The "do nothing" US Senate, Harry Reid keeps protecting Democrats from hard votes

Senate Democrats essentially shutdown voting in Senate to protect their members from any hard votes before the November election.  From ABC News:
. . . With control of the Senate at risk in November, leaders are going to remarkable lengths to protect endangered Democrats from casting tough votes and to deny Republicans legislative victories in the midst of the campaign. The phobia means even bipartisan legislation to boost energy efficiency, manufacturing, sportsmen's rights and more could be scuttled.
The Senate's masters of process are finding a variety of ways to shut down debate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., now is requiring an elusive 60-vote supermajority to deal with amendments to spending bills, instead of the usual simple majority, a step that makes it much more difficult to put politically sensitive matters into contention. This was a flip from his approach to Obama administration nominees, when he decided most could be moved ahead with a straight majority instead of the 60 votes needed before.
Reid's principal aim in setting the supermajority rule for spending amendments was to deny archrival Sen. Mitch McConnell a win on protecting his home state coal industry from new regulations limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, faces a tough re-election in Kentucky. . . .
"I just don't think they want their members to have to take any hard votes between now and November," said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. And there's "just no question that they're worried we're going to win some votes so they just shut us down."
Vote-a-phobia worsens in election years, especially when the majority party is in jeopardy. Republicans need to gain six seats to win control and Democrats must defend 21 seats to the Republicans' 15. . . .
Of course, for some Democrats this prevents them from developing any type of record to run on.  From the WSJ:
No one has done more to protect Senate Democrats from difficult votes than Majority Leader Harry Reid, but a funny thing is happening as another election nears. His own vulnerable Members are griping about the lack of votes.
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich was elected in 2008 and hasn't been able to get a Senate vote on any of his proposed legislative amendments. For years he was silent but suddenly he's upset, telling Politico: "Does it mean increased risks? Sure. That's what voting is about." West Virginia's Joe Manchin complained to the Hill newspaper: "I've never been in a less productive time in my life than I am right now, in the United States Senate."
They're right about the numbers. Wyoming Republican John Barrasso recently noted on the floor that Senate Democrats proposed 676 amendments in the last year but were allowed votes on all of seven. Republicans proposed 812 and got votes on 11. Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee has been allowed twice as many amendment votes (15) in the Republican House in the last year than Mr. Reid has allowed his entire Senate caucus. Not one of the nine Senate Democrats elected in 2012 has been granted a floor vote on any of their amendments. . . . 
With this voting record, it is pretty hard for Begich to argue that his being in office is of much value. 

Labels: ,

Technological advances undermining another government created monopoly: Taxi cabs versus Uber

The 13,605 taxi medallions in NYC are valued at about $13.5 billion. The 6,904 medallions in Chicago are worth $2.4 billion.  To put it mildly, government regulation has created a lot of rents for those who own these medallions.  From the Washington Post:
. . . Now, however, a market built on restricted supply is showing cracks with the arrival of start-ups that turn anyone with a car into a driver for hire. In Chicago, those cracks have triggered fears that medallion values are tottering. They have given rise to a high-stakes lawsuit, tentative new regulation and a glimpse of how this same clash between old power and new technology could play out in other cities.
Throw open the market — to amateurs, part-timers and the underemployed (and whatever they drive) — and medallions lose their exclusivity. Without which, they lose their value, too.
“As soon as you do away with limited access, over a period of years, the taxi industry will wither away and die,” says Michael Shakman, a Chicago attorney who is suing the city on behalf of investors and companies whose business would not exist without medallions. “You will be left with whatever the free market generates by way of transportation.”
That, Uber says, is precisely the point. The five-year-old San Francisco tech company — and the envy of Silicon Valley — has rapidly and strategically infiltrated taxi strongholds by enabling consumers to hail rides electronically from their smartphones.
Uber and companies like it argue that regulations intended for taxis don’t apply to a service no one could have envisioned when the laws were written. And consumers don’t seem to care what those laws say. They are piling in and leaving cities to chase after a fast-expanding business. . . . 

