCartoon2011-08-08.jpg
















"ALL ABOARD: The Wasp magazine in 1881 lampooned railroad moguls as having regulators in the palms of their hands." Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. C8) Mr. Klein has written thoroughly researched and scrupulously objective biographies of the previously much maligned Jay Gould and E.H. Harriman, remaking their public images by presenting them in full. Now he has published the third and final volume of his magisterial history of the Union Pacific railroad, taking the company from 1969 to the present day.

Union Pacific--the only one of the transcontinentals to remain in business under its original name--is now a flourishing business. Thanks to a series of mergers, it is one of the largest railroads in the world, with more than 37,000 miles of track across most of the American West. Thanks to its investment in new technology, it is also among the most efficient.

In 1969, though, the future of American railroading was in doubt as the industry struggled against competition from airplanes, automobiles and trucks--all of which were in effect heavily subsidized through the government's support for airports and the Interstate Highway System.

Another major factor in the decline of the railroads had been the stultifying hand of the Interstate Commerce Commission. The ICC had come into existence in the late 19th century to limit the often high-handed ways of the railroads as they wrestled with the difficult economics of an industry that has very high fixed costs. ( . . . .) But the ICC soon evolved into a cartel mechanism that discouraged innovation and wrapped the railroad industry in a cocoon of stultifying rules.

Mr. Klein notes that in 1975 he wrote a gloomy article about the sad state of an industry with a colorful past: "Unlike many other historical romances," he wrote back then, "the ending did not promise to be a happy one."

Fortunately, a deregulation movement that began under the Carter administration--yes, the Carter administration--limited the power of the ICC and then abolished it altogether. As Mr. Klein shows in the well-written "Union Pacific," the reduction of government interference left capitalism to work its magic and produce--with the help of dedicated and skillful management--the modern, efficient and profitable railroad that is the Union Pacific.



For the full review, see:

JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Tracks Across America." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 11, 2011): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Book reviewed in the part of the review quoted above:

Klein, Maury. Union Pacific: The Reconfiguration: America's Greatest Railroad from 1969 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011.






September 21, 2011

Coralville Police Close 4-Year-Old Abigail's Lemonade Stand



(p. 2B) CORALVILLE -- Police closed down a lemonade stand in Coralville, telling its 4-year-old operator and her dad that she didn't have a permit.


. . .


Abigail's dad, Dustin Krutsinger, said the ordinance and its enforcers are going too far if they force a 4-year-old to abandon her lemonade stand.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Coralville shuts down girl's lemonade stand." Omaha World-Herald [Iowa Edition] (Weds., August 3, 2011): 2B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 2, 2011 and has the title "Girl's lemonade stand shut down.")



The next day, the Iowa Edition of the Omaha World-Herald ran an update:


(p. 2B) CORALVILLE -- Four-year-old Abigail Krutsinger wasn't the only lemonade stand operator who was closed down when RAGBRAI bicyclists poured into Coralville last week.

At least three stands run by children were closed down because they hadn't obtained permits and health inspections.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Coralville defends closing kids' stands." Omaha World-Herald [Iowa Edition] (Thurs., August 4, 2011): 2B.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 3, 2011, and has the title "More lemonade stands shuttered.")






September 18, 2011

"Unless the Federal Government Takes It All Away"



BoeingSouthCarolinaPlant2011-08-08.jpg "Wayne Gravot, right, and Jeff Sparwasser at the new plant in North Charleston, S.C." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Boeing's gigantic new $750 million airplane factory here is the pride of South Carolina, the biggest single investment ever made in a state that is far more associated with old-line textile mills than state-of-the-art manufacturing. In just a few weeks, 1,000 workers will begin assembling the first of what they hope will be hundreds of 787 Dreamliners.

That is, unless the federal government takes it all away.

In a case that has enraged South Carolinians and become a cause célèbre among Republican lawmakers and presidential hopefuls, the National Labor Relations Board has accused Boeing of illegally setting up shop in South Carolina because of past strikes by the unionized workers at its main manufacturing base in the Seattle area. The board is asking a judge to order Boeing to move the Dreamliner production -- and the associated jobs -- to Washington State.



For the full story, see:

STEVEN GREENHOUSE. "Boeing Labor Dispute Is Making New Factory a Political Football." The New York Times (Fri., July 1, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 30, 2011.)







September 14, 2011

Arrested for Feeding Homeless Without a Permit



ArrestFeedingWithoutPermit2011-08-08.jpg "Volunteers from Food Not Bombs were arrested at Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Fla., last month after feeding homeless people without a permit." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) MIAMI -- The hacker group Anonymous has declared a cyberwar against the City of Orlando, disabling Web sites for the city's leading redevelopment organization, the local Fraternal Order of Police and the mayor's re-election campaign.


. . .


The group described its attacks as punishment for the city's recent practice of arresting members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, an antipoverty group that provides vegan and vegetarian meals twice a week to homeless people in one of the city's largest parks.

"Anonymous believes that people have the right to organize, that people have the right to give to the less fortunate and that people have the right to commit acts of kindness and compassion," the group's members said in a news release and video posted on YouTube on Thursday. "However, it appears the police and your lawmakers of Orlando do not."

A 2006 city ordinance requires organizations to obtain permits to feed groups of 25 people or more in downtown parks. The law was passed after numerous complaints by residents and businesses owners about the twice-weekly feedings in Lake Eola Park, city officials said. The law limits any group to no more than two permits per year per park.

Since June 1, the city police have arrested 25 Orlando Food Not Bombs volunteers without permits as they provided meals to large groups of homeless people in the park. One of those arrested last week on trespassing charges was Keith McHenry, a co-founder of the first Food Not Bombs chapter in 1980 in Cambridge, Mass. He remained in the Orange County Jail on Thursday awaiting a bond hearing.



For the full story, see:

DON VAN NATTA Jr. "Citing Homeless Law, Hackers Turn Sights on Orlando." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., July 1, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 30, 2011.)



McHenryKeithCofounder2011-08-08.jpg "Keith McHenry, a co-founder of the first Food Not Bombs group, serving food at the park in May. He was in jail Thursday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





September 2, 2011

China's "Orwellian Surveillance System"



BeijingWebCafe2011-08-07.jpg "A customer in a Beijing cafe not yet affected by new regulations surfed the Web on Monday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) BEIJING -- New regulations that require bars, restaurants, hotels and bookstores to install costly Web monitoring software are prompting many businesses to cut Internet access and sending a chill through the capital's game-playing, Web-grazing literati who have come to expect free Wi-Fi with their lattes and green tea.

The software, which costs businesses about $3,100, provides public security officials the identities of those logging on to the wireless service of a restaurant, cafe or private school and monitors their Web activity. Those who ignore the regulation and provide unfettered access face a $2,300 fine and the possible revocation of their business license.


. . .


The new measures, it would appear, are designed to eliminate a loophole in "Internet management" as it is called, one that has allowed laptop- and iPad-owning college students and expatriates, as well as the hip and the underemployed, to while away their days at cafes and lounges surfing the Web in relative anonymity. It is this demographic that has been at the forefront of the microblogging juggernaut, one that has revolutionized how Chinese exchange information in ways that occasionally frighten officials.


. . .


One bookstore owner said she had already disconnected the shop's free Wi-Fi, and not for monetary reasons. "I refuse to be part of an Orwellian surveillance system that forces my customers to disclose their identity to a government that wants to monitor how they use the Internet," said the woman, who feared that disclosing her name or that of her shop would bring unwanted attention from the authorities.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China Steps Up Web Monitoring, Driving Many Wi-Fi Users Away." The New York Times (Tues., July 26, 2011): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 25, 2011.)





