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Monday, November 22, 2010

Justices' Opinions

I have never seen such misleading graphs as those accompanying the article Justices' Opinions Often Long on Words but Short on Guidelines (New York Times, November 18, 2010: A1, A22).

The graph on number of cases taken seems to shrink to zilch in 1090 because the graph does not have a zero point; the bottom edge is at some unspecified point between 50 and 100 cases. This is unacceptable.

The second graph on the number of words has the opposite problem. It seems as though reports in the 1950s were very brief and that they increased exponentially in the 1970's and have since leveled off. Again this graph has no zero point; the bottom edge is somewhere about 1900 words. If the graph had begun at zero words, the change would not have appeared so dramatic.

Readers really do expect better of the Times' graphic artists. Their watchword should be: always include the zero.

Sent to New York Times [& to the Public Editor]

The Two Cultures

Let me apply some psychological analysis to one of the phenomena described by David Brooks (The Two Cultures, New York Times, November 15, 2010).

He takes at face value that business leaders are accurately reflecting the causes of their behavior when they say that "she is holding off on investing because she is scared about the future..."

But we are not very good at identifying and reporting on causal attribution. When things are going well for us, we tend to identify the causes internally: we developed new products, we designed them well, our manufacturing was of high quality, and we marketed the products well. When things are not going well, we make attributions to the environment: the market collapsed, there is too much uncertainty, and so on.

This pattern of attributions has been well documented in the Management Letters of many firms as they confront the ups and downs of the business cycle.

The fact is that firms can enact their environments. If the 300,000 members of the Chamber of Commerce were each to hire one new employee next week that might well start a virtuous cycle of increased demand (hopefully for goods and services made in the US) leading to increased hiring and so on.

Sent to the New York Times

Massport: Director's pay hike doesn't fly

I have only lived in Massachusetts for eight years so I am puzzled by the way in which employment contracts seem to be written in, at least part, of the Public sector.

You report that when he retires, Mr Thomas Kinton (Massport) will be entitled to draw on $400,000 in "sick pay" (Massport: Director's pay hike doesn't fly, Boston Globe, November 16, 2010: A22).

Sick pay should be just that, payment for days when you are prevented from working because you are sick. Properly administered, sick pay does two things. It allows the individuals to recuperate more quickly than they might if they came to work, this would enhance the organization's productivity; it also protects the organization by not having coughing and sneezing individuals in the workplace who might infect their colleagues, this too enhances productivity.

If, however, you can claim payment for unused sick days at retirement, these incentives are reversed. To get a big terminal bonus, the individual is encouraged to come to work, to work at a torpid pace because of sickness, and possibly infect colleagues with the illness.

How did such contracts come to be written?

Sent to the Boston Globe

Get a Pencil: You're Tacking the Deficit

I regret that your budget options (Week in Review, November 14, 2010) did not in clude a financial transactions tax.

Just look at the Wall Street volumes and prices. That is where the money is. That is what we should be taxing.

At least tell us what a small financial transaction tax would raise.

Thank you.

Sent to the New York Times

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Time for Obama and the Democrats to Play Hardball.

Paper: Transforming Management, Manchester Business School

Earmarks: Bay State’s loss of funding would be country’s gain

Letter in Boston Globe

Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Higher Taxes

For many years, Canadians have not shared the mortgage interest deduction from their
income taxes, yet their rate of home ownership is identical to that of the US (about 68%)
[Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Higher Taxes, New York Times, November 11, 2010].

We probably will not harm the housing market if that benefit is withdrawn gradually.

Sent to New York Times

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aftermath of the Election

How long do you think it will be before the Republicans cry "For how much longer are we going to let those filibustering Democrats to thwart the will of the people?"

Sent to Boston Globe

Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Higher Taxes

For many years, Canadians have not shared the mortgage interest deduction from their income taxes, yet their rate of home ownership is identical to that of the US (about 68%) [Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Higher Taxes, New York Times, November 11, 2010].

We probably will not harm the housing market if that benefit is withdrawn gradually.

Sent to New York Times

A time to Spend and A Time to Save

OpEd in Cambridge chronicle

McConnell Eases Talk of A Thaw

Mitch McConnell spoke eloquently yesterday about his unwillingness to compromise Republican principles (McConnell Eases Talk of Thaw, New York Times, November 5, 2010).