Labels: ,

Our former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, doesn't know that in the UK "Conservative" and "Tory" are synonyms for the same political party

Hillary Clinton on the Special Relationship between the US and Britain:
"It is so special to me personally and I think that it is very special between our two countries.  There is just not just a common language, there is a common set of values that we can fall back on.  It doesn't matter in our country whether it is a Republican or Democrat, or frankly in your country whether it is a 'Conservative' and 'Tory.'  There is a level of trust and understanding.  That doesn't mean that we alway agree because of course we don't."



Review of Levitt and Dubner's "Think like a Freak" in Barron's: "Beware of Populist Economics"

This is a copy of my review from Barron's:
The new lessons from the Freakonomics guys are compelling, but deeply flawed. 
Reviewed by John R. Lott Jr. 
The Freakonomics franchise certainly has legs. According to legions of admirers, in their best-selling series that includes Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and now Think Like a Freak, University of Chicago economics professor Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner have taught us to use economic reasoning to shed light on real-life situations.  In the process, they have also shown that economics can be fun. 
But the fun quotient is ultimately diminished by the fact that their stock in trade is naive economics. Typically, Levitt and Dubner fail to understand that when a problem arises in a market, it generally provides an incentive for those involved to remedy the problem.      Take the sour-lemon story. "A new car that was bought for $20,000," they assured us in Freakonomics, "cannot be resold for more than perhaps $15,000. Why? Because the only person who might logically want to resell a brand-new car is someone who found the car to be a lemon. So if the car isn't a lemon, a potential buyer assumes that it is."  
Stories like these have clearly appealed to those who enjoy clever portrayals of a dysfunctional world. But a little research would have revealed that, contrary to Levitt and Dubner, used cars with only a few thousand miles on them sell for almost the same price as when new. One obvious reason: Since car manufacturers allow warranties to be transferred to new owners, potential buyers know that even if they do buy a lemon, they will not be stuck with it. 
In Think Like a Freak, the authors promise to teach us what "it takes [to be] a truly original thinker." But rather than promoting original or critical thought, their book tries to convince us of one main thing: People are stupid. We are thus confronted with half-baked theories similar to those in their previous books. 
Take the example that Think Like a Freak starts out with: soccer players in the World Cup doing what is best for their own reputations rather than what is best for their team. We are told that, when a player kicks penalty shots, aiming toward the center has a better chance of success, but that fear of shame prevents players from doing so. The potential shame of kicking the ball right into the hands of a goalie standing in the middle of the goal, especially during the World Cup, keeps players from doing what is best for the team. 
The data cited to support this view are a bit rough. We are informed that "only 17% of kicks are aimed" at the center of the goal, even though "75% of penalty kicks at the elite level are successful." But the real problem is that, per their usual habit, the authors assume no one else involved is smart enough to detect this cheating. If, by kicking the ball to the side, players really are failing to score, it defies belief that team owners and coaches would be blind to this abuse and allow it to continue. 
Since the team's gain from winning is far greater than any shame the player risks, incentives can be used to make sure that players do what is best for the team. Stiff financial penalties can be imposed, including the penalty of being fired from the team. Then there are other kinds of possible shame, meted out to these players in front of other team members, for not serving the interests of the team. 
In the ivory-tower world of Levitt and Dubner, however, owners and coaches are completely ignored, since including them would only ruin a clever insight. I contacted actual soccer coaches at three different colleges, and found that they did not agree with the authors' premise that the center shot in a penalty kick is the best strategy. Not surprisingly, then, players seem to obey their coaches' dictates on penalty kicks. . . .
The rest of the review is available here.

