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St. Ralph Speaks! On Behalf of Creditors

[ 76 ] November 3, 2015 |


St. Ralph Nader, America’s last honest man and only real leftist, speaks up on behalf of a true progressive cause:

Apparently, Ralph Nader is still talking, though in a way that certainly inspires a deep desire to go to Tumblr to find as many “shut up” gifs as one can find. Over the weekend, Nader published a nonsensical piece at the Huffington Post complaining that “humble savers” are getting screwed by the Federal Reserve’s unwillingness to raise the interest rate, which Nader seems to think is an elaborate plot to help the rich banks at the expense of working people.

 As Jordan Weissmann at Slate points out, the entire argument doesn’t make a lot of sense, as “relatively few households actually survive on interest income.” Most ordinary people would benefit a lot more from a robust economy than a higher interest rate on their savings account, but Nader seems to assume a nation of people living on investments rather than on paychecks, which really undermines his spokesman-for-the-working-class schtick.
But this weird piece is notable not just because of its Old Man Simpson half-baked economic crankery, but because he offers a solid dose of sexism to go with it: “Chairwoman Yellen, I think you should sit down with your Nobel Prize winning husband, economist George Akerlof, who is known to be consumer-sensitive,” Nader lectures. Yes, clearly interest rates are low because we live in a madcap world where women are not only allowed to run the Federal Reserve, but they are too willful to listen to the wise counsel of their husbands.

What I think Amanda is missing here is that raising interest rates and strangling the economy would increase the chances of a Republican victory in 2016, which will lead to the immediate passage of whatever statute Larry Lessig has declared to be the highest priority for all progressives in 2017. And, as a bonus, millionaire skinflints will have more money to contribute to critical progressive causes, like ensuring that working people don’t have access to libraries unless they meet your precise architectural specifications. Those contradictions won’t heighten themselves, people!


Tuesday Links

[ 80 ] November 3, 2015 |

Here at LGM, We Remember Only the Finest in American Cultural Artifacts

[ 36 ] November 2, 2015 |

You’ll thank me for the theme song and Bucky Dent, if not the fine, fine acting and disco. Not to mention Jane Seymour and Bert Convy.


[ 70 ] November 2, 2015 |


Disturbing events at Rider University in New Jersey. The liberal arts school–one with Division 1 NCAA basketball at the very least–is offering quite the education for $38,000.

Facing a potentially crippling budget crisis, Rider University will slash 13 majors and one minor and eliminate more than 20 jobs, including 14-full-time faculty members, the school announced today.

The unprecedented budget cuts at the private liberal arts college are expected to save more than $2 million a year as Rider tries to close its deficit, already at $7.6 million of this year’s $216 million budget, according to the university.

Current juniors and seniors will be able to complete degrees in their major, but sophomores and freshman will need to switch majors or transfer. In total, 272 students, including 123 sophomores and freshman are in the affected programs, university President Gregory Dell’Omo said.

Dell’Omo, who took office in August, announced the cuts Thursday during a town hall meeting with faculty and staff. Letters were also sent to students’ families, he said.

“This is a tough day,” Dell’Omo told NJ Advance Media after the town hall meeting. “But we would not have made this decision unless I really felt these were the right things for the university.”

The cuts were prompted by years of declining enrollment combined with rising costs for instruction, Dell’Omo said. But an official for the school’s faculty union said the faculty and the university have a difference of opinion over the severity of Rider’s financial challenges.

“Our first take on it was this is not necessary,” said Jeff Halpern, contract administrator and chief grievance officer for the faculty union. “A major restructuring without any conversations with the faculty is simply formula for disaster.”

Majors that will be eliminated beginning next fall are art and art history, advertising, American studies, business education, French, geosciences, German, marine science, philosophy, piano and web design. The bachelor of arts program in economics and the graduate program in organizational leadership will also be eliminated.

Three majors — business economics, entrepreneurial studies and sociology — will be offered only as minors, and the school’s minor in Italian will be eliminated.

