Assorted Links 9/13/09

Seven Ridiculous Ticket Camera Blunders

  • Capitol Hill Workshop, September 23-25, 2009
  • A comment on the Deficit and National Debt – “The time to concerned about the structural deficit was in 2001 through 2006, and hopefully again starting in 2011 or 2012.”
  • Life In (and After) Our Great Recession – “The defining characteristic of the middle classes has always been their orientation toward the future. The Depression ruined schemes for such baubles and pleasures as the new car and the winter vacation. But it also at best disrupted and at worst (and often) destroyed carefully wrought plans for so-called investments in the future: the substantial house in the stable neighborhood, the savings account, and, most important, what was then and remains the cynosure of American middle- and professional-class family life–a college education, or a certain kind of college education, for the children. Even today, that investment largely determines the opportunities parents seize or forgo, the towns they move to, the rhythm of a family’s daily life. The Depression rendered any careful planning for the future, an activity that depends on predictable conditions, all but impossible, or at least crazy-making.”
  • Junk Bond Defaults Worst Since Great Depression. So Why Is The Market Rallying? – “The corporate debt market is still in control, but we now have a warning sign from treasuries yields about the strength of the so-called recovery. This rally is extremely long in the tooth, but the fact still remains: as long as corporate bonds hold up, huge equity selloffs are unlikely.”
  • Anatomy of an Economic Ignoramus – “You could spend the rest of your life correcting drones and automatons who will never have an original or unconventional thought no matter how much you prod them. Their seventh-grade teacher, who was also the track coach, taught them what they know, and they’re sticking to it.”
  • Is It Identity Theft Or A Bank Robbery, Part II: Couple Sues Bank Over Money Taken – “Last month, we posted an amusing discussion (and comedy act) concerning whether or not ‘identify theft’ was really a crime, or if it was really a bank robbery where the bank was passing off the liability for its poor authentication system onto the bank customer. Apparently, just such an argument is already playing out in the courts.”
  • General Motors Zombie Watch 17: May the Best Automaker Win – “General Motors is a nationalized automaker. But it can’t stay that way forever. Its federal taskmasters have decreed that GM must return to public ownership before the Congressional mid-term elections in 2010. Makes sense. If GM is still on welfare at election time, GM will be an enormous political liability. A symbol of Big Government gone bad. But GM can’t possibly achieve profitability within that time frame. Even if it had the brains, it doesn’t have the time or money to build what needs building, to fix what needs fixing. The new car market sucks and GM’s product planning, reputation and branding are in tatters. So New GM’s doing the only thing they can do: putting lipstick on the product pig and sending it off to market. This ‘May The Best Car Win’ advertising strategy will backfire. Badly.”
  • Luigi Zingales on threats to the Future of American Capitalism – “The distinction between a ‘pro-business’ agenda and a pro-market one is a crucial point that I have often emphasized myself (see here and here). Unfortunately, it is routinely ignored or misunderstood. For the reasons Zingales points out, business interests regularly lobby in favor of government intervention whenever they think it might protect them from competition or secure government-provided privileges.”
  • Where college dreams go to die – “Between the overmatched and the undermatched, it’s a miracle anyone earns a degree.”
  • Cheaper Health Care – “Here’s how the federal government can realize those savings:
    • Stop telling us what to eat, and admit that the earlier attempts to tell us what to eat were a mistake.
    • Stop subsidizing corn and other grains.

    These proposals would produce both short-term and, more importantly, long-term savings. The short-term savings are based on a principle of economics that’s so stupidly simple, even the average congressman can grasp it: if you stop spending money, you end up spending less.”

