Sunday, January 26, 2014

Without comment


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What is important?

What issues do we consider to be important?  In this regard, consider the mortality due to alcohol and the mortality due to violence.  If you believe the World Health Organization,
http://www.who.int/gho/alcohol/harms_consequences/en/
http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/en/

3.8% of deaths in 2004 were attributable to alcohol (2.5 million people).  In contrast, violence claims 1.4 million lives a year, of which 58% are suicides.  

Then, of course, the use of alcohol contributes to violence.   As Seth Abramson wrote, in the American context,
Alcohol abuse is likely the most common driver of crime. Alcohol was involved in more than half of the domestic violence cases I tried as an attorney.
It would seem that the traditional cultures of India and of the Islamic world that had strong cultural  taboos and even legal sanctions around the use of alcohol had it right.   Why does a Western cultural norm become a global cultural norm?   But put that aside for now.

Why do we talk more about violence than about alcohol?


Ought to be sauce for the gander?

If compliance with local labor law is something the US Department of State is promoting, then why this? 

The US Embassy in Indonesia said it was still studying an order by the Supreme Court issued in April last year, related to the dismissal of Indra Taufiq, a former driver of the US Consulate in Medan, North Sumatra, after ruling that diplomatic immunity did not apply in the case.

The court ordered the embassy to pay Indra severance in accordance with Indonesian labor law — which states a worker is entitled to a year’s salary plus a month for every year’s service — after he was allegedly fired without proper cause.

The embassy said it would study the case in accordance with international law.

“We are still studying the case from the perspective of international law, and we will work with related Indonesian institutions,” US Embassy spokesman Troy Pederson was quoted as saying by Majalah Detik on Monday.

Indra had worked at the consulate for 11 years before he lost his job on July 26, 2011. But the embassy did not pay Indra severance as required by Indonesian law when an employer cuts ties with an employee.

Indra subsequently filed a lawsuit against the US missions in Medan and Jakarta at the Medan Industrial Relations Court (PHI) and eventually won the case in the Supreme Court.

Indra said since the court ruled in his favor on April 2 last year, he had gone to the consulate three times to claim what is due to him, but the consulate refused to comply with the ruling.

“I’m just going to wait. Maybe God has not shown the way,” Indra said.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

One from the show "India's Got Talent"

Apologies to the Hindi-challenged, but still worth watching, I think. (I also think the youtube truncates a little bit her original performance.)



Saturday, January 18, 2014

Students' corner in the Indian Express

The Indian Express newspaper keeps some space for students, preparing for exams.  Most of what I saw was not great; but there was one neat little puzzle:  find all solutions of n! = a! + b! + c!.

The Franchise in Germany and the USA

Unlike Great Britain, with a century-long song-and-dance of the reform acts of 1832, 1867, 1884, 1918 and 1928 to get to universal adult franchise,  Germany, not exactly known as a bastion of democracy, equality, etc., had full adult male franchise since 1867, and universal adult franchise since 1918.   This is so easily found on Wiki that I don't bother to link it here; I make this post because it surprised me.   It shouldn't have surprised me; I ought to be ever aware that my view of Europe is heavily an Anglo-American-centric one.

While I'm on it, the US in principle had full adult male franchise after 1868/1870 (the 14th/15th amendments), and in 1920, the vote was extended to women with the 19th amendment.  In practice, it took the voting right acts of 1964 and 1965 and the 24th Amendment in 1964, to give all adults a fighting chance of being able to exercise their right to vote.  In 2014, the battle over the right to vote continues, with Republican-ruled states trying to put all kinds of barriers in the way of voting.  They do this in the name of preventing voter fraud, which mostly doesn't exist, and the few cases are at the level of a few votes per million.  The fifty states have a mess of rules about allowing/disallowing  prisoners, probationers, parolees and people who have completed all obligations to the prison system  to vote in state and federal elections.  As of 2010, 5.85 million people were disenfranchised in this way. (The voting eligible population in 2010 was around 217.5 million.)

Contrast with Germany, (Wiki):
In Germany, all convicts are allowed to vote while in prison unless the loss of the right to vote is part of the sentence; courts can only apply this sentence for specific "political" crimes (treason, high treason, electoral fraud, intimidation of voters, etc.) and for a duration of two to five years.
As an aside, the Republican/Democratic duopoly have made the rules very difficult for an independent or third party to get onto the ballot.  (It is a patchwork of laws over the fifty states.)

