Monthly Archives: December 2014

NYC Police

The NY Post is reporting that the NYPD has essentially stopped policing since the murder of 2 on duty officers in Brooklyn:

…overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show.

Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame.

Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300.

Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241.

Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.

The Post obtained the numbers hours after revealing that cops were turning a blind eye to some minor crimes and making arrests only “when they have to” since the execution-style shootings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

Police sources said Monday that safety concerns were the main reason for the dropoff in police activity, but added that some cops were mounting an undeclared slowdown in protest of de Blasio’s response to the non-indictment in the police chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“The call last week from the PBA is what started it, but this has been simmering for a long time,” one source said.

“This is not a slowdown for slowdown’s sake. Cops are concerned, after the reaction from City Hall on the Garner case, about de Blasio not backing them.”

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has warned its members to put their safety first and not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary.”

It seems to me that this is kind of like our Congress refusing to pass any bills other than those required to keep the government operating (and, of course, those required to increase Wall Street profits).   Is it really a bad thing?

Why do we want police making unnecessary arrests anyway?

Of course, it is outrageous that the police, who work for the mayor and ostensibly the people of NYC, would follow the direction of their labor union ahead of their leadership, but that’s a different topic.

How are all you NYC peeps doing?  Is it chaos?  Is the city darker, dirtier, uglier, stinkier and scarier?  Has it turned into Batman’s Gotham?



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I thought expectations were through the roof for Brady Hoke.  Well, now we have all the integrity and enthusiasm of Hoke, paired with, (in the words of Interim AD Hackett,) a coach who is a modern day Paul Brown.  We shall see.

After the soul crushing heartbreak of the last 2 coaches, it’s hard not to be excited without feeling kind of gullible.  But as my mom called to remind me, this is the guy that got me to the Rose Bowl.  The least I can do is throw caution to the wind and prepare for the Leaders and Best.

HAIL!  (you can see me at 23:25 in this game recap)

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GDP 3Q2014

I’ve seen several analyses laying out these same complaints with the stratospheric third quarter 2014 GDP report (5% growth!!).  This one from Tony Sagami at Mauldin Economics is the best:

A stinky pile of economic manure came out of Washington, DC, last week and instead of the economic nirvana that it was touted to be, it was a smokescreen of half-truths and financial prestidigitation.

According to the newest version of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the US economy is smoking hot. The BEA reported that GDP grew at an astonishing 5.0% annualized rate in the third quarter.

5% is BIG number.

The New York Times couldn’t gush enough, given a rare chance to give President Obama an economic pat on the back. “The American economy grew last quarter at its fastest rate in over a decade, providing the strongest evidence to date that the recovery is finally gaining sustained power more than five years after it began.”

Moreover, this is the second revision to the third quarter GDP—1.1 percentage points higher than the first revision—and the strongest rate since the third quarter of 2003.

However, that 5% growth rate isn’t as impressive if you peek below the headline number.

Fun with Numbers #1: The biggest improvement was in the Net Exports category, which increased by 112 basis points. How did they manage that?  There was a downturn in Imports.

Fun with Numbers #2: Of the 5% GDP growth, 0.80% was from government spending, most of which was on national defense. I’m a big believer in a strong national defense, but building bombs, tanks, and jet fighters is not as productive to our economy as bridges, roads, and schools.

Fun with Numbers #3: Almost half of the gain came from Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) and deserves extra scrutiny. Of that 221 bps of PCE spending:

  • Services spending accounts for 115 bps. Of that 115, 15 bps was from nonprofits such as religious groups and charities. The other 100 bps was for household spending on “services.”
  • Of that 100 bps, the two largest categories were Healthcare spending (52 bps) and Financial Services/Insurance (35 bps).

The end result is that 85% of the contribution to GDP from Household Spending on Services came from healthcare and insurance! In short… those are code words for Obamacare!

While the experts on Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street were overjoyed, I see just another pile of white-collar manure and nothing to shout about.

