Month: November 2012

A Lesson in Economic Statistics from the Shrill One

Paul Krugman explains why Italian productivity has fallen precipitously over the past decade or so:

Dean Baker, in correspondence, makes an interesting point about the mysterious productivity collapse in Italy — namely, that a big chunk of it could be a statistical illusion. This is always something you should consider when you see something strange in economic data.

Here’s the story: Italy, with its combination of extensive regulations and weak enforcement, used to have a lot of “black labor” — workers who weren’t on the books, so as to evade various government-imposed requirements. But then came reforms that made keeping part-time workers, etc., on the books less onerous — and the hidden labor came into the open. Measured GDP wasn’t affected, because statisticians were already making imputations for the shadow economy; so the result was a decline in measured productivity.

It’s a reasonable explanation.  It’s not like Italy has stopped being Italy since 1995.

Entering the Euro zone has brought changes, but nothing that would have their actual productivity dropping off a cliff like this graph pr0n.

I Don’t Know Whether to Feel Schadenfreude, or to be Appalled

I’m not q big fan the USPTO’s tendency to grant a patent to everything these days, and I’m even less of a fan of Apples use of its patent portfolio as an alternative new ideas, but the folks at Cuppertino just got hit with a completely bogus patent claim:

An apparent shell company has filed a $3 million patent infringement lawsuit against Apple for including headphones with its iPhones.

A company called Intelligent Smart Phones Concepts sued Apple last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Apple infringed on U.S. Patent No. 7,373,182. The abstract for “Wireless Mobile Phone Including a Headset” describes an interface that allows a removable headset “to receive at least telephony audio signals from the phone, and to provide audio signals to the phone.”

Seriously, keep patent examiners away from toilet paper, because they will sign off on anything.

EU to Spanish Consumers Defrauded by Banks: Drop Dead

So Spanish banks lied to their customers, selling them preferred shares and telling them that they were government insured accounts, and now the EU is requiring that they get wiped out as part of a bailout:

Yves here. We’ve flagged in earlier posts how the Spanish banking crisis had the potential to become destabilizing politically, as if Spain wasn’t already at considerable risk of upheaval. Spanish depositors were pushed to convert their deposits into preference shares, which they were told were just as safe. That of course was never true.

This was a simple desperation move by the banks to save their own skins, customers be damned, by raising equity from the most unsophisticated source to which they had access. And now that that gambit failed, these shareholders are due to have those investments wiped out unless the Spanish authorities can cut a deal to spare them. The conditions of a bank rescue, which Spain did try to resist, was to have equity holders wiped out, or at least haircut. And that plan is now about to be set in motion. Having losses imposed on small savers who were in many cases conned by their own bank to buy these preference shares is going to do serious harm as well as further delegitimate the government.

Remember that quote from the Icelandic President? It’s only two posts down.

He’s right: bail out the people and jail the bankers.

I Gotta Cut Down on the Coffee

I was at work, and I was looking at a hinged plastic (Pelican type) case with some custom padding in it.

We are putting custom padding in the case so that we can ship equipment to the customer.  (No more details)

I was trying to figure out why it was harder to closer than the earlier ones did, so I was loading the equipment , and then trying to load it without the equipment.

Eventually, I determined that there was not something interfering with the equipment, which might crush some delicate electronics, but that the hinge was a bit different, but that’s not a problem, because it does not clamp the equipment any more tightly.

I was using a sheet of paper as a sort of a feeler gauge in order to figure out where the interference was, and a co-worker walked up behind me and said something to the effect of, “Everything OK with the case?”

I yelped loudly, and jumped about 6 inches in the air, which stunned the hell out of both of us, and then we both started laughing, as I said, “Too much coffee.”

I think I might have been hyper-focusing a bit,

Holy Sh%$, We Are Running out of Gullible Idiots

I understand that all resources are finite, but I never thought that it would apply to human gullibility and stupidity, indicating a continuing fall in trading volume.

His explanation is that we are finally running out of rubes willing to trust Wall Street:

The uptrend bit is easy: volumes, at least until 2009, always went up over time, especially when they were helped along by things like decimalization and high-frequency trading. But what explains the downtrend? It’s not the decreasing number of stocks: that might explain a bit of what’s going on in the US, but it wouldn’t explain the rest of the world.

Instead, I think that what we’re seeing is the slow death of the stock-market investor — the kind of person who subscribes to Barron’s, idolizes Warren Buffett, and thinks of stock-market investing as a do-it-yourself enterprise. During the dot-com bubble, lots of people thought they were really smart when it came to stock-market investing, and then after the dot-com bubble burst, the rise of discount brokerages helped encourage new people to step in to the market and try their luck.

Nowadays, however, the message is sinking in: it’s a rigged game, you can’t win, and you’re better off with a passive strategy.

