Assorted Links 1/28/2010

Paying Zero for Public Services

  • Update on The 111th Congress, 2010, January 29, 2010
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, February 10, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, February 11, 2010
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, February 18, 2010
  • The President’s Budget, February 23, 2010
  • The Defense Budget, February 26, 2010
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, March 3-5, 2010
  • On the jury, Gene Weingarten didn’t believe the D.C. police’s eyes – “Last week I was a juror in the trial of a man accused of selling a $10 bag of heroin to an undercover police officer. At the end of the two days of testimony, I concluded that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I also concluded that he should be acquitted.

    In my mind, it came down to a simple, unsettling question: Is it worse to let a drug dealer go free, or to reward the police for lying under oath?”

    Police lie? Whoccodanode!

  • Capitalist Fools – “ew places in New York are less likely to inspire grand dreams than Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the twin housing projects that sprawl across 80 acres of the Lower East Side. Built by MetLife in the 1940s, the project encompasses block after block of boxy brick apartment buildings and stolid public spaces, entirely barren of inviting corners or eye-catching detail. The critic Lewis Mumford dubbed it ‘the architecture of the Police State’; a slightly kinder motto might have been ‘What do you expect for $68.50 a month?’

    Yet when MetLife spruced up the complex and put it on the market in 2006, real-estate moguls jetted in for the sale. A joint venture put together by Tishman Speyer and BlackRock carried the day through its willingness to, as The New York Times noted, ‘pay up–way up–to unlock future profits in the sprawling Manhattan properties.’ At $5.4billion, their winning bid made the sale the most expensive real-estate deal of all time.

    Three years later, however, those profits were still securely locked inside the property’s 11,232 apartments–many of which remained rent-controlled, despite strenuous efforts to convert them to upscale market-rate rentals. With net income well under projections, the partnership started spending down its reserves. Then, in October 2009, a court ruled that the partnership had improperly decontrolled the rent for thousands of apartments, and would have to return them to their original status. As of this writing, analysts are predicting default in a matter of months unless the partnership’s debt of $4.4billion can be restructured–a shaky prospect, given that the owners may owe tenants of formerly rent-stabilized apartments as much as $200million in rent overcharges and damages. Stuyvesant Town might soon set another record: the biggest real-estate default in history.
    . . .
    Game theorists often speak of the ‘winner’s curse’: the tendency of auctions to be won by the people who are the most delusionally overoptimistic. It’s an apt description of what seems to have happened. Not just to the Tishman group, but to America.
    . . .
    The best explanation for the calamity that has overtaken us may simply be that cheap money makes us all stupid.”

  • Robbing Taxpayers to Pay the Bondsman – “While the bail bondsmen’s lobby generally receives little attention, they are using political clout to further their interests at great expense to taxpayers across the country.
    . . .
    However, the program in Broward County, Florida was severely cut back after the bondsmen’s lobby pressured the commissioners to protect their profits:”
  • Obama’s Spending Freeze – “Here’s the important point: a very large part of the 2009 spending spike of $699 billion will be sloshing forward into 2010 and later years. (As illustrated by my fancy arrow in the chart). The new CBO budget estimates (Table A-1) show that only 18 percent of authorized stimulus funding will be spent in 2009, with the rest sloshing forward.

    Obama is ‘freezing’ the budget only because he already has a large amount of cash floating around from the stimulus bill that he can spend on all his favorite big government projects in 2010 and beyond. In budget-speak, federal spending measured in ‘outlays’ will be far from frozen.

    Finally, a president’s proposals for discretionary spending beyond the current budget year are meaningless. Obama will be back with a new budget in February 2011, no doubt with a whole new set of assumptions and priorities.”

