Monday, September 24, 2012

Clever t-shirt

Here.
... If you don't get it, just think about it longer...

At least I thought so... Thanks for the link Lincoln!

Now if only I wore tshirts...





Sunday, September 23, 2012

To those who may have inadvertently been offended

The below post was from our Chicago days. Oh Chicago mailpersons. But, I decided to publish it anyway, because the message is probably still true now that we live in Brazil. :)


Just so you know, the % of our mail that actually reaches us is well below 100%. As mentioned previously, the postal system here really is horrendous. We apologize if you were expecting some sort of response from anything sent to us through the postal system.

An especially entertaining highlight of the United States Postal Service's mismanagement was highlighted recently by a friend's experience. This friend of ours sent a thank-you note to us. Four months later it was sent back to her stamped "undeliverable." She re-sent the envelope within another envelope with the exact same address. Success!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jobs: Where they don't come from

For the last century or two, economic downturns have been accompanied with politicians crying "jobs." Unfortunately, I've never heard them coherently explain where a job comes from. I wanted to write a few ideas to spur some of your own thoughts on what exactly is this mysterious "job" that everyone is talking about.

Imagine that the United States is a country that has no crime in it, but it is in a serious depression. As a way to stimulate the economy, the President gives a speech encouraging poor people to rob the homes of the better off. He states that this will spur growth in the home security, locks, windows, and taekwondo industries. This also will simultaneously transfer some wealth from the better off to the worse off, creating more equality in the country. The keynesian multipliers caused by the increase in demand for security will then carry the economy to a life of prosperity once again.

Except it won't work. What are these home owners truly trying to buy when they are purchasing home security systems, locks, unbreakable windows, and taekwondo lessons? They are trying to buy safety and protection of assets. Before this "jobs" plan, safety and protection of assets were free. There was no need for others to expend labor in order to produce it. Now, however, it is not free. It is like becoming technologically less advanced. It is like banning the assembly line. In the example, the locksmith is now doing more work, but nearly anything is better for the economy than creating locks that have no value. Instead of a policy of increased burglary, the government could just as well pay for new windows, locks, etc., and then blow them up. Increasing scarcity is not abundance. What was free before is now expensive, which makes people expend more of their productive energy doing something that should have no value and was not necessary. This policy has shrunken the "economic pie."

The next example is similar in structure to a real life occurrence. Let's say there is a train track that goes across Spain. The trains that use this track carry agricultural goods. A politician with significant clout decides to disrupt the train and disconnect the track in his home town. Now, all of the goods must be manually loaded and unloaded from one train to another in order to transfer goods from one side of the country to another. The similarities between this and the first example should be quite evident.

One more example addressing how jobs and the GDP are measured. This example is based on a post that Greg Mankiw did a few years ago (I can't find it at the moment). Imagine someone is unemployed and spends his time watching reruns of Bonanza and sometimes looking for a job. This person is counted as unemployed and what he does is not counted towards GDP. Now imagine a person that is employed by the government, but he spends his day "working" where he actually watching reruns of MASH, but he'd rather spend his day watching reruns of Bonanza. This person is employed and his wages are counted towards GDP. Take this same person, let him go back to watching reruns of Bonanza, but count his wage as unemployment insurance. The GDP disappears, and he's unemployed again, even though the situation is better than before. (The situation is identical for the government and better for him! It's a neutral-win scenario.) Now imagine a person that is unemployed (seeking employment), but she spends her extra time doing free tutoring helping children learn to read. From the government statistics perspective, she is identical to the unemployed Bonanza watcher. Because government employment and GDP statistics are fuzzy measurements of well-being, a change in them does not necessarily mean that conditions improve or worsen, and a policy that increases or decreases these statistics also does not necessarily improve or worsen conditions. Imagine the headline, "Jesus Returns - Economic Depression Strikes as Peace on Earth Ravages Economy."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Federal Policies During the Obama Administration

This is one of my few pure political posts. If you feel like jumping out a window or throttling me through the computer after reading it, take a Mentos with a large glass of water, then read The Myth of the Rational Voter. Repeat until rage dissipates.