So the battle for full adult franchise is an ongoing one in the "Leader of the Free World", the United States of America.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Franchise in Great Britain

The centenary of World War I has set off a debate in Great Britain, about which you can read here.  One sentence there struck me:
Britain wasn’t a democracy at the time either: until the Fourth Reform Act of 1918, 40% of adult males didn’t have the vote, in contrast to Germany, where every adult man had the right to go to the ballot box in national elections.
Some digging into Wiki provided this:

1. The First Reform Act of 1832:
The Act also increased the number of individuals entitled to vote, increasing the size of the electorate from about 500,000 to 813,000, and allowing a total of one out of six adult males to vote, in a population of some 14 million.
2. The Second Reform Act of 1867:
Before the Act, only one million of the five million adult males in England and Wales could vote; the Act immediately doubled that number. Moreover, by the end of 1868 all male heads of household were enfranchised as a result of the end of compounding of rents. 
3. The Third Reform Act of 1884:
The act extended the 1867 concessions from the boroughs to the countryside. All men paying an annual rental of £10 or all those holding land valued at £10 now had the vote. The British electorate now totalled over 5,500,000....The 1884 Reform Act did not establish universal suffrage: although the size of the electorate was widened considerably, all women and 40% of adult males were still without the vote at the time. Male suffrage varied throughout the kingdom, too: in England and Wales, 2 in 3 adult males had the vote; in Scotland, 3 in 5 did; and in Ireland, the figure was only 1 in 2.
 4. The Fourth Reform Act of 1918:
  1. All adult males gain the vote, as long as they are 21 years old or over and are resident in the constituency
  2. Women over 30 years old receive the vote but they have to be either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a University constituency (be a graduate).
.....It is worth noting that had women been enfranchised based upon the same requirements as men, they would have been in the majority because of the loss of men in the war.
5. The Fifth Reform Act of 1928:
It widened suffrage by giving women electoral equality with men.

This luxury of time is worth keeping this in mind.

IBM's predictions from Nov 2008

 Looking at IBM's predictions for today from five years ago:

http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/26170.wss

ARMONK, NY     - 25 Nov 2008: Unveiled today, the third annual "IBM Next Five in Five" is a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years:
  • Energy saving solar technology will be built into asphalt, paint and windows
  • You will have a crystal ball for your health
  • You will talk to the Web . . . and the Web will talk back
  • You will have your own digital shopping assistants
  • Forgetting will become a distant memory

Decolonization - 2

I had previously mentioned this item where Aatish Taseer takes down Arundhati Roy.   I now quote a different part of it.

Ida: The ‘idiot’ to whom you refer…what is your beef with him?

Aatish: I disapprove of him. That’s all. 

Ida: Disapprove of him? That’s a bit imperious…

Aatish: I saw him at one of his book launches, a grotesque figure, a man become obese on the affections of Indians! He lay on a stage, this great whale of a man, dressed in a mirrorwork kaftan, if you please, his dirty feet hanging off. And all about him, like little pixies, Baul singers skittered around… 

Ida: Baul singers?

Aatish: They’re Bengali bards of a kind. And to complete this awful scene was an audience of embassy trash. They sat among bolsters and fountains, sipping white wine. You’ve never seen anything more hideous in your life. But we mustn’t blame him alone; the fault is as much India’s; it is India who makes giants of these mediocrities, fattening them up till they’re as corrupt as Kurtz.

Ida: That’s a bit harsh…

Aatish: In this respect, one cannot be harsh enough. In a more confident country—like Russia, say, in the 19th century; or, even China today—a man like that would have been booted out. He would have been a figure of fun and contempt. He would not have been able to position himself as a gatekeeper to intellectual life. But in India, he can; we love a man like that!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

India and Whisky

India consumes as much whisky as the rest of the world combined.  It is not surprising that alcohol use is emerging as a new public health problem in India.

Goldman Sachs, via businessinsider.com provided this chart:





This other chart on per capita consumption, via digby, is consistent (1.2 billion people * 1.24 litres per person per year ~ 1,400 million litres).


Decolonization 101

Only indirectly and imperfectly can I explain decolonization.

Suppose X lives in a large family, with an Imperious Aunt.  This Imperious Aunt happens to know (or so everyone believes) how X feels better than X does.   X falls down and scrapes his knee; he gets a good school report card; he doesn't get into the college he wants; he gets a job; he falls in love - whatever it is,  to find out how X feels, everyone consults the Imperious Aunt.  Even when she's visibly inaccurate about how X feels, and X expostulates, "But....", everyone tells him, "Oh shut up, what do **you** know?", and goes back to listening to the Imperious Aunt.

Decolonization is the process of overthrowing the Authority of the Imperious Aunt. 

It might boggle your mind that an entire nation can suffer from the syndrome of the Imperious Aunt.  Well, the nation is not one person; there is an elite; sort of like Krugman's Very Serious People (VSPs), who dominate the discourse in that country; and this elite can be very disconnected from reality.   Just like Birla, who, before his de-Macaulayization,  could not recognize expertise or competence unless it presented itself in the Queen's English.  It is this elite that are the arbiters of everything in the country, and they constantly run to their Imperious Aunt to know anything about everything.  Imperious Aunt doesn't mind either, it suits her purposes.  Decolonization is the process of dismantling this hegemony.