  • Europe’s First Farmers Came from Afar: New Clues Shed Light on Genetic Ancestry of Modern Europeans – “The research team, led by Barbara Bramanti of Mainz University, sequenced the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of just under 50 individuals unearthed from various prehistoric burial sites across central and eastern Europe. Half the individuals came from hunter-gatherer societies, and the other half from communities based around farming. As a comparison, they also sequenced the mtDNA of nearly 500 modern Europeans from the same parts of Europe.”
  • The Student Loan Market – “The furor over President Obama’s trillion-dollar restructuring of American health care has left his other trillion-dollar plan starved for attention. That’s how much the federal balance sheet will expand over the next decade if Mr. Obama can convince Congress to approve his pending takeover of the student-loan market.”
  • Quick Impressions of the D.C. 9/12 Protest – “I just came back from spending four-plus hours with the Don’t-Tread-On-Me crowd at our nation’s capitol. Expect a full report later, but my snap impressions: * Big crowd. * Nineteen out of 20 signs were hand-made. * Chants on the march included ‘Shut down ACORN!’ and ‘Boot Charlie Rangel!’ and ‘Don’t tread on me.’ * The view on Obama and his administration ranged from a ‘heading in the wrong direction’ vibe to a ‘we’re not gonna take it much longer’ edge.”

Free Panfilo!

  • Investor Beware – “Lately, there have been a number of inquiries about investing in real estate. Even though there is some frothy-ness going around, be careful! … If you are thinking of buying at a trustee sale, buying a fixer, or ‘stealing one from the bank’, watch yourself – things can go wrong, very wrong. Assume that there is no ‘built-in equity’ and what seems like a simple repair job usually costs double.”
  • Google Working On Micropayment Scheme To Help Newspapers Commit Suicide Faster – “The problem with a paywall isn’t that the technology doesn’t exist to make it work — it’s that consumers won’t buy into it. But, if the newspapers want to try — and Google wants to provide the rope — good for them. Update Seems like a bad time to point out that retailers are having serious problems with Google Checkout, huh?”
  • Interview with Richard “Buz” Cooper, MD, Prophet of Physician Shortage and Challenger of Policymaker Assumptions – “Wealth is a source of health care creation; poverty is a source of health care consumption.
    . . .
    Regional variation is a product of regional differences in wealth, overlaid with differences in poverty. It’s not generally appreciated that health care expenditures for people in the lowest 15% of income are 50% to 100% greater than for people of average income. There’s also a difference at the high end. The wealthiest 15% also consume more, but only about 20% more. So there’s greater utilization at both ends of the income spectrum, but for different reasons and with different outcomes.

    More spending at the high end improves outcomes, not simply for a specific condition but across the board, because the care consists of a broader spectrum of beneficial services. More yields more. But among the low-income patients, outcomes are poor despite the added spending. In fact, the added spending is because of poor outcomes — more readmissions, more care for disease that’s out of control.

    And these differences are exaggerated in dense urban environments, like Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia. Now, when you blend all of this into ‘regional’ studies, which average rich and poor, urban density and ex-urban comfort, racial and ethnic groups, you get just what you’d expect. High costs with average outcomes in urban areas (the average of excellent and poor outcomes at different ends of the income spectrum).

    A good example is the Dartmouth study of academic medical centers. You find that one group of academic hospitals provide more care than another group. The Dartmouth folks say that Mayo is more ‘efficient’ in resources used per patient or in number of doctors devoted per unit of patient care than in LA, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, and New York City.

    But the so-called ‘inefficient’ hospitals are all in dense urban centers, while ‘efficient’ hospitals are all in smaller cities, often college towns liked Madison, Wisconsin or Columbia, Missouri, or in places like Rochester, Minnesota, where Mayo is located. Rochester is 90% Caucasian with low poverty. But in fact, Mayo is the most resource intensive center in the upper Midwest. Among peer institutions in similar socio-demographic environments, Mayo actually uses more resources. But you can’t compare Mayo to Los Angeles, where only 30% of the population is non-Hispanic white and where you have tremendous pockets of poverty.
    . . .
    But it all made sense when I learned that the new editor of Health Affairs, Susan Dentzer, is a Member of the Board of Overseers of Dartmouth Medical School, the former Chair of the Board of Dartmouth College, a former Trustee of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and winner of the alumnus of the year award from Dartmouth. She has a profound conflict of interest which she failed to reveal in her editorial — an egregious ethical breach. So, it all made sense. And it all is rather remarkable. Fortunately, truth has a way of surviving, and the truth is that states with more health care spending and more specialists have better quality health care.” ht Marginal Revolution