  • How Is This Different From Citizens United – “Remember, the Patriot Act was used far more for drug and child porn cases than it ever has been for terrorism — it is very, very hard to circumscribe new police powers, particularly when police so desperately want to keep and hold those powers.”
  • Best Line I’ve Heard Today – “I’m at a conference in south Florida with Paul Rubin, a superb scholar of law and economics. Paul just observed that whenever there’s a corporate scandal, it’s typically blamed on an increase in greed, but when there’s a sex scandal, it’s never blamed on an increase in lust.”
  • S&P500 Sector Trivia – “Have a look at the table of S&P 500 sectors — the only one that has outperformed in each of the past three decades is health care. No, Medical and pharmacy inflation was not in your imagination.”
  • US Cattle Herd Drops to 1958 Levels – “Ranchers are culling the herds as corn prices soar and wholesale prices for beef and milk drop.”
  • It’s Really Business As Usual – “What is interesting, if not stunning, about some of the Bacon’s Rebellion commentators is that they really see Obama as a kind of Trotsky, when, in fact, he is propped up by exactly the same club of advisers that propped up Clinton and Bush. The truth is that Obama’s is non-intrusive and rather limp when it comes to the kind of federal oversight these smart and greedy people really need. Despite the whining from the right, one year into his presidency, there hasn’t been one solid and successful step to reign in the financial sector.
    . . .
    The curious thing about Obama is that he seems to be getting economic advice from the same old, same old that advised all presidents, Democrat or Republican, since 1992. Since Obama has close ties to the University of Chicago, one wonders why he hasn’t picked up some of the free market magic that evolved from there, Uncle Milton Freidman and all that.
    . . .
    This is one of those rare areas of agreement between liberals and free-market conservatives. The liberals distrust Wall Street, the conservatives distrust government, and both sides have reached the point where they distrust Wall Street AND Washington!”
  • Don’t Bogart that Hopium – “My reporter’s plate is full of stories this week, but the last thing a portly columnist needs is to eat gargantuan portions of so much rich food.

    We’ve got President Barack Obama’s big speech Wednesday night, and so the Hopium pipes will be burning brightly in editorial board rooms across the land. Also, a reputed top mobster for the Chicago Outfit faces sentencing in a federal tax evasion case that could become a tsunami. And later this week, a local mayor will be sentenced on corruption charges.

    So how about a few small bites instead?”

  • The State of the Union Speech – “So in summary, though we are still in bad shape remember George Bush caused that problem. We are fixing things now in little ways, but we’ll soon get to the big ways. We’ll bring the banks to heel, create jobs, give you health care, keep you safe. Don’t you believe those who say differently, because they’re just getting in the way. We have the largest majority in decades. We won. And we are going to stay the course.”
  • Obama: You liked my speech? Please send money. – “About an hour after the end of his State of the Union address, in which he called for an end to the partisan conflict that has plagued his first year in office, President Obama sent out a political fundraising appeal through his permanent campaign organization, Organizing for America.”
  • Open Access Publishing Hits the Big Time – “The Econometric Society which publishes Econometrica, one of the top 4 academic journals in Economics has taken under its wing the fledgling journal Theoretical Economics and the first issue under the ES umbrella has just been published. TE has rapidly become among the top specialized journals for economic theory and it stands out in one very important respect. All of its content is and always will be freely available and publicly licensed.”
  • The Friendliest Place on Earth? – “I recently got a press release that trumpeted, ‘Malaysia Ranks 5th Amongst World’s Friendliest Countries.’

    The first thing that struck me was how un-American it was to tout being fifth at anything. When was the last time you heard a crowd chanting, “We’re number five! We’re number five!” But ranking fifth among all the countries in the world is pretty good, I’d say. So, go Malaysia!”

Justice Alito’s ‘You lie’ moment?

We Must Amend the Constitution to Help Donna Edwards Stay in Office

Bring Out Your Dead

  • Al Gore As God – “Do I detect a mellower side to the Jewish Robot’s latest educational cartoon?”
  • Are You an ”Exclusive Scholar”? Just Sign Here – “The New York Times reports today on a new marketing gimmick for colleges seeking to boost applications during this recession-plagued time when every tuition-paying body in a classroom counts: the fast-track application form that allows some high school seniors seeking admission to bypass the usual fees of $50 or so, the tedious filling out of information, and perhaps most significantly, the dreaded college essay.

    Taking a lead from credit-card marketers, the express forms, typically packaged in a brightly colored envelope marked ‘Exclusive Scholar Applications,’ ‘Distinctive Candidate Application’ or something similar, come already filled in with the student’s name and other information (bought from College Board lists) so that all the applicant need do is affix a signature and head for a mailbox.
    . . .
    Fast-track college application forms may or may not be a good idea (although many high school students seem to prefer them, according to the New York Times), and they may or may not be a harbinger of death throes for beleaguered small colleges desperate for tuition payers. Yet the fact that they imply that it’s not worth admission officers’ time in most cases to bother reading college essays suggests a healthy trend that allows potential college freshmen to be evaluated on the basis of their solid academic achievements–grades and test scores–rather than slick expository packaging largely put together by the adults in their lives.”

