April 01, 2022

Why we can longer allow Oligarchs to live among us

It is long past time that we stop pretending that Putin’s Russian Federation is a normal country that we can live with in peace. Putin is a thug and a criminal and must be shunned.

His cronies and enablers “the oligarchs,” should be rounded up and sent back to live in Russia.  If they have foreign passports or resident visas they should be revoked. Their foreign assets should be seized and held in trust for the people of Ukraine.

To be fair, we should have realized this long ago, but we hoped we were wrong or that things would change.  We also were tired of the cost and psychological burden of facing another cold war. Memo to self: dictators don’t make good neighbors.

I trust that the Taiwanese people are paying close attention. (Not that President Xi is a Putin-level war lord.)

For those of you who doubt me, here are some recommended readings.

  • Google “Moscow apartment bombings” to gain some insight into Putin’s origin story.
  • “How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London” by Patrick Radden Keefe in the March 17, 2022 edition of the New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/03/28/how-putins-oligarchs-bought-london)
  • Google “Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring”
  • “The Result of 20 Years of Putin: Russia as a Mafia State” by Leonid Nevzlin (https://imrussia.org/en/opinions/3067-the-result-of-20-years-of-putin-russia-as-a-mafia-state)

April 1, 2022 at 05:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 21, 2018

Facebook and me

I was an early adopter of Facebook. As a Harvard grad, with access to a post.harvad.edu email address, I was able to create a FB identity before it was opened up to the hoi polloi.

I loved the clean design, and the easy access to so many interesting profiles. Like everyone else, I eventually reestablished contact with all sorts of friends and acquaintances from the distant past: summer camp, high school, old girl friends, old colleagues, etc. This was good.

I also made some new (if only virtual) friends. Like minded fellow travelers, people with the same flavor of transgressive humor that I enjoy, etc. This was also good.

Sometime during 2015, things on FB began to turn political. I had been an enthusiastic political blogger from 2004 to 2006 or so and began posting on Facebook links to articles I stumbled across during my daily survey of world events. Some of these prompted debates among my friends, which I endeavored to keep civil and respectful. I flattered myself that perhaps I was helping to open minds to new ideas and promote understanding (or at least awareness) of the thought processes on the other side of the cultural and ideological divide. This was also good, but things began to fray along the edges.

As the Presidential election crossed over the event horizon into our consciousness, things became more intense. I was invited by cyber friends and acquaintances to join various private groups, dedicated to ideological points of view or memes and humorous stories pointing out the foibles and hypocrisy of those “on the other side.” Some of these were hysterical, if sometimes mean spirited. I occasionally posted or reposted good examples to these groups, but generally did not “broadcast” them to my timeline.

Living and growing up in NYC, most of my friends and classmates were (and still are) liberal Democrats. I began seeing more and reposts of over simplified memes or partisan talking points from groups like the Democratic Underground that gave authority to half-truths and distortions. My friends on the right also began posting mean spirited criticisms of the “snowflake generation” and supporters of Presidents Obama. This was not so good.

Old friends, who generally live firmly within the liberal bubble, began to argue with other friends with firmly Red State sensibilities. Sometimes these exchanges were respectful, though oftentimes not. Discussion of hot button issues like structural racism and BLM led to one person I’d known (and respected) for 50 years to say he “was done with me” and unfriended. Several other people that I knew (and liked) in real life unfriended me. This was not good.

Now FB has become something like a social no man’s land between the trenches of two opposing armies. I find myself lurking to see the news and ideas others are sharing. I occasionally post a news story or opinion piece I find compelling but feel like I am throwing thought grenades across to the other line. I rarely stick around to see or respond to the resulting concussion. This is not good, and increasingly not fun.

I don’t think I interacted with any Russian “trolls” during my time on Facebook, but who knows? Certainly, some of the memes and bogus news stories I read (and discounted) may have had their roots in St. Petersburg’s Internet Research Bureau but, again, who knows?

