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DOJ: Defendant Has No Standing To Oppose Use of Phone Records

boombaard Re:POLICE STATE AMERICA (396 comments)

luckily, we in backward Yurop (specifically, the EU) do not allow companies to do with our data what they wish, so that our government cannot argue, on the basis of specious reasoning about how, since the data about you isn't "owned" by you, they aren't invading your privacy by keeping all that data about you. They simply have no right to do so except when they get a warrant first. Which, at the very least, means that they cannot use it in court.

about a year ago
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UN Takeover of Internet Must Be Stopped, US Warns

boombaard Re:UN takeover must be stopped? (454 comments)

It would help if you had actually clicked the links before spouting this comment. I don't read pravda, and I don't care for most of the salon writers either (self-congratulatory bunch of liberals that they are), but I don't think Greenwald should be dismissed as a source simply because he's paid by Salon... So please be a tad more substantive the next time you write something.
(PS. Why do you assume I would be shocked to hear something bad about canada, a country I've never visited?)

more than 2 years ago
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EU Blocks France's Ban of Monsanto's GM Maize

boombaard Re:Oh dear (285 comments)

Of course it's 'short on science'.. It's in a pop sci magazine. Will have a look at the nature article, but from your description it leads to the same conclusion: that given modern-day farming practices, and the drive towards monocultures -- a move encouraged and enforced by companies like Monsanto -- problems arise.
In any case, given that you cannot forbid farmers to act in stupid (short term profit-maximizing) fashion -- since it is nearly impossible to police them in most countries -- I much prefer a world in which different farmers are planting different crops than a world in which all farmers are encouraged (via Monsanto et. al propaganda) to plant the same crop.

more than 2 years ago
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EU Blocks France's Ban of Monsanto's GM Maize

boombaard Re:Oh dear (285 comments)

Again: contrary to your assertion to the contrary, you cannot separate IP and contract law considerations from Monsanto's lobbying efforts AND business practices, AND market dominance; all of these are related, and it can behave the way it does in large part because of its worldwide oligopoly position.
For similar reasons, you cannot leave the decision to use/not use this "potentially useful tool" to individuals, because of Monsanto's aggressive blackmail practices.
As for your claim that insect die-off isn't caused by Roundup specifically, but some other herbicide: this may be, but monoculturation is a big reason why herbicides are becoming more important to use, making it undesirable that Monsanto (et al.) gain a (worldwide) oligopoly status as supplier of seeds. (This is also why your claim that 'this is also a problem with other cultivars' has only limited validity: before we saw this push towards monoculturation, herbicides played a far smaller role in food production.)

Lastly, here's a nice article that discusses how weeds are becoming multiply resistant in time-spans that were considered "theoretically" impossible.

more than 2 years ago
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EU Blocks France's Ban of Monsanto's GM Maize

boombaard Re:Oh dear (285 comments)

The "crop yield increases" so frequently touted as the great advantage disappear after a few years. Herbs become roundup-resistant, requiring the use of more roundup, leading to more pollution, and the destruction of bee populations (like there's no tomorrow). Then there's lock-in, aggressive law-suits by Monsanto to force other farmers to start using their products, etc.. Lots of problems that don't exist with other cultivars. (Because no, you cannot separate GMOs from their salesmen.)

more than 2 years ago
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HDD Price Update: How the Thai Floods Have Affected Prices, 3 Months Later

boombaard Re:Fear economics (220 comments)

But the cost for failure falls disproportionately on those who just happen to need a HDD during the period of downtime, while those who bought it at the right time pay less than the average cost, so I'm not sure this is a fair system. (Similar arguments seem to apply to this as to the question whether participation in insurance schemes can be mandated.)

more than 2 years ago
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HDD Price Update: How the Thai Floods Have Affected Prices, 3 Months Later

boombaard Re:Fear economics (220 comments)

That is only true if you assume that it is no problem that the supply is interrupted in the meantime.. And there is no good way to quantify the "cost" of interrupted access.

more than 2 years ago
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HDD Price Update: How the Thai Floods Have Affected Prices, 3 Months Later

boombaard Re:Fear economics (220 comments)

Meant to type: "I'm sorry, but this is simplistic nonsense (that gets you +4/5 insightful...). What we are dealing with is not "fear economics", but "bad economics". That is, what we are dealing with are the consequences of the fact that all the players are overemphasizing efficiency at the cost of resilience and/or robustness. And the reason they do that is because that is what economic "thinking" teaches everyone to do."

more than 2 years ago
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HDD Price Update: How the Thai Floods Have Affected Prices, 3 Months Later

boombaard Re:Fear economics (220 comments)

I'm sorry, but this is imply bullshit. What we are dealing with is not "fear economics", but with the consequences of overemphasizing efficiency over resilience and/or robustness. And at the root of that is that that is what economic "thinking" teaches economic actors to do.

more than 2 years ago
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The Future of Protest In Panopticon Nation

boombaard Re:This guy ever been beaten up before? (566 comments)

Not quite isolated..