Space constraints limited what I was able to write.  For those interested, here is part of what I had originally included in the review that I sent in.
Or take their discussion about wines.  People supposedly keep buying the expensive wine even though they really can’t tell which is the premium wine and the cheap stuff.  If you believe Levitt and Dubner, these wine drinkers are making a mistake to pay more for the so-called higher quality wine. Again, possibly people are just self-deluded or dumb, but there are other possibilities.  Aged wines may not taste better, but simply different.  For example, it is costly to store wine for decades.  As wine ages, the tannins in the wine disappear and one can find out how the wine tastes uninhibited by the tannins.  Price differences would thus be due to the different costs of producing different wine, not a result of differences in demand. 
Alternatively, Professor Orley Ashenfelter at Princeton found that he could very accurately predict the price of wine by simply looking at the amount of winter and harvest rainfall and the average summer temperature in the vineyard.  If wine prices are random, how is it that prices can be predicted so accurately based on growing conditions?  
As a primary example of the “truly original” thinking Levitt and Dubner claim to have done, they point again to the assertion discussed in Freakonomics that liberalizing abortion lowers crime rates.  The problem with this bragging is that neither the basic idea that “unwanted children” who are brought up in bad environments that lead to crime was not a new idea nor was their test of it. 
 While these authors take credit for the idea, it is actually an old argument.  The 1972 Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future cited research purporting that the children of women denied an abortion didn’t get the attention that others received and “turned out to have been registered more often with psychiatric services, engaged in more antisocial and criminal behavior, and have been more dependent on public assistance.”  Roe v. Wade even discusses the consequences of “unwanted children” not getting the attention that they need. 
The research the commission cited went back even further.  For example, a 1966 study followed the lives of children born to 188 women who were denied abortions from 1939 to 1941 at the only hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden.  They compared the lives of these kids over the next twenty years to the next child of the same sex who was born after them.

Labels: , ,

Concealed handgun permit holder stops stabbing and saves life, the warning shot permit holder fired protected by new Florida state law

Just a few months ago, this event might have been quite different with the permit holder facing jail.  The new law is part of changes made this year to Florida's Stand Your Ground law.  From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:
A bystander who witnessed one man stabbing another in Lake Worth fired a warning shot and then held the two at gunpoint until deputies arrived, according to an arrest report.
Had the man not intervened, other witnesses said, the stabbing victim likely would've been killed, a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office arrest report said.
Deputies were dispatched to the Texaco gas station at 401 Lake Avenue in Lake Worth on Tuesday at about 7 p.m.
A man told dispatchers that his roommate, Paul Royes, 28, had been attacked at the gas station. According to the report, the man got into a Crown Victoria being driven by Royes. They were following the attacker, Luke Sherrill, 25, who was running from them. . . .
A note on the changes in the Florida law.
On June 20, 2014, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed HB-89 into law, thus preventing law enforcement from arresting (and prosecutors from prosecuting) a good Samaritan.  Prior to passage of the new law, they were arresting and charging people with aggravated assault (and trying to put them in prison for 20 years) for firing a warning shot in defense of themselves or others. . . . 
Whenever one discharges a firearm one has to be extremely careful.   Bullets can ricochet.  That said, there will be rare occasions when a warning shot might actually reduce the total amount of harm.  The new changes to Florida's law regarding warning shots were largely pushed by Democrats because of a case involving a black woman in Jacksonville, Florida.   Marissa Alexander's case received nationwide attention.  From ABC News:
The change, signed into law Friday by Gov. Rick Scott, was partly inspired by the case of Marissa Alexander, 33, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a shot during a dispute with her allegedly abusive husband.
Alexander's lawyers attempted to claim self-defense and that it was a warning shot, but the jury found Alexander guilty and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Florida's current sentencing rules.
An appellate court later overturned the conviction and ordered a retrial for Alexander.
Alexander's defense team said they are "grateful" for the change in the law.
"We learned today that Governor Rick Scott has signed the corrective Stand Your Ground Bill, which was advanced by the legislature as a result of concern about Marissa's case among others," read the statement. "We are of course grateful for the governor's actions." . . .