In any case, Facebook has become un-fun. People and groups hate each other and make no pretense of trying to understand the viewpoints of those who disagree with them.  The values we share as Americans have been subordinated to tribal and ethnic interests and nearly everything (other than cat videos) is political.

I’m through with it. Basta.

February 21, 2018 at 07:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2017

Evil Lair available in the heart of New York City!

Evil liarLocated just steps from Manhattan's storied Central Park (perfect for hosting al fresco Satanic rituals or disposing of bodies) this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire your own secret lair in the heart of Gotham City.

  • Designed by the prestigious Beaux-Arts architectural firm Carrère and Hastings
  • Built as the original home of the First Church of Christ, Scientists in NYC
  • Robust solid granite construction, able to resist assault by small arms fire and most crew-served weapons systems.
  • Private garage and driveway; plenty of room for your batmobile or armored assault vehicle with speedy access to major highways.
  • Majestic stone obelisk towers over the park, ideal for summoning Zuul, or the Gatekeeper, minion of Gozer or for channeling energy from the dark underworld.
  • Prime location in the world's financial capital; hundreds of banks and financial institutions available to launder funds or receive illicit payments.

This unique property will not be on the market for long.  Contact Stuart M. Saft, Esq. of Holland & Knight for further details.

March 28, 2017 at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 10, 2016

Some ideas about how to fix America

The Problems

The election showed that large portions of the American public are unhappy with our economy in the wake of the great recession. (To put it mildly.)  The main problems:

  • Not enough good jobs
  • Downward mobility for blue collar workers
  • Only three segments of American society are holding their own economically:
    • The poor: helped by food stamps, SSDI, Medicare, ACA subsidies, etc.
    • Unionized government workers (lavish pensions, job security, little accountability)
    • The rich (benefiting from globalization, ZIRP inflating asset values, the carried interest loophole, etc.)

Some Possible Solutions

We need a bundle of policy choices that encourage employment and domestic economic growth. Here are a few, though there are many others:

  1. Make it cheaper to hire workers by eliminating employment taxes (FICA, FUTA, employers’ SS contributions, Medicare tax.) Replace the $1.1 trillion in lost Federal revenues by instituting a national VAT of between 10 and 15%.
  2. Lower corporate income taxes to internationally competitive levels and allow US corporations to repatriate the $1+ trillion in foreign earnings without tax penalties
  3. Stop the war on the oil & gas industry, allowing the good, high paying jobs in this sector to multiply
  4. Sharply increase infrastructure spending but preempt state and local rules that make public construction so costly and slow. (No union mandates, small business or minority set-asides, faster planning and environmental approvals, limits on litigation.)
  5. Fix the ACA by including real cost reduction measures like eliminating malpractice lawsuits and creating medical review boards to compensate injured patients and penalize bad care providers. Allow low cost, catastrophic coverage plans and inter-state marketing of insurance plans.
  6. Eliminate government defined benefit pensions and replace them with pay-as-you-go 401k plans that are fully vested and portable. Provide Federal support to allow the States and municipalities to finance the (huge) transition costs.

There are a lot of other pro-growth ideas out there.  We need to start exploring them ASAP.

November 10, 2016 at 05:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 30, 2016

The alternative to Crooked Hillary and Crazy, Opportunistic Trump

Vote for Johnson/Weld in 2016!




June 30, 2016 at 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 11, 2016

Does it even matter who the parties nominate this year?!

In 2016, U.S. politics has become so polarized and partisan that (at least based upon the polls), it doesn't seem to matter who the Democrats or Republicans nominate for President.  The table below compares the RealClearPolitics average two-way matchups as of January 11, 2016:

RCP Average for 2016 General Election Matchups as of 1/11/2016

Clinton 45% vs

Trump 43%
  45% Cruz 46%
  44% Rubio 47%
  45% Carson 45%
  45% Christie 44%
  46% Bush 43%

 In each of these matchups versus the various Republican candidates, Hillary manages to get the support of between 44 and 46% of the electorate.  Versus Hillary, the various Republican challengers score between 43 and 47% of the votes.  Changing the name of the Republican candidate only varies the Republican vote by a total of four percentage points. (In all of these cases, the results are within the margins of error for the underlying polls.)