I don’t really know everything that is going on here, but there’s plenty that is suspicious. First, the new president started in August. That means he basically immediately decided to revamp the university by firing professors and cutting majors without any real knowledge of what is happening on the ground. These things don’t happen in a week. Second, the faculty union sharply disagrees with the president’s description of the school’s financial problems. At the very least, the president could work with the union here. But that’s not happening at all. Instead, the president is just destroying the university. Third, one has to question how the school is struggling like this with a $38K price tag. Seventy-three percent of Rider students receive some kind of aid, but more than that I am unable to find out with the resources I have at hand. It’s $65 million endowment is not fantastic but more than many other schools.

Again, I don’t know the whole story. I do know that the unilateral firing of dozens of professors is something we are seeing more and more as presidents decide to raise their own reputation by restructuring universities in ways that eliminate pesky faculty and their pesky unions. At the very least, one must believe that there was a better way to deal with this than the unilateral firing of professors and elimination of core majors.

And of course the Division 1 basketball team remains untouched.

The Low-Wage New Industrial Jobs

[ 126 ] November 2, 2015 |


When wages and working conditions in the United States get bad enough, a few industrial jobs begin returning to the U.S. But most of those jobs are hard and bad, with low wages and poor working conditions. Companies use the same strategies of employment obfuscation and opacity to protect themselves from having to treat employees with respect that they use in the global race to the bottom while the future of the American working class remains dire. Alana Semuels has a good piece about so-called “onshoring” in Tennessee and how the return of a minimal number of manufacturing jobs creates no good times for the American working class. A couple of quotes, with commentary:

One man, who works for parts supplier Magnetti Marelli, which opened its first lighting-production plant in Tennessee in 2013, told me that employees are required to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. For this, they earn $12 an hour. The man, who didn’t want his name used for fear of retribution from the company, said the job has scarred his hands because he has to work quickly with wire harnesses, but that he can’t quit because he has a family to support.

“The labor laws in the United States ought to stand up and say you can’t do this to a human being,” he told me.

A spokesman for Magnetti Marelli, which is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said that the schedule is related to a ramp-up phase ahead of new-product launches.

Magnetti Marelli, like most manufacturing plants in the South, is not unionized. And those who work at such plants likely won’t see the sort of mobility that Conklin has experienced. The compensation for these jobs is not on step with today’s economy: Wages for workers at non-union automotive plants have fallen 14 percent from 2003 to 2013, when adjusted for inflation, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The company has no reason to even deny that it’s crushing workers’ lives in an 84-hour a week job in conditions reminiscent of the Gilded Age. The idea that such a schedule is necessary is of course ridiculous because, you know, the company could hire more workers. But like U.S. Steel in 1905, forcing workers to labor 12-hours days is part of the management prerogative that employers love and they make workers suffer because of it. This is why unions are needed, but with the extreme capital mobility of the early 21st century, Magnetti Marelli may well move their factory to another non-union state or back over the border if the employees unionized. With jobs so scarce and mobility to enhanced, it’s hard to blame them for grasping to such a horrible job. Because what is the alternative?

Darius Mir grew his business 9to5 Seating, which makes office chairs, by moving manufacturing from California to China in the early 2000s. But manufacturing in China became increasingly challenging. The global slowdown shuttered dozens of plants in China, and some skilled workers went home to their villages, Mir told me, so that the company had trouble finding good employees. What’s more, as China devalued its currency, 9to5 Seating had to spend more on wages because of the unfavorable exchange rate, making it less cost-efficient to produce goods in China.

Looking for solutions, Mir did some research and realized that if he could locate a plant somewhere in the central U.S., where he could ship goods to customers in a day, and if he could automate some jobs to save labor costs, producing chairs in the U.S. could work. Thanks in part to automation, he found, a task or order that would take 22 people in China can be done at the Tennessee plant with five. With the help of generous incentives, the company started manufacturing on 100,0000 square feet in Union City, Tennessee, where Goodyear had closed a massive plant in 2011. Mir is now adding 200,000 square feet of space to ramp up manufacturing in the company. (The U.S. part of the company is called Made In America Seating). He employs 40 people, and hopes to grow to 80 by the end of the year, and 500 within five years.

