Mar 182014
 

I can’t say this about many things, but I agree with Pat Buchanan’s analysis of Putin, Russia, and Ukraine in his posting: Is Putin the Irrational One?

If we Americans want out of Afghanistan, why would Putin want to go back into Uzbekistan? Why would he want to annex Western Ukraine where hatred of Russia dates back to the forced famine of the Stalin era?

Since the viewpoint repeated in western media these days regarding Russia is very one sided, it is worth taking a look at things from another perspective.

Mar 052014
 

I finally got around to listening to Dan Carlin’s podcast titled Common Sense #270 – Poking the Bear which was published last week. It gets off to a slow start, but I think he does a great job of portraying the larger scope and the lead up which brings us to the situation today around Russia, Ukraine, and the USA. I highly recommend taking a listen if you are interested in learning more about the current environment and motivations.

Jun 082013
 

It has been interesting to watch the ongoing strife and turmoil that has been shaking Turkey. We were there for two weeks in March & April and had a chance to speak with a number of people in different locations. To a certain extent it has been hard to reconcile the strength of reaction given our conversations and the views shared, though some of the seeds of the reaction were easily visible.  Our time in Turkey was marked by three main themes when we spoke with people:

Ongoing tensions between secular & traditional Turks – Due to reforms driven by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey has a modern history of being open to different forms of religious worship, or no worship at all compared to the rest of the region.  The majority of the people we spoke with (bias of English speakers) identified as Muslim, but not devout and in many cases, non-practicing.  They had plenty of scorn for the clerics and traditionalists and dismissed their political power as buy-outs & giveaways to segments of the population. They felt that their options & lifestyles were under threat to a certain extent.

The Turkish economy is (or was) great – We saw a lot of new development and construction as we navigated the country.  In general all of the folks that we spoke with said things were good and life was getting better for everyone.  Despite Turkey’s run of growth there is increasing worry that the economic growth and stability in Turkey has been fueled unsustainable by outside lending. Sound familiar?

Turks are happy to be separate from the Euro – Without prompting people would mention how proud they were that they were doing better than the Euro zone, and that they were very happy to have not joined the Euro.  The financial crisis appears to have given confidence to going it alone.  Perhaps the growth experienced in the last five years was amplified by the troubles in Europe and investors looking for (and paying more for) opportunities in Turkey.

Time will tell how far the current unrest will last, both sides don’t appear to be backing down and are further instigating the other.  I wouldn’t give up hope soon – Even now it is very common to see Atatürk bumper stickers and tributes.  Turks are proud of their country and consider it unique and a model for other countries to follow.

Apr 202013
 

This American Life in coordination with Planet Money created a show which dives deep into structural issues related to employment which have been dogging the US (and frankly other wealthy western nations) for decades. As usual they do an excellent job crafting a riveting story about what can be a very dry subject.

The number of Americans receiving federal disability payments has nearly doubled over the last 15 years. There are towns and counties around the nation where almost 1/4 of adults are on disability. Planet Money’s Chana Joffe-Walt spent 6 months exploring the disability program, and emerges with a story of the U.S. economy quite different than the one we’ve been hearing.

Nov 042012
 

I think some people have amnesia. I’ve heard several times over the last few months that several politicians (namely Ryan & crew) are espousing a return – or more accurately an acceleration – of supply-side policies while claiming it will increase economic growth. This is the equivalent of arguing who will win the 1991 World Series title, we have plenty of data to show the outcome. I think the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) report did a great job showing the numbers and findings when a reasoned eye looks at all the data:

Concluding Remarks
The top income tax rates have changed considerably since the end of World War II. Throughout
the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%.
Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s;
today it is 15%. The average tax rate faced by the top 0.01% of taxpayers was above 40% until
the mid-1980s; today it is below 25%. Tax rates affecting taxpayers at the top of the income
distribution are currently at their lowest levels since the end of the second World War.

The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate
and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in
the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The
top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.

However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of
income at the top of the income distribution. As measured by IRS data, the share of income
accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before
falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. At the same time, the average tax rate paid by the
top 0.1% fell from over 50% in 1945 to about 25% in 2009. Tax policy could have a relation to
how the economic pie is sliced—lower top tax rates may be associated with greater income
disparities.

TL;DR – Decreasing tax rates on the wealthy will not spur economic growth, it will simply increase income disparity.

Apr 202010
 

We had a conversation with a neighbor today about the republican party punishing members that reminded me of this article by Krugman: The Bankruptcy Boys

Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts? …The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed “starving the beast” during the Reagan years… Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.”

I suspect California will hit the starvation wall quicker than the rest of the country – CA has been brought to the brink several times – but it doesn’t seem like Republicans have an answer for what they actually want next.

Oct 232009
 

I was literally pounding my steering wheel while listening to the KPBS Editors round table butcher coverage of the Marine Life Protection Act this morning. They did minimal research (at best), but were more than happy to speak about it anyway. There are several things which were missing from the discussion or simply incorrect:

“Fish stocks haven’t changed in 10 years”
Gloria quoted an op-ed from the UT written by someone from the fishing industry saying the fish stocks had not changed since the law was passed, in 1999. That is simply wrong and they didn’t really follow it up correctly – our fish stocks are not the same as they were 10 years ago. Major pelagic species are under huge threat and the catch size of many species is going down. It seems like everyone forgets that California has a salmon industry in a death spiral. Thankfully someone mentioned the LA Times Altered Oceans series.

“The MPAs will help keep spear fishing away from swimmers”
I’d love to see a list of all the incidents that would prompt this concern. My guess is there are very few. No one wants to spearfish where people are swimming as beaches make for lousy fishing. Why was this even discussed as a valid issue?

“Closing areas will lead to overfishing the only areas left open”
This is a ridiculous statement for several reasons. The size of the MPA at best is going to be in the 15-20% range, far less than the 30-40% range recommended by scientists. If closing that small of a percentage of space available leads to environmental destruction, then we are in horrible shape and it is all the more reason to close areas off. For more on this point, see the next two:

“The MPA’s are about protecting certain areas and will hurt fishing”
Marine preserves are not only about conserving life in the preserve. They are also about increasing life in non-preserve areas. Frequently Marine Preserves *increase* yields in non protected areas as they act as nurseries for the rest of the ocean.

“California fishing industry is well regulated, management is working”
Using salmon as an example, clearly it is not working for all species. Size and catch based fishing regulation alone (as California has) is a very poor management of fish stocks. Most species do their best reproducing when they are very old and mature. It can take many years, even decades for some species to reach a prime reproductive size. If you allow the taking of fish over a certain size only, you are targeting the very best producers of new fish. By blocking off MPA’s, you allow a portion of those best breeders to survive and produce the next generation.

Considering this network broadcast The National Parks: America’s Best Idea not that long ago, I found it very surprising that they didn’t understand the impact or importance of the Marine Life Protection Act. MPA’s preserve our ocean wild areas for generations to come in the same way our National Parks have for land use. These areas are critical to sustaining our economy, our food supply, our way of life, and ensuring it is still as much of a joy to explore our coast in 50 years as it is today.