Fun with Numbers #4: Lastly, the spending on Goods—the backbone of a health, growing economy—declined by 27 bps.

In a related news, the November durable goods report showed a -0.7% drop in spending, quite the opposite of the positive number that Wall Street was expecting.

In addition to this information, add the data regarding revisions around Obamacare as reported by ZeroHedge:

Back in June, when we were looking at the final Q1 GDP print, we discovered something very surprising: after the BEA had first reported that absent for Obamacare, Q1 GDP would have been negative in its first Q1 GDP report, subsequent GDP prints imploded as a result of what is now believed to be the polar vortex. But the real surprise was that the Obamacare boost was, in the final print, revised massively lower to actually reduce GDP!

This is how the unprecedented trimming of Obamacare’s contribution to GDP looked like back then.


Of course, even back then we knew what this means: payback is coming, and all the BEA is looking for is the right quarter in which to insert the “GDP boost”. This is what we said verbatim:

Don’t worry thought: this is actually great news! Because the brilliant propaganda minds at the Dept of Commerce figured out something banks also realized with the stub “kitchen sink” quarter in November 2008. Namely, since Q1 is a total loss in GDP terms, let’s just remove Obamacare spending as a contributor to Q1 GDP and just shove it in Q2.


Stated otherwise, some $40 billion in PCE that was supposed to boost Q1 GDP will now be added to Q2-Q4.


And now, we all await as the US department of truth says, with a straight face, that in Q2 the US GDP “grew” by over 5% (no really: you’ll see).

Well, we were wrong: it wasn’t Q2. It was Q3, albeit precisely in the Q2-Q4 interval we expected.

Fast forward to today when as every pundit is happy to report, the final estimate of Q3 GDP indeed rose by 5% (no really, just as we predicted), with a surge in personal consumption being the main driver of US growth in the June-September quarter. As noted before, between the second revision of the Q3 GDP number and its final print, Personal Consumption increased from 2.2% to 3.2% Q/Q,  and ended up contributing 2.21% of the final 4.96% GDP amount, up from 1.51%.

So what did Americans supposedly spend so much more on compared to the previous revision released one month ago? Was it cars? Furnishings? Housing and Utilities? Recreational Goods and RVs? Or maybe nondurable goods and financial services?

Actually no. The answer, just as we predicted precisely 6 months ago is… well, just see for yourselves.

In short, two-thirds of the “boost” to final Q3 personal consumption came from, drumroll, the same Obamacare which initially was supposed to boost Q1 GDP until the “polar vortex” crashed the number so badly, the BEA decided to pull it completely and leave this “growth dry powder” for another quarter. That quarter was Q3.


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Fallows on the military

Lots of references to the Atlantic piece by James Fallows today.  This section contains two important points:

The cultural problems arising from an arm’s-length military could be even worse. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a retired Air Force major general who now teaches at Duke law school, has thought about civic-military relations through much of his professional life. When he was studying at the National Defense University as a young Air Force officer in the early 1990s, just after the first Gulf War, he was a co-winner of the prize for best student essay with an imagined-future work called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.”

His essay’s premise was cautionary, and was based on the tension between rising adulation for the military and declining trust in most other aspects of government. The more exasperated Americans grew about economic and social problems, the more relieved they were when competent men in uniform, led by General Thomas E. T. Brutus, finally stepped in to take control. Part of the reason for the takeover, Dunlap explained, was that the military had grown so separate from mainstream culture and currents that it viewed the rest of society as a foreign territory to occupy and administer.

Recently I asked Dunlap how the real world of post-2012 America matched his imagined version.

“I think we’re on the cusp of seeing a resurgence of a phenomenon that has always been embedded in the American psyche,” he said. “That is benign antimilitarism,” which would be the other side of the reflexive pro-militarism of recent years. “People don’t appreciate how unprecedented our situation is,” he told me. What is that situation? For the first time in the nation’s history, America has a permanent military establishment large enough to shape our dealings in the world and seriously influence our economy. Yet the Americans in that military, during what Dunlap calls the “maturing years of the volunteer force,” are few enough in number not to seem representative of the country they defend.