The average wage, Mir told me, will be $38,000 a year, and unskilled employees will start working at $11 an hour.

“A person would be able to without much experience or skills, would be able to start work in the region where we are from $9 to $11 or $12 an hour,” he told me. “We are keeping to the middle of that range.”

$11 an hour is not really a livable wage, even in a relatively poor part of the nation, especially if you have a family. It is however the market wage. If it was a livable wage, would Mir locate his factory in Union City? Given that he has the ability, thanks to unhindered capital mobility, to move anywhere at any time, probably not. But while an $11 hour is better than abject poverty, it certainly doesn’t create a stable working class, nor is it intended to do so. A stable working class might well have the ability to raise those wages and send the jobs somewhere else, thus destabilizing said economically and socially stable workers.

Nissan has made cars in Smyrna since 1983, and the town, and even the county, grew up and prospered around the plant, adding nearly 200,000 residents since the plant opened. But Smyrna suffered during the recession when Nissan, facing huge financial losses, offered buyouts to 6,000 employees in Tennessee and eliminated a night shift. The unemployment rate in Rutherford County reached 11 percent, and did not fall below 7 percent until late 2011.

When Nissan ramped up again after the recession, they hired low-paid temporary workers through agencies such as Yates Services.

Robert Bruhn, 49, was hired by Yates to work at the Smyrna plant three years ago. It was a good job, compared to what he was doing at the time, working for an oven manufacturer for $13 an hour. Yates started him out at $14.50 an hour, although he stood on the line next to people who made $25 or $26 an hour. Other less-skilled Yates employees start out at $12.80 or so, and Yates workers never earn more than $18.50 an hour, he told me. After pushback from workers, Nissan has allowed some workers to transfer to Nissan as part of the Pathway program, though Bruhn told me that the selection of transfers seems random. (He applied a few times before he was finally accepted and transferred in September.)

Still, Bruhn gets less of a bonus and a lower wage than other full-time Nissan employees.

“There’s no way to reach the top here,” he told me. Josh Clifton, a Nissan spokesman, responded that the use of staffing agencies is “standard practice” in the automotive industry, and that Nissan employees in Smyrna receive competitive pay and benefits).

While Nissan will not disclose how many of its workers are temporary, Ed Ensley, a worker who has been at the plant for 30 years, says he thinks only about 30 percent of current full-time workers are Nissan employees. Ensley is a full-time Nissan worker, but he wants to form a union at the plant because he’s disappointed in how morale and quality have suffered since the increase in temporary workers. This is something he’s made clear at the plant, by giving speeches in the lunchroom and by approaching executives from Japan about the need for a union.

So far, he hasn’t made much progress, even as he’s seen the town of Smyrna deteriorate. Some new hires are making less than what he made in 1982, Ensley told me. Along the main drag of Smyrna, there’s been an uptick in payday-loan stores, and Nissan recently instituted a cell-phone lot for people picking up family members from work; Ensley suspects the change is because so many employees can no longer afford to be two-car families.

Meanwhile, the Smyrna plant is becoming the most productive in the nation, and last year produced 648,000 cars. Nissan made $1.57 billion in the first quarter of this year, a 58 percent increase from the previous year.

This use of long-term temporary workers is a big part of Japanese auto makers employment strategies in the South. The Toyota plant in Kentucky does the same. This causes all sorts of problems for workers who are doing the exact same job as the person next to them who works directly for Nissan or Toyota but who makes 50-60 percent of the wages and benefits (if there are any). This is the type of employment obfuscation that brings multiple employers into the same factory, makes unionization all the more difficult, and shields the parent company from financial and sometimes legal responsibility for those workers. Once again, the temporary work industry, which may have reason to exist when Macy’s needs to increase its staff for December alone, has been massively twisted into a Frankenstein that major and highly profitable employers use to increase profits on the backs of workers. Like so many of these labor arrangements such as franchising, subcontracting, outsourcing, etc., long-term temp work needs to be heavily regulated or banned outright if we want American workers to become middle-class people.