 Sanders  44% vs  Trump  42%
   43%  Rubio  44%
   45%  Cruz  42%

Similarly, Bernie manages to get between 43 and 45% of the votes against each of the Republicans, who get between 42 and 44% of the hypothetical votes. In each case, the number of voters preferring Sanders vs the Republican alternative varies by a range of only two points, which is exactly the result that Hillary obtained.

This seems odd, and it appears to be different than what the polling showed about the Presidential matchups during 2012, when different potential Republican challengers faired very differently against Obama:

RCP Average for President Obama vs. Republican Candidates in 2012 Race

Obama 49% vs

Romney 48%
  50% Santorum 42%
  52% Gingrich 39%
  48% Paul 40%

In 2012, the range of outcomes for the various Republican challengers vs Obama varied by nine percentage points, from a low of 39% supporting Gingrich to Romney's almost tie at 48%. (Of course, Obama went on to victory in 2012 with  51.1% of the actual votes to Romney's 47.2%.)

It may be worth noting that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the only candidate who manages to beat both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a head-to-head matchup.  I hope some Republican primary voters are paying attention.

January 11, 2016 at 07:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 07, 2015

A modest proposal for common sense gun control that respects the Second Amendment

Everyone is appalled at the recent mass shooting incidents. The reaction has been predictable and polarizing.  One side advocates more restrictive gun regulations or an Australia-style gun roundup.  The other side retreats behind the protection of the Second Amendment and rejects any roll-back of the individual right to bear arms.  We've seen this repeatedly, and it gets us nowhere.  Here is a different approach.

1:  Implement useful policies that already enjoy broad support

Most Americans, even Republicans and many NRA members, agree that felons, non-citizens and crazy people should not be allowed firearms.  The corollary of this is that we can probably all agree that there should be fast, inexpensive but universal background checks before guns can be purchased.

However, many (most?) of the recent rampage killers either legally acquired their weapons after undergoing background checks or would not have been thwarted had universal background check laws been in place.  (The NYT, hardly a Second Amendment enthusiast, found that 8 of the 14 recent mass shooters would not have been stopped had universal checks been required.)

This brings us to second area of potential common ground: our mental health "system" (to the extent we can call it that) is a mess. Virtually all of the recent mass killers exhibited symptoms of serious mental illness.  Many were receiving (or had received) various levels of psychological and psychiatric care. But as we have seen, having access to some level of mental health care is not enough to avert potential tragedy. We need to put in place the policies – and appropriations – to fix this mess, and pronto.

2:  Create a “psychological hold” system to strengthen background checks

The current National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) is fairly simple. When a background check is required (which is not always due to the gun show loophole), the seller submits information on the buyer to FBI (or a state agency, in some cases) which then searches several databases for serious criminal offenses, orders of protection and involuntary commitment to a mental institution. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work and more is needed.

Few of the recent mass killers would have been stopped by our current background check system.  I propose creating a new, Federal database that would collect reports of mental instability in individuals.

  • Reports could be filed by anyone at a local police station.  Teachers, mental health workers, social workers, police officers, neighbors, relatives, etc. would be encouraged to identify people that they have reason to be believe should not be allowed access to firearms.
  • The bar to reporting should be low; signing a sworn statement detailing the reasons for their concern should be sufficient. 
  • If the police agency taking the report believes the information to be well founded, the report would be passed to the NICS and would bar approval of firearm purchases by that subject.
  • The existing (or an enhanced) FBI appeals process could address unfounded or erroneous reports blocking gun purchasers.
  • Ultimately, denied purchasers could appeal to a judge to rule on their fitness to obtain firearms.
  • The identity of the informant should be kept confidential from the subject of the report unless a court appeal is needed. 