Labels: ,

The media misleading about job growth: Full-time jobs falling, part-time service sector jobs up

The media talks about what a great jobs report came out today.  Take CNN's headline: "Great jobs report: Strong hiring, unemployment down"
The U.S. economy added 288,000 jobs in June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday. 
That number beats economists' expectations and comes along with other good news: Job growth was revised higher for both May and April. 
Taken altogether, that means employers added 1.4 million jobs in the first six months of the year. 
That's the strongest six months for job growth since 2006.  
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is now 6.1%, down from 6.3% in May. The drop came for the right reasons: More Americans said they had jobs, plus more people joined the labor force. . . .
Barron's has the title "Dow Tops 17,000 on Stellar Jobs Report"
Jobs did rise, but they are part-time, not full-time jobs.  Indeed, full-times jobs has fell significantly and has been down slightly since the beginning of the year.

Unfortunately, the jobs are not only part-time, but about 80 percent are service sector jobs.

It is pretty amazing how the media keeps on making the economy look better than it is.

One thing that is clear is that the percentage of long term unemployed as declined since the long term unemployment insurance benefits were reduced.

Labels: , ,


Computers get better at English when they learn other languages

Given that one would probably think that Chinese and English are such different languages, I found this particularly interesting:
For instance, if the system learns Chinese after learning French and English, its French and English skills would also improve as it learns Chinese. . . .



Do people lose their religious liberties when they work together with others to form a company?

Dana Milbank is confused.  He has a piece in the Washington Post where he says that it is a fiction to say that "corporations are people."  But what is a corporation but a collection of people.  Democrats seem to think that once someone enters into a business arrangement with others they lose their First Amendment rights.

According to Milbank:
the high court not only affirmed corporate personhood but expanded the human rights of corporations, who by some measures enjoy more protections than mortals — or “natural persons,” as the court calls the type of people who do not incorporate in Delaware. . . .
It isn't obvious how the Hobby Lobby decision provides any greater rights to people who are working through their company.  Dana Milbank makes a reference to political donations rules, but all the court did in that decision was say that companies should be treated as individuals.  Individuals care about politics for various reasons, including the impact that politics has on their professional career.  Why should people be able to organize with the people in their own company to protect their personal interests?

Milbank gets somethings confused.
Alito’s ruling notably did not protect the rights of people employed by Hobby Lobby. . . .
But employees have to more right to demand that companies provide them with a certain salary than companies have the right to demand that people work for them for a certain salary.

Take Ginsburg's comment:
Ginsburg, in her dissent, wrote: “Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption. . . . The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. As Chief Justice Marshall observed nearly two centuries ago, a corporation is ‘an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.’ ” . . .
The point here confuses different issues.  Could you imagine a world where everyone who owned shares in a company had to sign a every contract that the company entered into?  It would be impossible to have shareholders like we do today if that were the case.  So shareholders have a company that represents their interests.  But why then does Ginsburg think that shareholders somehow lose their rights to speech or religious liberty as soon as they set up a company?  Other than a play on the word "fiction" it is hard to see what their argument actually is.

Labels: ,

Judge throws out Zimmerman defamation suit against NBC

For those who don't remember what NBC did, here is a refresher.
The investigation came after Fox News and others pointed out that the network spliced two parts of the call together, making it appear as if Zimmerman had said, "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." In reality, Zimmerman was answering a dispatcher's question:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy--is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
The problem with defamation cases against public figures is that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant "knowingly" made a false statement.  NBC in this case could just argue that they made a mistake.  It is very difficult to prove that someone knowingly and deliberately made a false statement.