August 31, 2011

The Victimless Crime of Selling Rice Wine



IllegalRiceWine2011-08-07.jpg "Illegal rice wine for sale in Chinatown. The wine is popular among immigrants from Fujian Province." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A22) The restaurant looks like so many others in the roiling heart of Chinatown, in Lower Manhattan: a garish sign in Chinese and English, slapdash photos of featured dishes taped to the windows, and extended Chinese families crowding around tables, digging into communal plates of steamed fish, fried tofu and sautéed watercress.

But ask a waitress the right question and she will disappear into the back, returning with shot glasses and something not on the menu: a suspiciously unmarked plastic container containing a reddish liquid.

It is homemade rice wine -- "Chinatown's best," the restaurant owner asserts. It is also illegal.

In the city's Chinese enclaves, there is a booming black market for homemade rice wine, representing one of the more curious outbreaks of bootlegging in the city since Prohibition. The growth reflects a stark change in the longstanding pattern of immigration from China.

In recent years, as immigration from the coastal province of Fujian has surged, the Fujianese population has come to dominate the Chinatowns of Lower Manhattan and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and has increased rapidly in other Chinese enclaves like the one in Flushing, Queens.

These newcomers have brought with them a robust tradition of making -- and hawking -- homemade rice wine. In these Fujianese neighborhoods, right under the noses of the authorities, restaurateurs brew rice wine in their kitchens and sell it proudly to customers. Vendors openly sell it on street corners, and quart-size containers of it are stacked in plain view in grocery store refrigerators, alongside other delicacies like jellyfish and duck eggs.

The sale of homemade rice wine -- which is typically between 10 and 18 percent alcohol, about the same as wine from grapes -- violates a host of local, state and federal laws that govern the commercial production and sale of alcohol, but the authorities have apparently not cracked down on it.



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE and JEFFREY E. SINGER. "Illegal Sale of Rice Wine Thrives in Chinese Enclaves." The New York Times (Weds., July 20, 2011): A22-A23.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 19, 2011.)






August 28, 2011

Strong Economic Growth Benefits Workers



(p. A13) Workers do well only when the economy grows at a healthy and consistent pace. The biggest threat to long-term economic growth is government growth of the magnitude that characterized the past two years and that is forecast for our future.

Our current problems are not a result of acts of nature. They stem from policy choices that dramatically increased the size of the government. In the past two years, the federal budget has grown by a whopping 16%.


. . .


. . . , the price of the stimulus is what appears to be a permanent increase in the size of government that will continue to slow economic growth. Most economists believe that high debt and high taxes each contributes to slow economic growth, which hurts workers both in the short and long run.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "OPINION; How Big Government Hurts the Average Joe; Job growth is very closely linked to GDP growth. If the economy is not growing, then jobs aren't being added." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., August 5, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)






August 23, 2011

"A Colossal Investment Project, Born of the State, Steeped in Corruption"



CandlesChinaHighSpeedTrainCrash2011-08-06.jpg"Online critics have scornfully contrasted the difference between government rhetoric about the promise of high-speed rail and the reality of the troubled network. Local residents mourned victims of the train crash in Wenzhou on July 26." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) China's high-speed rail system is an apt metaphor for the country's hurtling economy over the past decade: a colossal investment project, born of the state, steeped in corruption, built for maximum velocity, and imposed paternalistically on a public that is at once amazed and skeptical. The rail system has married foreign technology with national ambition in a network billed as the biggest and most advanced in the world, in a country whose per capita income ranks below that of Jamaica.


For the full commentary, see:

JASON DEAN And JEREMY PAGE. "Trouble on the China Express; The wreck of a high-speed train has enraged the Chinese public and focused attention on the corruption and corner-cutting behind the country's breakneck economic growth." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 30, 2011): C1-C2.






August 21, 2011

Jon Stewart Skewers Media Bias Against Libertarian Ron Paul







The hilarious (but also seriously sad) clip above is embedded from the Mon., August 15, 2011 "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

(Note: I thank Deirdre McCloskey for letting me know about the clip.)





August 20, 2011

Cougar Dies in Connecticut Three Months AFTER Government Declares It Extinct



(p. A19) Boulder, Colo.

You have to admit, the cat had moxie.

The 140-pound cougar that was spotted last month among the estates of Greenwich -- and was later struck and killed on the Wilbur Cross Parkway -- has been the talk of southern Connecticut. New England, along with most of the Eastern United States, hasn't been cougar country since the 19th century, when the animals were exterminated by a killing campaign that started in colonial times. So where had this cougar come from?

Now we know the answer, and it couldn't be more astonishing. Wildlife officials, who at first assumed the cat was a captive animal that had escaped its owners, examined its DNA and concluded that it was a wild cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota. It had wandered at least 1,500 miles before meeting its end at the front of an S.U.V. in Connecticut. That is one impressive walkabout.

You have to appreciate this cat's sense of irony, too. The cougar showed up in the East just three months after the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct, a move that would exempt the officially nonexistent subspecies of the big cat from federal protection. Perhaps this red-state cougar traveled east to send a message to Washington: the federal government can make pronouncements about where cougars are not supposed to be found, but a cat's going to go where a cat wants to go.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BARON "The Cougar Behind Your Trash Can." The New York Times (Fri., July 29, 2011): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated July 28, 2011.)






August 16, 2011

Chinese Government High-Speed Trains Are Financial "Black Holes"



(p. A11) BEIJING-A high-speed train from Beijing is scheduled to glide into Shanghai's Hongqiao railway station on Thursday after its inaugural run, an event meant to showcase China's technological prowess but one that lately has become part of a national debate about the pitfalls of megainvestment projects.


. . .


Detractors focus on corruption and safety problems that have lately tarnished the project's image. Pricey tickets, they say, underscore China's already huge rich-poor gap--and doom the trains to run half-empty, straining the national budget for years to come.


. . .


"Physically, they are good assets," says Ding Yuan, an accounting professor at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. "Financially, they are all black holes."

More broadly, the high-speed rail problems underscore the shortcomings of a growth strategy that depends ever more heavily on investment in projects whose economic payoffs are uncertain.


. . .


Railways Minister Liu Zhijun proselytized for high-speed rail, telling leaders from Hubei province in January that they needed to "seize the rare opportunity to accelerate the development of the railway," according to a Railways Ministry report.


. . .


Government spending on rail projects ballooned from 155 billion yuan in 2006 ($24 billion) to a budgeted 745 billion yuan ($115 billion) in 2011, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. The ministry's debt ballooned to about 5% of GDP in the first quarter of 2011 from about 2% in 2007.

The project's flaws became painfully clear in February, when Mr. Liu was fired amid allegations that he embezzled around $30 million. Although government investigators didn't cite criticisms of the railway project, Mr. Liu's successor, Sheng Guangzu, has scaled back plans to focus on projects already under construction, rather than expansion. Railway consultants say work has been suspended on new lines, including Hubei projects the fired minister was pushing.



For the full story, see:

BRIAN SPEGELE and BOB DAVIS. "High-Speed Train Links Beijing, Shanghai; Cornerstone of China's Rail Expansion Illustrates Megaprojects' Speed Bumps." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 29, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





August 11, 2011

"The Government Wants to Decide What We Eat"



PuddingBannedDenmark2011-07-19.jpg "A rule against selling food with added vitamins and minerals, like canned pudding, prompted the removal of several popular products from Abigail's, a shop in Copenhagen." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) COPENHAGEN -- For the last seven years, Marianne Orum has owned a narrow store in a charming street in the heart of this Danish capital.

A sign advertises "British and South African Food and Drink."

The shelves are lined with products familiar to most Americans, like Betty Crocker Pancake Mix, but also more exotic items, like Heinz's Taste of Home Delightful Spotted Dick Pudding in cans, and bottles of Harviestoun Old Engine Oil porter.

