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

Online Shopping

A big change that has occurred in my household this year is the amount of shopping we do online – it has gone up a lot. It extends to food – a significant part of my daily calories now get delivered to our house. It isn’t just price driving that change; some of what we order online is very difficult to obtain locally. In fact, it was looking for items I wanted to add to my diet for health reasons that catalyzed this shift to online shopping.

What have been your experiences shopping online? Any thoughts about how it all plays out going forward?

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The Road to Hell is Paved with Screwed Over Black, Hispanic and Native American Kids (and They Deserve Better)

Its been my observation that a surprising amount of research education sucks, either focusing on irrelevant trivia or desperately avoiding logic and common sense at all costs. Every so often, though, you come across something well written and cogent. Here are the first two paragraphs of an article that comes close:

Racial-, ethnic-, and language-minority schoolchildren in the United States have repeatedly been reported to be overidentified as disabled and so disproportionately overrepresented in special education (e.g., Artiles, 2003; Dunn, 1968; Harry, Arnaiz, Klinger, & Sturges, 2008; Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Singh, 1999; Sullivan & Bal, 2013). These findings have led to characterizations of special education as “discriminatory” (Skiba, Poloni-Staudinger, Simmons, Feggins-Azziz, & Chung, 2005, p. 142), having “systemic bias” (Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Nguyen, 2001, p. 361), constituting “a new legalized form of structural segregation and racism” (Blanchett, 2006, p. 25), and “another manifestation of institutionalized racism” (Codrington & Fairchild, 2012, p. 6). Federal legislation and policies have been enacted to reduce minority disproportionate representation (MDR) in special education (e.g., Posney, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2009). For example, the U.S. Congress observed that “more minority children continue to be served in special education than would be expected from the percentage of minority students in the general school population” (p. 118 of Statute 2651, Public Law 108-446).

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Pakistan Today, Here Tomorrow

I cannot speak for the credibility of the Asian Human Rights Commission, nor about this story they published entitled Pakistan: The last nail in the coffin of democracy. However, it does ring true to me based on other material I have read in Western media. To quote liberally, if not to lift wholesale:

The year 2017 in Pakistan has been marked by tussles between state institutions and the army. The chain of events that started with a seemingly whimsical news item about the war of words between the military and civilian top brass, known as the Dawn Leaks, culminated into a sit-in the capital city of Islamabad that lasted for more than 21 days in November, and ended with bloodshed and a surrender document duly signed by the civilian government under the bayonet of army.

The sit-in was called by religious cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Chief of the hitherto unknown Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (LYRA), a militant and political organisation that purports itself to be peaceful. The sit-in was a reaction to the alleged amendments in the Election Bill 2017, which changed the wording of the declaration required of elected parliamentarians proclaiming the finality of the prophet hood. The government soon reverted back to the original text, but the damage was done.

The clerics called a sit-in the heart of Pakistan’s capital city, and kept the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi virtually inaccessible for 21 plus days, causing severe troubles for daily commuters. The situation was a Lahore Model Town de ja vu of 2012, with the care taker government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi unable to take any action against the violent protestors.

Finally, after being served several ultimatums, the government was forced to take action against the protestors on November 25. What ensued is a textbook example of the utter break down of state apparatus and police incompetence. The police forces were beaten up by the protestors, with many officers receiving severe injuries (footage of the attack on the police can be viewed here). In total 173 were injured by the fundamentalists including 54 police officials and among them 32 police officials are seriously injured. According to the electronic media, seven persons including one child were killed, whereas other sources claim that around 45 persons were killed.

The freedom of expression was the first casualty of the pandemonium, with TV channels ordered to go off air by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. For 42 hours, the channels remained off air, unprecedented in the country. Meanwhile, journalists, cameramen and photojournalists covering the protest were brutally beaten by the protestors (watch the footage here).

The army was then called on to take control of the situation, in aid of the civilian government, under Article 256 of the Constitution of Pakistan. In contravention to the clear orders however, the military chief refused to intervene and “suggested” that the government find a peaceful solution to the chaos. Given the circumstances and the refusal to act despite orders from the Premier of the state, it must be questioned why Article 6 of the Constitution was not applied against the General?