PS: on a milder note, I recall seeing Gell-Mann trying to educate a visiting professor on how to pronounce his (the visiting professor's) wife's name.   Just imagine, he returns home, and tells his wife, we've been married twenty one years. but only now, finally, Gell-Mann taught me how to say your name properly. (In real life, he protested to Gell-Mann.)  Not letting Gell-Mann tell you how to pronounce the name of your spouse of many years is decolonization.




De-Macaulayization - 2

This is from Japan, so strictly speaking, this isn't de-Macaulayization.   Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank (SoftBank recently acquired the telco Sprint) wrote as follows:

For context, this excerpt:
After acquiring Sprint, I delivered a speech urging all employees and managers at the company to join forces with our Japanese unit and work as a single entity.

     I made the speech because I did not want to repeat the mistakes I had made running previously acquired companies in the U.S. When I took over the company that runs Comdex (Computer Dealer's Exhibition) and U.S. publisher Ziff Davis, I allowed American executives to run them at their discretion. This decision was based on my belief that Japanese owners should not interfere too much with the U.S. executives' business management. That belief was wrong.

     By leaving American executives to their own devices, I was acting as an investor and not as a business leader. This hands-off approach would never enable me to reform management of companies I acquire overseas. It doesn't matter how well a company is run, there is always room for improvement. A hands-on approach allows me to make profitable businesses more profitable.
 For the de-Macaulayization, this:
     A Japanese SoftBank executive recently made a presentation in English in Silicon Valley. His spoken English was terrible, but who cares? He was able to make himself understood. In the past, I would probably have told Japanese executives at SoftBank to focus on Japanese operations if their English was not at a high level. Not anymore.

PS: there is an old desi joke (that sounds better in Hindi), Banta Singh from an Indian village visits England and comes back very enthused - England is a really advanced country, even the children speak English!  Crudely speaking, de-Macaulayization is the shedding of that attitude.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

QOTD

As I remember from TV:

Journalist Gabriel Sherman: Fox News is a political operation that hires journalists.

Sherman does not deny that Fox News commits acts of journalism (on occasion) - it after all hires journalists.  But it is a political operation run by Roger Ailes.  Sherman sees Fox News as an expression of Roger Ailes' will just as Apple was to Steve Jobs. 

Non-violence

Quote:
........university professor and researcher Erica Chenoweth explains in the following TED video…


She finds (through her research) that when an average 3.5 percent of any given population engages in non-violent (civil) resistance on a sustained basis, “no single campaign failed.” She also finds that “every single campaign that surpassed that 3.5 percent was a non-violent one.” She goes on to say that “In fact, the non-violent campaigns were on average four times larger than the average violent campaign, and they were often much more inclusive and representative in terms of gender, age, race, political party, class, and the urban role distinction. Civil resistance allows people of all different levels of physical ability to participate. This could include the elderly, people with disabilities, women, children, and anyone else who wants to. If you think about it, everyone is born with a natural physical ability to resist non-violently…”

Cancer rates

As people live longer, the chances of them getting cancer increase - so it is hard to know whether there is a signal of environmental degradation in an increased incidence of cancer.

So, look at the incidence of childhood cancer:  Childhood Cancer Epidemiology in North America. (PDF)

It tells us (slide 3) that the overall rate is 165 cases per 1,000,000 children per year; (slide 12) "Overall non-significant 0.4% increase per year 1992-2004".

One can go to the National Cancer Institute's SEER database, and extract information, like this below.  I guess whatever we are doing to our environment, it is not reflected in the childhood cancer incidence rates.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

National honor, WW-I, Israel & Iran

Bringing together a few things:

Exhibit 1: from CIP:
According to many accounts, World War I started by escalation of a global game of chicken in which each side let itself be sucked further into the vortex in response to escalating threats to their "national honor. In order to avoid loss of face each side managed to lose millions of lives, destroy its economy, and lose empires.

Exhibit 2:  from Patrick Buchanan (of all people!)
As we approach the centennial of World War I, we will read much of the blunders that produced that tragedy of Western civilization.

Among them will be the "blank check" Kaiser Wilhelm II gave to Vienna after the assassination by a Serb terrorist of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand.

If you decide to punish the Serbs, said the Kaiser, we are with you. 

After dithering for weeks, Austria shelled Belgrade. Within a week, Germany and Austria were at war with Russia, France and Great Britain. 

Today the Senate is about to vote Israel a virtual blank check — for war on Iran. Reads Senate bill S.1881:.....

Exhibit 3: Senate bill S.1881, by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)  & 58 co-sponsors
Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that--....
 
(5) if the Government of Israel is compelled to take 
        military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's 
        nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should 
        stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of 
        the United States and the constitutional responsibility of 
        Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, 
        military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in 
        its defense of its territory, people, and existence; 
 

LED disappointment?