But in January Ms. Orum got a phone call from government food inspectors. Tipped off by a competitor, they told her she was selling products that were fortified with vitamins or minerals, and such products require government approval, which she did not have, so she would have to take them off the shelves.

The culprits were Ovaltine; a shredded wheat cereal called Shreddies; a malt drink called Horlicks; and Marmite, the curiously popular yeast byproduct that functions in England as a sandwich spread, snack or base for a soup (just add boiling water), and is sometimes known as tar-in-the-jar.

"That's four products in one go," said Ms. Orum, clearly angered. "That's a lot for a small company."

Application for approval, she said, costs almost $1,700 per product, and time for approval can run up to six months or more; the fee is not refunded if the product is rejected.

"It's a strange thing, this attitude in Denmark," she said, in a tone of exasperation. "The government wants to decide what we eat and not."



For the full story, see:

JOHN TAGLIABUE. "COPENHAGEN JOURNAL; Extra Vitamins? A Great Idea, Except in Denmark." The New York Times (Fri., June 17, 2011): A6.

(Note: the online version of the story was dated June 16, 2011.)






August 9, 2011

Fannie Mae Execs "Resorted to Ad Hominem Attacks" When They Vilified the "Economic Pencil Brains"



RecklessEndangermentBK.jpg













Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.






(p. C6) Although the financial crisis of 2008 has left a long trail of casualties, one group has benefited from the cataclysm: financial journalists. Several have already published books shedding light on the unprecedented events that caused investment banks to fail, global stock markets to plummet and borrowers to lose their homes. "Reckless Endangerment," by Gretchen Morgenson, assistant business and financial editor and a columnist at The New York Times, and the financial analyst Joshua Rosner, is a worthy addition to the genre.


. . .


The book begins in 1994 with President Bill Clinton's kicking off a public-private partnership to extend homeownership to more Americans. . . .


. . .


. . . the institution to which the authors devote the most ink is Fannie Mae, the government-supported enterprise created in 1938 to make home loans more accessible. And the person they hold most accountable is someone whose role in the "mortgage maelstrom" has until now "escaped scrutiny": James A. Johnson, Fannie Mae's chief executive from 1991 to 1998. Mr. Johnson was the "anonymous architect of the public-private homeownership drive that almost destroyed the economy in 2008," the authors assert. "He was especially adept at manipulating lawmakers, eviscerating regulators and leaving taxpayers with the bill."

The description of Mr. Johnson's role is damning -- and although the account lacks his perspective, it is thoroughly supported through scores of interviews with academics, government officials and industry executives, some of whom are granted anonymity. While Mr. Johnson didn't respond to interview requests over five months, according to the authors, they overcome this obstacle with impressive use of public records and secondary sources, carefully attributed in the text or described in a two-page "Notes on Sources."


. . .


A particular strength of this book is the number of doubters the authors unearthed: the unsung government analysts, public lawyers and private researchers who dared to question policy decisions and stand up to the formidable "housers," as the true believers in government subsidies for home ownership are called.

The reader has a sickening sense of missed opportunity as these prophets are ignored or, worse, vilified, by those in a position to halt the mania. When a Congressional Budget Office researcher in 1995 reveals the multibillion-dollar extent of the government's subsidy to Fannie Mae and its brother institution, Freddie Mac (and that one-third of these benefits never reached borrowers), he suggests that "Congress may want to revisit the special relationship." Unable to assail the merits of his analysis, outraged Fannie Mae executives resorted to ad hominem attacks, calling budget office officials "digit-heads" and "economic pencil brains."



For the full review, see:

PAM LUECKE. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Nation Goes on Its Merry Way to Ruin." The New York Times (Tues., June 28, 2011): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review was dated June 27, 2011.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


Book being reviewed:

Morgenson, Gretchen, and Joshua Rosner. Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon. New York: Times Books, 2011.






July 31, 2011

Findings "Strongly Suggest" Cholera in Haiti Due to United Nations



(p. 5A) PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Scientists have presented the strongest evidence yet that U.N. peacekeepers imported the chol­era strain that has killed more than 5,500 people in Haiti.

A report published in the July issue of the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal says research findings "strongly suggest" that the U.N. contingent from Nepal contaminated a Haitian river because of poor sanitation at a base. Author Renaud Piarroux had previously blamed peace­keepers. This study is more com­plete and its methodology was reviewed by other scientists.



Source:

AP. "U.N. may have brought cholera strain to Haiti." Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, June 30, 2011): 5A.





July 26, 2011

Technology as an Enabler of Free Speech



InternetJalalabad2011-07-16.jpg "Volunteers have built a wireless Internet around Jalalabad, Afghanistan, from off-the-shelf electronics and ordinary materials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The main point of the passages quoted below is to illustrate how, with the right technology, we can dance around tyrants in order to enable human freedom.

(But as a minor aside, note in the large, top-of-front-page photo above, that Apple once again is visibly the instrument of human betterment---somewhere, before turning to his next challenge, one imagines a fleeting smile on the face of entrepreneur Steve Jobs.)


(p. 1) The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy "shadow" Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype "Internet in a suitcase."

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GLANZ and JOHN MARKOFF. "U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 12, 2011): 1 & 8.



InternetDetourGraphic2011-07-16.jpg















Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







July 24, 2011

Bricks-and-Mortar Restaurants Use Police (Instead of Better Food) to Beat Food Trucks



KimImaAndKennyLaoFoodTruck2011-07-16.jpg "Kim Ima and Kenny Lao parked their food trucks on Front Street in Dumbo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D4) FOOD trucks, those rolling symbols of New York City's infatuation with haute casual food, are suddenly being chased from Midtown Manhattan. In the last 10 days, the Treats Truck, which has sold cookies and brownies for four years during lunchtime at West 45th Street near Avenue of the Americas, has been told by police officers that it is no longer welcome there, nor at its late-afternoon 38th Street and Fifth Avenue location. The Rickshaw Dumpling truck, a presence for three years at West 45th Street near the Treats Truck, has been shooed away as well.

The police "have told us they no longer want food trucks in Midtown," said Kim Ima, the owner of the Treats Truck, a pioneer of the city's new-wave food-truck movement, who began cultivating customers on West 45th Street in 2007.


. . .


Mr. Lao and other food-truck operators said they suspect that the police are responding to complaints by brick-and-mortar businesses that resent competition. Such was the case last year, when store merchants on the Upper East Side complained about Patty's Taco Truck, which sold tortas, tacos de lengua and cemitas on Lexington Avenue. The truck was towed several times and the operator arrested, prompting the Street Vendor Project, an advocate for vendors based at the Urban Justice Center, to file the lawsuit that resulted in Judge Wright's ruling, which said food is merchandise that can be regulated.



For the full story, see:

GLENN COLLINS. "Food Trucks Shooed From Midtown." The New York Times (Weds., June 29, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 28, 2011.)






July 23, 2011

$130,000 Federal Stimulus Used by Omaha Public Schools for Manual Attacking American Institutions



(p. 1A) The Omaha Public Schools used more than $130,000 in federal stimulus dollars to buy each teacher, administrator and staff member a manual on how to become more culturally sensitive.

The book by Virginia education consultants could raise some eyebrows with its viewpoints.

The authors assert that American government and institutions create advantages that "channel wealth and power to white people," that color-blindness will not end racism and that educators should "take action for social justice."

The book says that teachers should acknowledge historical systemic oppression in schools, including racism, sexism, homophobia and "ableism," defined by the authors as discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.

The authors argue that public school teachers must raise their cultural awareness to better serve minority students and improve academic achievement.



