Monday, February 27, 2012

Frustrating Yet Unsurprising

So it has been scientifically shown that more educated conservatives are more likely to buy into false statements than less educated conservatives. Conversely, more educated liberals are more likely to be persuaded by facts.

As a well educated liberal this seems pretty damned apparent: facts have a liberal bias. Also, since this study is fact based, it is inevitable that educated conservatives will line up to blast the conclusions. Irony is not dead, it has just become reality.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bankers Should Go to Jail

Not all of them, certainly, but if you manage to arrest the CEO or board members of just one bank engaging in crap like this story I heard this morning, then I'll bet we would start to see a whole lot less of that type crap. Also, too, foreclosure fraud.

Seriously: just arrest a few of 'em and sentence them to 5 years--maybe start with Jaime Dimon? Not nearly enough of a penalty for the harm they have inflicted and are inflicting, but it would get the rest in line right quick. Either that or they would "go Galt" and we would still have a better society as a result.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Corporate Creepy!

This article on Target and marketing statistics is all kinds of creepy, but the goal I find perfectly reasonable and I'm ok with it. One of the comments said that the purpose of marketing was to make people buy things they don't need, but in a lot of cases it is to redirect the purchase of those things they don't need away from someone else.

A new mom may not need a baby crib at all, but there's a good chance she'll get one anyway, and so Target just wants to be the place she gets it. They aren't trying to change what she buys, just where she looks/buys it.

...doesn't make it not creepy:

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

Policy vs. Politics

I'm not sure I'd go quite as far as Atrios on this one. I think he, and lots of other professional or at least very involved members of "THE LEFT" have a pretty good handle on the politics of their preferred policies, but I don't think most do.

In general, I think that most people believe that their preferred policies are popular. And even those who are most certainly wrong can find/create polls that will support their belief on any particular issue--just think about US deficit/debt for a microsecond.

On the other hand there are also lots of ideas championed by people who know their pet idea is horribly unpopular, but are very confident that it is the best idea (the gas tax is a great example of this).

I have to admit that I've lost sight of what the pundits are there for. It seems that they should be there to explain policies and actions to people who don't understand, but that in practice all they do is use their position to tell people what they believe and that others should too! This isn't really all that different from what the army of bloggers does. To the extent that there are people who [seem to] get both the policy and the politics and who then try to convey that to others, I'd guess that fractions of political bloggers and pundits are about the same, but by sheer numbers, bloggers win.

...also, too, the more successful bloggers, like Atrios, are generally the better ones out there, so I guess the addendum is: compared to blogs that actually get read, pundits suck.

Wealth Allocation

As kind of a follow up to the "If I had $1,000,000..." post, I should say that personal security and investment are two different sides of wealth.

Having debt is a risk to security but a benefit to investment. If I am buying a house I will be living in, it is best to have it paid off because it is not generating income, so interest on debt is a net loss. If I am buying properties to rent out...with the caveat that I wouldn't buy them if the expected return was less than the interest on the debt, then I would be better served to have debt, because I could purchase more, and have more resulting income.

The leverage provided by going into debt to make a large purchase/investment is a huge advantage. But that does not really apply to purchases of items for personal use...even items that may appreciate in value (like houses and art). Mostly this is because working investments (like rental properties or starting small business) have better returns and can offset the debt service costs (interest). If they didn't, well, they wouldn't be good investments.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Potential Output & The Gap

I know that it gets much more complex, but economic history seems to be pretty clear to me:

Below "potential" output -> low inflation to deflation
Above "potential" output -> price-wage inflation spiral

Potential is in quotes because it really should be ideal or peak efficiency or something else (in some ways it shouldn't be possible to be above potential output). "Potential" output is pretty much "what we could make with full employment" though "full" employment in the US generally means ~4.5% unemployment, and maybe workforce participation is an even better gauge.

Anyway, there is an argument at exactly where that "potential" output should be, but the historic trend should give us a pretty clear indicator of whether we are above or below, and even by how much. Right now it would indicate that we are well below.


Can' this crap.

Kos seems to have pissed off a lot of people by suggesting something that seems very sensible from an individual position. Maybe it's the "organization" part of it, or the "Rush did it too" thang that's got 'em going.

If I still lived (as I have before) in a state with an open primary, then I would vote in the primary that was the most relevant. This year, it would probably be the Republican one because there is nothing really going on on the Democratic side (no Dems running against Obama, or Casey and I think not my US Rep either, though that may not be straightened out yet).

I was in Illinois in 2006 when lots of Dems voted on the GOP ticket because they were so pissed at Blago...though as things turned out many would have been better off voting Rod off in the Dem primary, but that didn't seem a viable option to many. They weren't doing it to screw over Republicans, they were doing it because there was a strong suspicion that the GOP would win back the governor's mansion and Dems wanted the least offensive GOPer on the ticket.