Of course, this system would be susceptible to abuse as personal enemies, jilted lovers, etc. could file false reports.  Ideally, abusive reports would be rejected by the police agency receiving the report.  In some cases, however, a formal appeal would be needed to clear a person. In any case, an unfounded report would not be sufficient to bar gun purchase approval.

3:  Stop motivating copy-cat killers

Beginning in the 1970s, states began enacting “rape shield” laws to make it less traumatic for rape victims to report their assaults to the police.  In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law giving similar protections to women under Federal law. While courts have ruled that these laws cannot be used to prevent media outlets from disclosing the identity of rape victims, virtually all major media outlets have voluntarily adopted this policy in the public interest.

Criminologists and psychologists who have studied the motivations of rampage killers have found that unlike serial killers, who have long histories of escalating acts of violence, most mass murderers have no prior record of violent behavior. Instead, in the words of James L. Knoll IV, director of forensic psychiatry at the State University of New York's Upstate Medical University writing in a 2010 article: they become “'collectors of injustice' who nurture their wounded narcissism." To preserve their egos, they exaggerate past humiliations and externalize their anger, blaming others for their frustrations. They develop violent fantasies of heroic revenge against an uncaring world.  This is brilliantly summed up in a 2013 WSJ OpEd by Ari N. Shulman:

“Part of this calculus of evil is competition. Dr. Mullen spoke to a perpetrator who "gleefully admitted that he was 'going for the record.'" Investigators found that the Newtown shooter kept a "score sheet" of previous mass shootings. He may have deliberately calculated how to maximize the grotesqueness of his act.

Many other perpetrators pay obsessive attention to previous massacres. There is evidence for a direct line of influence running through some of the most notorious shooters—from Columbine in 1999 to Virginia Tech in 2007 to Newtown in 2012—including their explicit references to previous massacres and calls to inspire future anti-heroes.

Aside from the wealth of qualitative evidence for imitation in massacre killings, there are also some hard numbers. A 1999 study by Dr. Mullen and others in the Archives of Suicide Research suggested that a 10-year outbreak of mass homicides had occurred in clusters rather than randomly. This effect was also found in a 2002 study by a group of German psychiatrists who examined 132 attempted rampage killings world-wide.”

While it is probably not Constitutional to prohibit journalists from writing about rampage killers, Shulman has several suggestions that may help prevent copy-cats:

  • Never publish a shooter's propaganda
  • Hide their names and faces
  • Don't report on biography or speculate on motive
  • Minimize specifics and gory details
  • No photos or videos of the event
  • Talk about the victims but minimize images of grieving families
  • Decrease the saturation
  • Tell a different story. (There is a damping effect on suicide from reports about people who considered it but found help instead.)

Constitutionally sound laws can probably be crafted to prevent release of these details by police and other government agencies.  Formal declarations of the public interest in suppressing this type of information might help encourage media outlets to exercise greater restraint, even in this internet age.

*                 *                  *

There is no silver bullet that can prevent these tragedies.  But adopting policies that have strong, bi-partisan public support – and can reasonably be expected to help reduce mass shootings – may help make them less likely.

October 7, 2015 at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 07, 2015

Je Suis Charlie


January 7, 2015 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 04, 2014

No more blood for oil!

The latest environmental impact statement estimates that building the Keystone XL pipeline will save an average of six worker lives per year compared with continuing to transport the oil by rail.  Check it out.


February 4, 2014 at 07:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 23, 2013

The Long Con, or the Administration's approach to marketing Obamacare...

CBS News has uncovered major faults in one of the "new, improved" features of Healthcare.gov. The Administration was concerned that allowing consumers to look at insurance prices before they provided the personal information needed to estimate potential subsidies would be a PR disaster. So they built the kludge that is the front end of Obamacare in 37 states. In an attempt to undo this massive error, they have added the ability to "shop" insurance quotes directly. Unfortunately, the estimates they provide are materially misleading.