As the statement from the judge makes clear (from the Erik Wemple blog at the Washington Post):
“There exists absolutely no clear and convincing evidence that defendants knew that the information published was false at the time it was published, or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of those statements,” wrote Judge Debra S. Nelson, according to the Sentinel’s account. She also pushed aside contentions in Zimmerman’s complaint that he suffered emotional distress as a result of the NBC News reports. . . . .
This decision doesn't mean that NBC acted correctly.  It just means that Zimmerman couldn't prove to at least this judge satisfaction that they purposely edited the tape to make him look bad.  It isn't a question of what the edit did, but it is a question of proving intent.


Obama administration upset because Hobby Lobby prevents women from getting "free contraceptive coverage," Obama doesn't understand economics, clearly nothing is free

White House press secretary Josh Earnest: "Well, as the constitutional lawyer who sits in the Oval Office would tell you is, he would read the entire decision before he passed judgment in terms of his own legal analysis. What we have been able to assess so far ... is that there is a problem that has been exposed, which is that there are now a group of women of an indeterminate size who no longer have access to free contraceptive coverage simply because of some religious views held, not by them necessarily, but by their bosses.   We disagree and the constitutional lawyer in the Oval Office disagrees with that conclusion from the Supreme Court. And that's why we--primarily, because he is concerned about the impact it could have on the health of those women."
The notion that "contraceptive coverage" is free is absurd.   If an insurance company completely covers 100% of the cost of RU-486 or other contraceptives, that costs the insurance company something and means that the premium is going to have to be higher.  Even worse, Obamacare forces up the premiums for younger people (those who are obviously most likely to use contraceptives) relative to older ones.  If Obama was concerned about the relatively small costs of contraceptives, why doesn't he first not raise young people's premiums so dramatically?  This is the reason that Obamacare needs a lot of young people signing up to keep the premiums down, they cross subsidize the others getting insurance.



Serious problem of concussions in professional soccer

Striking one's head against a hard ball over and over again never seemed like a good idea.  But of course there are also all the accidental falls and hits to the head.  Here is an interesting article in the journal Neurology entitled: "Chronic traumatic brain injury in professional soccer players."
Methods: Fifty-three active professional soccer players from several professional Dutch soccer clubs were compared with a control group of 27 elite noncontact sport athletes. All participants underwent neuropsychological examination. The main outcome measures were neuropsychological tests proven to be sensitive to cognitive changes incurred during contact and collision sports.
Results: The professional soccer players exhibited impaired performances in memory, planning, and visuoperceptual processing when compared with control subjects. Among professional soccer players, performance on memory, planning, and visuoperceptual tasks were inversely related to the number of concussions incurred in soccer and the frequency of "heading" the ball. Performance on neuropsychological testing also varied according to field position, with forward and defensive players exhibiting more impairment.
Conclusion: Participation in professional soccer may affect adversely some aspects of cognitive functioning (i.e., memory, planning, and visuoperceptual processing).
For college, women's soccer appears to have a higher rate of concussions than men's football or soccer: 6.3 per 10,000 exposures in women’s soccer versus 4.9 for men’s soccer and 6.1 per 10,000 for men’s football.   Indeed, for college sports, women's soccer has the highest rate of concussions.  

For high school, girls' soccer has the second highest rate of concussions behind football, but when concussions do occur girls and boys' high school soccer have worst concussions than do football (click on figure to make it larger).

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is i1062-6050-42-4-495-f02.jpg

Girls' high school basketball might not have a lot of concussions, but their concussions tend to be pretty bad.  The most severe concussions requiring 22+ days to recuperate from appear to be twice the percentage for both boys and girls' soccer.  More is available here.

There is another study on college players, but the survey method used here is fairly problematic.  The survey indicates that soccer players are much less likely than football players to even realize that they have had a concussion.  If the rate of perceived concussions is related to the rate that people answer the survey, you will get relatively more underreporting of concussions among soccer players.  The questionnaires indicated that "70.4% of the football playersand 62.7% of the soccer players had experienced symptoms of a concussion during theprevious year."  But much of that difference could be explained by differences in reporting rates. 