“It’s becoming increasingly tribal,” Dunlap says of the at-war force in our chickenhawk nation, “in the sense that more and more people in the military are coming from smaller and smaller groups. It’s become a family tradition, in a way that’s at odds with how we want to think a democracy spreads the burden.”

People within that military tribe can feel both above and below the messy civilian reality of America. Below, in the burdens placed upon them, and the inattention to the lives, limbs, and opportunities they have lost. Above, in being able to withstand hardships that would break their hipster or slacker contemporaries.

#1, the idea of an American military coup has never crossed my mind.  I wonder how many people have thought about it.  Specifically, how many people who are currently serving in the military.

#2, he really has understated the tribal aspect of military service.  I’m not sure there is any way to keep my kids out of it, as they are acutely aware of the multiple family connections of all generations.  And he has also really understated or possibly underestimated the pride associated with it.  It’s a macho thing, not just a general superiority thing.

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what’s wrong with D vs. R

The biggest problem with D vs. R is that both sides are correct.  And both sides are so, so wrong.

James Howard Kunstler has summed it up nicely at Contracorner:

The tragedy of Barack Obama is that he continued the basic Karl Rove doctrine only without bragging about it. I don’t know whether Mr. Obama was a hostage, an empty suit, or a fool, but he broadened and deepened the acquiescence to lying about just about everything. Did criminal misconduct run rampant in banking for years? Oh, nevermind. Is the US economy actually contracting instead of recovering? We’ll just make up better numbers. Did US officials act like Nazi war criminals in torturing prisoners? Well, yeah, but so what? Did the State Department and the CIA scuttle the elected Ukrainian government in order to start an unnecessary new conflict with Russia? Maybe so, but who cares? Was the Affordable Care Act a swindle in the service of insurance and pharmaceutical racketeering? Oh, we’ll read the bill after we pass it. Shale oil will make us “energy independent.” (Not.)

Has anyone noticed the way these incongruities percolate into the public attention and then get dismissed, like daydreams, with no resolution. I’ve harped on this one before because it was, to my mind, Obama’s greatest failure: When the Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United case that corporations were entitled to express their political convictions by buying off politicians, why didn’t the President join with his then-Democratic majority congress to propose legislation, or a constitutional amendment, more clearly redefining the difference between corporate “personhood” and the condition of citizenship? How could this constitutional lawyer miss the reality that corporations legally and explicitly do not have obligations, duties, and responsibilities to the public interest but only to their shareholders? How was this not obvious? And why was there not a rush to correct it?

And, of course, this is brought to its ultimate culmination with the possibility of Bush vs. Clinton 2016.  Kunstler thinks that this abomination will be rejected by the American electorate, and lead to real change:

I believe that insulting prospect would be the wake-up call that will hit the American people upside the head and wake them out of their zombie rapture. A third party will arise. It may be a good one or a bad one, but it will blow the existing order of things apart, as it should.

I disagree.  As abhorrent as that prospect is to those of us who do not play D vs. R, it is just another chapter for those who do.  In fact, it’s a nearly inevitable outcome for that point of view because the “only” candidate who can run against each of them seems, at this point, to be the other.



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Correlation is Not Causation

But if you have a good enough model, you can maybe tell them apart.  From

…in the last few years, statisticians have begun to explore a number of ways to solve this problem. They say that in certain circumstances it is indeed possible to determine cause and effect based only on the observational data.

At first sight, that sounds like a dangerous statement. But today Joris Mooij at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and a few pals, show just how effective this new approach can be by applying it to a wide range of real and synthetic datasets. Their remarkable conclusion is that it is indeed possible to separate cause and effect in this way.