In short, American workers need good, well-paying, stable jobs. Even when work has returned, they don’t have that. No increased Earned Income Tax Credit is going to solve this problem. We have to have a jobs program that provides livable wages and dignified lives if we want a stable nation not wholly owned by corporations and if we want to fight poverty and social problems. Unfortunately, even many on the nominal left don’t take this seriously enough, preferring vague and meaningless paeans to education and useful but small policies like an expanded EITC credit as solutions to these problems. It’s not nearly enough.

For workers, the jobs are welcome because they are better than the poverty For Tennessee workers, the jobs are welcome because they are better than the poverty that gets Paul Theroux decried as a moral monster for writing about them instead of African workers. But it doesn’t mean these jobs that once could help a worker into the middle class are nearly enough to provide the stability we need to build American society.


[ 21 ] November 2, 2015 |


SEK: What thing?


SEK: I’m getting that.


SEK: Yes?


SEK: You’re about to start hopping sideways aren’t you?


SEK: I’m not sure what —


SEK: You got into the catnip didn’t you?


SEK: How much catnip have you had?


SEK: This isn’t going to get tedious.


SEK: What thing?








SEK: Everything OK down there?


SEK: I said, “Is everything OK down there?”


SEK: You OK? Still want me to do the thing?

OLDMAN CAT: What thing.

SEK: The thing you wanted done.

OLDMAN CAT: No clue what you mean.

SEK: Fine.



The failure of democracy

[ 48 ] November 2, 2015 |

hyde park

Larry Lessig’s presidential campaign ends.

Lessig has withdrawn because he never drew 1% support in three national polls, with this being the threshold to be included in the major candidate debates. He’s now claiming that he was about to reach this threshold, but the Party changed the rules in the face of this threat, and said he had to be drawing that much support six weeks ago, or something (hey it’s a long story).

Anyway, an idle mind being the devil’s workshop, I took it upon myself to research how many candidates — not merely “major” candidates, thanks, Lamestream Media! — there actually are for just the presidential nomination of the Democrat Party at this moment. This is difficult to ascertain, (see Media, Lamestream, supra) but here’s a selection from the Old Country Buffet of American politics:

Jeff Boss (born May 20, 1963) is an American conspiracy theorist.[1][2] He was an independent candidate for President of the United States in the 2008 and 2012 elections[3][4] and is running as a Democratic candidate in the 2016 election.[2]

Boss holds that the United States government, specifically the National Security Agency, is responsible for the September 11 attacks.[1] He claims to have witnessed the government arrange the attacks.[5]
Electoral history

In 2008, he was an independent candidate for President of the United States as well a candidate for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey, running under the slogan “Vote Here”.[6] He received 639 votes as a presidential candidate and 9,877 in his Senate run.[5]

In 2009, Boss was a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Governor of New Jersey.[1][6] He finished third, with 8.3% of the vote, in the primary which was won by Jon Corzine, who received 77.2% of the vote.

In the 2012 election, Boss received 1,024 votes for President of the United States.[7]
Jeff Boss campaign literature, posted on a wall on 9th Avenue in Manhattan.

He ran for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New Jersey in 2013,[8] but was removed from the ballot after the New Jersey Democratic State Committee challenged the nominating petitions of all independent candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.[9] He subsequently filed new petitions to run for Governor in the general election and appeared on the ballot as the “NSA Did 911” candidate.[10] Out of the eight candidates, Boss finished last, with 0.1% of the vote.

In 2014, Boss ran for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey as an independent.[11] His slogans were “NSA Whistleblower” and “NSA Did 911”.[11] He received 4,513 votes[12] (0.24% of the vote).

Keith Russell Judd (born May 23, 1958) is an American former prison inmate and perennial candidate for political office. His nicknames include “Dark Priest”[2] and “Mtr. President”.[3] He claims to have run for President of the United States in every election since 1996.

