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unrepentant progress

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Name: Wouldn\'t you love to know?
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Home country: USA
Current location: The internet
Member since: Sun Mar 24, 2013, 02:10 PM
Number of posts: 611

Journal Archives

Foreign Factories *Should* Be More Dangerous

That's what Matt Yglesias says over at Slate.

Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That's true whether you're talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you'll get rules that are appropriate for nobody. The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer.

It's incredibly frustrating to see a supposed social liberal arguing that it's good that third world countries have dangerous factories because it's an improvement over not having money. And how can you talk about it being OK for Bangladeshis to make different choices than Americans when they don't have the choices available that Americans do? Would it suddenly be OK if immigrant workers to the U.S. were treated shabbily if we simply rewrote our labor safety and minimum wage laws to exclude them? By Yglesias' reasoning, Cesar Chavez's campaigns harmed the braceros, and Ghandi was a terrorist. How the hell did we get to the point where social liberals are spouting the same sort of neoliberal Randian nonsense as William F. Buckely and George Will were spewing two and three decades ago?
Posted by unrepentant progress | Fri Apr 26, 2013, 10:01 AM (4 replies)

What shortage of sci-tech workers?

From "Guestworkers in the high-skill U.S. labor market: An analysis of supply, employment, and wage trends." Much, much more at the link.

  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.

  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.

  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.

  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.

  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.

  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.

  • The flow of guestworkers has increased over the past decade and continues to rise (the rate of increase dropped briefly with the economic collapse of 2008, but the flow of guestworkers has since continued its rapid upward pace).

  • The annual inflows of guestworkers amount to one-third to one-half the number of all new IT job holders.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Thu Apr 25, 2013, 02:31 PM (0 replies)

The Dark History Behind Earth Day’s Murderous, Girlfriend-Composting Co-Founder

As you step outside today to breathe in the fresh air and note our planet's lush, life-giving fauna, take a minute to appreciate the fact that this whole day exists thanks to the hard efforts of Earth Day's environmentally conscious, murderous conspirators.

Because even though this day is founded on the vision of an Earth worth saving, it's also founded by (or at least partially by) a man who whose conservation efforts didn't quite extend to human life. On September 9, 1977, Ira Einhorn, one of Earth Day's co-founders, lured his ex (the 'ex' portion occurring pre-brutal murder) girlfriend, Holly Maddux, to his apartment and killed her in a heartbroken rage. Though, he did choose to dispose of the body by creating a compost pile. So at least he's consistent.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Mon Apr 22, 2013, 11:03 AM (16 replies)

A Personal Eyewitness Perspective on Monday’s Bombings: The Bad and the Good, Silence and Solidarity

As afternoon turned into evening and the temperature dropped (it was a cool day to begin with), no one came to Commonwealth Mall to help. No one from the city, from the mayor’s office, from Councilman Ross’ office, or the Red Cross. When I read stories about how organized the response was, I didn’t witness that; in fact, I witnessed the opposite. We were left to fend for ourselves. The mayor’s hotline was useless, and no civilian leadership was present. People were shocked and did not know if we could return to our homes–and desperately wanted to return. People who needed medicine, such as insulin, had no idea what to do. We had nothing but the clothes on our backs. A care station half a mile away does not help, especially if you are elderly with medical devices. Several of us stayed with an elderly neighbor with medical conditions late into the night until we made sure she reached a hospital. We should have had help from city leadership (the rank and file BDP and EMS were superb), but we did not, so we did what we could instead.

In the days that followed, my neighbors and I received no response from any of our elected representatives. You would think this is Rascal King 101: send some ‘heelers down to the affected area and do whatever you can to help. Contact constituents on your mailing and email lists who live in the crime scene perimeter and find out how they are doing. Announce that you or representatives are headed down to the area (or nearby if there are safety concerns) to speak with residents.

Even though this was the focal point of the attack, the proverbial ‘ground zero’, none of that happened. Nothing.

But what is truly disgusting are all of the progressive stalwarts who have no difficulties contacting me by phone, email, and mail when they need my vote–or want my money. Yet somehow when we needed them, they were unable to contact us. We were abandoned and told nothing, and thanks to the lack of information, were unable to make any sort of long term plans. From my particular perspective, the progressive heroes did not do anything to help us. That includes Menino, Sen. Warren (yes, that Senator Warren; I’m really glad I gave to her exploratory committee early on…), and Rep. Capuano, along with local elected officials. There was no one to advocate for us: there was not even a forum in which to file complaints*. Phone calls were not returned.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Sun Apr 21, 2013, 06:54 PM (0 replies)

OK Glass, RIP Privacy: The Democratization Of Surveillance

A lot of people (just read the comments on my last Google Glass post ) are seriously squicked by the possibility of individual video surveillance, but are essentially OK with being watched by governments or corporations. I think that is an extremely wrong and dangerous attitude, because I believe one-way transparency will inevitably breed corruption and abuse.