States that have open primaries have open primaries. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, et cetera should vote on the primary ballot that suits them best, even if it isn't their party.

Maybe it's the idea of doing this to screw with the opposition is the objection, but that's part of best interests. If the Democrats have an important primary, vote on that one, if not vote on another. Going to the polls is part of democracy, and everyone should vote based on how they see the best outcome: whether voting for someone you want to win in the fall or voting for someone you think can't win so that the person you want to win has a better shot.

Oh, and the references to Hitler...seriously? What the fuck is wrong with people?!?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Austerity: The Cure That Kills

Totally preventable suffering of real people, so that the moneylenders can get their pound of flesh. I'm don't really care if our rulers are stupid, evil, or (most likely) both. This is just horrible. The article concludes:
Why, Mr. Lains asks, should he and his fellow citizens suffer while the bondholders get their money back? “It’s not the fault of the Portuguese people,” he said. “The fault lies with the structure of the euro.”
People suffer, the economy craters, but the bankers must be paid off! Too bad no one that actually understands things gets to affect outcomes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Horay Science!

Wine is good for you is one of those things we've been aware of for a while now, but specifics were not really clear. Well, here is one. And for the teetotalers out there: eat grapes I guess.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hope He's Learned, But I've Doubts

This article by Noam Scheiber is a good (and a frustrating) piece to read. In the end we are left hanging with: has Obama learned, or is he just preparing for the next self-induced crisis?

I see little evidence that Obama has learned here, and that is the frustrating thing. His current posturing and positions seem good, but they are also necessary, in the same way that it was finally necessary for him to get aggressive toward Hillary on the campaign trail.

Maybe Democrats will win, and Obama will think that the GOP has been chastened and will now listen to reason. In fact, if Dems win, that seems far more likely than this continued, tough and sensible presidential offering we are witnessing.

Of course, this is only economic issues. Nevermind the still horrible civil liberties a issues, which are unchanging as ever.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


So the contraception "compromise" is in and so what? Doesn't change the outcome (women will still get contraception coverage) so it really isn't any different. The cost shifting is more-or-less meaningless as the church still pays for insurance, and that insurance will still have coverage, the church is, effectively, going to be paying for coverage. The insurance companies may redistribute the cost so that other people will pay more and the church pay less, but really, so what?

Mysteriously, however, the compromise made some people (well, pundits) happy. That really doesn't make sense. I'm happy, because, basically nothing changed, and similarly the bishops [should be] unhappy because...basically nothing changed. Their complaint wasn't that the cost was too much but that they oppose contraception (a patently stupid position, particularly for the anti-abortion crowd...who actually object to unapproved fucking and don't really care about women's or children's health at all). They oppose contraception, and were being forced to buy plans that provide contraception. Nothing changed except they pay a little less.

Meanwhile this bullshit problem would never exist if we had done health care properly (Medicare for everyone!) instead of enacting GOP health care reform.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bad Settlement

From the "how does it affect me" files...

What should I do if I think I may qualify for a principal reduction or refinanced mortgage? Contact your lender/servicer and ask them to review your case.
So just ask [Wells Fargo} to review your case! And I'm sure they will be perfectly happy to help you and to get less money for themselves! Because banks aren't bad people!

I'm really not sure how it works that "depending on the banks that fucked everyone over to not continue fucking people over" constitutes a remotely sane idea. The banks must be laughing all the way to themselves.

Quick overview: if you're $50k underwater on your $175k mortgage but are up to date then you get a lower interest refi (iff the banks find you "worthy") but if you stopped paying a few months back, then you may get a $20k principal reduction, and if the bank illegally foreclosed on you--even if you were current and whether or not you were underwater...even had equity, even if you were in the last year of payments!--then you may get as much as $2k!

...So the people who got the best deal are those who are underwater and behind in payments, but haven't been foreclosed on yet? While those who had their houses stolen by the bank may get up to $2k, and those who are underwater but have managed to make ends meet get next to nothing? WTF?!?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Bank Bailout Redoux

Seems to be the real result of the great foreclosure fraud settlement. The banksters do rule our world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

SEPTA Nonsense

View Larger Map

I live fairly close to possibly the highest demand regional rail station SEPTA operates. It's a great station because 3-4 (depending on how you count) lines converge and go through it, and it's about a 25 min ride to downtown, 50 min to the airport, ~40 min to the sports complexes (drive times from this point are very similar).

Naturally, therefore, SEPTA wants to take advantage and build luxury mid-rise apartments a parking garage. I think park and ride is fine, and unlike some of the protesters, I don't think the parking garage is ugly, or will result in lots of crime. However, looking at the map what should be really clear is that this station is surrounded by residential with NO MAJOR ROADS.

