Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.

Douthat, Brennan, even McArdle Making 3 Mistakes in Looking at Exchange Subsidy Numbers

Ross Douthat in the NYT quoting Patrick Brennan

About one-fourth of the people who have entered their income information on their applications were deemed eligible for subsidies on the exchanges (about 900,000 out of about 3.6 million), which is lower than the number we saw in October alone and remains really far from what was projected. The CBO projected that just 1 million out of the 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges in the first year would be ineligible for subsidies, so the ratio is way off from what was expected (15–75 vs. 75–25). I had some thoughts on that surprising fact a month ago, and I’ll add a couple now: Unsubsidized customers (basically, those above the national median income) are generally savvier and more likely to have the resources to enroll and make their payments ahead of time, so maybe this is understandable and doesn’t say anything about who will eventually enroll. On the other hand, it may demonstrate that the people to whom insurance was supposed to be expanded — the uninsured, who tend to be low-income and not well educated — aren’t getting to the exchanges at all, and covering them will be a much longer term project.

There is a huge, enormous analytical problem with this-- they are looking at entirely the wrong numbers.  Incredibly, Meghan McArdle makes this same mistake, and I generally respect her analysis of things.   I am going to pull out my summary chart of the Exchange numbers to try to make things clear (click to enlarge):



There are 3 major mistakes, each worse than the one before.

MISTAKE 1:  The 3.6 million total applicants number is in line 3 (3,692,599).  This is the wrong number.  The number he should use is line 4, the number of people who have had their eligibility processed.  So the denominator should be 3.1 million, not 3.6 million.

MISTAKE 2:  He leaves out the Medicaid piece.  Seriously, if we looking at numbers that are partially subsidized, why leave out numbers (Medicaid and CHIP) that are entirely subsidized?   This means the applicants eligible for subsidy are 803,077 + 944,531 or 1,747,608 which is 56% of the processed applicant pool.  The subsidy number may be lower than expected but I get the sense that the Medicaid percentage is higher than expected.

MISTAKE 3:  They are looking at the application pool, not the sign-up or enrollment pool.  That is understandable, because the Administration refuses to give the subsidy percentage breakdown of those who have selected a plan (a number which they certainly must have).  My guess is that people are putting in applications just to see if they are eligible for subsidies.  If not, they quit the exchange process and go back to their broker.   That is what I will probably do (out of curiosity, I would never accept taxpayer money for something I am willing to pay for myself).  The people who actually sign up for coverage are almost certainly going to skew more towards subsidized than does the applicant pool.

Making reasonable assumptions about the mix of subsidies in the "selected a plan" group, one actually gets numbers of 80-90% Medicare and CHIP and subsidies in the enrollment pool.

I do think McArdle is correct in saying that the uninsured numbers were both exaggerated and mis-characterized.  I have been saying that for years.

Other Countries Have Higher Minimum Wages. They Also Have Higher Something Else...

Kevin Drum argues our minimum wage in the US is really low



A few quick thoughts:

  • I have a constant frustration that we never see these comparisons just on a straight purchasing power parity absolute dollar number.  Numbers related to income distribution are always indexed to a number that is really high in the US, thus making our ratio low.  I seriously doubt Turkey has a higher minimum wage in the US, it just has a much lower median wage.  Does that really make things better there?  I have this problem all the time with poverty numbers.  The one thing I would like to see is, on a PPP basis, a comparison of post-government-transfer income of the US bottom decile or quintile vs. other countries.  Sure, we are more unequal.  But are our poor better or worse off?  The fact that no one on the Left ever shows this number makes me suspect that the US doesn't look bad on it.    This chart, from a Leftish group, implies our income distribution is due to the rich being richer, not the poor being poorer.