That 60W-equivalent LED: What you don’t know, and what no one will tell you…
(via dailykos.com)
Back to our story:  Turns out that the consumer’s assumption is not valid: that the LED bulb is just another upgrade like the CFL. As noted, folks assumed that anywhere you had the 40W or 60W incandescent, you could screw in the CFL. This is not at all the case for a 40 or 60 watt-equivalent.

Within an LED bulb the internal generation and distribution of heat is such that it “desperately” needs access to cool surrounding air.  The fact that it has that metallic housing is irrelevant in restricted air.

That 60 watt Wal-Mart bulb, when operating base down in open air and not even using a shade, has its internal LED case at 85
°C, the absolute upper end of what is considered “safe” for full life expectancy. The same deal is true for competitive bulbs. Put a shade around it... and it’s a little warmer. Put it into any kind of base-up socket and it gets a lot hotter and all life expectancy numbers are off the table. Put it into any kind of porch or post light fixture, and it can fry, with its internal power supply components at the cliff edge of failure. Put the lamp in a ceiling-mounted fully enclosed fixture and set the timer for when failure will occur.

In other words,  totally unlike incandescent and substantially unlike a CFL, reliability and life expectancy go down hill sharply as soon as you install  it anywhere that air is restricted. Guess what? A large percentage of places for LED best value is in those place where access is difficult and air is restricted. LEDs do not target a “table-lamp-only” marketplace.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Record of a different labor dispute

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/09/nyregion/after-winning-a-raise-175-casino-workers-in-queens-lose-their-jobs.html?src=rechp

These 175 casino workers were earning $5 an hour plus tips. In the casino's buffet restaurant. (Imagine that, the bountiful tips in a buffet restaurant!). In New York City (Queens), where the minimum wage is $9.75 per hour. After one year of dispute, the case went to arbitration, and the labor arbitrator raised wages to $12 per hour. The casino did agree to the raise - and then fired the workers a few months later.

For the record, none of the (Malaysian) owners of the casino were ever arrested or strip-searched.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Waiting for Spring

Was visiting my parents. We planted seeds on New Year's Day, and a week later these had come up. The "waiting for spring" is for me, now in New Jersey.

The free market at the legislature

The extent to which the wealthy can get legislation written to suit their purposes is scary. Fortunately, they can't yet get legislation passed as easily.

In the case at hand, a wealthy divorced Wisconsin businessman felt the $15,000 per month he was paying as child support out of his $1.2 million annual income (and $30 million in assets) was too much, so he got his bought friendly Wisconsin state legislator to introduce a bill, which among other things, would limit the income that can be considered for child support to $150,000 per year; that would revisit all child support settlements that are 10% above the new requirement; and would prohibit judges from "from taking into account a parent’s assets in determining the level of child support".

(via dailykos)


Christie Gate - 4

A NYT commenter, gemli, from Boston put up this:
I was looking forward to a Christie presidency. We might have had a Republican majority in the House (and maybe even the Senate), with a bitter, smug, angry and insecure Republican man-child as president. It would have been an amusing way to bring this country's story to a close. Now it looks like it's going to drag on and on with (possibly) another Clinton at the helm, who might actually encourage us feel hopeful again, making the ultimate collapse that much more painful. With Christie, it would have been quick, like pulling off a band-aid. Now it's going to be slow, like a trip across the George Washington Bridge.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Spin

I found this amusing - from the US Department of State Daily Press Briefing, January 6:

QUESTION: Marie, you said that there were no U.S. observers there?

MS. HARF: There were not.

QUESTION: Not even the Embassy? I mean, what are you basing your statement on if you didn’t have anyone on the ground?

MS. HARF: Let me see. I don’t believe there were any observers. Let me double-check on that.

QUESTION: Well, how do you know, then, that it was a bad election?

MS. HARF: Well, I think when we say observers, that’s people like at polling stations. What I base the statement on was that more than half of the seats were uncontested, and most of the remainder offered only token opposition. Obviously, you don’t need to have an observer at a polling place to see that.