It is very hard for me to believe, but the idea that Wall Street is finally running out of hard-working, regular folks who are willing to be cheated is not an unreasonable thesis given this data.

Telco Breakup Has Hit the Mainstream

Because it’s hit the New York Times:

Since 1974, when the Justice Department sued to break up the Ma Bell phone monopoly, Americans have been told that competition in telecommunications would produce innovation, better service and lower prices.

What we’ve witnessed instead is low-quality service and prices that are higher than a truly competitive market would bring.

After a brief fling with competition, ownership has reconcentrated into a stodgy duopoly of Bell Twins — AT&T and Verizon. Now, thanks to new government rules, each in effect has become the leader of its own cartel.

The AT&T-DirectTV and Verizon-Bright House-Cox-Comcast-TimeWarner behemoths market what are known as “quad plays”: the phone companies sell mobile services jointly with the “triple play” of Internet, telephone and television connections, which are often provided by supposedly competing cable and satellite companies. And because AT&T’s and Verizon’s own land-based services operate mostly in discrete geographic markets, each cartel rules its domain as a near monopoly.

The result of having such sweeping control of the communications terrain, naturally, is that there is little incentive for either player to lower prices, make improvements to service or significantly invest in new technologies and infrastructure. And that, in turn, leaves American consumers with a major disadvantage compared with their counterparts in the rest of the world.

On average, for instance, a triple-play package that bundles Internet, telephone and television sells for $160 a month with taxes. In France the equivalent costs just $38. For that low price the French also get long distance to 70 foreign countries, not merely one; worldwide television, not just domestic; and an Internet that’s 20 times faster uploading data and 10 times faster downloading it.

It’s not from their editorial board, it’s from former Times correspondent David Cay Johnston, whose beat is consumer protection and tax loopholes, but the fact that anyone gets space in the “Gray Lady” to suggest that deregulation will not create a telecommunications utopia is worth noting.

Irony, You’re Soaking in It!

So, some neighborhoods in New York were set up as completely private. Their streets were private, and everything was behind fences.

Well, after hurricane Sandy, they are asking for a bailout:

Sea Gate looks the same as many storm-scattered waterfront communities do. Home after home torn apart by the ocean. Streets filled with sand. Shattered sidewalks and clogged sewers. A sea wall, which had already been inadequate to the task of safeguarding residents, reduced to rubble.

Ordinarily, New York City or other governmental entities might take over the tasks of restoring a middle-class neighborhood like this. But Sea Gate, with its 850 homes on Coney Island’s western tip, is not an ordinary neighborhood. It is a 113-year-old private, gated community, where the razor-wire-topped fences and armed security checkpoints that keep outsiders from its streets, beaches and parks serve as a constant reminder that the residents of this community have chosen to live somewhat apart.

Once the gilded retreat of the Vanderbilt family, Sea Gate, like other gated communities in New York, preserved its exclusivity with the promise that the residents would assume the costs of community upkeep, maintaining their own streets, parks and sewer systems and even fielding the distinct Sea Gate Police Department.

The special status endured, through occasional controversy and political efforts to open the streets to the public, because of the community’s self-sufficiency.

But the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy to Sea Gate, in Brooklyn, and another gated community, Breezy Point, in Queens, was so monumental that residents who are already struggling to figure out how they will pay to rebuild their homes say they cannot afford to pay the additional cost of repairing communal infrastructure. So neighborhoods that have long held the rest of the city at arm’s length now seek the financial embrace of the city, state and federal governments.

This is not public infrastructure, it’s private infrastructure.

They don’t have streets, they have a communal driveway. If they wanted it protected, they should have had insurance.

If they want public help for their private property, then the public needs PUBLIC access to those streets.

The city has already bulldozed sand off the streets and vacuumed sand out of the storm drains, and until their public spaces are once again public, that should be it.

H/t JR at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

Because No One in Washington Believes In Public Works for the Public Good

Duncan Black wonders why Obama’s infrastructure plans have so much added complexity in order to accommodate private investors:

I like me some infrastructure spending. I do not know why the government, which can borrow money for free, needs a rube goldberg machine with added middlemen to make it happen.

This one is simple: There is a Washington consensus about public projects these days, it’s that giving some rich dude the opportunity to earn a profit at taxpayer expense, is essential because of capitalism.

What are you a commie pinko or something?

Yes, the free market mousketeers are basically corrupt ratf%$#s.

BTW, that is one seriously fat cat.