  • Drum or whoever is his source for the chart conveniently leaves off countries like Germany, where the minimum wage is zero.  Sort of seems like data cherry-picking to me (though to be fair Germany deals with the issue through a sort of forced unionization law that kind of achieves the same end, but never-the-less their minimum wage is zero).
  • All these European countries may have a higher minimum wage, but they also have something else that is higher:  teen unemployment (and I would guess low-skill unemployment).

click to enlarge

Admittedly this only has a subset of countries, but I borrowed it as-is from Zero Hedge.  By the way, by some bizarre coincidence, the one country -- Germany -- we previously mentioned has no minimum wage is the by far the lowest line on this chart.

Good God. Twitter Stock Opens Over $45

Forget the #DIV/0! PE.  That prices the company at over 57 times annual revenues.

Photoshop Practice

I am working on a couple of euro-style strategy card games at the moment.  The first is a business start-up game, and the second is a space-themed game loosely based on my experiences playing the Traveler role-playing game years ago.   A good stock image account (I use Shutterstock) gets me everything in terms of card images I need for the first game, but royalty-free space images are harder.  However, it is actually possible to start with prosaic industrial and other images and hack them to look futuristic, but it takes some work.

So I have been working on Photoshop skills.  If I could digitally paint, I would paint beautiful concept art, but I cannot.  So my Photoshop training has focused not on painting per se but on hacking images together and overlaying effects.   A LOT of the work is learning to do selections well to mash up images and then overlaying a few effects.   I can make a really good laser beam now, for example.  Take a modern weapon, have a laser beam come out, wala a pretty functional sci fi gun  (Don't believe me?  Look at the Death Star Turrets in the original Star Wars movie and tell me those aren't essentially current-era battleship turrets with green and red light coming out).  I wrote earlier about the lessons I followed in making custom planets.

As an example, here is the lesson I did last night.  It is not production value because it started with a low-res iPhone photo my daughter sent me and as you can tell from the edges and especially the hair, I did not spend much effort getting the edge selection just right.  But my daughter liked being a cyborg:

Click to enlarge


She has dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, so she is not the ideal model for this because those are hard to colorize well.  Blondes may or may not have more fun, but they are much easier to colorize.  The downsize of the exercise is that she loved the hair and now wants to color it that way for real.

On NSA Spying: No One Says You Broke A Law. It's Just A Little Weird That You Didn't Have To

Dialect Survey

These have been kicking around the Internet for a while but this is the most extensive set (over a hundred) that I have seen  (You can get an accurate guess as to where I grew up by the name I gave the image below)


Weird WordPress Problem, Site May Be A Mess

For some reason the insert image functionality broke the other day on this website.  Basic troubleshooting involved reverting to the standard theme and turning off plugins, so things may be a mess off and on.   This is what i get when I try to insert an image:  two lakes   Wordpress is inserting an image tag but leaving off the source URL for the image, so thus the broken image.

Obamacare and the Recovery, in One Chart

Click to enlarge


The source for the underlying chart is the Department of Labor blog, with my annotations added.

Postscript:  In most cases legislation is anticipated to pass well in advance and one could argue the effects of it show up even before the signing date.  But in this case whether the PPACA would pass was a nail-biter to the last moment.

The State Protects Its Own

It is simply appalling that the officer in this video was acquitted by a judge of assault.  It is clear from the video that he punched a woman who did absolutely nothing wrong (he thought she was the one who had thrown the liquid at him in the early frames).  But even if she had been absolutely guilty of splashing him with a few drops of beer, his reaction is STILL assault.

This quote is particularly amazing:

Josey testified that the woman refused to drop a bottle of beer she had been holding. He said that he went to knock the bottle from her hand and was “shocked” to see her go down when his hand hit her face. She was originally charged with disorderly conduct but the charges were later dropped.

This is an outright lie.  Watch the video.  There is absolutely no time for the officer to have ordered the woman to have dropped the beer.  Nor would that have been a legal order.  Nor is there any evidence of him waiting for her response.  He was pissed off that someone "dissed" him and he lashed out like a violent jerk in a biker bar.