QUESTION: Okay, so – right, but you’re referring to the – not necessarily the conduct of election day itself, but the overall --

MS. HARF: But there was also quite a bit of violence too, which obviously you don’t need observers at a polling station to see.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, I know, but usually you would play that off as “Oh, those are just press reports. We don’t have any independent confirmation here to -- ” Do you – can you check to see whether there were people from the Embassy who were out and about who actually saw some of this stuff, or are you just basing --

MS. HARF: I’m sure that is true. When I say “observers,” I mean not official folks at polling stations as election observers, but I’m happy to get some more details.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Christie Gate - 3

The New Yorker cover is perfect (via dailykos):


Christie Gate - 2

The question was:
How would closing the toll lanes at the George Washington Bridge possibly harm Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, the alleged target of the plot?
The answer, apparently, is (thanks, dailykos)
Via Business Insider, it turns out that Sokolich was told back on September 12 that officers from the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) were telling commuters that Sokolich himself was responsible for the lane closures. The revelation was contained within an email Sokolich sent to the former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni. Baroni resigned last month.
Business Insider :
Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) wrote a letter to a top Port Authority official on Sept. 12 complaining that the agency's police officers were telling commuters it was the mayor's fault that lanes were closed on the George Washington Bridge, causing massive traffic jams.........Here's the relevant excerpt:  {my transcription from an image}
Our emergency service vehicles are experiencing tremendous response time delays and my office is overwhelmed with complaints. Unquestionably, this decision has negatively impacted public safety here in Fort Lee. Adding insult to injury, many members of the public have indicated to me that the Port Authority Police Officers are advising commuters in response to their complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision that I, as the Mayor, recently made.  The basis, reason, or genesis of the decision is of no consequence to me; however, its profound and adverse impact on our community is of paramount importance to me.

Christie Gate

On the drive back from the airport, the cabbie regaled me with the latest about the scandal the New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, finds himself in.

What is known for sure is that Christie's deputy chief of staff and Christie's appointees at the NJ Port Authority - the Port Authority is responsible for roads, bridges, trains, ports, etc., - conspired to block access lanes at the very busy George Washington Bridge, in order to create traffic jams.   The documentary evidence is impeccable.

The motive is alleged to be retribution for the non-endorsement for Republican Christie's re-election by the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, the township where the traffic jams were created.   There is speculation about alternative victims to this action.

My problem with the alleged motive is - how would the Mayor (or anyone else) know that they being punished, unless it could be safely made clear to them that the traffic jams were caused intentionally?   Or unless the voters could be made to believe that the Mayor was responsible for the traffic jams?

Christie's staff is notable not only for its petty vindictiveness, but also their remarkable stupidity.  The big question is how much of this rubbed off onto them from their boss.

Pot, taxes, society, freedom

A version of these musings found no resonance on dailykos.com.  To keep things brief, I provide only my main points.


1. To begin with - marijuana legalization.

a. The problem with current law are the sentences disproportionate to the crime of carrying pot - I fully sympathise.

b. My point was not received with sympathy, that the dailykos-type liberal would support all kinds of regulations on companies selling a product one-tenth as dangerous as pot - say, Monsanto with GMO foods, or fast-food companies selling sugar- and fat- laden obesity-promoting products.

2. Both dailykos-type leftists and libertarians subscribe to the same notion of freedom - "if my actions don't cause physical or financial harm to anyone, I should be free to do it."  This is a common American cultural notion (and is being globalized, to the detriment of the world).

a. I believe any definition of freedom requires balancing the individual and society.

b. I do not claim to know where that balance lies; I just know that it is necessary.

c. The notion of freedom mentioned above is trivially shown to be mistaken.

Any ecological system has a "carrying capacity" - it can sustain indefinitely a certain level of some type of human activity.  But once that level is exceeded, human activity requires regulation. Hence, e.g., automobiles are required to have catalytic converters.  The Los Angeles air quality management district put restrictions on wood-burning fires.  Fishing and hunting are largely regulated.  The action of no one individual causes harm; the action of individuals below a certain total threshold causes no harm; it is the collective action of a large number of individuals that causes harm.

3. I believe the legalization of pot does not take into account society's interests.  It is based purely on the same mistaken notion of freedom.

4. Libertarians argue that taxation is theft, taxation is immoral, etc.; and logically speaking, they are correct, if we ignore the existence of society in our definition of freedom.   Dailykos-type leftists who accept the common American notion are, at best,  reduced to trying to justify majoritarian coercion with regard to taxes, or futilely quoting, "taxation is the price we pay for civilization". 

5. The reason why society has a say in your freedoms -  that you survived beyond age 10, that you have a language to speak, that you do not have to create the world anew, but have the fruits of ages of civilization and culture available to you, is because of the existence of human society.  This obligation is recognized in traditional cultures, as far as I know.

a. Far too many traditional societies go unbalanced opposite to the American way - society has too much primacy over the individual.

6. To mention the "hot" topics on dailykos.com - I think gay marriage is better for society than any alternative, and is consonant with individual freedom.  I think pot legalization is on the whole bad for society, and use of pot is harmful to the individual (maybe less harmful than alcohol - but that is no justification.   Alcohol is too deeply embedded in the culture to do anything about.  Now we'll add pot to the mix.)