I am not in favor of the death of personal privacy in public spaces. I just think it’s inevitable. Soon enough cameras and surveillance software will be ubiquitous. There are already terrified voices, eg Farhad Manjoo’s , crying for “installing surveillance cameras everywhere” on the eyebrow-raising grounds that “we’re already being watched—just not systematically”.

And that’s why–despite its potentially undesirable social side effects–I’m a cheerleader for Google Glass and its ilk. If transparency will be forced on us, then it needs to be two-way transparency. It’s a given that the strong and rich will be able to watch the weak and poor; we need to ensure that the converse is possible as well. We need to democratize surveillance, and Google Glass is the first of a new kind of tool which can help us do just that.

For instance, I’d like law enforcement, border patrol, the TSA, and other authorities to wear Glass-like cameras at all time, and for that video to be accessible by the public when the abuse of authority is alleged. Interestingly, there’s now some real data supporting that stance: “Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers.”


The author doesn't like the fact that personal privacy is dying, but he thinks it's inevitable. What bothers him is that it's a one-way street -- governments, law enforcement, and corporations see and track us, but we can't do the same with them. So he wants every police officer and Homeland Security employee to wear Google Glass, and for the feeds to be publicly available. David Brin made a similar argument years ago in The Transparent Society.

The problem though, is while Redditors may be useful when highly motivated, they aren't dependable when not, and we don't have access to the same computing resources as governments and law enforcement agencies. Plus I think you really need to ask yourself, is the world that more dangerous today where ubiquitous surveillance is necessary? Call me Pollyanna, but I just don't think it is. And while I don't think you can prevent the proliferation of cameras (and other sensory devices), I do think you can legislate how and under what conditions the data they generate can be collected and used.

I don't want to trade in my mid-century modern aesthetic for 21st century sousveillance chic.
Posted by unrepentant progress | Sun Apr 21, 2013, 12:27 AM (4 replies)

How to Become Internet Famous for $68

Santiago Swallow may be one of the most famous people no one has heard of.

His eyes fume from his Twitter profile: he is Hollywood-handsome with high cheekbones and dirty blond, collar-length hair. Next to his name is one of social media’s most prized possessions, Twitter’s blue “verified account” checkmark. Beneath it are numbers to make many in the online world jealous: Santiago Swallow has tens of thousands of followers. The tweets Swallow sends them are cryptic nuggets of wisdom that unroll like scrolls from digital fortune cookies: “Before you lose weight, find hope,” says one. Another: “To write is to live endlessly.”

Swallow is a pure product of the Internet: a “speaker and thinker,” who specializes in “re-imagining self in the online age,” an apparent star of the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference, and a hit at Austin’s annual art, technology and music event, South By South West (SXSW). His Wikipedia biography explains why: Swallow is “a Mexican-born, American motivational speaker, consultant, educator, and author, whose speeches and publications focus on understanding modern culture in the age of social networking, globally interconnected media, user generated content and the Internet,” who has “dedicated himself to helping others know more about how media and personality can manipulated in the 21st Century.”

Famous for its “neutral point of view,” Wikipedia also reports that Swallow’s opinions are controversial in some quarters, especially his prediction that “the disassociation of self would lead to a revision of the standard definition of Multiple Personality Disorder to include selves that only manifest in the online world.”

He can be expected to take up this argument in his book, Self: Imaginary Identities in the Age of The Internet, due out later this year, something that his Wikipedia biography, his official website (santiagoswallow.com) and his Twitter feed all confirm.

There’s just one thing about Santiago Swallow that you won’t easily find online: I made him up.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Thu Apr 18, 2013, 02:38 PM (2 replies)

Unintended Consequences Edition 1735: How prison reform failed

This is a brief excerpt from the book I'm currently reading, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America, by Philip Jenkins.

"For radical critics, though, institutions as flawed as the prisons could scarcely hope to reform anyone. Even if they could, they had no right to impose the standards of upper- and middle-class white America on the poor and minorities who made up the vast bulk of inmates. Total pessimism about the chance of reform was summarized by Robert Martinson’s powerful article in The Public Interest, which examined the practical effectiveness of a huge sample of rehabilitative programs. Martinson’s study found that “with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” The article’s message was epitomized by the simple phrase “Nothing works.” Central to any effective social reform movement was deinstitutionalization, freeing those people labeled as deviant or criminal. In Massachusetts, a new director of youth services closed the state’s Dickensian reform schools, replacing them with community-based programs and inspiring imitators nationwide. Deinstitutionalization was the declared goal of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