Here is another academic article of interest:

British Journal of Sports MedicineThe Effect of Protective Headgear on Head Injuries and Concussions in Adolescent Football (Soccer) Players: "In the population studied, 47.8% had experienced symptoms of a concussion during the current football year. 26.9% of athletes who wore headgear (HG) and 52.8% of those who did not wear headgear (No-HG) had concussions."

Here is something else that a reader sent me.
-- 92,505 Concussions in High School Soccer
National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study 2011/2012. http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/cirp-rio
-- Players NOT wearing protective soccer headgear are 2.65 times more likely to suffer a concussion than those who did wear headgear
Al-Kashmiti, Delaney, et al “The Effect of Protective Headgear on Head Injuries and Concussions in Adolescent Football (Soccer) Players,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (2007). http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2007/07/05/bjsm.2007.037689 .abstract - Dr. J. Scott Delaney, jscott.delaney@mcgill.ca
-- Concussions in soccer are not commonly caused by heading the ball
Boden, Kirkendall et al, “Concussion Incidence in Elite College Soccer Players,” American Journal of Sports Medicine (1998), 26:238-41. http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/26/2/238.short

-- “Head to head impacts posed high concussion risk”
Withnall, Shewchenko et al., “Effectiveness of Headgear in Soccer,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (2005), 39(supp1):i40-i48. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/39/suppl_1/i40.full

-- In a peer-reviewed study, 62.7% of college-level soccer players had concussion symptoms in a single year
Delaney, Lacroix et al., “Concussions Among University Football and Soccer Players,” Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine (2002), 12(6):331-38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12466687
-- The number of sports concussions is believed to be under-reported by 90%
NIH Consensus Development Panel, “Rehabilitation of Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury,” Journal of the American Medical Association (1999), 282:974-83. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=191465 mediarelations@jamanetwork.org

-- The concussion rate in soccer is similar to that in American football
Baroff, “Is Heading a Soccer Ball Injurious to Brain Function?” Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation (1998), 13(2):45-52. http://journals.lww.com/headtraumarehab/Abstract/1998/04000/I s_Heading_a_Soccer_Ball_Injurious_to_Brain.7.aspx

-- After the first concussion, the risk of a second one increases by a factor of four
Gerberich, Priest et al., “Concussion Incidences and Severity in Secondary School Varsity Football Players,” American Journal of Public Health (1973), 73:1370-75. http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.73.12.13 70

-- Subsequent concussions are usually more serious than the first one, even if the impacts are similar
Collins, Lovell et al., “Cumulative Effects of Concussion in High School Athletes,” Neurosurgery (2002), 51(5):1175-81. http://journals.lww.com/neurosurgery/Abstract/2002/11000/Cum ulative_Effects_of_Concussion_in_High_School.11.aspx
-- Second Impact Syndrome (rapid swelling of the brain, potentially catastrophic outcome) may occur if the head is impacted before the brain has recovered from a concussion
Cantu, “Recurrent Athletic Head Injury: Risks and When to Retire,” Clinics in Sports Medicine (2003), 22(3):593-603. http://www.sportsmed.theclinics.com/article/S0278- 5919(02)00095-9/fulltext
-- Younger players require more time to recover from a concussion than older players
Field, Collins et al., “Does Age Play a Role in Recovery from Sports-Related Concussion? A Comparison of High School and Collegiate Athletes,” Journal of Pediatrics (2003), 142(5):546- 53. http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(03)00116- 1/abstract - journal.pediatrics@cchmc.org

-- Girls are more likely to be concussed than boys
Fuller, Junge et al., “A Six Year Prospective Study of the Incidence and Causes of Head and Neck Injuries in International Football,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (2005), 39(supp1):i3-i8. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/39/suppl_1/i3.full.pdf 

Here is an interesting blog on soccer concussions.

Labels: ,