Abandoned by the army, the government was forced to meet the demands of Rizvi and his band of hooligans. The agreement, hailed as a suicide note by analysts, includes preposterous demands, such as ease of filing an FIR for blasphemy cases and having three representatives of LYRA in the Punjab textbook board to review the curriculum. Other salient features of the agreement were that a board of clerics led by Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri will be set up to probe remarks made by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah against the persecution of Ahmadis, and Sanaullah will have to accept the decision made by the board. Also, no leniency will be given to those convicted by courts for blasphemy, and no ban will be imposed on the use of loudspeakers.

Furthermore, the agreement notes that two representatives of Tehreek-i-Labaik (LYRA) will be included in the panel assigned to decide changes in textbooks. The officials will push for inclusion of translation of the Holy Quran, and chapters about Seerat-un-Nabi (PBUH) and Muslim leaders. Every year, November 25 will be observed as “Martyrs of Prophet’s honour” day.

The agreement clearly reveals the influence of the extremist clergy in Pakistan’s state affairs. The preposterous demands were accepted by the state to the letter, and the surrender document was duly signed by Interior Minister Mr. Ahsan Iqbal and cleric Khaidim Hussain Rizvi. Ironically, the guarantor of the agreement was the army itself. Moreover, in a TV interview, Khadim Hussan Rizvi admitted that he dealt only with the military leadership and the ISI, and it “must have been” the army leadership which got the Interior Minister to sign the agreement. A video of the director general Rangers disbursing money amongst protestors after the sit-in ended caused many to question whether this was a soft coup or a conspiracy to over throw the elected civilian government. However, shamelessly the army general was making the selfies with the protestors and assuring them that army stands with you.

By ceding to the demands of the violent demonstrators, the state has virtually given absolute power and blanket immunity to fundamentalism and militancy in the name of religion in the country. The government has set a shameful legacy for itself, wherein some 1500 people managed to overcome the government and a country of 200 million people, a 600,000 strong army and the world’s sixth nuclear state. The whole world saw the drama unfold that leased the people of Pakistan to non-state actors, who will now decide who is ‘Muslim enough’ to live in the country.

If this is accurate, it bodes ill. And not just for that segment of the Pakistani population that doesn’t want to live under the rule of this particular brand of fundamentalists. Militant fanatics like to export their ideologies, and the West has made its borders permeable to violent militants.

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Two Stories on Cause and Effect

Cause and effect leaves little room for how people want the world to work.  Here are two stories illustrating that.

From Bloomberg:

A Swiss maker of hamburger buns for McDonald’s Corp. said it’s struggling to run a Chicago bakery after it lost a third of its workers in a clampdown on 800 immigrants without sufficient documentation.

About 35 percent of the workers at Cloverhill Bakery had to be replaced, according to Zurich-based Aryzta AG. The company, which makes baked goods for fast-food chains and supermarkets, said the employees were supplied by a job-placement agency that faced federal audits earlier this year.

The piece goes on:

The raid on workers at Cloverhill is one of the biggest U.S. employment headaches reported by a European company so far as President Donald Trump has made curbing undocumented immigration a centerpiece of his presidency. Aryzta said it faces challenges in retaining staff in the U.S. and pressure to raise wages.

Wait… removing workers who are here illegally increases demand for American workers and boosts wages? How can this possibly be? This must violate some law of economics.  Next someone will come up with the crazy idea that there are other effects, such as on housing costs, traffic and congestion, and government expenditures.

Here’s an unrelated story, out of Philadelphia:

A Philadelphia city councilwoman is defending her controversial bill that would force certain businesses to remove bulletproof barriers separating cashiers and customers.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass said in a statement her proposed legislation only affects stores applying for a “large establishment” license, or sit-down restaurants where food is served and there is seating and tables for 30 or more people.

The goal is to crack down on so-called “stop-and-go” shops, or convenience stores that sell hot food and alcohol, many of which have become nuisances to neighborhoods with intoxicated and unruly customers, according to Bass and other lawmakers.

Here’s more:

Her bill would also require large establishments to have a publicly accessible restroom and serve food regularly. Bass said in many instances, stop-and-go stores claim to sell hot food to obtain liquor licenses, selling liquor “by the shot” and operating “under fraudulent circumstances.”

Also:

Bass tried to clarify that her bill would only regulate large establishments, not corner stores, small pharmacies or similar businesses. She said her office has also proposed safety alternatives to barriers, such as lighting, cameras, security guards, security wands and police check-ins.