I shudder to think how many people in the past were prosecuted and went to jail on the BS word of police officers.  Without video, this woman probably would have been successfully prosecuted and convicted.  Even with video, the police officer can't be successfully prosecuted.  Though I must give Philly a few point here -- a lot of jurisdictions would not have even prosecuted or fired him.

Killing Mainstreet Banks

C. Boyden Gray and Adam White make the case that Dodd-Frank is an enormous gift to big banks, for two reasons:

  • By putting large banks in a special class -- essentially too big to fail -- it ensures that these banks will be able to raise capital far more easily than can smaller banks, since investments in larger banks are essentially guaranteed by the US government.  This is the same mechanism by which Fannie and Freddie crowded out most other sources of mortgage financing.
  • By creating an enormous mass of new regulations, large banks get a cost advantage because they can much more easily pay these fixed costs as they are amortized over a much larger business.

Each and Every One Its Own Solyndra

I drove through Indio / Palm Springs on Tuesday and was aggravated, as I always am, at just how few of the zillions of government-subsidized windmills are actually turning.  Saying that one in twenty were generating power would be generous.  I know the wind was blowing because a few of them were turning.

On Thursday I drove back through and tried to take a video, though all I had was my iPhone.

You have to squint to see all the dead windmills in the back of the first shot.  If you have never been to this site, you many not be able to comprehend just how far in the distance the dead masts go.  Here is another shot from several miles further down the site

Here is my proposal.  We make this whole area a National Park and call it "Corporate State Park."  It would be at least as educational as any other National Park.

OMG -- More Smoke!

Kudos to a reader who pointed this one out to me from the Mail online.  It is a favorite topic of mine, the use by the more-scientific-than-thou media of steam to illustrate articles on smoke and pollution.

Check out the captions - smoke is billowing out.  Of course, what they are likely referring to -- the white plumes from the 8 funnel-shaped towers -- is almost certainly pure water.  These are cooling towers, which cool water through evaporative cooling.  These towers are often associated with nuclear plants (you can see that in the comments) but are used for fossil fuel plants as well.  There does appear to be a bit of smoke in the picture, but you have to look all the way in the upper left from the two tall thin towers, and one can see a hint of emissions.  Even in this case, the plume from the nearer and smaller of the two stacks appears to contain a lot of water vapor as well.  My guess is the nasty stuff, to the extent it exists, is coming from the tallest stack, and it is barely in the picture and surely not the focus of the caption.

The article itself is worth a read, arguing that figures from the UK Met office show there has not been any global warming for 16 years.  This is not an insight for most folks who follow the field, so I did not make a big deal about it, but it is interesting that a government body would admit it.

Web Site Fixes

I had a surprisingly angry email about some web site issues here, but it did get me off my butt to fix things.

1.  The email address was broken yet again at the link.  I fixed that.

2.  When I bring in blocks of quotes text from other sites, the smart quotes break and end up with things like â€™ instead of a single quote.  This obviously makes the text astronomically hard to read, so I have fixed it in all the archives and will work to make sure it is turned off in the future, though that is a surprisingly rich tech support discussion area on WordPress.

Land Use Regulation and Income Inequality

I don't have time to comment or peruse the study in depth, but this looks interesting.  From Randal O'Toole:

Harvard economists have proven one of the major theses of American Nightmare, which is that land-use regulation is a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States. By restricting labor mobility, the economists say, such regulation has played a “central role” in income disparities.

When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.” Postrel refers to these well-educated people as “elites,” but I simply call them “middle class.”

I have not read the study, but I think the word "proven" in the first sentence likely goes to far.  Economic systems are way too complex to absolutely show one variable among millions causes another.  I am convinced that the way we have regulated the housing market and promoted home ownership has reduced labor mobility.

Quiz: Who is This Wearing Prince Leia's Dress?

Our Next Environmental Crisis

Via the Onion (via Master Resource)

A coalition of geologists are challenging the way we look at global stone reserves, claiming that, unless smarter methods of preservation are developed, mankind will eventually run out of rocks.