For the full story, see:

Joe Dejka. "OPS Says It Won't Go totally by the Book." Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, July 10, 2011): 1A & 2A.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "OPS buys 8,000 diversity manuals.")





July 19, 2011

Feds Protect Us from "Older Tasty Tomato Varieties"



(p. C3) Historically, when a farmer has learned to grow a tasty variety, that farmer has actually been scorned and prevented from shipping it.

"Regulations actually prohibit growers in the southern part of Florida from exporting many of the older tasty tomato varieties because their coloration and shape don't conform to what the all-powerful Florida Tomato Committee says a tomato should look like," Mr. Estabrook writes.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; That Perfect Florida Tomato, Cultivated for Bland Uniformity." The New York Times (Weds., July 6, 2011): C3.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated July 5, 2011.)



The web site of the Florida Tomato Committee describes its Federal mandate:

The Florida Tomato Committee is a Federal Marketing Order that was established pursuant to Federal Marketing Agreement and Order No. 966 as amended regulating the handling of tomatoes and has authority over the tomatoes grown in Florida's production area comprising the counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Brevard and all counties situated south. It affects tomatoes that are shipped outside the regulated area, which includes that portion of the state of Florida situated east of the Suwanee River and south of the Georgia border.

The Committee funds research and development projects and marketing promotions that focus on maximizing Florida tomato movement, including consumer and marketing research and customized marketing programs.

Florida Tomatoes ... quality you can trust. Each Florida field-grown tomato shipped out of Florida is regulated by a Federal Marketing Order that controls grade, size, quality and maturity. The standards are the toughest in the world and ensure that Florida tomatoes are the best you can buy.



Source:

http://www.floridatomatoes.org/AboutUs.aspx

(Note: ellipsis in original.)


The book under review is:

Estabrook, Barry. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011.





July 14, 2011

Katrina Was Less a Natural Disaster, and More an Artificial One Caused by Government



ShearerHarry2011-06-05.jpg

"Harry Shearer in the documentary "The Big Uneasy."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B6) . . . Mr. Shearer is serious about his reasons for adding to a Katrina genre that includes two documentaries by Spike Lee ("When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" and "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise"), another about custody battles over pets lost in the storm ("Mine"), and Werner Herzog's reinterpretation of "Bad Lieutenant" ("Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans").

"What they are missing is why it happened, why people suffered," said Mr. Shearer, who spoke last week from his home in New Orleans.

At one-day screenings in about 160 theaters around the country on Monday, "The Big Uneasy" will fill in the blanks with a feature-length description of what it sees as failings by the Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Mr. Shearer said he was inspired to make the film last year, after hearing President Obama refer to the hurricane as a "natural disaster." Mr. Shearer argues there was nothing natural about the breakdown of systems that were supposed to protect the city.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "Katrina Film Takes Aim at Army Corps of Engineers." The New York Times (Mon., August 30, 2010): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated August 29, 2010.)





July 3, 2011

Italian "Legal System Barely Functions"



(p. B4) The Italy that Mr. Severgnini describes seethes with frustration. Government works poorly. The legal system barely functions. Too many Italians are crowded into too little space. Fear of failure stymies innovation. Mr. Severgnini is dismayed at the national genius for enjoyment and the Italian inability to plan for the future. "Our sun is setting in installments," he writes. "It's festive and flamboyant, but it's still a sunset."


For the full review, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction." The New York Times (Weds., August 23, 2006): B1 & B4.


Book under review:

Severgnini, Beppe. La Bella Figura; a Field Guide to the Italian Mind. Translated by Giles Watson. pb ed. New York: Broadway Books, 2006.






June 27, 2011

"A Tax on Air and Light"



(p. 11) Paxton was very lucky in his timing, for just at the moment of the Great Exhibition glass suddenly became available in a way it never had before. Glass had always been a tricky material. It was not particularly easy to make, and really hard to make well, which is why for so much of its history it was a luxury Item. Happily, two recent technological breakthroughs had changed that. First, the French invented plate glass--so called because the molten glass was spread across tables known as plates. This allowed for the first time the creation of really large panes of glass, which made shop windows possible. Plate glass, however, had to be cooled for ten days after being rolled out, which meant that each table was unproductively occupied most of the time, and then each sheet required a lot of grinding and polishing. This naturally made it expensive. In 1838, a cheaper refinement was developed--sheet glass. This had most of the virtues of plate glass, but ¡t cooled faster and needed less polishing, and so could be made much more cheaply. Suddenly glass of a good size could be produced economically In limitless volumes.

Allied with this was the timely abolition of two long-standing taxes: the window tax and glass tax (which, strictly speaking, was an excise duty). The window tax dated from 1696 and was sufficiently punishing that (p. 12) people really did avoid putting windows in buildings where they could. The bricked-up window openings that are such a feature of man period
buildings in Britain today were once usually painted to look like windows. (It Is sometimes rather a shame that they aren't still.) The tax, sorely resented as "a tax on air and light," meant that many servants and others of constrained means were condemned to live In airless rooms.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





June 22, 2011

Some New York Public School Teachers Still Well Paid to Do Busy Work



(p. A1) For her first assignment of the school year, Verona Gill, a $100,000-a-year special education teacher whom the city is trying to fire, sat around education offices in Lower Manhattan for two weeks, waiting to be told what to do.

For her second assignment, she was sent to a district office in the Bronx and told to hand out language exams to anyone who came to pick them up. Few did.

Now, Ms. Gill reports to a cubicle in Downtown Brooklyn with a broken computer and waits for it to be fixed. Periodically, her supervisor comes by to tell her she is still working on the problem. It has been this way since Oct. 8.

"I have no projects to do, so I sit there until 2:50 p.m. -- that's six hours and 50 minutes," the official length of the teacher workday, she said. "And then I swipe out."

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg closed the notorious reassignment centers known as rubber rooms this year, he and the city's teachers' union announced triumphantly that one of the most obvious sources of (p. A3) waste in the school system -- $30 million a year in salaries being paid to educators caught up in the glacial legal process required to fire them -- was no more.

No longer would hundreds of teachers accused of wrongdoing or incompetence, like Ms. Gill, clock in and out of trailers or windowless rooms for years, doing nothing more than snoozing or reading newspapers, griping or teaching one another tai chi. Instead, their cases would be sped up, and in the meantime they would be put to work.

While hundreds of teachers have had their cases resolved, for many of those still waiting, the definition of "work" has turned out to be a loose one. Some are now doing basic tasks, like light filing, paper-clipping, tracking down student information on a computer or using 25-foot tape measures to determine the dimensions of entire school buildings. Others sit without work in unadorned cubicles or at out-of-the-way conference tables.



For the full story, see:

SHARON OTTERMAN. "For New York, Teachers Still in Idle Limbo." The New York Times (Weds., December 8, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated December 7, 2010 and has the title "New York Teachers Still in Idle Limbo.")





June 21, 2011

Moral: In a Crisis You Need Resilience and the Ability to Improvise More than You Need Detailed Advance Plans



(p. D1) When the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station along the Susquehanna River seemed on the verge of a full meltdown in March 1979, Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania asked a trusted aide to make sure that the evacuation plans for the surrounding counties would work.

The aide came back ashen faced. Dauphin County, on the eastern shore of the river, planned to send its populace west to safety over the Harvey Taylor Bridge.

"All well and good," Mr. Thornburgh said in a recent speech, "except for the fact that Cumberland County on the west shore of the river had adopted an evacuation plan that would funnel all exiting traffic eastbound over -- you guessed it -- the same Harvey Taylor Bridge."


. . .


(p. D4) Brian Wolshon, the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, said that he was analyzing one county's emergency plans that seemed to have every detail covered.