Your Morment of Eric Arthur Blair*

Barack Obama, who has prosecuted more whistle blowers under the espionage act than all the Presidents combined, just signed the whistleblower protection act:

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is praising President Obama’s signing of S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), into law earlier today. The legislation provides millions of federal workers with the rights they need to report government corruption and wrongdoing safely. The bill reflects an unequivocal bipartisan consensus, having received the vote of every member in the 112th Congress, passing both the Senate and House of Representatives by unanimous consent over the past couple of months. The text of the bill can be read here.

It’s like something out of The Onion.

*You know, George Orwell.

My God, Actual Regulation!

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has effectively shut down Intrade, the online gambling house futures trading exchange, for US investors:

Facing accusations that it allowed American investors to bet on the outcome of wars and other world events without the blessing of regulators, Intrade announced on Monday that it was closing its Web site to United States residents.

The disclosure, which referred to “legal and regulatory pressures,” was released hours after American authorities sued the company, which is based in Dublin, over its popular trading network. Investors log on to Intrade by the thousands to bet on the outcomes of elections, the weather and even whether the United States will bomb Iran.

But in a civil complaint filed in federal court in Washington, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission took aim at the company and an affiliate for offering the contracts outside traditional exchanges and without regulatory approval. The agency also accused the companies of “making false statements” to regulators and violating a past order barring it from offering so-called prediction contracts outside traditional exchanges.

“Unfortunately this means that all U.S. residents must begin the process of closing down their Intrade accounts,” the company said on its Web site. “We understand this announcement may come as a surprise and a disappointment, and we apologize for the short notice and haste required to deal with this.”

I’m stunned.

I’m pleased, but I am stunned.

It’s a refutation of the philosophy of the “free-market mousketeers” who are inclined to allow all kinds of crazy sh%$ to pretend to be high finance, as opposed to a particularly abusive casino, in which the house takes even more than Vegas.

BTW, Intrade’s record sucked too, witness the gyrations in the 2008 Democratic and 2012 Republican primary markets.

Not Enough Bullets

If I were Al Sharpton, I’d be Screaming at Her

Remember Carly Fiorina?  The former CEO of HP?  The one who first came to prominence by presiding over massive accounting irregularities masquerading as blockbuster sales at Lucent?

Well, when she got fired as CEO, HP employees are reported to have spontaneously burst into song, specifically the song Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.

I’m sure that she cried all the way to the bank, because she got a $40 million dollar golden parachute.

She knows what the problem with the good old USA is, it’s that public employees’ unions have it too good: (at about 3 minutes into the video.

Carly Fiorina, who reportedly stood to receive more than $42 million after being ousted at HP in 2005, says that public workers should receive less benefits because “it is not fair” that unions are “so rich.”

During a Sunday panel segment on NBC, MSNBC host Al Sharpton asserted that Congress must agree to raise taxes on the wealthy before cutting spending.

“This is about fairness,” he explained. “Why do we need to need to deal with the tax on the rich first? Because we must ensure Americans we are dealing with fairness. We keep talking about shared sacrifice, there was not shared wealth and shared prosperity. So, you’re asking people that didn’t enjoy the good times to share in paying for the tab that they never enjoyed.”

Most of the American public might think that a an unbroken record of failure, capped by a $40 million golden parachute might be a bigger problem than the the deferred compensation known as a mortgage.

Seriously, business management seems to be a petri dish for sociopaths.

H/t Chris in Paris at Americablog.

Someone Here Should Be Going to Jail, and It Ain’t Kim Dotcom

It turns out that most of the evidence in the case against Kim Dotcom and Megaupload was kept on their servers at the request of the US government:

A fresh legal bid to throw out the case against Kim Dotcom in the United States is being made after claims of an FBI double-cross.

Evidence has emerged showing the Department of Homeland Security served a search warrant on Mr Dotcom’s file-sharing company Megaupload in 2010 which he claims forced it to preserve pirated movies found in an unrelated piracy investigation.

The 39 files were identified during an investigation into the NinjaVideo website, which had used Megaupload’s cloud storage to store pirated movies.


Mr Dotcom said Megaupload co-operated with the US Government investigation into copyright pirates NinjaVideo and was legally unable to delete the 39 movies identified in the search warrant.

Mr Dotcom said: “We were informed by (the US Government) we were not to interfere with the investigation. We completely co-operated.


The FBI application to seize the sites said the “Mega Conspiracy” members were told by “criminal search warrant” in June 2010 “that 39 infringing copies of copyrighted motion pictures were present on their leased servers”. The application was approved to allow the seizure of the domain names.

Someone was outright lying to judges in both the United States and New Zealand in order to do a favor for the pukes at the MPAA.

This is what happens when you make the conscious decision to use the powers of government as the enforcement arm of private interests.

It is inherently corrupt, and inherently corrupting.

(on edit)

If you want to make the argument that the MPAA is just being a zealous protector of its client studios, it’s not.  It’s about power.