What are these principles?

I had always thought that Budget balancing was a major principle for the party. Why didn't they stand up for those principles during the Bush years when the deficit soared.

As Republicans caused at least half the deficit, shouldn't they be willing to put many of their favorite programs (spending and tax expenditures -- such as not extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy)) to the axe in order to bring the budget into balance.

Their pet programs should be reduced to cover at least half the savings.

Sent to New York Times

Cede Political Turf? Never! Well, Maybe

One factor is omitted in the discussion about collaboration between political opponents (Cede Political Turf? Never! Well, Maybe. Science Times, November 2, 2010).

If the opponents during their negotiations are interrupted with messages from their constituents telling them to remember their principles and their goals, it will be very difficult for them to explore the issues being discussed in sufficient detail to arrive at the possibility of agreement. There will be no win-win and probably not even compromise.

Sent to the New York Times

The Election

The financial backers of the Republican Party have, with their financial support, just made a down-payment on the kind of government they want.

For that government to succeed they will have to invest ten times that amount in hiring 400,000 new employees in the US. This will begin a virtuous cycle of new employment leading to more consumption and then to even more employment in the US.

That is how their stimulus will have to work and if it works they will reap the country's gratitude.

Sent to the New York Times

The 'big dog' in campaign spending

Mr. Jacoby paints an incomplete picture in his comparison between Union and Corporate spending on elections (The 'big dog' in campaign spending, Boston Globe, October 31, 2010).

First, he cannot know that Unions outspent Corporations. Without any disclosure information about corporate contributions to the Chamber and the Rove inspired organizations. It is perfectly possible for corporations to donate to multiple organizations and thus outspend unions.

Spending by unions has to be from funds earmarked by each member. The same constraint does not apply to corporations who do not need permission from either shareholders or customers. As a customer, I do not expect that my purchases would provide funds for corporate lobbying. When I contacted three service providers asking that the proportion of my tiny contributions to their cash flow allocated to political activity be diverted to charity they ignored my request.

Finally, the fact that public setcor hourly wages exceed those of private sector workers is not due to the irresponsible generosity of public sector employers; rather it is due to the fact that private sector wages have stagnated due to top management of private sector employers (and especially the very top managers) having reaped in their pay and benefit packages all the gains in productivity that have been achieved in America over the past decade.

Sent to Boston Globe

Patrick opens narrow lead, poll suggests

I am appalled that the graph appearing alongside Frank Phillips' report on the gubernatorial race did not include data for Jill Stein (Patrick opens Narrow Lead, Poll Suggests, Boston Globe, October 222nd., 2010: A1).

She is a candidate and she has some some good ideas. By your failure to acknowledge her presence in the race you are unfairly handicapping her.

That is shameful.

I hope you will print a corrected graph.

Sent to Boston Globe

Special Report on Austerity

Your special report fails to emphasize where the money really is (Recovery, Not Austerity, American Prospect, November 2010: A1).

The money is not in Social Security it is in the financial sector.

The real need in this Century is for a Tobin tax levied on every financial transaction.

This would give us the resources to bring alive the American dream for us all.

Sent to American Prospect

The Foreclosure Mess

There is much to agree with in Professor Peiser's Op-Ed (The foreclosure mess, Boston Globe, October 20, 2010: A13).

However his suggestion that those people have suffered from improper foreclosure forego litigation against their mortgage servers is absurd. People need to be able to redress the wrongs committed against them.

One suggestion for cleaning up the mess is for Institutions (banks, state government, federal government) enter into Shared Appreciation mortgages with the distressed homeowner. The homeowners pay what they can, the institution picks up the rest. Both share in any appreciation of the home when it is finally sold.

This has multiple benefits. Only the institution and the homeowner have to agree on a contract. The multiple, often unknown, holders of the mortgage do not need to agree as their cash flow will be unchanged. Homeowners stay in the houses; property taxes continue to be paid; neighborhoods will be stabilized; and school classes will not be disrupted as pupils move as a result of foreclosure.

There are not many solutions with so many beneficiaries.

Sent to Boston Globe