7. Apart from legal control, society can exert other forms of control - such as loss of social status, ostracism, etc..
a.   Grameen Bank and such micro-lending schemes have found a way to monetize a poor person's social capital - the borrower's social standing falls if they do not repay the loan.

b.  Such mechanisms require that one acknowledge society exists and gives it some importance.  This is seemingly difficult in the atomized American urban culture - though, on the other hand, everyone cites "peer pressure" among the young.  Growing up in India, I feel that my peers were quite accepting of differences - but I do not know if this is vanishing in India too.









Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Corporate taxes - 2

My response to the idea of abolishing the corporate income tax is one of skepticism.   I note:
One contra-indication is very evident - corporate profits are at an all-time high, yet corporations apparently do not see sufficient profitable opportunities to invest in.  The level of American business investment is "pathetic".
Well, maybe American corporations are investing their record profits in low-tax countries overseas?  I'm not so sure.  I'm no economist and don't know what time-series to look at, but this is what I was able to produce at FRED (the US Federal Reserve web-site).

Note that the scale on the left applies to the blue curve - US Gross Domestic Investment, and the scale is graduated in a scale of 400 billion dollars.  The scale on the right applies to the red curve,  US private direct investment abroad, and is in graduated on a scale of roughly 50 billion dollars.  Note that the red curve is mostly in the red (negative).  Note that neither scale begins at 0.  Without different scales, on the scale of the blue curve, the red curve looks like a horizontal line hovering around zero.

The point is that corporate income taxes do not deter private investment in the US on a scale that is roughly 20-25 times that the US makes abroad.  Any large effect of abolishing the corporate tax in the US would probably come from foreign capital rushing in.  Likely there will be a domino effect of income tax reductions as other countries abolish their corporate taxes in order to prevent capital flight; and this will help complete the corporatization of the global economy.  Our economic overlords could not be more delighted.




Meanwhile in the Middle East...

The following is an opinion of a BRF-ite; and if valid, is alarming.  (I see concern, but no alarm in the NYT online.)

Falluja and Ramadi (Iraq) which were in US control are now firmly in control of Al-Qaeda. It was here in Sunni Anbar Province where most US soldiers died. The Iraqi-Army lost many soldiers in a major push to evict Al-Qaeda last week. The main roads between Syria and Baghdad run through Sunni Anbar. The civil war in neighboring Syria has attracted foreign fighters and strengthened al-Qaeda in the region.
This victory enabled AQ to forge a territorial chain of control stretching from Ramadi in central in Iraq, 110 km west of Baghdad, all the way to the northern Syrian town of Al-Raqqah, 160 km from Aleppo. It also brought the Iraqi military offensive to a standstill. Soldiers downed arms and fled and units still intact started falling back toward Baghdad, dumping their heavy weapons to hasten their retreat.
The leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has openly declared they will establish an Islamic caliphate and threatened Israel, Jordan. The Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, has acquired strategic depth in Iraq. Its leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani (Golani) is expected to announce that his movement will join the new Islamist state. 
All these events add up to Al Qaeda-Iraq, Al Qaeda-Syria and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades having come together for a mighty push to seize footholds in a vast swathe of Middle East territory, along a line running between three Arab capitals - Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut.
US wants an alliance with Iran to counter the gain of AQ in Iraq and Syria. Obama has been clear on this. The Geneva accord is only stage-1 of the rapprochement between US and Iran.

Bangladesh - 2


More on Bangladesh, from the Indian Express:
It is learnt that in several meetings between South Block and US interlocutors — at one stage the US ambassador to Bangladesh came here for talks — the main point of difference has been over the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami, a BNP ally.

US officials, sources said, have been more positive about the Jamaat, even conveying that it had begun to emerge as a legitimate Islamic party. But for India, the Jamaat is a security issue and its radical elements constitute a serious terror threat to Bangladesh and India.
In fact, for the past month or so, Indian interlocutors have been in touch with Bangladesh National Party leader Khaleda Zia urging her to participate in the elections and even assuring full Indian support as long as she moved away from the Jamaat.

However, Zia never agreed, largely because the Jamaat provides significant cadre support to the BNP.
With Hasina deciding to take on any opposition after the hanging of Jamaat's Abdul Qader Mollah for war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, the lines for India were clearly drawn. Since then, it has been an effort to engage other countries and explain the Indian position but in a quiet way so that India does not become an election issue.

But after Sunday, India is likely to take the initiative in the international arena. While dialogue with the US will hold the key, the other forum issues such as these play out is the Commonwealth. India is currently a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which puts it in a position to intervene in case there is a move to censure Bangladesh by terming these elections undemocratic.
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon had discussed this issue some time back with his British counterpart and the Indian side returned with the impression that London may be more accommodating than expected.

But it is Washington from where New Delhi is expecting retaliation as this issue figured prominently during Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh's first visit there. It is learnt that there was significant divergence of views, one which reflected the concerns being voiced by the US post in Dhaka.
Incidentally, the first breach of diplomatic protocol regarding Indian diplomat Ms. Khobragade occurred, when the Foreign Secy. Singh was not informed of the intended action, which occurred just as she left the US for India.  One cannot but wonder if disagreement over Bangladesh and other issues did not precipitate this.