Also, I should first clarify a few things.
1) I understand the chance of my vote influencing the outcome of any state-wide or federal election by my vote is on the order of winning the Powerball jackpot 5-10x in a row.
2) I understand that the probability of my influencing a sufficient number of votes in order to change the outcome of a state-wide or federal election is greater than #1, but the probability is likely on the order of winning Powerball 2x in a row.
3) I don’t buy lottery tickets, so my chances of winning Powerball are actually zero.
4) Because of #1 and #2 above, anything I write in this post must likely be for personal enrichment, signaling to others, self-gratification, or similar reasons.
5) I like writing, so it’s probably for personal enrichment or self-gratification.
Accordingly, this will probably be one of my very few pure political posts. Below is essentially my list of specific grievances with each of the significant “accomplishments” of the Obama Administration. If you still want to read this but the length looks daunting, you can skip the financial regulation and healthcare sections. Those areas get further down “into the weeds” of economic policy.

Foreign Policy:
There isn’t much historical correlation between political party and foreign policy. And, as stated previously, I’m not a guru on foreign policy. But, let’s imagine we are in September 2008 for a moment. If someone gave you the following list of actions committed by the future administration, who do you think had won the election?
- Refused to accelerate the withdrawal from Iraq, and withdrew on the timetable established by Pres. GW Bush only after a failure to negotiate a longer-term stay.
- Even after official withdrawal, maintained as large a presence as possible in Iraq.
- Achieved a record level of assassinations outside of Afghanistan and Iraq.
- Began the assassination of US citizens located outside the US.
- Did not close down Guantanamo.
- Authorized military conflict with another country without congressional approval.
- Reclassified the definition of enemy combatant as all adult males killed in a “strike zone,” and then stated that nearly no innocent civilians were killed in combat and drone strikes.
Not only would people say “John McCain” with 100% certainty, many would be yelling “War Crimes!” Code Pink and other anti-war groups would still be up and humming organizations instead of the shell they are today.

The last refuge of arguments of this nature in support of the President’s administration (assuming one believes the bullet points above are all bad) is, “Well, the other side would have been worse!” Seeing the unpredictable history of the foreign policy of presidents and political parties pre and post election, that argument has little merit.

Financial Regulation:
Forget for a moment the piles of smaller problems with Dodd-Frank (see The Economist's article). The bill’s principle purpose almost works. So close. It focuses on stability rather than agility, and for that it fails. Instead of eliminating “too big to fail,” it has promoted, “no bank will fail.” Parts of it start out on a great path. For example, creating and frequently updating a “living will” for financial institutions was, I believe, exactly the right track. Many economists have called for reforming the bankruptcy code for financial institutions to promote smooth transition of ownership from shareholders to bondholders in bankruptcy. (If you’re interested, here is a great article by an economist on this point. Also, other countries have different forms of this and it is frequently referred to as the “zone of insolvency.”) However, instead of having this as the focal point of the law, it instead has the government step in to support the firm.  But, don’t worry, this isn’t a bailout! We hope to get paid back. If we don’t get paid back, we’re going to make all the other surviving banks pay the government until we get every last farthing! Also, you don’t need to worry because the non-bailouts are limited to just 90% of the company’s assets. So, for example, the law says that the government will spend no more than $2 Trillion to “not bailout” JP Morgan if it finds itself in financial trouble. If a major financial crisis hits again, the government could find itself shelling out trillions of dollars and owning all the banks (imagine Ireland but on a global impact scale).

Another feature that can easily become a bug, is that when the government steps in to “not bailout” the bank, it place itself as the senior unsecured credit holder. The natural response to this would be for banks to shift as much debt as possible into secured debt, and try and classify every debt known to man as secured debt. This could bifurcate the financial debt market into ridiculously low risk secured debt, because the government will show up to the rescue and there is no way to lose, and the unsecured debt market. I think that this method of “not bailout” is an improvement from how the bailout was originally conducted in 2008-2009, but the bill missed the opportunity to transition to a better system, which would reform the bankruptcy code and eliminate the need for government “not bailouts.”

Healthcare:
There are fundamental problems with the US healthcare market. First, for a large variety of reasons, consumers are not price-sensitive. Even if a consumer wanted to be price-sensitive, how would she know the costs at different hospitals? Have you ever called a hospital and asked how much a certain procedure costs? Probably not, so I’ll help you out—the hospital employees generally don’t know the answer either. This is partly caused by the fact that the vast majority of consumers don’t appear to care. If consumers don’t ask about price, businesses won’t post the price. There are also numerous government policies that compound this problem. Second, the supply of the healthcare market is restricted in many forms (e.g., number of doctors, what non-MD’s are legally allowed to treat/prescribe, health insurance and government admin compliance costs, malpractice insurance and other regional specific costs, etc.). It’s simply hard to innovate with a low-cost or streamlined medical service in the United States, and it is very difficult to argue that the incentives exist for a new venture will succeed in an attempt to accomplish this.