"It was a wonderful report, with plans to move senior citizens out of care facilities and even out of hospitals, and they had signed contracts with bus and ambulance providers," said Dr. Wolshon, who is also a professor at Louisiana State University. "But that same low-cost provider had the same contract with the county next door, and they had the capacity to evacuate only one of these counties."



For the full story, see:

GARDINER HARRIS. "Dangers of Leaving No Resident Behind." The New York Times (Tues., March 22, 2011): D1 & D4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 21, 2011.)





June 20, 2011

Entrepreneur Defends His Store with Gun



SpinelliAnthonyDefendedStore2011-06-05.jpg















"Anthony Spinelli, outside his store in the Bronx on Thursday, was called brave for shooting a man suspected of trying to rob his shop." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A23) On Arthur Avenue, a group of men piled out of Pasquale's Rigoletto restaurant onto the sidewalk to pay their respects to a sudden local hero.

"Anthony, we love you," they shouted across the street.

They summed up the local sentiment about a man, Anthony Spinelli, celebrated for protecting his livelihood. On Wednesday, Mr. Spinelli pulled one of two licensed guns in the store, and shot one of the three people suspected of trying to rob his Arthur Avenue jewelry store at gunpoint.

The Bronx neighborhood seemed energized by the event, which people here saw as a testament to the toughness of one of the last Italian neighborhoods in New York City.

"You don't come in and try to take a man's livelihood," said Nick Lousido, who called himself a neighborhood regular. "His family's store has 50 years on this block, they're going to come in and rob him?"

On Thursday, Mr. Spinelli, 49, had returned to his shop and sized up the broken front windows and the mess inside. He said that a man and woman had entered his store, and the man had held a gun to his head while the woman had gone through jewelry drawers and stuffed jewelry into a bag. He said he had feared for his life, and that he was still shaken.


. . .


Next door to Mr. Spinelli's shop is M & M Painter Supplies, which has photographs of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa next to a paint color chart on the wall.

"He's a very brave man," said the store owner, Ernie Verino. "He had the gun, and it takes guts to use it."



For the full story, see:

COREY KILGANNON. "Merchant Shooting to Defend His Store Is Celebrated as Hero of Arthur Avenue." The New York Times (Fri., February 18, 2011): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 17, 2011 and has the title "After Shooting, Merchant Is Hero of Arthur Avenue.")






June 13, 2011

The Importance of a Picture



Pictures can be doctored, especially in the days of Photoshop. But a visual image still makes a story more memorable, and maybe sometimes more believable. This was so for Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984:


(p. 64) Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth. Just once in his life he had possessed--after the event: that was what counted--concrete, unmistakable evidence of an act of falsification. He had held it between his fingers for as long as thirty seconds.


. . .


(p. 67) . . . , in 1973, Winston was unrolling a wad of documents which had just flopped out of the pneumatic tube on to his desk when he came on a fragment of paper which had evidently been slipped in among the others and then forgotten. The instant he had flattened it out he saw its significance. It was a half-page torn out of 'The Times' of about ten years earlier--the top half of the page, so that it included the date--and it contained a photograph of the delegates at some Party function in New York. Prominent in the middle of the group were Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford. There was no mistaking them, in any case their names were in the caption at the bottom.

The point was that at both trials all three men had confessed that on that date they had been on Eurasian soil. They had flown from a secret airfield in Canada to a rendezvous somewhere in Siberia, and had conferred with members of the Eurasian General Staff, to whom they had betrayed important military secrets. The date had stuck in Winston's memory because it chanced to be midsummer day; but the whole story must be on record in countless other places as well. There was only one possible conclusion: the confessions were lies.



Source:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)


By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





June 10, 2011

New Jersey Citizens Rebel Against "Ugly" Solar Panels



SolarPanelsFailLawnNewJersey2011-06-02.jpg "Solar panels along Fifth Street in Fair Lawn, N.J. Residents elsewhere were upset they had not been notified before installation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) ORADELL, N.J. -- Nancy and Eric Olsen could not pinpoint exactly when it happened or how. All they knew was one moment they had a pastoral view of a soccer field and the woods from their 1920s colonial-style house; the next all they could see were three solar panels.

"I hate them," Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. "It's just an eyesore."


. . .


(p. A3) New Jersey is second only to California in solar power capacity thanks to financial incentives and a public policy commitment to renewable energy industries seeded during Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration. . . .

Some residents consider the overhanging panels "ugly" and "hideous" and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

Though nearly halfway finished, the company's crews have encountered some fresh resistance in Bergen County, where cities, villages and boroughs are in varying stages of mortification. Local officials have forced a temporary halt in many towns as they seek assurances that they will not be liable in case of injury, but also to buy time for suggesting alternative sites -- like dumps -- to spare their tree-lined streets.

And here in Oradell, at least one panel has gone missing.


. . .


The case of the missing panel has been referred to local law enforcement.

"PSE&G takes a very dim view of people tampering with the equipment," said Francis Sullivan, a company spokesman, "but that's secondary to the fact that it's just a dangerous idea." All the units are connected to high-voltage wires.

Richard Joel Sr., a lawyer in town, said a panel close to his house had been removed, but demurred when asked if he knew details.

"I'm not saying what happened," he said.



For the full story, see:

MIREYA NAVARRO. "Solar Panels Rise Pole by Pole, Followed by Gasps of 'Eyesore'." The New York Times (Thurs., April 28, 2011): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 27, 2011.)





June 8, 2011

Home Decorators Are Stockpiling Incandescent Bulbs to Thwart Feds' Edict



BrooksDavidJustBulbs2011-06-02.jpg

"David Brooks, of Just Bulbs in Manhattan, has a customer who is secretly ordering thousands of incandescent bulbs. "She doesn't want her husband to know," he said." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D1) BUNNY WILLIAMS, the no-nonsense decorator known for her lush English-style rooms, is laying in light bulbs like canned goods. Incandescent bulbs, that is -- 60 and 75 watters -- because she likes a double-cluster lamp with a high- and a low-watt bulb, one for reading, one for mood.

"Every time I go to Costco, I buy more wattage," Ms. Williams said the other day. She is as green as anybody, she added, but she can't abide the sickly hue of a twisty compact fluorescent bulb, though she's tried warming it up with shade liners in creams and pinks. Nor does she care for the cool blue of an LED.

It should be noted that, like most decorators, Ms. Williams is extremely precise about light. The other day, she reported, she spent six hours fine-tuning the lighting plan of a project, tweaking the mix of ambient, directional and overhead light she had designed, and returning to the house after dusk to add wattage and switch out lamps like a chef adjusting the flavors in a complicated bouillabaisse.

She is aware that there is legislation that is going to affect the manufacture of incandescent bulbs, but she's not clear on the details, and she wants to make sure she has what she needs when she needs it.


. . .


(p. D7) Other hoarders are hiding their behavior. David Brooks, who owns Just Bulbs on East 60th Street, said he has a customer in Tennessee who is buying up 60- and 100-watt soft-pink incandescent bulbs from G.E. and Sylvania for her three houses. Initially, she ordered 432 bulbs for each house, he said. Then she ordered another 1,000.

Mr. Brooks said the customer doesn't want her husband to find out, and wouldn't agree to speak to this reporter. The last order is destined, he said, "for a friend's house that she is helping to redecorate in Alabama. She doesn't want anyone to know her source."



For the full story, see:

PENELOPE GREEN. "Light Bulb Saving Time." The New York Times (Thurs., May 26, 2011): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 25, 2011.)





June 7, 2011

Government Administrators Steal Money, Food and Benefits from Poor in India



(p. A8) NEW DELHI -- India spends more on programs for the poor than most developing countries, but it has failed to eradicate poverty because of widespread corruption and faulty government administration, the World Bank said Wednesday.