"Industry executives CBS News spoke with could not believe the government is providing these estimates, which they said were useless and could easily mislead consumers. They also said that the website repeatedly states the actual prices could be lower, but it makes no mention that they could be higher."

If a private company sold products this way they would at a minimum be sued and quite possibly go to jail.

October 23, 2013 at 09:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 08, 2013

QOTD: "If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits."

Marilyn D Zahm, Administrative Law Judge, Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) in Buffalo, New York, as quoted by CBS' 60 Minutes.  (Maybe Romney was on to something with his comment about the 47%...)

October 8, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 02, 2013

QOTD: "I haven't seen morale this bad since the Titanic"

Richard Stein, a financial services headhunter at Caldwell Partners, commenting on the spirits of Wall Street execs, as quoted by the WSJ.

October 2, 2013 at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 15, 2013

QOTD: "My irresponsibility in spreading information online was a vent of negative mood, and was a neglect of the social mainstream."

Detained Chinese-American venture capitalist and micro-blogger Charles Xue, as quoted by the NYT.

September 15, 2013 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 24, 2013

Thoughts on Crime, Racial Profiling and Trayvon

During the President's heartfelt and thoughtful comments on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case last Friday, he said:

There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

I imagine that it is hard not to take this personally.  If you had white skin, wearing the  same clothes, would you get the same reactions?  Probably not: therefore African Americans conclude that most white Americans are, at essence, racist.

But is the driver in the next car a racist, in spite of the Obama/Biden sticker on their bumper?  Is that woman clutching her purse?  The Rev. Jesse Jackson reportedly once said, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.... After all we have been through. Just to think we can't walk down our own streets, how humiliating.” Obviously, the Reverend is not a racist. But is there some rational, emperical basis for this common reaction to the sight of young black males?

The President even suggested as much:

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact -- although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  

The question of whether racial profiling can ever be justified is one of the unexamined issues that arise from the recent trial of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of 17-year old Trayvon Martin.  The prosecution based its case on the claim that Zimmerman unjustly “profiled” Martin as a potential criminal based upon his race, setting off a tragic chain of events that ended in the death of the teenager.  Zimmerman may have been a poor choice for a case to highlight racial profiling -- all the evidence suggests that he was not motivated by racial animus and, in spite of the media and his Jewish last name, he is himself multiracial -- the black community has focused upon the apparent fact that Martin was targeted for additional scrutiny because of his race.  But while it may be painful for black males to be viewed with suspicion solely because of the color of their skin, is it really "racist?"  Or is there hard, objective evidence to justify viewing race (along with age and sex) as an indicator of potential criminality?

 Black men and crime

 We’ve all seen the sorry statistics (from the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet):

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.

But none of these facts says anything about black men’s propensity to commit crimes.  If our criminal justice system is biased against African Americans, that could account for the disproportionate incarceration of black men.

However, there is data available from the US Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) on the perceived race of violent offenders.  This data is collected from a nationally representative sample of about 40,000 households comprising nearly 75,000 persons who are interviewed twice a year on their personal experiences as the victims of crime.  One of the questions asked of respondents who report that they have been victimized during the last 6 months is “Was the offender white, black, or some other race?”  If these first-hand reports by crime victims show that black offenders account for a larger percentage of the crimes than their share of the overall population, then “profiling” blacks may be  entirely rational. 

The latest detailed NCVS results available are for 2008, and the following data are taken from Table 40. Personal crimes of violence, 2008: Percent distribution of single-offender victimizations, by type of crime and perceived race of offender.

  Crimes by race of perp.xls#Table 40 Exhibit!A30_H42

The table above shows that there were more than a million “acts of completed violence” in the US during 2008.  (The DoJ researchers “scaled up” the survey results from their stratified sample to estimate the number of victimizations for the nation as a whole.) The NCVS defines these acts as “the sum of all completed rapes, sexual assaults, robberies and assaults.”  According to the victims of these attacks, the attackers were white in 56% of the cases, black in 28%, other race in 6% and unknown or not provided in 9% of the incidents.