The Affordable Care Act does nothing to address these problems. The ACA, in essence, transfers money and benefits from the young, males, healthy, privately insured, gays, and medicare recipients, to the middle aged, females, history of illness, heterosexual, uninsured, and those who are just above the Medicaid income threshold line.

Also, the result of telling insurance companies, hospitals, and businesses what to do results in them shifting the price away from the free or taxed goods onto the rest of their services. A long list of health services must be provided for free? Just raise the price of the whole insurance package to offset it. Can’t charge the old more than three times the cost of the young? Raise prices on the young. Cut payments to hospitals for Medicare patients? You get what you pay for and people, as is stated in almost every principles of economics textbook, respond to incentives.

And the other problems: Countless studies address the fact that the vast majority of preventive medicine doesn’t actually lower healthcare costs? Ignore it in your assumptions. Additional taxes on medical suppliers raise prices and costs for healthcare? Assume it doesn’t happen. Etc. etc. etc. It’s like the people who wrote the bill had never heard of “unintended consequences.”

There was an opportunity at reforming the US healthcare model, and instead of going the route of high-deductible HSAs, portable nationally competitive insurance, forced savings, or other methods, the House Democrats tried to produce something as close to single-payer as politically possible, regardless of the actual outcome, and the Administration did nothing to interfere. This law does nothing, as even supporters now state, to “bend the cost curve.” I believe that the most likely source of bending the cost curve will actually come from corporations trying to contain healthcare costs of employees, despite the addition of all of the “free” services. When it comes to soaring healthcare costs, it appears we are left turning to corporate HR to save us.

AWOL on the Big Issues 
Long-term viability of social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, tax reform (lower rates and broadening the base is pretty universally recognized among economists as a good idea), structural deficits, etc. haven’t been touched. “We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don't like yours.” (The most illuminating C-Span video since Senator Charles Sumner got nearly beat to death by a cane). This kind of attitude doesn’t help.

Miscellaneous
Things that aren’t as important, but still things that were disappointing:
Stimulus – There was no need to funnel stimulus funding to constituents/buddies and micromanage a Brave New Economy. Had the stimulus been directed straight to citizens and/or proportionally to each of the states, even if they were strings attached to the state spending, the Administration wouldn’t be hearing nearly as many complaints. Remember all of the complaints about that $1,200 stimulus check sent directly to households created by Speaker Pelosi and Pres. Bush? Neither do I. Also, that $1,200 rebate more clearly and empirically boosted GDP (a little bit). The stimulus? “Created or saved” became a new part of our vocabularies.

Spending levels – I know some people who like to argue that under the Obama administration spending only increased 0.4% a year or a similar number (depending on the data and some questionable assumptions), but that is a horrible stat for a number of reasons: 1) The president isn't a dictator (congress passes budgets, not presidents), so it’s fundamentally not a great comparison. 2) The FY 2009 benchmark is calculated off of an artificial base of the “one-time spending” of the TARP program, stimulus passed during the Bush administration, stimulus passed during the Obama administration, and extra omnibus spending. 3) The savings from the end of the Iraq war (see Foreign Policy section) is entirely consumed in new spending. 4) Spending hit a wall when the Republicans took the house. Essentially, we have learned once again that there is no such thing as a temporary government program. All temporary spending was baked in as a baseline to the new budgets. In effect, "temporary" spending was passed during the Bush administration, more "temporary" spending was passed during the Obama administration, and during the Obama administration these "temporary" spending hikes were made permanent. It is difficult for me to believe that the Republican’s platform position to have federal spending fall below 20% of GDP at some point in the future is now a radical position, especially considering that federal spending never rose above 20% of GDP from 1996 to 2007. In no budget projection produced by the Obama Administration does federal spending fall below 20% at any point in the future.

Bipartisanship – The cries for bipartisanship from the Democratic Party curiously could not be found starting in approximately November 2008 and ended at or around November 2010. “I won,” “We have the votes. **** them,” and requesting legislative input only after the drafting of legislation was completed was a horrible way to start “a new era of bipartisanship.” Pres. Clinton made things work with Speaker Gingrich, Pres. Bush made things work with Speaker Pelosi, but Pres. Obama couldn’t make things work with Speaker Boehner?  It’s John Boehner for crying out loud! He’s milquetoast compared to cooperating with Gingrich or Pelosi! Also, the stonewalling of Republicans on bills that the Administration proposed that would, with a very generous interpretation, marginally benefit the economy doesn’t mean that Pres. Obama was going to raise the economy from the ashes, “And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling Republicans.”