Mooij and co confine themselves to the simple case of data associated with two variables, X and Y. A real-life example might be a set of data of measured wind speed, X, and another set showing the rotational speed of a wind turbine, Y.

These datasets are clearly correlated. But which is the cause and which the effect? Without access to a controlled experiment, it is easy to imagine that it is impossible to tell.

The basis of the new approach is to assume that the relationship between X and Y is not symmetrical. In particular, they say that in any set of measurements there will always be noise from various cause. The key assumption is that the pattern of noise in the cause will be different to the pattern of noise in the effect. That’s because any noise in X can have an influence on Y but not vice versa.

And it appears to work.  This is very exciting!

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Fracking in NY

The Atlantic has summarized why NY has banned fracking permanently.  It’s based on a report about the possible health impacts:

The 184-page report, conducted by the New York State Department of Health, cites potential environmental impacts and health hazards as reasons for the ban. The research incorporates findings from multiple studies conducted across the country and highlights the following seven concerns:

  • Respiratory health: The report cites the dangers of methane emissions from natural gas drilling in Texas and Pennsylvania, which have been linked to asthma and other breathing issues. Another study found that 39 percent of residents in southern Pennsylvania who lived within one kilometer of a fracking site developed upper-respiratory problems compared with 18 percent of those who lived more than two kilometers away.

  • Drinking water: Shallow methane-migration underground could seep into drinking water, one study found, contaminating wells. Another found brine from deep shale formations in groundwater aquifers. The report also refers to a study of fracking communities in the Appalachian Plateau where they found methane in 82 percent of drinking water samples, and that concentrations of the chemical were six times higher in homes close to natural gas wells. Ethane was 23 times higher in homes close to fracking sites as well.

  • Seismic activity: The report cites studies from Ohio and Oklahoma that explain how fracking can trigger earthquakes. Another found that fracking near Preese Hall in the United Kingdom resulted in a 2.3 magnitude earthquake as well as 1.5 magnitude earthquake.

  • Climate change: Excess methane can be released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. One study predicts that fracking in New York State would contribute between 7 percent and 28 percent of the volatile organic compound emissions, and between 6 percent and 18 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions in the region by 2020.

  • Soil contamination: One analysis of a natural gas site found elevated levels of radioactive waste in the soil, potentially the result of surface spills.

  • The community: The report refers to problems such as noise and odor pollution, citing a case in Pennsylvania where gas harvesting was linked to huge increases in automobile accidents and heavy truck crashes.

  • Health complaints: Residents near active fracking sites reported having symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, nosebleeds, and headaches according to studies. A study in rural Colorado which examined 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 found that those who lived closest to natural gas development sites had a 30 percent increase in congenital heart conditions. The group of births closest to development sites also had a 100-percent increased chance of developing neural tube defects.


In addition to actual existing data, there are concerns about what is not known:

Zucker also voiced concern over how little is known about the long-term effects of injecting water and chemicals into the Marcellus shale, the disputed natural gas reserve that has been the subject of debate in New York and elsewhere. The new report, he said, highlights gaps in the current scientific understanding of fracking’s impact on groundwater resources, air quality, radon exposure, noise exposure, traffic, psychosocial stress, and injuries.

“The bottom line is we lack the comprehensive longitudinal studies, and these are either not yet complete or are yet to be initiated,” Zucker said according to The Syracuse Post-Standard. “We don’t have the evidence to prove or disprove the health effects. But the cumulative concerns of what I’ve read gives me reason to pause.”

Environmental issues are where the inefficiencies of government run up against the free rider problem.


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Wal-Mart is not The Devil

That is to say, they are a giant corporation that does lots of things.  Some of those are considered good or bad by people, for different reasons.  But they certainly react to market changes and also to feedback from the public (at least the public that they perceive to be and/or influence their paying customers).

In 2008 they were one of the first grocery stores to phase out milk containing rbST hormones.   However, this is not true of other dairy products they sell.  They could certainly push that requirement down through suppliers should they so choose.

