Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Flood damage in Houston costs whom?

Via New York Times comes this information on flood insurance, which I believe is the predominate cause of storm damage in the Houston area and beyond:

Private homeowners’ policies generally cover wind damage and, in certain cases, water damage from storm surges. But for almost half a century, all other homeowners’ flood coverage has been underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal program that itself faces financial uncertainty.

Flooding has dealt the hurricane’s biggest blow. And in areas where it is prudent — or even obligatory — to buy it, having flood coverage is the exception rather than the norm.

People without coverage will have to apply for grants or low-cost loans from other branches of the federal government, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. That means delays in receiving funds, if such requests are even approved.

The National Flood Insurance Program was created in 1968, after most private insurance companies stopped writing homeowners’ flood coverage because they could not charge premiums high enough to cover the potentially catastrophic costs. (In addition to wind and limited storm-surge damage, private insurers cover vehicles caught in flooding.)

The 49-year-old program is now run by FEMA. Its coverage has caps: $250,000 for a house and $100,000 for its contents, and $500,000 apiece for a business building and its contents. Larger companies can still buy flood coverage through commercial insurers.

Comments (11) | |

Notes on Harvey: if Karma could bring her litter to visit the Texas GOP

Notes on Harvey: if Karma could bring her litter to visit the Texas GOP

First of all, as many of you already know, the M.I.A. proprietor of Bonddad blog, Hale Stewart, resides in the Houston area.  I traded messages with him on Saturday, and as of then, he was doing OK.

Secondly, when Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York, Texas Republicans were prominent among those who opposed aid.  Ultimately aid was provided — but not until 75 days after the storm.

There were two Sandy-related aid bills.

The first bill granted FEMA a $9.7 billion increase to borrow for the National Flood Insurance Program. It passed the Senate on a voice vote, but the following Texas GOP Members of Congress voted against the aid:

Mike Conaway (Midland)
Bill Flores (Bryan)
Louie Gohmert (Tyler)
Kenny Marchant (Coppell)
Mac Thornberry (Clarendon)
Randy Weber (Pearland)
Roger Williams (Austin)

The second bill provided $17 billion emergency funding to the victims and to affected NY and NJ communities.  Both Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn voted agains the bill.  In addition to all of the above Representatives, the following Texas GOPers also voted against this aid:

Ted Poe (Humble)
Sam Johnson (Plano)
John Ratcliffe (Heath)
Jeb Hensarling (Dallas)
Joe Barton (Arlington)
Kevin Brady (The Woodlands)
Michael McCaul (West Lake Hills)
Kay Granger (Fort Worth)
Lamar Smith (San Antonio)
Pete Olson (Sugarland)
Michael Burgess (Lewisville)
Blake Farenthold (Corpus Christi)
John Carter (Round Rock)
Pete Sessions (Dallas)

Now that it is Texas suffering a catastrophe, of course some of these same politicians will be at the front of the line braying for help. While with the GOP in control of the entire federal government, Karma will not be paying a visit with her litter, in a just world aid would be provided immediately — on the same day they all visit NY and NJ, apologize, and abjectly beg forgiveness.

Of course, the “better angels” will prevail this time. But rest assured, the next time a disaster befalls anywhere in the Northeast, these same Texas politicians will once again vote against aid. In the meantime, above is the Roll Call of Shame for posterity.

Comments (5) | |

GAO Report finds Rural Postal Service Remains Essential

From time to time, Mark Jamison or myself would feature articles from the Save the Post Office blog as authored by Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Mark Jamison a retired Postmaster for a small town in North Carolina would often write there also. This particular post was featured in October of 2016. Where FedeEx, UPS, DHL or other services do not go, the US Postman still does play an important role in rural communities.

West Plains Daily Quill: A top watchdog study completed at the request of U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, found that the Postal Service remains essential to rural communities, regardless of whether those communities have access to rural broadband services.

Senator Clair McCaskill had this to say:

“This study shows what we already know to be true—that the Postal Service remains essential to Missouri’s rural communities, regardless of their access to other technologies,” said McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor and senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service.

“There’s simply no substitute for the vital service our post offices provide— even as we continue to make important advances in rural broadband—and we’ve got to preserve and improve that service for the folks who rely on it most.”

Senator Heidi Heitkamp added to McCaskill’s comments:

“For North Dakotans in rural communities—whether they have access to high-speed internet or not —reliable mail service is a key ingredient to a successful business and staying connected,” said Heitkamp. “But too often, that high-quality service is not delivered—and that’s exactly what Senator McCaskill and I are working to improve. Today, we received the results of a Government Accountability Office study we requested which affirmed what folks in rural states have long known—that communities and businesses in rural areas depend on mail service regardless of their internet connection. By providing more clarity, we can make sure dependable mail service is prioritized in the rural communities where it is needed the most.”

The Government Accountability Office report examined the relationship between broadband access and use of the Postal Service in rural and urban communities. The report found that rural households without broadband access continue to rely on the Postal Service for more transaction and correspondence mail—and value this service for a variety of reasons, including fewer retail alternatives and a high level of trust in USPS services. The study also found that when rural households get broadband access, they do not reduce their use of the Postal Service. Read more. The GAO report Information on How Broadband Affects Postal Use and the Communications Options for Rural Residents is attached.

Tags: Comments (4) | |

Military Times reports top Pentagon posts vacant

The Military Times reports:

A handful of Pentagon nominees will be waiting for Senate confirmation when the upper chamber returns in September from its summer recess, but the administration still has dozens of Defense Department positions to fill.