Of course, it is possible that the victim’s perceptions of the offender’s race are inaccurate.  We all remember the infamous cases where non-existent black men were accused of crimes to deflect attention away from the real guilty parties.  But Table 42 of the NCVS shows that most victims of completed acts of violence identify a member of their own race as the offender.  This suggests that the data may not be racially biased.

  Table 42 exhibit Chart 1

The chart above shows that white crime victims identified their attackers as white in 67.8% of the acts of completed violence.  Similarly, black crime victims characterized their attackers as black in 66.5% of the cases.

We also know from the NCVS that more than 80% of completed acts of violence are perpetrated by men.  The results from Table 38 are shown below:

Table 38 Exhibit

If we assume that the share of violent crime between men and woman is the same for blacks and whites, we can calculate the number of victimizations perpetrated by male offenders of each race.  Leaving out incidents when the race of the offender is other or unknown, we can calculate the number of single-offender victimizations committed by perpetrators perceived (by their victims) as being black or white males. (The total number of victimizations multiplied by percent committed by males multiplied by the percent committed by black or white offenders.)  The results of these calculations are shown below:

Number of Single offender victimizations by preceived race of offender 2008

During 2008, we see that an estimated 456,542 individual acts of completed violence were conducted by perpetrators identified as white men in the U.S. as a whole. (Note that the NCVS data excludes homicides from its definition of violence because of the impossibility of interviewing the victims.) Based on estimates prepared by the Census Bureau, there were 120.3 million white males living in the U.S. in 2008.  During the same year, 229,487 violent attacks were conducted by offenders perceived to be black men while there were a total of 18.6 million black men living in the United States. This same information is presented graphically below:

Share of Completed Violence and population by race graph 2008
From this data, we can then calculate the propensity to commit violent offenses for white and black males based upon their proportion of the total population in the U.S. during 2008.  These figures are shown in the table below:

Single offender victimizations per 100k members of offenders race 2008

We can see that 3.8 acts of completed violence were committed by white males for every 100,000 white males in the U.S. during 2008.  For black males, the corresponding figure was 12.3 acts of completed violence for every 100,000 black men in the population.  In relative terms, the propensity of black males to commit acts of completed violence was 3.2 times that of white males.

Looking at these numbers, where the relative propensity of black males to commit an act of violence is from 3 to 7 times the rate for white males, perhaps Rev. Jackson can be excused for feeling relieved in seeing white faces in the night behind him.

More seriously, these figures support the conclusion that there is a rational basis for using race as a risk factor in evaluating the threat of potential violent attack.  Similarly, men (of either race) should be regarded as 4 times as likely to commit a violent act as females.  People living in urban environments where street crime is an unfortunate reality can’t stop themselves from internalizing these indicators of potential threat.  Similarly, other factors are used to fine-tune these threat assessments; for example, age (older people commit less crimes), dress, location, posture, etc.

It is unrealistic to expect that black men won’t resent being perceived as a threat when they are peacefully going about their business.  Clearly, they are being judged solely on the color of their skin, which is the classic definition of racial prejudice.  As a human being, seeing other people react to you in a negative way because of your race has got to hurt.

However, at the same time, it’s unreasonable to expect people not to be aware of the unfortunate fact that black men are several times more likely than other groups to pose a threat to their personal safety.  There may be historical and cultural context to explain why this is this case, but it cannot be disputed that it is true.  As Reverend Jackson's comments illustrate, whites are not the only people who come to these conclusions and have these fears.

As the late Rodney King once said, in response to another media-fueled racial eruption, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?" Maybe, instead of focusing upon the jury's decision in the Trayvon Martin case or the prevalence of racial profiling, we should think about ways to prevent these types of tragedies from recurring.  As President Obama said:

... and this is a long-term project -- we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.  ...There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.  And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

July 24, 2013 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 25, 2010

Update on the missing 727

Remember that Boeing 727 stolen from an Angola airport in May 2003? Well, it's still missing.