A Fox affiliate has a bit more information and more clarity:

The bill, put forward by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, focuses on “stop-and-go” convenience stores that act more like bars than the restaurants they are licensed to be, selling beer and shots of liquor over the counter and attracting crowds that end up becoming public nuisances, lawmakers say.

“If the glass comes down, the crime rate will rise and there will be lots of dead bodies,” Rich Kim, the owner of Broad Deli, which sells soda, meals and beer by the can, told FOX29. “The most important thing is safety and the public’s safety.”

Kim said the glass went up after a shooting and says it saved his mother-in-law from a knife attack.

Pennsylvania state law mandates businesses with restaurant licenses should regularly sell food and have tables and chairs to seat 30 people. But some, according to an investigation by local news station 6ABC, keep their seating locked up or out of reach and the grills shut down, selling little more than alcohol and forcing customers to wander outside.

Consumption of alcohol away from the confines of the store then leads to problems, State Rep. Jordan Harris, a Democrat who represents Philadelphia, told Fox News.

Someone should inform the good Councilwoman don’t get it that unnecessarily inconveniencing customers makes for a poor business model, particularly using expensive bulletproof barriers to do it. And yet, businesses in certain areas keep inconveniencing customers by using those barriers. Perhaps the Councilwoman and her fellow Councilmembers should ask themselves what is going on, or in a few years they’ll be asking why there are no businesses at all in those very same areas.

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Healthcare Costs and Waste

Propublica has a story on waste in the medical industry:

Experts estimate the U.S. health care system wastes $765 billion annually — about a quarter of all the money that’s spent. Of that, an estimated $210 billion goes to unnecessary or needlessly expensive care, according to a 2012 report by the National Academy of Medicine

Having visited doctors in the past decade or two a few times, I can believe the 25% figure.  The billing structure alone creates massive amounts of waste.  But some see Propublica as overly liberal, so why not check their figures?   followed the links to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and clicked on this slideshow from 2012. Slide seven was particularly interesting. It included the following bullet points:

• Health care costs constitute 18% of U.S. GDP
• 30% increase in personal income over the past decade effectively
eliminated by a 76% increase in health care costs
• $750B in waste

Now, in 2012, the year the report was published, GDP was $16.16 trillion. If healthcare spending was 18% of that, it amounted to about $2.91 trillion. And $750B, the amounted wasted is a bit more than 25%.  Which is to say, Propublica’s numbers are in line with the National Academy’s numbers from 2012.

Which raises a question…  wasn’t the point of not moving to a single payer regime that the private sector would eliminate waste such as this?

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Not up for Debate in the Debate Over Net Neutrality

I think of the debate over net neutrality as a fight over the rules of the game where the game is the delivery of information and entertainment. There are big corporations arguing all sides of the issue. All of them are happy to explain how the position they advocate will benefit the public. But nobody seems interested in discussing issues pertaining to the very bedrock on which the communication industry is based. That bedrock is the right of the way that providers use to place their cable through private and government property, and the right to keep others off specific bands of the public airwaves. I’m not advocating any particular change or position, mind you. I haven’t put any real thought into what is, at best an infinitesimally unlikely hypothetical question. But if rules are up for debate and can be changed, surely the uncompensated and often involuntary transfer of property rights from the public deserves some consideration. This is particularly true when the beneficiaries of said transfers used to be heavily regulated for the benefit of those from whom the property rights had been transferred.

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The Future of Colleges & Universities… And the Present

This article looks at the future of colleges and universities:

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, but Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says that half are bound for bankruptcy in the next few decades.

Christensen is known for coining the theory of disruptive innovation in his 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Since then, he has applied his theory of disruption to a wide range of industries, including education.

In his recent book, “The Innovative University,” Christensen and co-author Henry Eyring analyze the future of traditional universities, and conclude that online education will become a more cost-effective way for students to receive an education, effectively undermining the business models of traditional institutions and running them out of business.