"If we do not stop using them up at our current rate, rocks as we know them will be a thing of the past," renowned geologist Henry Kaiser said at a press conference Tuesday. "Igneous, metamorphic, even sedimentary: all of them could be gone in as little as 500,000 years."

"Think about it," Kaiser added. "When was the last time you even saw a boulder?"

The scientists warned that, although people have long considered the world's rock supply to be inexhaustible, it has not created a significant number of new rocks since the planet cooled some 3.5 billion years ago. Moreover, the earth's rocks have been very slowly depleting in the last century due to growing demand for fireplace mantels, rock gardens, gravel, and paperweights.

Kaiser claims that humanity has "wreaked havoc" on the earth's stones by picking them up, carrying them around, and displacing them from their natural habitat.

"A rock can take millions of years to form, but it only takes a second for someone to skip a smooth pebble into a lake, and then it is gone." Dr. Kaiser said. "Perhaps these thoughtless rock-skippers don't care if they leave our planet completely devoid of rocks, but what about our children? Don't they deserve the chance to hold a rock and toss it up and down a few times?"

I Wonder if this Lesson is Getting Through?

There are certain contradictions involved in attempting minimum-rules radical self-expression on government land via a government permit.  Government employees incentives are all geared towards following procedures.  There are no rewards for results or innovation, just punishments for violations of bureaucratic minutia.  It is not surprising that the government and Burning Man cultures have come into conflict.

I'm Not Dead Yet

This is an interesting perspective on why Blackberry / RIM may not be dead yet.  After a weekend trying to futz with iPhone access to Gmail and a failed iPhone OS upgrade, I am sympathetic to the enterprise argument that modern iOS and Android smart phones may be lacking in the security and stability that corporations want.  There is still an enterprise market out there -- after all, IBM completely left most of the sexy and high-profile consumer markets but still does about  hundred billion in sales each year at a respectable 15% profit margin.

Surprise: Fisker Automotive Struggling

Apparently electric vehicle maker -- and recipient of lots of your and my money -- Fisker Automotive is struggling.    Who would have thought that a company that could not fully fund itself privately and had to rely on political connections to use the coercive power of government to take money from taxpayers might be a bad investment?

As a reminder, Fisker's taxpayer largesse likely came at the behest of politically powerful Ray Lane of Kleiner Perkins.  It is his firm's investment returns we taxpayers are supporting.  So it should come as no surprise that Ray Lane says, in the video below, that he thinks Obama is the greatest public sector venture capitalist ever.  What does he use as justification for this conclusion?  Why, Solyndra!  I kid you not, check it out.

By the way, if you did not see it, check out my Forbes article on how the Fisker Karma gets worse mileage than an SUV when you trace its electricity back to the power plant.

When Consumer Regulation is Anti-Consumer

Frequently, so-called consumer regulation is coopted by large corporations to limit the ways competitors can try to unseat them.  For example, limo services will get laws passed that all limos have to have certain features.  Ostensibly, this is so consumers will be protected from having a limo without a wet bar, or whatever, but in fact its to prevent upstart competitors from taking them on with a different kind of business model potentially using different kinds of vehicles.

I find that this is frequently the case with regulated utilities.  Utilities are able to get all kinds of crazy laws passed to protect business practices that would never survive the marketplace.  Just today I was trying to open a business account with Duck River Electric in Tennessee.  We are attempting to reopen a TVA campground that has been closed for several years.  The campground is tiny, so I was flabberghasted when the utility told me that we had to put down a permanent deposit of $4100.  I found this to be shockingly high.  Apparently, it is based on the highest two months demand in the highest year (several years ago) in history.  Since the campground is only open for five months, it means that we have to give the utility an indefinite interest free loan equal to half the annual business we do with them.

This is simply insane.  Name one reasonably competitive business where one has to put down anywhere near this kind of advanced deposit to become a regular customer.  If there was any sort of competition in this business, the sales people for the other company would have a field day with this.  Sure, vendors often do a credit check on us, and a very few times (mostly early in our history) we had to pay COD for orders.  But this is absurd.