. . .


One of the primary problems, the World Bank said, was "leakages" -- an often-used term in development circles that refers to government administrators and middle men stealing money, food and benefits. The bank said that 59 percent of the grain allotted for public distribution to the poor does not reach those households.



For the full story, see:

"India's Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled." The New York Times (Thurs., May 19, 2011): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 18, 2011, has the title "India's Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled," is attributed to Heather Timmons, and is considerably more detailed than the published version.)





June 6, 2011

Chinese Government Created Real Estate Bubble in a Dozen Ghost Towns Like Kangbashi Area of Ordos



KangbashiRealEstateBubble2011-06-02.jpg"As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually burst." Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of caption: online version of the NYT slideshow that accompanied the online article quoted and cited below.


The October 19, 2010 New York Times front page story (quoted below) on the Ordos ghost town in China, was finally picked up by the TV media on May 30 in a nice NBC Today Show report.

It should be clear that the Chinese real estate bubble will burst, just as real estate bubbles eventually burst in places like Japan and the United States. What is not clear is what the effects will be on the Chinese and world economies.


(p. A1) Ordos proper has 1.5 million residents. But the tomorrowland version of Ordos -- built from scratch on a huge plot of empty land 15 miles south of the old city -- is all but deserted.

Broad boulevards are unimpeded by traffic in the new district, called Kangbashi New Area. Office buildings stand vacant. Pedestrians are in short supply. And weeds are beginning to sprout up in luxury villa developments that are devoid of residents.


. . .


(p. A4) As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually pop -- sending shock waves through the banking system of a country that for the last two years has been the prime engine of global growth.


. . .


Analysts estimate there could be as many as a dozen other Chinese cities just like Ordos, with sprawling ghost town annexes. In the southern city of Kunming, for example, a nearly 40-square-mile area called Chenggong has raised alarms because of similarly deserted roads, high-rises and government offices. And in Tianjin, in the northeast, the city spent lavishly on a huge district festooned with golf courses, hot springs and thousands of villas that are still empty five years after completion.


. . .


In 2004, with Ordos tax coffers bulging with coal money, city officials drew up a bold expansion plan to create Kangbashi, a 30-minute drive south of the old city center on land adjacent to one of the region's few reservoirs. . . .

In the ensuing building spree, home buyers could not get enough of Kangbashi and its residential developments with names like Exquisite Silk Village, Kanghe Elysees and Imperial Academic Gardens.

Some buyers were like Zhang Ting, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who is a rare actual resident of Kangbashi, having moved to Ordos this year on an entrepreneurial impulse.

"I bought two places in Kangbashi, one for my own use and one as an investment," said Mr. Zhang, who paid about $125,000 for his 2,000-square-foot investment apartment. "I bought it because housing prices will definitely go up in such a new town. There is no reason to doubt it. The government has already moved in."

Asked whether he worried about the lack of other residents, Mr. Zhang shrugged off the question.

"I know people say it's an empty city, but I don't find any inconveniences living by myself," said Mr. Zhang, who borrowed to finance his purchases. . . .



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "A City Born of China's Boom, Still Unpeopled." The New York Times (Weds., October 19, 2010): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 19, 2010 and has the title "Chinese City Has Many Buildings, but Few People.")




KangbashiRealEstateGraph2011-06-02.jpg















Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.
























June 4, 2011

To Teach the Truth, the Best Teachers Must Become "Canny Outlaws"



PracticalWisdomBK2.jpg

















Source of book image: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Images/news/practical_wisdom.jpg




(p. 170) Walking into Mr. Drew's economics class, researchers might have interrupted a board meeting of the student-run start-up company that was at the heart of his course. Drawing on his own experience in industry, Mr. Drew taught students economic principles in a way that made sense to them because they were researching potential products they would actually sell (a mug with the school logo; a T-shirt designed by a student graphics team). They were conducting market surveys, accumulating capital, making decisions about the scale of investment, the risk, the profits.


. . .


In Houston. the magnet schools were forced to reorganize to prepare for the coming White-Perot reforms. McNeil changed her study. The new question was: How would these teachers cope with a curriculum that was test-driven?


. . .


Mr. Drew's economics class did not conform to the proficiency sequence and he had to drop the course, except as an elective.


. . .


The paperwork required by such new requirements--to assure the bureaucracy that teachers were teaching by the rules--discouraged individualized time spent with students and robbed time previously devoted to planning and assessing lessons. The requirements created the same kind of time bind Wong observed when such requirements were imposed on military trainers. (p. 171) And, as in the case of the new military training model, the new requirements discouraged flexibility, adaptability, and creativity.

McNeil found that many of the experienced teachers fought back. They became canny outlaws, or creative saboteurs, dodging the "law," finding ways to cover the "proficiencies" with great efficiency and squirreling away time to sneak real education back in at the margins of the standardized system, sometimes even conspiring with their students or teaching them how to "game" the system. Mr. Drew taught his students that economic cycles vary in length and intensity, but in the test prep period, he told them to forget this because the official answer was that each cycle lasts eighteen months. There was a danger that students who learned to look beyond the obvious, to ask "what if," to look for the exceptions to the rules, would do badly on the tests.


. . .


The ability of wise teachers to operate as canny outlaws is most seriously constrained when a highly scripted curriculum comes riding into town on the heels of high-stakes standardized tests. By prescribing, step by step, what to say and do each day to prepare students for these tests, such lockstep curricula pose a serious challenge to professional discretion. Yet even under these adverse conditions, in many schools there are canny
outlaws who find ways to avoid being channeled.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The McNeil book mentioned above is:

Linda, McNeil. Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing, Critical Social Thought. New York: Routledge, 2000.


The Wong report mentioned above is:

Wong, Leonard. "Stifled Innovation? Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Today." Strategic Studies Institute Monograph, April 1, 2002.



contradictions-school-reform-educational-costs-standardized-testing-linda-m-mcneil-paperback-cover-art.jpg

















Source of book image: http://i43.tower.com/images/mm101682007/contradictions-school-reform-educational-costs-standardized-testing-linda-m-mcneil-paperback-cover-art.jpg





June 3, 2011

Denmark (Yes, Sanctimoniously 'Green' Denmark) Seeks to Exploit the BENEFITS of Global Warming



(p. A7) Denmark plans to lay claim to parts of the North Pole and other areas in the Arctic, where melting ice is uncovering new shipping routes, fishing grounds and drilling opportunities for oil and gas, a leaked government document showed Tuesday.


For the full story, see:

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. "WORLD BRIEFING | EUROPE; Denmark: Leaked Document Reveals Plans to Claim Parts of the North Pole." The New York Times (Weds., May 18, 2011): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 17, 2011.)





May 29, 2011

Georgia Taxpayers Pay for "Go Fish" Museum in Former Governor's Home Town



BassLargemouthGoFishMuseum2011-05-19.jpg "A largemouth bass dominates the hatchery display at Go Fish Georgia Educational Center, a museum financed partly by the state and approved when the economy was more robust." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) PERRY, Ga. -- Every weekend, Michael Morris and his 2-year-old son, Jacob, visit this small town's enormous new $14 million fishing museum. They watch bream and bass swim in aquarium-size tanks. They play with an interactive model of a fishing boat and try to catch fish on a computer simulation using a rod and reel connected to a video screen.

And because the museum, the Go Fish Georgia Educational Center, is primarily financed by the state, their father-and-son outings cost only $5.


. . .


But not all Georgia taxpayers are so thrilled. Even before the museum opened in October, "Go Fish" had become shorthand in state political circles for wasteful spending. Republicans and Democrats alike groaned over $1.6 million a year in bond payments and operating costs. And even supporters concede that the museum would never have gotten financed in 2007 if the legislature knew where the economy was headed.