Judd was born May 23, 1958, in Pasadena, California. He is married, and professes to be a Rasta-Christian.[3] He claims to have run in every United States presidential election since 1996 and for mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Governor of New Mexico.[4] He further claims to be a former member of the Federation of Super Heroes[citation needed]. Judd has one child, born out of wedlock on September 3, 1990, a son named Marcus Miciah Robertson.[2]

Samuel Howard Sloan (born September 7, 1944) is an American chess player and publisher who lives with his family in The Bronx, New York. He is a Democratic Party candidate for President of the United States. [1] In 2006, Sloan served on the Executive Board of the United States Chess Federation. He competed in the 2013 and in the 2015 World Championship of Chinese Chess in Huizhou, China and in Munich, Germany.[2]

In 1970, Sloan established a registered broker-dealer that traded over-the-counter stocks and bonds. Sloan had no formal legal training but orally argued a case before the Supreme Court after litigating against the Securities and Exchange Commission over policies regarding the trading of penny stocks.[3] The Court ruled in his favor, 9–0, concerning his claim that the “tacking” of 10-day summary suspension orders for an indefinite period was an abuse of the agency’s authority and a deprivation of due process.[4]

Robert “Robby” Wells (born April 10, 1968) is an American politician and former college football coach and player. He was the head football coach at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.[1]

Wells unsuccessfully sought the Constitution Party’s nomination for President of the United States in the 2012 presidential election.[2][3][4] He is seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in the 2016 presidential election.

Wells was hired as head football coach on December 22, 2007. In his first season as head coach, the team saw as many victories as the previous four seasons combined. Wells resigned his position on January 28, 2010 citing personal reasons. He subsequently filed a lawsuit against SSU for reverse discrimination, alleging that his resignation as head coach was forced.[8] The lawsuit was settled in November 2011.[9][10]

Willie Wilson (born June 16, 1948)[1] is an American businessman and politician from Chicago, Illinois. He has owned and operated several different McDonald’s restaurant franchises and owns Omar Medical Supplies, which imports and distributes latex gloves and other medical and safety supplies and equipment.[2][3] He also produces the nationally syndicated gospel music television program “Singsation” which won an Emmy Award in 2012.[2][4][5]

How Employers Deal with Sexual Harassment

[ 21 ] November 2, 2015 |


Sarah Jaffe provides the details of a story that says all too much about how too many corporations deal with sexual harassment on the job. They cover it up, try to shut down the worker, and facilitate the harasser to continue exploiting women.

Not long afterward, as she waited for her carpooling colleague again, the coach came up to Agganis and began rubbing her shoulder. She pulled away. He said nothing then, but in their next weekly “coaching,” Agganis said, he told her one of her metrics was a little below target and that he could write her up for it—but he wouldn’t. “I felt threatened that if I didn’t put up with his behavior he would write me up and make trouble for me,” she said. Agganis began having panic attacks, and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication for the first time in her life.

When she went to human resources to make a complaint, though, she felt dismissed. By that time, she’d googled her coach, Gary Rochon, and according to the legal complaint she’s filed, found that he had lost his medical license in Wisconsin for having a sexual relationship with a patient. Healso lost a job in Maine following accusations of sexual harassment. Agganis questioned T-Mobile’s judgment in hiring someone with his history to manage a workplace staffing mostly young women, and asked for him to be put on suspension while the company conducted the internal investigation she was told would happen. Instead, she said, she was advised to stick it out until the next rotation, when she would be given a new supervisor.

She was asked to sign a confidentiality form, she said. Agganis asked for time to read the form, and was shocked to discover that it seemed to be telling her that if she talked to her co-workers about her sexual-harassment complaint, she could be disciplined or even fired. “I didn’t want to lose my job,” she said. “But I couldn’t stay where I was being harassed.” She was led to believe that if she didn’t sign the form, there would be no investigation. She signed it, and then she resigned from her job.