The radical attack succeeded in dismantling the established structures of criminal justice and corrections, and in making rehabilitation a dirty word. If prisons were so oppressive, then one solution was to limit their discretion by insisting that courts impose strictly determinate sentences. Instead of trying to reform, courts should inflict what Andrew von Hirsch called just deserts, a specific sentence for a specific offense. 53 The goal of punishment should change from rehabilitation to deterrence, and even to the ancient concept of retribution. In response to these new ideas, most states passed new determinate sentencing codes. Many went further to eliminate discretion by removing the power of judges to adapt their sentences to particular individuals. Under new mandatory sentencing laws, a conviction for, say, robbery would mean a two-year prison term, not a day more or less. Under the Supreme Court’s Gault decision of 1967, the principle of limiting judicial discretion was applied to the juvenile courts, which henceforward had to treat accused delinquents according to strict rules of due process. In 1975, the principle of curbing official discretion was extended to high school students when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Goss v. Lopez that even suspension from school without due process constituted a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The courts were seeking to eliminate the race and class biases that apparently made the justice system so oppressive. Most criminologists felt that the reforms would drastically reduce the scale of the prison population; Martinson himself thought his findings would lead to a massive reduction in the use of prisons, since these institutions failed so abysmally. As sentencing commissions met around the country to shape the new laws, experts initially tried to avoid imposing severe prison terms for any but the most severe and violent offenders, leaving most minor criminals to be dealt with by probation or other noncustodial means. The benefits would be all the greater when combined with the legal moves to decriminalize drug use as well as many consensual sexual acts. Without petty criminals, drug users, homosexuals, and other minor sex offenders, no one would be left in the prisons except the murderers, rapists, and robbers, the ones who really belonged there. Or such was the goal."

-- Jenkins, Philip; Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. Kindle Locs. 909-935
Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed Apr 17, 2013, 10:05 PM (2 replies)

Paper used to justify harsh austerity programs riddled with problems including a spreadsheet error

The paper which was used to justify harsh austerity programs across Europe and in the U.S. is based on a spreadsheet error that excludes several countries, selective inclusion of data across time, and questionable weighting of data. So how come we didn't know this was a stinker until now? Because the authors wouldn't release their data. I wouldn't expect Paul Ryan to suddenly call for robust stimulus any time soon though.

In 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff released a paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt." Their "main result is that...median growth rates for countries with public debt over 90 percent of GDP are roughly one percent lower than otherwise; average (mean) growth rates are several percent lower." Countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent have a slightly negative average growth rate, in fact.

This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession. Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity budget states their study "found conclusive empirical evidence that [debt] exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth." The Washington Post editorial board takes it as an economic consensus view, stating that "debt-to-GDP could keep rising — and stick dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth."

Is it conclusive? One response has been to argue that the causation is backwards, or that slower growth leads to higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Josh Bivens and John Irons made this case at the Economic Policy Institute. But this assumes that the data is correct. From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.

In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.

They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result.


After accounting for the errors, and bad methodology, the authors of the new paper found that in countries carrying debt-to-GDP ratios exceeding 90% there was, in fact, median 2.2% growth and not -0.1% as Reinhart-Rogoff reported.
Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed Apr 17, 2013, 07:40 PM (3 replies)

Robert Reich: Widening inequality is not inevitable

From Reich's public Facebook page:

Widening inequality is not inevitable. If we wanted to reverse it and restore middle-class prosperity, we could.

We could award tax cuts to companies that link the pay of their hourly workers to profits and productivity, and that keep the total pay of their top 5 executives within 20 times the pay of their median worker. And impose higher taxes on companies that don’t.

We could raise the minimum wage to half the average wage.

We could increase public investment in education, including early-childhood -- especially in the poor and middle-class communities that now lack decent schools.

We could eliminate college loans and allow all students to repay the cost of their higher education with a 10 percent surcharge on the first 10 years of income from full-time employment.

We could expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

And we could pay for all this by adding additional tax brackets at the top and increasing the top marginal tax rate to what it was before 1981 – at least 70 percent.

But none of this will happen until the public understands why widening inequality is so damaging. Even the rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than a large share of one that’s barely growing at all.
Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed Apr 17, 2013, 12:18 PM (4 replies)

Why 'financial literacy' is a bunch of hooey – and why the banks promote it

As I discovered when I researched my recent book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, financial literacy or capability or whatever you want to call it is a bunch of hooey. It promotes the false equivalence that the victims of the financial shenanigans of the past several years are as responsible for the financial crisis as the financial services sector, the ultimate creator of all those financial products of mass destruction.


Oh, and another thing none of these outfits thinks it worth mentioning … financial literacy, even at the most basic level, doesn't work.

Survey after survey shows that high-school students who take mandated seminars in financial literacy know no more about basic financial concepts than students who didn't study the concept at all. As a recent study on the topic put it, these classes have "no impact on credit management outcomes, including: credit scores, credit card delinquencies, or the probability of declaring bankruptcy or experiencing foreclosure."

Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed Apr 17, 2013, 09:14 AM (25 replies)
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