Wal-Mart has been steadily increasing their organic selections.  This includes selections of their house brand, which often sells at a price competitive with name brand non-organic foods.  Of course, the flip side of this is that many people consider USDA/FDA accepted definitions of “organic” to be lacking, and Wal-Mart adoption of organics as disingenuous or even harmful.

Wal-Mart has committed to focusing even more on organic and sustainability in their fresh food options for 2015 and beyond.  This is a good thing, I think.

As consumers, we really need to pressure our government to define these terms in ways that are meaningful.  We can’t count on Wal-Mart to do the right thing here; they will do the perceived right thing.  We have a responsibility to make sure the labels mean what we want them to mean, or what we think they mean.

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Police deal with complications of releasing video

It’s almost impossible to believe, after the many years now of dash-cams, that none of the camera manufacturers had bothered to come up with software to automatically redact faces and license plates.  They have certainly lost a business opportunity here.  Hopefully Seattle police will share their end product with any PD that is interested.

Progress!  From Geekwire:

SPDHackathonThe Seattle Police Department is preparing to release large amounts of video from patrol car cameras and it needs your help in doing so.

The SPD is holding its first-ever hackathon on Dec. 19 and is asking developers to create software that quickly redacts faces, audio, and/or license plates from millions of videos on its servers in order to stay within Washington’s privacy laws.

“With 1,612,554 videos already on our servers — and more on the way through our upcoming body cam pilot program — our department is looking for a better, faster way redact those videos and make them accessible as public records,” the SPD wrote. “This painstaking redaction process takes a significant amount of time, severely limiting the speed at which SPD can make video recordings available.”

The SPD is also preparing to use body-worn cameras soon, so it will have even more video footage on hand in the near future. The department wants to make that footage accessible to the public, but wants to figure out how to efficiently redact or blur out images that shouldn’t be available to anyone based on existing privacy laws.

“We want to be transparent, but also make sure we adhere to the public disclosure laws in the State of Washington,” Mike Wagers, chief operating officer with the Seattle Police Department, told GeekWire in September.

Some videos and audio from other municipalities that have complied with the requests are published on YouTube, under an anonymous Police Video Requests account. The channel has been posting content since October and includes videos from the Seattle, Bellingham and Renton police departments.

The hackathon is taking place just a few weeks after an anonymous computer programmer submitted a massive series of public records requests, including one for all of the videos produced by patrol car cameras. The SPD made a deal with the man to publicly release videos produced by dashboard- and body-mounted cameras.

The SPD is only allowing the 25 people to the hackathon. You can sign up here.

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Too many laws

A lot of people have written follow-ons to this post by Stephen L. Carter.  The gist of it:

On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.

I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law.

The Washington Post adds:

a society where almost everyone is a criminal will still be a society where the sheer number of hostile interactions between police and civilians will be very large, which in turn ensures that there will be considerable room for abuse. Moreover, curbing police abuse through training, supervision, and after-the-fact accountability is far from an easy task. Among other things, prosecutors are understandably reluctant to go after the very same police departments whose cooperation they need to gather evidence and apprehend suspects. In addition, police are a well-organized interest group with considerable lobbying power and influence over both major political parties.

Rand Paul was mocked by Jon Stewart and vilified by others (see Sam Seder and a list in this thoughtful article in the Verge) for stating that Eric Garner was killed because of tax law, but Paul’s reasoning is correct:

“Well you know I think it’s hard not to watch that video of him saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ and not be horrified by it. But I think there’s something bigger than the individual circumstances. Obviously, the individual circumstances are important, but I think it is also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so that [drove] cigarettes underground by making them so expensive.”

The point, which those critical of the comment completely missed, was that there are just way too many laws out there to be enforced.  With enforcement (it has the word force right in it!!) comes inevitable abuse, because systems and people are not perfect.

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