Luckily this woman knows the power of a union:

Agganis didn’t give up. Instead, she reached out to the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents many telecom workers, including some at T-Mobile, but not at the Oakland call center. The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on her behalf, arguing that the confidentiality agreement violated the National Labor Relations Act’s protections for workers—the act specifically allows workers to discuss “issues related to their terms and conditions of employment,” and act collectively to change those conditions. This August, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge ruled in her favor, requiring T-Mobile to rescind the confidentiality agreements and post notice to its employees at the Maine and South Carolina sites, informing them that it had violated the NLRA and informing them of their rights under the act.

And then this month, backed by CWA, Agganis went public. She’d filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Center and the Maine Human Rights Commission, which issued her a Right to Sue letter. She filed suit in the United States District Court in Maine, charging sex discrimination and wrongful discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Maine Human Rights Act. On October 6, she held a news conference near the T-Mobile call center, and she and her supporters handed out flyers to T-Mobile employees informing them of her complaint.

That’s great for her and it once again shows how unions are so, so much more than just a vehicle for workers to get more money. But a lot of workers don’t have access to unions or don’t know who to reach out to for help on the job. These confidentality agreements employers make employees sign are deeply disturbing and should be illegal. When the employer prioritizes sweeping information under the rug over making sure workers are not sexually harassed (or otherwise exploited or made to labor in unsafe workplaces or whatever) they are acting in a manner that should have legal ramifications.

And It Begins II

[ 116 ] November 2, 2015 |


The latest polling from New Hampshire indicates a new shape of the race:

Support for Marco Rubio among likely New Hampshire primary voters has tripled in two months, according to the results of a Monmouth University poll out Monday.

Donald Trump has led every major poll in New Hampshire since July, and this one is no exception. With 26 percent, the Manhattan billionaire leads Ben Carson, who took in 16 percent. Rubio, who polled at 4 percent in the September Monmouth survey, surged to 13 percent this time.


In terms of favorability, Rubio (net positive 43 points) trailed only Carson (45 points), while Trump had a net-positive rating of just 6 points. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie saw a big boost in his favorability ratings, and now enjoys a 54 percent favorable to 32 percent unfavorable standing. Two months ago, he drew a negative 38 percent to 46 percent result.

Behind Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich earned 11 percent, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 9 percent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 7 percent, Christie and Carly Fiorina at 5 percent each and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at 3 percent. All other candidates polled 1 percent or less, with 4 percent undecided.

Obviously, this does nothing to dissuade me from thinking that Rubio is going to emerge as the actual politician competitor to Trump/Carson. The fact that the latter two remain ahead can be seen as evidence that things have fundamentally changed, and one of them could win the nomination. Myself, I am going to believe an actual politician with actual support from party elites will win the nomination until I actually see otherwise.


[ 31 ] November 2, 2015 |


John Kasich has decided to campaign in the tradition of Jon Hunstman and Joe Lieberman — that is, to campaign on the premise that most members of his own party are terrible. As a strategy for winning the nomination, the merits of this approach are…not obvious. In Kasich’s case, accepting the Medicaid expansion and hence acceding to the greatest threat to human liberty that has ever existed left him with few other options. But we shouldn’t confuse him with an actual moderate:

I think Kasich is right about the moral necessity of the Medicaid expansion, and I also agree with his implicit point that for most Christian conservatives the political application of their faith has a tendency to begin and end in people’s bedrooms. I, however, am not a Republican primary voter or donor. People who are Republican primary voters and/or prospective donors are unlikely to respond well to someone calling a central tenet of party doctrine immoral.

Kasich’s decision to run as the Last Sane Republican, as well as his laudatory decision to support the Medicaid expansion, might create the impression that he is a representative of that nearly extinct breed, the genuinely moderate Republican. But this would be highly misleading.

For example, in his opening volley against his opponents, Kasich railed against “tax schemes that don’t add up, that put our kids in a deeper hole than they are today.” But is Kasich’s tax plan any different? Not really. It might be more realistic than, say, Ben Carson’s plan to fund the entire federal government with a 10 percent or 15 percent flat tax, but that’s like saying that Las Vegas is cooler than Phoenix in July.