Foreign Trade – No new deals. Zip.

Auto bailout – In Larry Summers’ now public memo to the President at the start of his term, Larry Summers clearly stated how the auto bailout could have been structured to avoid government losses (pre-arranged bankruptcy with debtor-in-possession financing). However, the United Auto Workers Union would have had to take a big loss. What actually happened? A lot of union officials showed up on the president’s doorstep (e.g., see WH visitor’s log) before the inauguration and during the first days of the presidency, a couple hundred years of bankruptcy practices regarding seniority were thrown out the window, and the federal government took a $25 billion loss (plus the government's loss of all of GM's tax-free profits for the foreseeable future). What’s sad is that $25 billion doesn’t even seem like all that much money anymore, which is why this falls under the heading Miscellaneous.

Meaningless social issues – Making religious institutions pay for plan B, the Ledbetter act, and “I am evolving from believing that gay marriage should be decided by the states to the position that gay marriage should be decided by the states,” really weren’t going to make much of a difference in the lives of everyday citizens, distracted from more important issues, and further ruined any chances of bipartisanship.

Some Positives – The Dream Act was probably a marginal improvement on US immigration law, but this only came up after party cooperation was ruined. The Administration did suggest a cut in corporate tax rates (being #1 in the world for corporate tax rates isn’t great for the economy after all).  Dodd-Frank might on net be a positive compared to the status quo (we won’t bail you out this time Fannie Mae/big insurers/big banks *wink* *wink*). The Administration didn’t mess up the debt deal that Sen. Reid and Speaker Boehner put together after the Administration was cut out of the negotiations.

Would Gov. Romney be better? I don’t know. I do like the positions stated at economistsforromney.com (it’s troubling that the positions listed there are no longer bipartisan), but Gov. Romney could just as easily ignore them like Pres. Obama ignored Christina Romer and Larry Summers. I’d bet that foreign policy would be indistinguishable (not that there would be no differences, but rather you wouldn’t be able to pick out which one was which if you knew the outcomes but not the President). So, it might be better to go with the devil you don't know until you stop getting devils. Then again, you might have a better chance of winning Powerball than have that happen.

Special Interests: "Big Soup"

I'm going through the old drafts file of things I somehow never clicked publish on. It's much easier than writing current stuff when I'm busy. Enjoy!  :D

I found this article here. The Daily Mash is like the Onion, except they are from England, and, as far as the financial fake news goes, much funnier. I included a few of its best lines:


BANK BAIL-OUT THWARTED BY POWERFUL SOUP KITCHEN LOBBY

The economic forecast is 'warm and chunky'
THE $700 billion rescue of Wall Street has been held up after intense lobbying by America's vast and powerful soup manufacturers.
A cartel, led by Campbell's, is urging Congress to reject the plan and give Americans the chance to queue for a steaming bowlful of hearty broth.

Pressure from 'Big Soup' has even led to bribery accusations, with one senator being offered a $2 million campaign contribution and as much cock-a-leekie as he could stuff in the back of his car
A spokesman for Campbell said: "Taste our harvest tomato with basil and tell me you wouldn't beg for it."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Chicago Public Schools Experience

(By the way, this is Jake's experience in CPS, not Ashley's.  I'm sure Ashley's would be way cooler.)

The things I can write about while my Excel file calculates 30,000 lines of data.

I know this is probably old news by the time I publish this, but the teacher strike in Chicago (highest paid in the nation, w00t!) was very unsurprising to me. Here are a couple salient points from my brief exposure to Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

I tutored in a science class with a teacher who was in the final year before retirement. I dearly hope that none of my children sit in a class with a teacher of similar quality.

Even though the school included a pretty wide region, there was only one white kid from the entire K-8 spectrum. (At least, there was only one that I saw during all my time there.) Everybody with money either moved by the time their child hit kindergarten or sent their kids to private school.

There was one kid in the science class whose parents (I assume) didn't fare well during the recession, and he had transferred mid-year from a private school to this one. He stuck out like a sore thumb. He already knew the material, was very eloquent for his age, and the other kids didn't seem to treat him very well.