Leaving State Department vacancies aside, I thought the Trump readiness rhetoric applied to DOD…not so much I guess.

Comments (3) | |

Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

I met Cathy in Cambridge when she spoke at MIT a few years ago. This is  re-posted from Naked Capitalism.  Cathy’s whole TED Talk can be watched after the fold.

Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

Cathy O’Neil has a PhD in mathematics from Harvard and is the author of the best seller Weapons of Math Destruction. She is also involved in Occupy Wall Street.

In this TED talk, she describes how algorithms routinely institutionalize bias, bad practices, and personal opinion. Worse, the “gee whiz” factor of technology and the difficulty lay people have in forcing the algorithm creators to make their assumptions and processes transparent, and allow for audits of their algorithms, makes them an all-too-easy way to reinforce and legitimate skewed power dynamics.

One part of her talk, on how hiring practices reinforce existing “success” models, which often have embedded biases, is consistent with our 2007 Conference Board Review article, Fit v. Fitness.

Algorithms are everywhere. They sort and separate the winners from the losers. The winners get the job or a good credit card offer. The losers don’t even get an interview or they pay more for insurance. We’re being scored with secret formulas that we don’t understand that often don’t have systems of appeal. That begs the question: What if the algorithms are wrong?

To build an algorithm you need two things: you need data, what happened in the past, and a definition of success, the thing you’re looking for and often hoping for. You train an algorithm by looking, figuring out. The algorithm figures out what is associated with success. What situation leads to success?

Actually, everyone uses algorithms. They just don’t formalize them in written code. Let me give you an example. I use an algorithm every day to make a meal for my family. The data I use is the ingredients in my kitchen, the time I have, the ambition I have, and I curate that data. I don’t count those little packages of ramen noodles as food.

(Laughter)

My definition of success is: a meal is successful if my kids eat vegetables. It’s very different from if my youngest son were in charge. He’d say success is if he gets to eat lots of Nutella. But I get to choose success. I am in charge. My opinion matters. That’s the first rule of algorithms.

Algorithms are opinions embedded in code. It’s really different from what you think most people think of algorithms. They think algorithms are objective and true and scientific. That’s a marketing trick. It’s also a marketing trick to intimidate you with algorithms, to make you trust and fear algorithms because you trust and fear mathematics. A lot can go wrong when we put blind faith in big data.

Tags: Comments (4) | |

Reports of Obamacare’s death are greatly exaggerated: All counties to be covered for 2018

Reports of Obamacare’s death are greatly exaggerated: All counties to be covered for 2018

Obamacare has now obtained an insurer for every county in the country, defying Republican claims that the program is collapsing. As reported by The Hill, “At one point or another over the past year, more than 80 counties have been at risk of having no ObamaCare insurer on the exchanges in 2018.” On Thursday (Aug. 24), the last “bare” county, in Ohio, was covered by insurer CareSource. Insurance companies have until September 27 to sign contracts, so it is not yet guaranteed there will be no bare counties for 2018.

As you no doubt remember, Chicken Little Republicans have proclaimed the sky to be falling ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. We were subject to ridiculous predictions about “death panels,” skyrocketing premiums, predictions of no fall in the uninsured, horror stories that weren’t, and of course the ever-popular “job killing” meme.

Instead, three years of the ACA (Q4 2013 to Q4 2016) brought the uninsured rate for adults 18-64 down from 20.8% to 13.1% (but an increase to 14.2% in Q2 2017) while unemployment fell from 6.7% in December 2013 to 4.7% in December 2016 (and 4.3% in July 2017). In addition, personal bankruptcies fell from 1.5 million in 2010 to just 771,000 in 2016, according to Consumer Reports.

As the recent increase in the uninsured rate shows, the ACA is still vulnerable to sabotage by the Republicans. Given that the increase occurred disproportionately among younger adults, Gallup speculates that uncertainty about the consequences for disregarding the individual mandate may explain a large amount of the change. There remain several routes for sabotage to take place. At the same time, there is a bipartisan effort in the Senate to stabilize the individual marketplace, potentially with explicit funding for individual subsidies.

Constant vigilance!

h/t David Ayon

Comments (2) | |

Sure Abigail Hauslohner, Paul Duggan, Jack Gillum and Aaron C. Davis Sure

Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts
Sure Abigail Hauslohner, Paul Duggan, Jack Gillum and Aaron C. Davis Sure

I have trusted The Washington Post, since I learned how to read. However, By Abigail Hauslohner, Paul Duggan, Jack Gillum and Aaron C. Davis are testing me. In this article they assert that an American Nazi went over to that very dark side in spite of the well meaning efforts of Weimar.

“Fields looked forward to soldiering in democracy’s most powerful military.

That’s how Derek Weimer, his favorite teacher in 2015, remembers it.”

Suuuuure. History doesn’t repeat itself but it can’t resist an ironic pun. No doubt about it.

Comments (0) | |

WWE?

“Mr. Trump’s advisers have privately said they are wrestling”

“I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate,” Mr. Mnuchin said of the denunciations of the president, “and I believe that having highly talented men and women in our country surrounding the president in his administration should be reassuring to you and all the American people.”

Mr. Mnuchin and Gary D. Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, who is also Jewish and who was also at the news conference in Trump Tower, have come under public pressure to resign in the past few days.

Many of Mr. Trump’s advisers have privately said they are wrestling with whether to remain working for the president. But most say they believe they are fulfilling a duty by serving.

Comments (7) | |