PS-  The only vendors we work with that are even close to this for abusiveness are the state authorities from whom we buy fishing licenses for resale.  Many of these agencies require expensive payment bonds not required by any of our other (private) vendors.  Arizona Game and Fish even forces us in January to accept an inventory of many products we do not sell (e.g. hunting stamps) and cannot sell by the terms of our lease.  We have to keep these in the safe for a year and if we lose any and are unable to return them at the end of the year, we have to pay for them.  Imagine sent you a bunch of crap you did not want and required you to hold them for a year, and then pay the expenses of returning them, and then pay for any item you might have lost.   Anyone like myself who was dumb enough to fall into the Columbia House records thing will know the danger of this.

Fritz Vahrenholt Climate Book

A lot of folks have asked me if I am going to comment on this

One of the fathers of Germany’s modern green movement, Professor Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt, a social democrat and green activist, decided to author a climate science skeptical book together with geologist/paleontologist Dr. Sebastian Lüning. Vahrenholt’s skepticism started when he was asked to review an IPCC report on renewable energy. He found hundreds of errors. When he pointed them out, IPCC officials simply brushed them aside. Stunned, he asked himself, “Is this the way they approached the climate assessment reports?”

I have not seen the book nor the Der Spiegel feature, but I can say that, contrary to the various memes running around, many science-based skeptics became such by exactly this process -- looking at the so-called settled science and realizing a lot of it was really garbage.  Not because we were paid off in oil money or mesmerized by Rush Limbaugh, but because the actual detail behind many of the IPCC conclusions is really a joke.

For tomorrow, I am working on an article I have been trying to write literally for years.  One of the confusing parts of the climate debate is that there are really portions of the science that are pretty solid.  When skeptics point to other parts of the science that is not well-done, defenders tend to run back to the solid parts and point to those.  That is why Michael Mann frequently answers his critics by saying that skeptics are dumb because they don't accept greenhouse gas theory, but most skeptics do indeed accept greenhouse gas theory, what they don't accept is the separate theory that the climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that amplify small warming from CO2 into a catastrophe.

This is an enormous source of confusion in the debate, facilitated by a scientifically illiterate press and alarmists who explicitly attempt to make this bate and switch so they can avoid arguing the tough points.  Even the author linked above is confused on this

Skeptic readers should not think that the book will fortify their existing skepticism of CO2 causing warming. The authors agree it does. but have major qualms about the assumed positive CO2-related feed-backs and believe the sun plays a far greater role in the whole scheme of things.

This is in fact exactly the same position that most skeptics, at least the science-based non-talkshow-host ones have.  Look for my Forbes piece tomorrow.

Beating Rush Hour

via Twisted Sifter, who commented "+1 for crazy, reckless insanity. Idiocy at it’s finest. Do not attempt."

MF Global: Unethical, But Perhaps Not Illegal

Investors everywhere were shocked to see that MF Global seems to have lost over a billion dollars of their customers capital.  In most cases, this capital was cash customers thought was sequestered as collateral for their trading accounts.  MF Global took its customers money and used that money as collateral in making risky, leveraged bets on European sovereign debt, bets that fell apart as debt prices fell and MF Global faced margin calls on its bets that it did not have the liquidity to cover.

Certainly it strikes most folks as unethical to lose the assets in your customers' brokerage accounts making bets for the house.  But it turns out, it may have been entirely legal.  This article is quite good, and helps explain what was going on, what this "hypothecation" thing is (basically a fancy term for leveraging up assets by using them as collateral on loans), and why it may have been legal.

In short, the article discusses two regulatory changes that seemed to be important.  The first was a 2000 (ie Clinton era, for those who still think these regulatory screwups are attributable to a single Party) relaxation in how brokerages could invest customers' collateral in their trading accounts.  The second was a loophole where brokerages created subsidiaries in countries with no controls on how client money was re-used (in this case mostly the UK) and used those subsidiaries to reinvest money even in US brokerage accounts.