If the movie studios were to look at the effect of low levels of file sharing, like that which was done by some Megaupload customers, they would know that shutting down the file storage site cost them money:

A new paper suggests that box office revenues were negatively impacted after the shutdown of Megaupload. The dip in revenues was most visible for average size and smaller films. According to the researchers this may have been caused by the loss of word-of-mouth promotion by people who used the popular file-hosting site to share movies. For blockbuster movies the Megaupload shutdown had the opposite effect.

In common with every file-sharing service, Megaupload was used by some of its members to host copyright-infringing movies.

For this reason the MPAA was one of the main facilitators of the Megaupload investigation, which ultimately led to the shutdown of the company in January.

The movie industry was quick to praise the government’s actions, but a new report suggests that Megaupload’s demise actually resulted in lower box office revenues.

Researchers from Munich School of Management and Copenhagen Business School published a short paper titled “Piracy and Movie Revenues: Evidence from Megaupload.” The study analyzes weekly data from 1344 movies in 49 countries over a five-year period, to asses the impact of the Megaupload shutdown on movie theater visits.

The researchers theorize that some films may actually benefit from piracy due to word of mouth promotion, and their findings partly support this idea.

So some level of file sharing can help, particularly with smaller films, like indie films.

There appears to be less/no benefit to larger films, probably because most of the studio blockbusters are crap, and so word of mouth is a bad thing.

This is not about protecting the artist. This is about protecting the do-nothing job of the studio chief’s brother in law.

Or, to be a little bit less flip, it’s about shutting down potential distribution and publicity channels that threaten the movie and record distributors’ ability act as an intermediary and charge a toll.

Signs of the Apocalypse

The fact that I am actually approvingly quoting American Conservative magazine.

Specifically, I am quoting an article by Bruce Bartlett, in which he excoriates the modern Republican Party for going completely bat sh%$ insane:


A couple of weeks before the 2004 election, Suskind wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine that quoted some of my comments to him that were highly critical of Bush and the drift of Republican policy. The article is best remembered for his quote from an anonymous White House official dismissing critics like me for being “the reality-based community.”

The day after the article appeared, my boss called to chew me out, saying that Karl Rove had called him personally to complain about it. I promised to be more circumspect in the future.

Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.

Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.


I later learned that the order to ignore me extended throughout Rupert Murdoch’s empire. For example, I stopped being quoted in the Wall Street Journal.* Awhile back, a reporter who left the Journal confirmed to me that the paper had given her orders not to mention me. Other dissident conservatives, such as David Frum and Andrew Sullivan, have told me that they are banned from Fox as well. More epistemic closure.


I hit upon the idea of ignoring the academic journals and looking instead at what economists like John Maynard Keynes, Irving Fisher, and others said in newspaper interviews and articles for popular publications. Recently computerized databases made such investigation far easier than it previously had been.

After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger.


For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.


For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.

This is a particularly deep vein of schadenfreude.


Grace under pressure

In protest of increasing management interference in the news (primarily of the right wing variety) two co-anchors on stations WVII and WFVX in Bangor, Maine, announced their resignations on the air, and later cited excessive management interference in the news process:

Citing a longstanding battle with upper management over journalistic practices at their Bangor TV stations, news co-anchors Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio announced their resignations at the end of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. newscast.

Michaels and Consiglio, who have a combined 12½ years’ service at WVII (Channel 7) and sister station WFVX (Channel 22), shocked staff members and viewers with their joint resignations Tuesday evening.

“I just wanted to know that I was doing the best job I could and was being honest and ethical as a journalist, and I thought there were times when I wasn’t able to do that,” said Consiglio, a northeastern Connecticut native who broke in with WVII as a sports reporter in April 2006.

Not everyone was shocked by the on-air resignations.

“No, that was unfortunate, but not unexpected,” said Mike Palmer, WVII/WFVX vice president and general manager. “We’ll hire experienced people to fill these positions sooner rather than later.”

Neither reporter had told anyone of their decisions before Tuesday’s newscast.

“We figured if we had tendered our resignations off the air, we would not have been allowed to say goodbye to the community on the air and that was really important for us to do that,” said Michaels, the station’s news director, who has spent six of her 15 years in Bangor’s radio and TV market at WVII.

Both Michaels, 46, and Consiglio, 28, said frustration over the way they were allowed or told to do their jobs — something that has been steadily mounting for the last four years — became too much for them.

For what it’s worth, Mike Palmer, the aforementioned general manager, got some national ink in 2006, when he issued an edict forbidding any coverage of anthropogenic climate change until, “Bar Harbor is underwater.”

The fact that they surprised management by quitting on the air is telling.  They knew that the could not trust them.

Big surprise that one of the stations is a Fox affiliate.

H/t A Siegel at the big orange Borg.