I had no idea what to do in that environment. I probably spent most of my time with the three to five kids that seemed eager to learn something. I'm not sure if that was the best decision or not, but I have no idea what the best decision would have been considering the teacher, pupils, and class subject.

In Chicago Public Schools, they do not have to cover all the walls prior to end-of-year testing. Accordingly, answers to all sorts of questions are crammed onto the walls. "Now kids, when you see this type of question, the directions on how to answer it are right over here above the water fountain."  ... And the kids still fail. I personally think it starts at home where the child isn't taught to read, then it gets compounded by poor teachers in K, 1st, and 2nd grade, then you have a 3rd grader who can't read anything, and then he simply gets passed along each year to the next grade, failing all the way.

The kids that I saw were actually not all that bad; the kids mostly listened, while a few were unruly at times. However, you could tell that most had a knowledge base that was inadequate for the subject that they were studying (poor math skills + poor reading skills = poor science learning skills).

Charter schools: 1) They are badly badly needed. Badly. Fire underperforming teachers, promote a unique culture, and fail the whole thing if the administrators are bad. (I once saw an anti-charter school piece that said that only about 5% of charter schools are closed in a given year, so it's a myth that underperforming schools are closed. Five percent? That's amazing! Think of all the churn that you can get in just a decade. That's way better than the sub one percent you get with traditional public.) 2) I think charters could lead to a vicious cycle in the short-term for large cities. The (on average) better teachers seem to prefer the charter schools that have better administrators and kids who wants to learn, despite receiving less pay an no union benefits, while the (on average) worse teachers ride seniority to "you can never fire me unless I commit murder" and $100K+ salaries (before benefits) at the 10 year mark.

My data is done. Have a great evening!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Random Brazil Bits

A few thoughts that I've had lately that I didn't think I could turn into a meaningful post on their own.

- This is my last night living in my very extended stay hotel. I am still debating on whether I should send the hotel my 17 point list of everything that is wrong. Surprisingly, not one of the 17 points is rudeness by the staff.

- I'm getting a car tomorrow, which means no more chauffeurs. I will really miss being called, "Mr. Jacob." I don't know why, but I have to try very hard not to laugh every time I hear it. In a week I will probably be really missing all those great drivers that knew how to dodge rush hour.

- It's been awhile since I lived in Chicago and saw this on a frequent basis, but I now remember how much I used to hate state lotteries.  "Scratchers Scratchers BUY MORE SCRATCHERS!! ... please gamble responsibly, thank you Mr. Poverty for contributing to the bad-at-math tax as we entice you to try and get something for nothing.

- I have no idea what it would be like to move to a new country without having the "insta-network everyone is your best friend and willing to do anything to help you" church. Also, four American families in our ward will be a huge plus for non-Portuguese speaking members of the family. ;)

- I am going to get much fatter, like double my body fat percentage to 5%.

- Brazilian consumer "discount rates" (for non-finance nerds, that means how much someone is willing to forgo future consumption in order to consume now; think of the emotional intelligence tests for kindergartners of offering one marshmallow now or two later) are ridiculously high. An absurd amount of interest as a percentage of income is paid by Brazilians (at about 40% APR). My student loans no longer seem so awful.

- Brazil is totally a bubble. Real estate, consumer debt, compliance costs, a government that is printing money despite a decent amount of inflation in order to try and keep GDP growth above 2%... Half of me is very confident, and the other half thinks the first half is way too overconfident when I think I can do well in a bubble bursting environment. Would a bubble burst happen pre-World Cup/pre-Olympics? Or, instead of a bubble burst, do things just limp along for a few years? By the way, if you want to reserve a bedroom or couch for the 2014 World Cup, tell us soon! Spots are filling up fast. :)

- Our apartment building has a maze in the child's play area. The maze is tall enough that an adult cannot see over the wall. ... Is this a good idea? "Hun, do we need a baby sitter?" "Nah, I put a minotaur in the maze. We should be good!"

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Fail at Creating a Feminist Movement

If you're the kind of person who gets furious over other people's outrageous opinions, this article from the Atlantic is not for you. The title is, "1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible," with the subtitle, "Being a mother isn't a real job -- and the men who run the world know it."

My favorite lines (favorite=I think is hilariously sad):

"To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria." ... This conflicts with the data that show that a higher percentage of stay at home moms live outside of urban centers than within it, but who has data ever met? Data's an android on Star Trek who doesn't even have emotions (at least not until the later seasons). Also, maybe if the author lived outside of New York City and Los Angeles she would meet more stay at home moms who live outside of New York City and Los Angeles.