  • State of Texas Forces Couple Into Nursing Home, Takes Over Their Finances – “Awful story from Texas, where elderly couple Michael and Jean Kidd were made wards of the state of Texas, then held against their will while the state took over their finances.”
  • “The Crisis No. I,” by Thomas Paine – “THESE are the times that try men’s souls.

    The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

    Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

    What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

    Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

    Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but ‘to bind us in all cases whatsoever,’ and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”

  • Obama to Impose Tariff on Chinese Tires – “From the quiet shadows of the White House, at around 10 pm on Friday night, came word that President Obama will impose prohibitive duties of 35% on imports of Chinese tires.

    Well, we at Cato and elsewhere have warned repeatedly of the dangerous consequences of this outcome (June 18, July 24, August 13, September 9, September 11). Former Cato colleague and coauthor Scott Lincicome has an excellent analysis on the ramifications right here.

    The good news is that we now have clarity about where the president stands on trade. The bad news is that his stance reflects his isolationist primary election campaign rhetoric and not the post-election messages of avoiding protectionism and repairing the damage done to America’s international credibility by unilateralist Bush administration policies. Short of armed hostilities or political subversion, no state action is more provocative than banning another’s products from entering your market.”

  • If Free Trade Is Good, Why Are We Putting a 35 Percent Tariff on Chinese Tire Imports? – “for example, a nation like Canada can grow a lot of wheat, and then use their silos full of it in trade to buy the computers it needs from nations like Japan. That way both nations have computers, they are fed, and–and this is where it gets really exciting–it’s possible for both nations to consume more of both goods than would be possible if they were living in isolation with no trade whatsoever, relying only upon their own workers to make all the goods they need.”
  • Parking lot striping business – “Parking Lot line stripping is a business that you can get started in almost immediately. It’s easy to do and has a low start-up cost.”
  • China alarmed by US money printing – “The good news is that someone is alarmed by U.S. monetary policy. The bad news is that it’s a top member of the Chinese Communist hierarchy.”
  • Cornell Student Dies of Swine Flu – “A student from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has died of complications from the H1N1 virus, according to a statement on its Web site. Warren J. Schor, 20, died Friday at Cayuga Medical Center.”

Inflation, explained by Pete Smith – Vintage pro-inflation propaganda

  • Is the Stone Beginning to Crack? – “We’re all working from different vantage points — some closer than others — but the ultimate goal is similar, if not identical: to show that the Conventional Dietary Wisdom of the last hundred years has done far more harm than good.”
  • Woodstock Farm Festival – “Woodstockers can now buy incredibly overpriced produce, bread and free range meat, at least during the warm weather months, at our once weekly market. ‘Homegrown Blueberries – $4.00’ a pint! The Karaoke Queen would bust a gut over that. Good thing she’s over in the Philippines for a couple of weeks. So, I guess that the surplus carbon produced by all those cars driving into town for the market is offset by all that carbon that is not created by folks taking a trip to Kingston to buy their groceries at Shop-Rite. It’s a wash.”
  • Department of Duh – “I liked the opening paragraph of the piece:

    ‘A driver has racked up dozens of speeding tickets in photo-radar zones on Phoenix-area freeways while sporting monkey and giraffe masks, and is fighting every one by claiming the costumes make it impossible for authorities to prove he was behind the wheel.’

    Monkey masks I can see. But giraffe masks? That’s good enough for a markets in everything. Who, other than this guy, buys a giraffe mask? And how is this for governmental wisdom?”

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