Abolish the corporate income tax? Approach with skepticism

Paul Krugman was away, and his Op-Ed slot went to Leonard Kotlikoff, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute.  Kotlikoff made a case for abolishing the corporate income tax in the US, citing huge economic benefits, including to workers,  based on a computer model.
Fully eliminating the corporate income tax and replacing any loss in revenues with somewhat higher personal income tax rates leads to a huge short-run inflow of capital, raising the United States’ capital stock (machines and buildings) by 23 percent, output by 8 percent and the real wages of unskilled and skilled workers by 12 percent. Lowering the corporate rate tax to 9 percent while also closing loopholes is roughly revenue neutral and also produces very rapid increases in capital (by 17 percent), output (by 6 percent) and real wages (by 8 percent).
What comes to mind is Reinhart-Rogoff, whose findings that a country's economic growth falls off a cliff when its debt-to-GDP ratio approaches 90%, dominated the policy discussions for a few years after the recent financial collapse.     Their data was only in an Excel spreadsheet,  and used simple regression; nothing as complicated as a computer simulation. Yet they got it wrong.  Their errors included "data omissions, questionable methods of weighting, and elementary coding errors".

The errors were not caught earlier, in part, because the conclusions of Reinhart-Rogoff supported the policy direction that our economic overlords favored.

What is the track record of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)?
(Wiki) Some AEI scholars are considered to be some of the leading architects of the second Bush administration's public policy. More than twenty AEI scholars and fellows served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government's many panels and commissions.
The Bush decade is America's lost decade, economically speaking - the poorest performance of the American economy in six decades.  Of course, the past record is no guarantee of future performance; but one should hesitate before placing our collective future in these hands yet again.

Consider this: the American Enterprise Institute is funded by the interests who have the most direct benefit from an abolition of the corporate income tax.  There is a sufficiently high probability that Kotlikoff's results belong to the Journal of Irreproducible Results, just as Reinhart-Rogoff did, and until the results are confirmed independently, should be approached with a high degree of skepticism.

One contra-indication is very evident - corporate profits are at an all-time high, yet corporations apparently do not see sufficient profitable opportunities to invest in.  The level of American business investment is "pathetic".  Corporate income tax does not turn a profitable opportunity into unprofitable.

I can imagine, after abolition of corporate income taxes, when the alleged benefits do not accrue to the workers, the AEI quietly saying, "oops, we made a mistaken assumption in our computer model". Meanwhile, they go laughing to the bank,  overflowing with cash from grateful corporate donors.

PS: Bruce Bartlett from 2011.

And while it may be a good idea to reduce the corporate tax rate as part of a tax reform package, the idea that this will jump-start growth is nonsense.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Prime Minister Dreams


Bangladesh: India v. US


This news-item is from October 2013, but the Bangladesh issue mentioned is on-going, there has been no meeting of the minds between the Indian and US sides.  The disagreement stems over the what to make of the radical Islamists in Bangladesh - the Jamaat-e-Islami.  India wants them marginalized, the US wants to them to be let into the mainstream.

This news-item is the only one that I've found that provides an explanation of what the US State Department might be thinking.  Supposedly the radical Islamists in Bangladesh are more free-market-oriented; and supposedly they will moderate themselves once in power (though they radicalized further the last time they were in power). 


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Reciprocity

Diplomatic relations, it seems, are best conducted with strict reciprocity.   The diplomatic spat between India and the US over the arrest and post-arrest treatment of Indian diplomat Ms. Devyani Khobragade has led India to withdraw privileges that have long been extended unconditionally to US diplomats in India.  For instance, India has diplomatic facilities in Nepal that US diplomats used to be allowed to use.  As reported widely (e.g., here)
The US ambassador {to India} Nancy Powell, who was all set to spend her Christmas in Nepal, was forced to cancel a scheduled trip there after the {Indian} foreign ministry refused to extend her special privileges that usually come with the job. 

Powell had notified the foreign ministry about her trip and asked for the use of the protocol lounge and other privileges like security and immigration assistance, but she was curtly reminded that all of these had been withdrawn as India had decided to deal with the US on the basis of reciprocity.
Indian Ambassadors to the US never got such privileges, but for many years India decided to allow the US these and many other perks to signal that these were accorded to a special friend.
Meanwhile, relations between the US Department of Defense and the Indian Defense Ministry continue to be excellent.

Consumer spending & the US economy

The table below is from W.R. Emmons at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis,  January 2012.
Published here for future reference.