. . .


And then there is the controversy over the museum's location -- in the home county of its main supporter, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who left office this month after two terms.



For the full story, see:

ROBBIE BROWN. "New Fishing Museum Becomes Symbol of Waste in Georgia." The New York Times (Tues., January 18, 2011): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 17, 2011 and has the title "Fishing Museum Is Symbol of Waste in Georgia.")





May 26, 2011

Government Finally Allows Steve Jobs to Creatively Destroy His Own House



(p. A18) WOODSIDE, Calif. -- There may not be an app for it, but Steve Jobs did have a permit. And with that, his epic battle to tear down his own house is finally over.

For the better part of the last decade, Mr. Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, has been trying to demolish a sprawling, Spanish-style mansion he owns here in Woodside, a tony and techie enclave some 30 miles south of San Francisco, in hopes of building a new, smaller home on the lot. His efforts, however, had been delayed by legal challenges and cries for preservation of the so-called Jackling House, which was built in the 1920s for another successful industrialist: Daniel Jackling, whose money was in copper, not silicon.


. . .


"Steve Jobs knew about the historic significance of the house," Mr. Turner said. "And unfortunately he disregarded it."

Mr. Turner said the mansion, which had 35 rooms in nearly 15,000 square feet of interior space, was significant in part because it was built by George Washington Smith, an architect who is known for his work in California. But Mr. Jobs had been dismissive of Mr. Smith's talents, calling the house "one of the biggest abominations" he had ever seen.



For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Demolition, Apple Chief Makes Way for House 2.0." The New York Times (Fri., February 16, 2011): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 15, 2011.)





May 25, 2011

Corruption, Inefficiency, Inflation and Bad Policies Lead to Decline in Foreign Investment in India



ForeignDirectInvestmentGraph2011-05-19.jpg Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) While inefficiency and bureaucracy are nothing new in India, analysts and executives say foreign investors have lately been spooked by a highly publicized government corruption scandal over the awarding of wireless communications licenses. Another reason for thinking twice is a corporate tax battle between Indian officials and the British company Vodafone now before India's Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the inflation rate -- 8.2 percent and rising -- seems beyond the control of India's central bank and has done nothing to reassure foreign investors.

And multinationals initially lured by India's growth narrative may find that the realities of the Indian marketplace tell a more vexing story. Some companies, including the insurer MetLife and the retailing giant Wal-Mart, for example, are eager to invest and expand here but have been waiting years for policy makers to let them.



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Foreign Investment Ebbs in India." The New York Times (Fri., February 25, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 24, 2011.)





May 21, 2011

Feds Finally Admit Some Children Harmed by High Fluoridated Water Mandates



FluorisisChart2011-05-19.jpg
















Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



Back when I was a child, decades ago, my family opposed the fluoridation of public water supplies on the grounds that there might be health risks, and people could individually choose to apply fluoride to their teeth.

Well, now the government is suggesting that too much fluoride can harm children's teeth, and that the target level for fluoride in the water should be reduced.


(p. A3) The federal government lowered its recommended limit on the amount of fluoride in drinking water for the first time in nearly 50 years, saying that spots on some children's teeth show they are getting too much of the mineral.

Fluoride has been added to U.S. water supplies since 1945 to prevent tooth decay. Since 1962, the government has recommended adding a range of 0.7 milligrams to 1.2 milligrams per liter.


. . .


A study conducted between 1999 and 2004 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 41% of children between the ages of 12 and 15 exhibited signs of dental fluorosis, a spotting or streaking on the teeth. That was up from nearly 23% found in a study from 1986 and 1987.


. . .


. . . for years, some groups have called for an end to fluoridation, arguing that it poses serious health dangers, including increased risk of bone fractures and of decreased thyroid function. Friday's announcement did little to appease such critics.

"The only rational course of action is to stop water fluoridation," said Paul Connett, executive director of the Fluoride Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy and fluoride-education group

.

For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY W. MARTIN. "Government Advises Less Fluoride in Water." The New York Times (Sat., JANUARY 8, 2011): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)






May 18, 2011

"For the First 40 Years of Indian Independence, Entrepreneurs . . . Were Looked Down Upon"



(p. 8) Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India, explained that for the first 40 years of Indian independence, entrepreneurs here were looked down upon. India had lost confidence in its ability to compete, so it opted for protectionism. But when the '90s rolled around, and India's government was almost bankrupt, India's technology industry was able to get the government to open up the economy, in part by citing the example of America and Silicon Valley. India has flourished ever since.

"America," said Srivastava, "was the one who said to us: 'You have to go for meritocracy. You don't have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.' This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they're beginning to learn how to hum it, you're changing the anthem. ... Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn't fashionable."

If America turns away from these values, he added, the socialist/protectionists among India's bureaucrats will use it to slow down any further opening of the Indian markets to U.S. exporters.



For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. "It's Morning in India." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., October 31, 2010): 8.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated October 30, 2010.)






May 17, 2011

Patients Face Higher Costs and Less Innovation Due to FDA



CongerMartiDiskImplant2011-05-16.jpg"Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif., a short distance from her home." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Late last year, Biosensors International, a medical device company, shut down its operation in Southern California, which had once housed 90 people, including the company's top executives and researchers.

The reason, executives say, was that it would take too long to get its new cardiac stent approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It's available all over the world, including Mexico and Canada, but not in the United States," said the chief executive, Jeffrey B. Jump, an American who runs the company from Switzerland. "We decided, let's spend our money in China, Brazil, India, Europe."


. . .


(p. B7) "Ten years from now, we'll all get on planes and fly somewhere to get treated," said Jonathan MacQuitty, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with Abingworth Management.

Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., already has. She went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif.

"Sunnyvale is 40 miles south of my house," said Ms. Conger, who has become an advocate for faster device approvals in the United States. "I had to go to England to get my surgery."


. . .


Device companies have been seeking early approval in Europe for years because it is easier. In Europe, a device must be shown to be safe, while in the United States it must also be shown to be effective in treating a disease or condition. And European approvals are handled by third parties, not a powerful central agency like the F.D.A.

But numerous device executives and venture capitalists said the F.D.A. has tightened regulatory oversight in the last couple of years. Not only does it take longer to get approval but it can take months or years to even begin a clinical trial necessary to gain approval.

Disc Dynamics made seven proposals over three years but could not get clearance from the F.D.A. to conduct a trial of its gel for spine repair, said David Stassen, managing partner of Split Rock Partners, a venture firm that backed the company. "It got to the point where the company just ran out of cash," Mr. Stassen said. Disc Dynamics was shut down last year after an investment of about $65 million.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Medical Treatment, Out of Reach." The New York Times (Thurs., February 10, 2011): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 9, 2011.)





ArtificialDisk2011-05-16.jpg







"An artificial disk like the one Marti Conger received."
Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 10, 2011

Mexican Universal Health Care: "There Are No Doctors, No Medicine, No Hospital Beds"



(p. 6) A decade ago, half of all Mexicans had no health insurance at all. Then the country's Congress passed a bill to ensure health care for every Mexican without access to it. The goal was explicit: universal coverage.

By September, the government expects to have enrolled about 51 million people in the insurance plan it created six years ago -- effectively reaching the target, at least on paper.

The big question, critics contend, is whether all those people actually get the health care the government has promised.


. . .


The money goes from the federal government to state governments, depending on how many people each state enrolls. From there, it is up to state governments to spend the money properly so that patients get the promised care.

That, critics say, is the plan's biggest weakness. State governments have every incentive to register large numbers, but they do not face any accountability for how they spend the money.

"You have people signed up on paper, but there are no doctors, no medicine, no hospital beds," said Miguel Pulido, the executive director of Fundar, a Mexican watchdog group that has studied the poor southern states of Guerrero and Chiapas.