The Air & Space Smithsonian has an interesting update on this saga in its September 2010 edition.

October 25, 2010 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

December 03, 2009

A long, dusty drive to global warming...

Thinking about global warming (with Climate-gate being in the news), I remember visiting the amazing Roman ruins at Ephesus, an ancient city near the Turkish sea-side resort Kuşadası. It always struck me as odd that Ephesus had been a major port city that in 100 AD had a population of nearly half a million people and was second only to Rome in importance. Why odd? Because the ancient port of Ephesus is located more than 3.5 miles from the eastern edge of the present-day Mediterranean Sea.  Somehow, over the last 1,900 years, the waters of the Eastern Med have receded and this onetime port is now a long, dusty drive from the nearest water.

Flickr-382153787-imageMy conclusion from this? Our planet's climate has changed throughout history, on its own, without human intervention. Is it continuing to change? Absolutely. Is human activity contributing to these changes? Almost certainly. But do we know enough about climate science to understand what course these changes will take and how to influence them to our species' advantage? I sincerely doubt it.

For more great pictures of this incredible archaeological site, visit fotopedia here.

December 3, 2009 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

November 06, 2009

Expected News From Unexpected Sources

The UK Guardian and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that <gasp> Iran has been conducting experiments on highly advanced aspects of nuclear warhead development.  (Whocoodanode?)

The UN's nuclear watchdog has asked Iran to explain evidence suggesting that Iranian scientists have experimented with an advanced nuclear warhead design, the Guardian has learned.

The very existence of the technology, known as a "two-point implosion" device, is officially secret in both the US and Britain... The development was today described by nuclear experts as "breathtaking" and has added urgency to the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

I see an interesting winter in our future (and not interesting in a good way.)

November 6, 2009 at 06:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 03, 2009

Iran to Obama: "Fuck you, strong letter to follow..."

Today's WaPo has an interesting piece reporting on a speech Tuesday by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Iran's supreme leader, spurning what he described as several personal overtures from President Obama, warned Tuesday that negotiating with the United States would be "naive and perverted" and that Iranian politicians should not be "deceived" into starting such talks."

So much for diplomacy. . .

November 3, 2009 at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 22, 2009

What the hell IS an investment banker, anyway?

Who are these greedy bastards that have destroyed our financial system and cost the taxpayers billions? What do these Wall Street guys (and girls) do to command such exorbitant bonuses? Well, I'll tell you.

First of all, you need to understand that there are four major functional areas in an investment bank, all with very different jobs and responsibilities:

  • Senior management: the top 15 or so executives who run the company and make strategic decisions (like how to allocate capital and resources),
  • Sales & Trading: the folks you see sitting in front of rows of screens, yelling into headsets, this group can also include retail brokers and research analysts,
  • Investment Bankers: the people in suits who get hired by other corporations to help them raise capital or advise them on acquisitions and other financial matters, and
  • Operations: the "back office" people who support the rest of the firm in clearing trades, IT, accounting, facilities management, etc.

Senior Management

When people rail against greedy investment bankers, these are generally the people they are thinking about. These are the CEOs that have been called in to testify before Congress and the heads of divisions who authorize major commitments of the firm's capital. They are also the recipients of big company perks like cars and drivers, use of the corporate aircraft, etc. In publicly held companies, the total compensation of the top five corporate officers is published in the annual proxy statement, which can be found on the SEC's Edgar site. If anyone is "responsible" for having caused this mess, it is these senior managers. However, many of the executives who were in charge during the bubble period have been fired or otherwise lost their jobs.

Sales & Trading

The guys on the trading floor who devised many of the financial products that have become "toxic" assets (CDOs, credit default swaps, etc.) also bear some of the responsibility for the mess we're in. But the number of people involved in these esoteric securities was fairly limited. Most traders, salesmen, and brokers spent most of their time on "plain vanilla" products like stocks, bonds, currencies, futures and options and commodities. And while many of these "Master of the Universe" types were paid multi-million dollar bonuses, they also worked very hard for their money; putting in long, stress-filled days on the trading floor, and hours of research and reading at home.