The increase in leverage was staggering.  Already, cash in most commodities trading accounts is leveraged - customers might have only 30% of the value of their trading positions as collateral on their margin account.  Then the brokerage houses took this collateral and used it as collateral on new loans.  Those receiving the collateral on the other end often did the same.

MF Global would be bad if it were fraud.  But it is even worse if MF Global is doing legally what every other brokerage house is still doing.

Here is the minimum one should do:  Diversify brokerage accounts.  We diversify between bonds and stocks and other investments, but many people have everything in one account with one company.  I am not sure anyone can be trusted any more.  My mutual funds are now spread across three firms and, if I grow my brokerage account for individual stocks and investments (right now it is tiny) I will split that as well.

Huh? Is This Like the Lake Wobegon Effect?

This article at Kevin Drum's titled "The Death of Middle Class Neighborhoods" really had me scratching my head.

At first I thought this was about an end to self-segregation of the middle class.  After all, if middle class neighborhoods are gone, but middle class people are still living somewhere, then they must be living mixed up with other groups.

But then Drum says the problem is the increasing self-segregation of the middle class.  Huh?  How can they be self-segregating more but we end up with fewer all middle class neighborhoods?

But then the problem appears to be that the middle class want to hang out with the rich people.    Um, OK, I don't find this wildly surprising, though the evidence he cites for this is awful, the typical low standard of science practiced by sociologists everywhere.  But Drum himself admits he self-segregates with more educated people, so there you have your proof.

Finally, as usually is the case with the Left, the problem turns out to be not with the middle class at all but with rich people

We've been fretting for a long time about the rise of gated communities, the abandonment of public schools by prosperous city residents, and the booming market in McMansions. And more and more, this kind of segregation doesn't apply only to the truly rich. Increasingly, even the merely well off hardly have any social interaction outside their own class: they live in different neighborhoods, eat in different restaurants, send their kids to different schools and different sports leagues, and vacation in different places.

Really?  Like you had a much better chance as a poor person to be hanging out with Andrew Carnegie at the pub than you do today chilling with Bill Gates at a Starbucks?  When was this magic past time when the affluent liked to mix more with the unwashed?  I hate to just use my personal observations, but Drum does, so here is mine:  I feel like many of our meeting places today are less rather than more exclusive.  I know a lot of very rich folks, and they simply don't cloister themselves in exclusive clubs and stores like they used to -- I am not at all surprised to see them in the Costco or at the public golf course.

I can be persuaded to accept schools as an exception to this, but this hardly does much to help Drum's argument as the government school system has been run (and run into the ground) by his fellow progressives for decades.  It says a lot about private vs. public solutions that Costco has found a way to appeal equally to rich and poor but the public schools have not.

Update:  From the NYT article on the underlying study, note the problem on these maps- the urban boundary in the study is static, so as the city expands, more of the metro area is outside the bounds of the study area.  What group likely is the predominent occupant of new suburbs on the leading edge of urban boundaries?  Dare I say middle class?

The central core of older American cities has always been where the richest and poorest live.You can see this on the Philadelphia maps.  The pattern is not changing, just each area is getting larger.  A full picture would show the middle class area expanding out as well, but the study cuts off the boundary at arbitrary country lines and never expands the boundary as the city's geographic size grows.  The "trend" they are supposedly seeing are middle class continuing to move outwards from the city center, and their flawed study methodology  loses visibility to them.  This makes more sense than the study's finding, that somehow there is this weird lake Wobegon-type effect where no one is in the middle band of the percentile range.

When Did We Vote For This?

Lost in the discussion of Dan Carol's criticism of Steven Chu and his conduct in the Energy Department was an amazing implicit assumption about the DOE's mission:

“Secretary Chu is a wonderful and brilliant man, but he is not perfect for the other critical DOE mission: deploying existing technologies at scale and creating jobs,”

Seriously, is this really their mission?