Mr. Chertorivski acknowledges that getting some states to do their work properly is a problem. "You can't do a hostile takeover," he said.

The result is that how Mexicans are treated is very much a function of where they live. Lucila Rivera Díaz, 36, comes from one of the poorest regions in Guerrero. She said doctors there told her to take her mother, who they suspected had liver cancer, for tests in the neighboring state of Morelos.



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Mexico Struggles to Realize the Promise of Universal Health Care." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 30, 2011): 6.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated January 29, 2011 and has the title "Mexico's Universal Health Care Is Work in Progress.")

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 8, 2011

Hillary Clinton Blasted "Materialism" in Others and Bought a $1.7 Million House for Herself



(p. 145) . . . , it is standard to denounce materialism in others while lusting for it ourselves. At the end of the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton decried "a consumer-driven culture that promotes values that undermine democracy" and blasted "materialism that undermines our spiritual centers." Shortly thereafter, she bought a $1.7 million home and signed an $8 million book contract. As the novelist Daniel Akst has noted, Rodham Clinton thus joined the long line of commentators "bent on saving the rest of us from the horrors of consumption" while taking care to make themselves rich and comfy.


Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 4, 2011

Limits to "Sprawl" Add to House Prices Which Benefits the "Already Entrenched"



(p. 130) If 50 percent more Americans are on the way that means there must be 50 percent more suburban subdivisions, 50 percent more malls, 50 percent more of everything--unless anyone thinks it is fair to deny to newcomers the physical space and comfort that current Americans enjoy.

Sprawl may he managed well or poorly, and "smart growth" is better than dumb growth. But when people object to development per se, what they almost always mean is that they have achieved a nice lifestyle and now wish to pull up the ladders against others--and, not coincidentally, to make their own properties more valuable by artificially limiting supply. California real estate prices in particular have shot up in the last decade because slow-growth ordinances and no-growth judicial rulings have artificially restricted housing supply. Opposing sprawl can be a financial boon to anyone who's already entrenched.

Anything that runs up housing prices is of particular concern to educational equality, since today, in many parts of the United States, the housing market in effect regulates access to the best public schools. Buyers pay significant premiums for homes in the districts of high-quality public schools; in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, a home in the excellent Fairfax County or Montgomery County school systems may sell for $200,000 more than an identical dwelling from which children would attend the troubled schools of Prince George's County or Arlington County. In turn, SAT scores rise in tandem with family income--each $10,000 increment of increase in family income adds twenty to thirty points to a child's total SAT scores, studies show. Why does family income raise SAT scores? Partly because a high income enables parents to give children extra advantages, partly because low income parents or parents in broken families may shirk their responsibility for helping children succeed in school, but mostly (p. 131) because the higher a family's income the better a school district it can buy into, via the housing market. Since education is closely linked to success in later life, the nation has an interest in preventing exclusionary housing prices. That means there must be more sprawl and more growth to increase the housing supply and thereby reduce prices.



Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.





May 2, 2011

Omaha's Mayor Suttle Proposes Toilet Paper Tax



(p. 1A) Mayor Jim Suttle went to Washington Tuesday flush with ideas for how federal officials could help cities like Omaha pay for multibillion-dollar sewer projects.

Among the items on his brainstorming list: a proposal for a 10-cent federal tax on every roll of toilet paper you buy.

Based on the four-pack price for Charmin double rolls Tuesday at a midtown Hy-Vee, such a tax would add more than 10 percent to the per-roll price, pushing it over a buck.



For the full story, see:

MAGGIE O'BRIEN. "Mayor unrolls a novel way to wipe out sewer costs ■ His suggestion-- a toilet paper tax -- strikes some city industries as a gentler approach." Omaha World-Herald (Weds., March 23, 2011): 1A.

(Note: the online version has the slightly different title "Mayor unrolls a novel way to wipe out sewer costs ■ His idea-- a toilet paper tax -- strikes some city industries as a gentler approach.")





April 30, 2011

Press Routinely Puffs Up Phony Scares



(p. 107) In the winter of 2001, . . . , a New York Times page-one lead story declared in breathless phrasing that the White House had just "canceled" regulations limiting arsenic in drinking water; taking their leads from the Times, all national newscasts that night declared that arsenic protection had been "canceled." The Times went on to editorialize that government actually wanted Americans to "drink poisoned water" because this would serve the sinister interests of corporations, though how the conspiracy would serve sinister corporate interests was not explained, since the arsenic in drinking water occurs naturally. Government poisoning your water--a report you don't want to miss tonight!

Except that nothing had been canceled. The White House had held up a pending rule to make arsenic protection more strict; while the pending rule was reviewed, prior rules remained in effect. The Environmental Protection Agency continued regulating arsenic in drinking water during the entire period when such protection was supposedly "canceled." Then, in November 2001, the White House ended its review and put the much stricter rule into force. The New York Times did not play this as (p. 108) a headline lead, where the original scare story had been; enactment of the strict rule was buried in a small box on page A18. Network newscasts that had presented a shocking scandal of "canceled arsenic protection" as their big story also said little or nothing when instead stronger rules went into effect. This sort of puffing up of a phony scare, followed by studious ignoring of subsequent events that deflate the scare, is not rare. It is standard operating procedure in many quarters of journalism, including at the top.



Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)





April 24, 2011

Energy Regulations Give Us Less Choice and Worse Washing Machines



(p. A17) It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it's ruined--and Americans have politics to thank.

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were "excellent" and five were "very good." By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were "fair" or "poor." This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as "often mediocre or worse."

How's that for progress?

The culprit is the federal government's obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren't as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.


. . .


Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don't fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy. But, as Americans are increasingly learning, front-loaders are expensive, often have mold problems, and don't let you toss in a wayward sock after they've started.



For the full commentary, see:

SAM KAZMAN. "How Washington Ruined Your Washing Machine; The top-loading washer continues to disappear, thanks to the usual nanny state suspects." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 17, 2011): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 22, 2011

Today Is Eleventh Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Today (April 22, 2011) is the eleventh anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.


(p. 7A) MIAMI (AP) - When federal agents stormed a home in the Little Havana community, snatched Elian Gonzalez from his father's relatives and put him on a path back to his father in Cuba, thousands of Cuban-Americans took to Miami's streets. Their anger helped give George W. Bush the White House months later and simmered long after that.


. . .


Elian was just shy of his sixth birthday when a fisherman found him floating in an inner tube in the waters off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving 1999. His mother and others drowned trying to reach the U.S.

Elian's father, who was separated from his mother, remained in Cuba, where he and Fidel Castro's communist government demanded the boy's return.

Elian was placed in the home of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, while the Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles went to court to fight an order by U.S. immigration officials to return him to Cuba. Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general and a Miami native, insisted the boy belonged with his father.

When talks broke down, she ordered the raid carried out April 22, 2000, the day before Easter. Her then-deputy, current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has said she wept after giving the order.

Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz captured Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who had found the boy, backing into a bedroom closet with a terrified Elian in his arms as an immigration agent in tactical gear inches away aimed his gun toward them. The image won the Pulitzer Prize and brought criticism of the Justice Department to a frenzy.


. . .


The Cuban government, which tightly controls media access to Elian and his father, said neither is willing to give an interview. A government representative agreed to forward written questions from the AP to Elian, but there has been no response.

Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, said his group predicted in 2000 that Elian would become a prop for the Castro government if he were returned. It was one reason, he said, the group fought for him to be kept in the U.S. and would do it again today, although behind the scenes to avoid negative publicity for the Cuban-American community.

"We knew what this kid was going to be subjected to," Hernandez said. "And time has proven us right."



For the full st