  • Fifty Dangerous Things – “The idea of this thin book is that danger is something kids need to learn to handle by experience. The 50 small experiments in this book can potentially cause a minor injury (although they are unlikely to), but are never really seriously dangerous. In fact most of them aren’t dangerous at all, but at least they are fun. There are no special techniques, secret formulas or exclusive knowhow here that everyday knowledge or a quick internet search would not turn up. The activities are the kinds of things kids will sometimes do on their own — at least in the past.”
  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado”
  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the late 1960s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”
  • Radically improving sales for high priced products with 3 characters and a misspelling – “But over the years, there were two critical techniques I discovered that basically was the difference between success and failure.”
  • I Don’t Know Why – “First of all, I don’t understand why Pat Robertson doesn’t understand that earthquakes are caused by shifts in plates below the earth, not pacts with the devil. Cracks in the earth’s crust, known as “faults”, shift. The magnitude of the earthquake is measured by how much they shift and how long it takes for them to resettle. Specifically, the Haiti quake was caused by what is called a “strike split” fault, where the two plates move horizontally. That’s the same kind of quake we have here in California on the San Andreas fault.


    I can’t understand how he got the idea that some Haitians actually got together and had a meeting with the devil. Did someone get a picture of that on their Iphone? Was the guy that shot the Rodney King video over at the devil meeting?

    The Haitians did get together and do something remarkable, but it wasn’t a sit down with the devil. They rose up out of slavery with no help from anyone. Does Pat Robertson imagine that the only way they could have done that was with an arms shipment from Beelzebub? Ye of little faith.

    But your question wasn’t ‘why is Pat Robertson so stupid’? I can tell you that he is not the brightest bulb. Years ago, I saw him introduce a guest. He had clearly never heard of this man and spent the long introduction marveling at the man’s list of musical credits in a way that belied the fact that he thought the list to be a fantasy. ‘He wrote songs made famous by the Beatles!’ (‘and yet, I’ve never heard of him?’)

    Even I know about Little Richard. He is a very famous person. Now he may have actually had a pact with the devil at some point.

    Your question is about why some people don’t think Catholics are Christians. Or why they think Catholics are lesser Christians.

    I don’t know why. Perhaps they are as dumb as rocks, like Pat Robertson. All the Christian kindness in the world won’t make someone smarter than they are. Some people just are not bright enough to pound sand, poor things.”

  • Google Routes Around App Store On The iPhone… Others Can Too – “I was just recently suggesting that the massive focus on ‘apps’ and ‘app stores’ may be a red herring, as eventually many of those apps can be built via the web (especially as HTML 5 moves forward), without having to go through any kind of app store approval process.”
  • Low Carbo Diet Lowers Blood Pressure – “The lead author recommends a low carb diet for those both overweight and with high blood pressure.
    . . .
    The two diets yielded equal weight gains. They also improved blood cholesterol and glucose by about the same amount. But the low carb dieters did better on blood pressure control.”

Bugatti Owner Vanity Plate Only Bested By Frame

  • On how Google Wave surprisingly changed my life – “There was a time just a few months ago when I did not have google wave. I think of that time with horror – because that epoch was marked with conflicts, total chaos, money was being lost every day, fights were happening between me and my collaborators. Google wave came in, and within a couple of weeks, a heavenly peace had descended on my business.”
  • The Possibility of the Happy Parasite – “I conclude that ‘parasitism’ (i.e., living off of the proceeds of a system of state coercion) is compatible with virtue and happiness. All it really takes, I think, is believing sincerely that the system is just and that you’re doing a good thing. As long as you think you’re supporting your life ‘neither by robbery nor alms’ and not deriving your happiness ‘from the injury or the favor of others,’ you’re probably fine as long as the system of robbery, alms, injury, and favor is more or less stable, which ours is.”
  • Headline Magic! News on Great Tits…. – “So, here’s the headline: ‘Flashier Great Tits Produce Stronger Sperm!’ Now, I expect that’s right, on the merits.”
  • Thoughts on the iPad — Just Push the Buy Button, Says Apple – “Kevin did a good job summarizing the specs of the iPad, which is basically a 9.7-inch iPod Touch. Or an iPhone without the phone call bits.
    . . .
    It’s too early to predict how successful Apple will be selling the iPad. It’s pricier than other solutions, and it may not be an easy sell to non-geeks. That said, Apple is going to make millions off the iPad. Hundreds of millions.”
  • Recession Snows Tahoe Under – “Today those ‘other things’ involved driving down to South Lake Tahoe/Stateline to buy a few needed groceries. While there, I checked out the commercial scene.

    Two or three years ago, the place was doing well, if appearance was any guide. Now, that same casual yardstick suggests that times are hard. In the ‘village’ by the big Marriott on the main drag, something like half the retail spaces are vacant.
    . . .
    For what it’s worth, what I’ve been seeing here is the strongest evidence of the recession that I’ve experienced thus far. On the other hand, I haven’t visited Detroit and similar places since before the 2008 crash.”

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