Composition of GDP in the U.S. and Canada
U.S.
Average annual share of GDP (percent)
Consumer expenditure
Investment
Net exports
Government expenditures
1961-70
61.8
20.5
0.6
17.1
1971-80
62.5
20.6
–0.3
17.2
1981-90
64.6
20.3
–1.9
17.0
1991-2000
67.3
18.9
–1.5
15.3
2001-10
70.0
18.6
–4.5
15.9
Canada
Average annual share of GDP (percent)
Consumer expenditure
Investment
Net exports
Government expenditures
1961-70
58.8
23.3
0.7
17.1
1971-80
54.4
23.8
0.5
21.2
1981-90
54.9
21.5
1.7
21.7
1991-2000
57.6
19.2
2.1
21.2
2001-10
56.4
21.4
2.4
19.8
Differences: U.S. minus Canada
Average annual share of GDP (percent)
Consumer expenditure
Investment
Net exports
Government expenditures
1961-70
3.0
–2.8
–0.1
0.0
1971-80
8.1
–3.2
–0.7
–4.0
1981-90
9.7
–1.2
–3.6
–4.8
1991-2000
9.7
–0.2
–3.6
–5.8
2001-10
13.6
–2.8
–6.9
–3.9
SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

De-Macaulayization

Indian billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla,  in an essay in a volume "Reimagining India" makes the following confession:
...Ironically, before we became more international, I used to be much more impressed by someone who could speak the Queen's English than, say, a chartered accountant from Jodhpur whose spoken English required some effort to understand.  Now when I look across all our operations in places like Brazil or Egypt or Thailand, I see a whole host of people who aren't comfortable in English, who need interpreters, but who are very, very good at what they do.  Sadly, it took that experience for me to respect an accountant from Rajasthan—my home state—as much as a graduate of St. Stephen's in Delhi.  At one time we even wanted to run English classes for some of our employees!  Now it's not an issue in my mind.  If you can get your point across, if you are adding value, if you are competent, then bloody hell to your English.
Birla out-grew what is a common malady of Anglicized Indians.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Maya Tudor: Promise of Power: Review

A review of Maya Tudor's "The Promise of Power", by B. Surendra Rao.

The dynamics of Indian freedom movement under the Gandhian leadership emanated from its ability and willingness to connect with disparate constituencies in a bid to develop a programmatic unity, so that by 1947 “Congress had helped delimit an Indian nation, establish its egalitarian character, and broadly popularise nationalism in the consciousness in a broad swath of colonial Indian society…” The Muslim League as the ‘institutional incarnation of Pakistani nationalism’ was “anti-democratic in the sense that it rejected a defining process of democracy.” Its social and political alliances were weak, it had no economic programmes to project and was driven only by its anti-Hindu rhetoric and the Pied Piper charisma of Jinnah. If Congress was able to hammer out coherent coalitions with class groups with conflicting interests, the Muslim League merely cobbled together “a relatively incoherent distributive coalition” eschewing the need to build regional and local party organisations.
and

The jacket of the book carries two photographs: One, of the bare-headed Mahatma addressing a disparate but attentive crowd of khadi-clad women and men in the open, and the other of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, - imperious, cigarette between his lips and under a parasol held by a liveried servant, holding court. Together they offer a fine example of visual semiotics. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

America - where are the new jobs?

This is from March 2012, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It is a projection of where the new jobs in the US economy are going to be.  One can take a look at it and ask - which of these jobs arise because of the munificence of the 1%?



Compensation of locally employed staff at US consulates

This is from 2009 (CNN, via BRF).

This is about a report from the US Department of State Office of the Inspector General, "Review of Locally Employed Staff Compensation Issues".   I hope that Clinton, as Secy. of State, resolved the issues identified in the report.  Other documents on the site do not address that. However, other documents on the site about specific embassies say that the ongoing freeze on US federal employees' compensation has kept the US from addressing pay issues for Locally Employed Staff (for instance, Buenos Aires in February 2013).

Quoting directly from the first report linked above (from 2009):

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Fifteen truths about the American criminal justice system

By a former public defender.

Truth #15:
If middle- and upper-class American communities were policed in the same manner working-class and working-poor communities are—that is, if standard operating procedures, applicable criminal codes, and the U.S. Constitution were applied equally, at both the arrest and prosecution stages, against citizens of all socioeconomic classes—a substantial percentage of our nation’s criminal statutes would soon be appealed, repealed, or dramatically amended.
Also, part of Truth #4:
Given how overbroad most criminal statutes are, most Americans probably have, at some point, technically committed a misdemeanor-level crime, such as simple assault, theft, a driving offense, a trespass, an act of vandalism, or a more esoteric malfeasance such as unsworn falsification, hindering prosecution, or misconduct after a car accident. But most of us live in lightly policed neighborhoods and are therefore never caught or punished for our misdeeds. That doesn’t change the fact that nearly every American is, at least by the language of the statutes their own elected representatives enacted, most likely a criminal.