"In any case, having forgotten everything but the lotus position, these women are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don't blame them."  Why don't you dumb women want to be corporate drones??  What is wrong with you?!!! If I keep calling you dumb, will you join my feminist movement? What if I told you that even though I've never met you I think your husband thinks you're dumb too, then will you join?

"Seriously: Did Romney actually tell his wife that her job was more important than his? So condescending."  I can hear Mrs. Lovejoy yelling, "Someone don't think of the children!" Or, a feminist rally with the sign, "Why Aren't Profits More Important Than Children?"

"Most mothers have jobs because they need or want the money and fulfillment; only in rare cases are they driven by glory."  I can imagine myself giving my daughter that advice right now, "There, there little Ziggy, we all know what's most important is money and having strangers think that you're important."

Oh dear.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Welcome to the Future!

List of things from the future:

- SkyNet becomes sentient, attempts to destroy human race. Nope.
- Flying cars with time travel capacity powered by cold fusion. Nope.
- Remote controlled cockroaches. CHECK! Nice work Fifth Element.



HT: MR

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Expatriate Privileges

I tend not to hold strong opinions on foreign policy. To me it's like a 3D chessboard where you can only see a quarter of the pieces. It's also hard to see the outcome of the path that would have been taken in lieu of decisions that were actually taken and their subsequent consequences. For example, was the US's entrance into WWI a good decision to minimize casualties and promote long-term European stability? Or, take the example of the Vietnam conflict. After the US pulled out of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese made a horrible strategic blunder, and consequently a million people died. Was the initial decision by the Nixon administration, and the follow up decision by the US Congress the best choice available, was there a better way, or is intervention morally unjustifiable? I have my thought on these things, but I generally don't share them, at least not with the purpose of trying to convince people I'm right. However, when the public became aware of the assassination of three US citizens, including a minor, without review outside the executive branch, it seemed wrong. From my perspective it appeared that investing that much power in a single person and his organization is dangerous. Even if you completely support the administration, the reason we don't want a good king is because we don't want bad kings either. Also, although I've seen some counter-arguments based on the principle of treason, this argument would then put the executive branch at odds with Article 3 Section 3 of the US Constitution, in that the treason charge must be argued in court.

Here are two, albeit quite different, perspectives on this topic:

From the ACLU:
"The lawsuit asks the court to rule that, outside the context of armed conflict, the government can carry out the targeted killing of an American citizen only as a last resort to address an imminent threat to life or physical safety. The lawsuit also asks the court to order the government to disclose the legal standard it uses to place U.S. citizens on government kill lists."

Sen. Rand Paul, quoted by CNN:
"Paul: I am concerned about one person deciding the life or death of not only foreigners but U.S. citizens around the world. And the chance that one person could make a mistake, you know, is a possibility. So having the president decide who he's going to kill concerns me. I would rather it go through a court, and there are actually secret courts, the FISA court investigates intelligence information. And most of these decisions aren't made like this. They make the decision over weeks and months. They target people and go after them. I see no reason why there couldn't be some sort of court preceding, even a secret court preceding, to allow some protection."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Terminators and Bankruptcy

I failed to catch this (rather long and some explicit language so you've been cautioned) article by Michael Lewis last year. He is a pretty amazing writer when he writes in the first person or when recording direct interviews. Besides shedding needed light on financial problems on states and municipalities, it contains an entertaining interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two of my favorite paragraphs:

“This year the state will directly spend $32 billion on employee pay and benefits, up 65 percent over the past 10 years,” says Crane later. “Compare that to state spending on higher education [down 5 percent], health and human services [up just 5 percent], and parks and recreation [flat], all crowded out in large part by fast-rising employment costs.

And Lewis's description of his interview/bike ride with Schwarzenegger:
"Having sped past a do not enter sign, we are now flying through intersections without pausing. I can’t help but notice that, if we weren’t breaking the law by going the wrong way down a one-way street, we’d be breaking the law by running stop signs. “When you want to do pension reform for the prison guards,” he says, “and all of a sudden the Republicans are all lined up against you. It was really incredible, and it happened over and over: people would say to me, ‘Yes, this is the best idea! I would love to vote for it! But if I vote for it some interest group is going to be angry with me, so I won’t do it.’ I couldn’t believe people could actually say that. You have soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they didn’t want to risk their political lives by doing the right thing.”"