I think a bigger problem – and it isn’t limited just to the US – is that a lot of schools are putting out a large number of students with unmarketable degrees and useless “skills.” For instance, Newsweek had an article entitled Men with muscles and money are more attractve to straight women and gay men – showing gender roles aren’t progressing. It links to this study published in Feminist Media Studies by a couple of, ahem, researchers at two British universities: Coventry and Aberystwyth. Here’s the abstract:

In this paper, we analyze the website TubeCrush, where people post and share unsolicited photographs of “guy candy” seen on the London Underground. We use TubeCrush as a case study to develop Berlant’s intimate publics as a lens for examining post-feminist sensibility and masculinity in the liminal space between home/work. The paper responds to notions of reverse sexism and post-sexism used to make sense of women’s apparent objectification of men in the digital space, by asking instead where the value of such images lies. We suggest that in TubeCrush, value is directed onto the bodies of particular men, creating a visual economy of post-feminist masculinity of whiteness, physical strength, and economic wealth. This celebration of masculine capital is achieved through humor and the knowing wink, but the outcome is a reaffirmation of urban hegemonic masculinity.

Given the direction of the paper, I’d guess that the field collectively has close to a one in five chance of stumbling onto the theory of evolution over the next few decades. The probability would be higher but for some strong biases that are likely to get in the way. Regardless, though, what with On the Origin of Species being published 158 years ago, even were they to succeed at the (cough) feat of recreating Darwin’s work, it would be neither neither impressive nor useful.

But the professors who do this sort of, er, work, teach. They also have graduate students. This is a fair number of people putting in serious time and money with an expectation that what they are doing will somehow translate into improved job opportunities. All of which brings us to Stein’s Law, which is to say, if something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

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Crack v. Opioids and Violence v. Racism

Here’s is a PBS commentary by law professor Ekow Yankah:

That Kroger, the Midwestern grocery chain, has decided to make the heroin overdose drug naloxone available without a prescription is a sign of how ominous the current epidemic has grown.
Faced with a rising wave of addiction, misery, crime and death, our nation has linked arms to save souls. Senators and CEOs, Midwestern pharmacies and even tough-on-crime Republican presidential candidates now speak with moving compassion about the real people crippled by addiction.

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An Op Ed on Race Relations in the NY Times

The NY Times has an op ed entitled Can My Children Be Friends with White People?. (Dan here …Link corrected) I think this is the most interesting excerpt:

…I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me the platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.

The author, Ekow N. Yankah, according to the Times is a professor at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. For an expert on criminal law, and one who cares about his sons’ safety, he seems surprisingly uninformed about what he termed “violent, often fatal betrayal.” I sincerely hope whatever other advice he is giving his sons doesn’t get them hurt. They shouldn’t suffer for his ignorance. And speaking of ignorance, the rest of the op ed is a tour de force for the proposition that if a person cannot or will not understand basic facts about their own field, they aren’t a reliable guide to much else either.

Regardless… this is no different than the views of far right white people who teach their kids they cannot have Black friends. Fortunately, I doubt that the NY Times would publish that sort of garbage unironically. But it isn’t any better that the NY Times published this one.

Note to the NY Times: this is how I believe one should discuss race.

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Baltimore School Test Scores and Baltimore School Spending

I’ve noted before I have a bit of an interest in Baltimore because my wife originates from there (despite having convinced herself that she’s from the Los Angeles area). So I noticed this story:

An alarming discovery coming out of City Schools. Project Baltimore analyzed 2017 state testing data and found one-third of High Schools in Baltimore, last year, had zero students proficient in math.

Contrast that with this:

The Baltimore City Public School System spent the fourth most per student during the 2014 fiscal year out of the 100 largest public school districts in the country, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city’s school district, which is the 38th largest elementary and secondary public school district in the country, spent $15,564 per pupil during the time frame. Maryland has four of the 10 highest per pupil spending public school districts, with Howard County Schools rounding out the top five with a per pupil spending of $15,358.

Montgomery County schools was sixth with $15,181, Prince George’s County was eighth with $13,994 and Baltimore County came in 12th with $13,338.

According to the Census Bureau, this is the seventh consecutive year Maryland has had four public school districts rank in the top 10 of per pupil spending. Baltimore City was beat out by Boston public schools ($21,567), New York City ($21,154) and the Anchorage School District in Alaska ($15,596).

The country as a whole saw a 2.7 percent increase to $11,009 in per pupil spending from 2013 to 2014. This was the largest increase in per pupil spending since 2008.

Maryland came in at 11th out of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in average per pupil spending across the state at $14,003. New York spend the highest per pupil at $20,610 and Washington, D.C., was second at $18,485.

Utah had the lowest per pupil spending at $6,500.

Why are test results in Baltimore so bad?  It obviously isn’t for lack of spending.

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