Investment Bankers

The banker's job is to call on corporate clients seeking to be retained for financings (debt or equity) or for financial advisory assignments like mergers and acquisitions or restructurings. They bear little responsibility for the current financial crisis. In fact, their job has remained largely the same for the last quarter century; 70 to 90 hour weeks spent building financial models and preparing presentations for senior management at client firms. These folks usually travel extensively (3 to 4 days a week on the road is not uncommon) and spent many (most?) nights and weekends in the office or on a never ending series of conference calls with clients and colleagues. While the level of activity among their clients is down, this business remains highly profitable since it makes only limited use of their firm's risk capital.


These employees had virtually nothing to do with the current problems. They perform jobs similar to their equivalents in non-financial firms, though their compensation levels (and hours worked) tend to be higher than in other large corporations.

*** Bonuses ***

Nothing is less well-understood than Wall Street's compensation system. In most American businesses, workers receive a salary based on hours or weeks worked. In some companies, at the end of the year, some or all employees may be paid a "bonus" based on their individual performance or the firm's level of profitability. In addition, people in sales related jobs are often paid on a commission basis, based on sales volumes. However, on Wall Street, things are completely different.

In virtually all investment banks, only senior management have large annual salaries (with large bonuses often contractually specified as well). Mid and lower-level professionals are paid standard, modest salaries based upon their titles; for example, all Managing Directors might have base salaries of $200k and all VPs might have base salaries of $125k. At the end of the year, based upon their individual performance, the profitability of their group and the profitability of the firm as a whole, they are awarded a bonus which comprises the bulk of their total compensation. These bonuses are typically paid in January or February of the following year. Managing Directors (a title awarded after 7 to 10+ years of increasing responsibility in an "up or out" hierarchy) typically receive total compensation of between $1 and $5mm per year, based upon the net revenues they were able to produce for their firm. MD level compensation in many firms is approximately 10 percent of the net revenue generated by each senior professional.

Of course, especially for senior bankers, a significant portion of their annual bonus is paid in restricted company stock. This stock typically vests over a three or four year period and is forfeit if you leave to join a competitor. For investment bankers who were unfortunate enough to have worked for firms receiving TARP funds, this stock is generally worth a small fraction of its original value.

Finally, most Americans don't understand the cost of living in the NYC area. In most parts of the country, if you are earning $250k per year, you are living in the best part of town in a big beautiful house. In Manhattan, it is hard to buy a 3 bedroom apartment for less than $2mm. In most of the country, the suburban public schools are considered excellent. In Manhattan, most middle class professionals try to send their kids to private schools where annual tuition is $30k. While there are a few excellent public schools, this is not a viable option for most people. Renting a parking space for your car in Manhattan costs $500 a month -- in many parts of the country you can rent an apartment for less. One could go on and on (but I won't.)

This is not to say that we should feel sorry for those poor, misunderstood investment bankers. Most of them are doing quite well. However, if you are an employee of a firm receiving TARP investments from the feds and you had nothing to do with the activities that caused these massive write-downs, you can be forgiven for not understanding why you should have to hand over to the government more than 100% of last year's bonus. (The House bill that passed last week called for taxing bonuses above $250k at big TARP firms at 90% (plus Medicare tax of 1.45% and NYC state and local income taxes of 10.5%), bringing the total for NYC residents to 101.95%.)

March 22, 2009 at 07:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 19, 2009

Dropping a DIME on Hamas

Israel has been accused of dropping Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) bombs on Hamas positions in Gaza. This new type of munition is designed to limit the shrapnel and blast effects to a very small area, thereby reducing the risk of collateral damage to non-combatants.

Naturally, the usual suspects are complaining about possible war crimes. (I suppose it is better to drop conventional high explosive munitions that will destroy an entire building, civilians and all.)

January 19, 2009 at 07:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)