All of the roads that lead here are narrow, 2-lane, 25 mph, and some with street parking and/or no painted lines! This is not an area to try and bring extra traffic to, not because [NIMBY] but because the roads don't support it, and while the plans do improve traffic in and out of the lot/across the bridge, they don't do anything about the feeder roads--because they can't.

On top of this the cost is something insane (in the neighborhood of $100k/parking space added), and SEPTA refuses to even attempt simple fixes to the problem that the garage is supposed to address (lowering fares from further out, increasing parking tolls). It's a giant clusterfuck of a bad idea that just won't die (though it has been pushed back).

The ideal solution would be luxury mid-rise (even low-rise) apartments or condos, which could, if done right, sell for a mint. They could also help to accelerate the revitalization of the nearby downtowns (there are 3). Oh, and the closed bar/restaurant in the station--the one SEPTA wants $6k/mo rent for--could conceivably be opened and operated at a profit as well.

This is Infuriating

I think the thing that pisses me off the most when I read bits like this is this truly bizarre notion that polarization has something to do with liberal vs. conservative:
Over the past century, DW-Nominate has revealed a steady increase in congressional polarization. Democrats have moved to the left, while Republicans have moved to the right. But Republicans have moved a lot farther than Democrats.
But that is bullshit. Yes, the parties have become more polarized, but not because one is moving right and the other left. Both parties are moving right, and the perfect example is the health care reform. All the Democrats coming together and voting for it, while all Republicans vote against is a sign of how polarized the parties are.

This was a GOP/conservative think tank developed policy. It was the conservative solution for universal health care. Democrats hated this 20 years ago, so the mere fact that they now ALL voted for it is a sign that they have moved RIGHT, not left. It is also an impressive sign of just how polarized the parties are that zero Repubs will vote for their own fucking policy just because it is being brought up under Democratic control!

Both parties have moved right on policy. From a left-right, policy stand point Obama is more conservative than Nixon. But on that chart, which deals with polarization, he looks far, far more liberal. This wrong-headed conflation of left-right politics and party polarization problematic...

The Dems move right to capture more support from "moderate republicans" and the Repubs to further differentiate themselves from Democrats. But the public will generally consider Dems to be liberal and Repubs to be conservative, so their movement actually skews left vs. right in the minds of most [voters].

This makes legit policy discussion virtually meaningless since people will just assume that how liberal/conservative something is can just be determined by who votes for it. This then makes any notion of compromise nearly impossible, since GOPers don't want voters to think they are liberal, they have zero motivation to vote for anything that will happen with Democrats in control...even if it is something that people (their constituents) will like!

Cap Gains and Inflation

I noted earlier that the cap gains not being inflation adjusted is an (potentially major) issue. I've since thought about it more and no longer think so. The thinking goes something like this:

I buy a [house, stock, painting, ...] worth a total of $100k. I keep it for 20 years, during which inflation averages 2.5%. I sell it for $250k, a $150k gain, but only an $87k gain when adjusting my original $100k investment for inflation. That's a pretty big difference in income to pay taxes on and I can see why [rich] people would say it is unfair, but the thing is: bullshit!

If I take that same $100k dollars and sock it away in a savings account that pays interest averaging 2.5% over that same time frame, then I end up with ~$164k...but every one of those dollars was (well, should have been) reported on tax forms in each of those intervening years, so I was, in fact, taxed on all $64k of interest. Moreover, I was taxed at my marginal income tax rate which, assuming I am working throughout, is likely to be higher than the cap gains rate!

So even without an adjustment for inflation, low cap gains rate distorts the tax code, and tilts toward wealth, and away from income (and savings). Capital gains should be considered and taxed as normal income. Period.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Saver's Shouldn't Give a Damn

About any of the things in this post. At all. ROI makes a bit of difference at the margins, but mostly the reason we want to have decent ROI is because we expect there to be inflation that eats away at the value of cash. As such, a crappy economy and low interest rates and low to no inflation don't actually mean a damned thing to "savers". It matters to people looking for work, and what jobs are available, but savers are all going to be just fine.

...Unless the whole economy blows up, in which case only the savers that are also "Doomsday Preppers" will be ok.

I hear this "savers are punished" for ____ crap all over, and it's just that: crap. The only things that could seriously punish savers are:
1) Inflation/investment mismatch (e.g. fixed income/bonds/safe investments eaten up by big inflation, or buying an overpriced house that then devalues)
2) The economy no longer existing and only food and bullets having any real value. Seriously, if US$ become worthless, then that will mean a world where the only things of value will be things of value (no, not gold, but yes food and water...and maybe iron depending on how long it lasts)
So any big banker/rich prognosticator who talks about this crap, should only be listened to if he/she has a stocked bunker on an isolated patch of arable land with a water supply, that is not susceptible to natural disasters.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Komen Needs a Cure For Stupid

Oh, well. Hopefully this means I will stop seeing pink crap everywhere. In the meantime, read this and donate to Planned Parenthood.