Kasich’s tax plan is standard-issue contemporary Republicanism, a combination of massive upward income distribution and magical thinking. As with his opponents, the centerpiece of his plan are massively regressive tax cuts: slashing the top marginal rate from 39.6 percent to 28 percent, cutting capital gains taxes, and eliminating the estate tax (which kicks in at amounts of $5.43 million per person.) This plan would blow a massive hole in the budget that would require either huge deficits or cuts in spending for the poor that Kasich has correctly described as immoral. Nothing about this is new: He has been equally obsessed with cutting the tax burden of the upper class as both a legislator and governor.

And not only is Kasich dishonestly suggesting that his tax plan could be consistent with balancing the budget, at Wednesday’s debate he reiterated his support for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. This is an outright crackpot idea that would force the federal government to cut spending and/or raise taxes during recessions, a disaster that would cause untold misery every time the economy went through a downturn.

In other words, his acceptance of the Medicaid expansion notwithstanding, Kasich is essentially on the same page as his allegedly nutty opponents. The fact that he’s perceived as too left-wing to win the Republican nomination says more about the competition than it does about him.

Speaking of which, Jim Webb is making noises about running as an independent. The party left him! If he does, hopefully it will be with the same energy that he brought to his primary campaign. If he makes an actual effort to throw Virginia to the Republicans, on the other hand…

Dual Use

[ 11 ] November 2, 2015 |
WuZhen-5 under the wing of an aircraft carrier - 2.jpg

“WuZhen-5 under the wing of an aircraft carrier – 2” by Flavio Mucia (AMB Brescia) – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

My latest for the Diplomat takes a look at a recent report on China’s acquisition of dual use technology from US companies:

A recent report in the New York Times detailed the many connections between U.S. technology firms and their Chinese counterparts. The report suggested that many of the companies that U.S. firms regularly deal with have their own relationships with the Chinese military.

The articles, inspired by a report from the intelligence firm Blue Heron on IBM’s dealings with China, highlight the tensions between maintaining security over American dual-use technological innovations and staying abreast of the global technology market. While the report does not indicate that IBM has violated the U.S. system of export control, it does imply that the system lacks capacity to properly monitor interactions between U.S. and Chinese companies.


Give up punting and rational maximizing

[ 56 ] November 2, 2015 |

occam's razor

I see this almost every weekend: a team is in a bad but not completely hopeless position, they’ve got the ball, as a practical matter they have to score to keep hope alive, and — they punt. It’s a give up play: one which unambiguously decreases the chances of winning. Three examples from the past two days, one from college and two from the NFL:


Maryland is down by 16 (two scores), fourth and eight from their own five, three minutes left, and no time outs.


Jets are down 14, fourth and seven from their own 21, 3:19 to go, not sure of time out situation.

Green Bay-Denver

Green Bay is down 19, 6:50 to go, fourth and seven from their own 32, one time out left.

Now in each situation the team with the ball is a big long shot to come back, but stranger things have happened. What’s completely obvious — so obvious that you don’t need David Romer to run the numbers — is that voluntarily turning the ball over (why punts aren’t characterized as turnovers is an interesting question) at this point in the game decreases your chances of winning from slim to a lot closer to none.

So why do coaches do this?

One explanation is that in each case the coach has performed a quick Machiavellian calculation that his own self-interest is best served by attempting to minimize the margin of defeat rather than continuing to try to win.

I don’t really buy this, or at least I don’t think it’s as much of a factor as the reflexive and indeed almost instinctual impulse that drives all sorts of coaching decisions. That impulse is to avoid an immediate bad result (turning the ball over in scoring position for the other team), even when doing so increases the odds of a much more costly bad result (losing the game).

All of which is to say that a lot of things can be explained more plausibly by assuming the decision makers in question are idiots rather than rational maximizers of their utility.

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