Video footage has emerged of a police officer beating an Iraq war veteran so hard that he suffered a ruptured spleen in an apparently unprovoked incident at a recent Occupy protest in California.
The footage, which has been shared with the Guardian, shows Kayvan Sabehgi standing in front of a police line on the night of Occupy Oakland's general strike on 2 November, when he is set upon by an officer.
He does not appear to be posing any threat, nor does he attempt to resist, yet he is hit numerous times by an officer clad in riot gear who appears determined to beat him to the ground.
Sabehgi, 32, an Oakland resident and former marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has since undergone surgery on his spleen. He says it took hours for him to be taken to hospital, despite complaining of severe pain. Police have told the Guardian they are investigating the incident.
The footage was recorded by artist and photographer Neil Rivas, who said Sabehgi was "completely peaceful" before he was beaten. "It was uncalled for," said Rivas. "There were no curse words. He was telling them he was a war vet, a resident of Oakland, a business owner."
Sabehgi has previously said he was talking to officers in a non-violent manner prior to his arrest, which the footage appears to confirm.
The 32-year-old can be seen standing in front of a line of police officers, all of whom are in riot gear. The officers walk forward, chanting and thrusting their batons, and Sabehgi starts to walk backwards.
Although the video is dark, an officer can clearly be seen beginning to hit Sabehgi around the legs with a baton, then starting to strike him higher up.

about 3 years ago
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Dutch Psychologist Faked Data In At Least 30 Scientific Papers

boombaard Re:Psychology is a science. (254 comments)

Oh, I do not dispute that medical 'science' is just as bad at this if not worse.. But the problem behind that seems to be that 'social' scientists of any stripe are simply not being taught proper methods, and that they lack the statistical/mathematical background necessary to do their own research. This is largely ignored by most of the social sciences (I guess so kids who are no good at math can also do 'science'), but it is a quite important thing to get right. Being capable of pressing buttons in SPSS is not enough, so to speak.
Secondly, please note that I have nothing against observational research. I have something against shoddily set up observational research, and I think that the latter is a rampant issue in the social (and that includes medical) sciences. Ioannidis, IIRC, also mentions somewhere how the more shocking the 'finding', the more likely it is to turn out a misinterpretation of data, or an outright statistical fluke (or worse). This is part of what I mean by "lack of replicability".
Lastly, I am not sure what you're trying to accomplish by straw-manning me, and suggesting I am a 'scientific bigot.' Again, I have already stated in the post you are replying to that I think that anything can be studied scientifically. Observational research is a fine, and a legitimate mode of research, depending on how it is done. What I object to is simply the -- pervasive -- attitude of not taking methodological issues seriously, and the equally wide-spread issues with the lack of statistics education. I can understand that understanding statistics is difficult, and that it is frustrating that the education system is lacking in that respect, but from this it does not follow that those issues can be ignored, or that knowing which button to press without understanding the limits of the tests being used is unproblematic..

about 3 years ago
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Dutch Psychologist Faked Data In At Least 30 Scientific Papers

boombaard Re:Psychology is a science. (254 comments)

While I will admit that my assertion was somewhat flippant, and could've used further elaboration, I don't think it follows from that that I have "no understanding of the literatures". I never suggested (as you seem to read into my post) that social science research is invalid because it isn't done in carefully controlled settings (I do not particularly care for laboratory research); what I was hinting at was simply that the methodological "rigor" you are referring to simply isn't there when it comes to many if not most researchers. And because not enough attention is paid to that, it usually turns out that attempts at replication find different things, without anyone knowing whether this is due to differences implicit in the setup, because of unrecognized differences in the participants, etc.
Compare: when a physicist finds something shocking, he tries in pretty much any way he can to explain it, by doing new tests, etc. When a social scientist finds something exciting he is generally reluctant to go over the data again because he knows the statistics behind it are dubious at best, he will cite money constraints as preventing him from retesting his hypothesis in a different fashion, and he will quickly try to submit his Amazing Finding to Science. Now, while I will admit that I am now slightly type-casting, and probably over-hyping the physical scientist, it seems to me that this difference in basic attitude is quite important.

about 3 years ago
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Dutch Psychologist Faked Data In At Least 30 Scientific Papers

boombaard Re:Psychology is a science. (254 comments)

That's all well and good, but I suspect that the majority of those papers will be shoddy methodologically/statistically; In all of the social sciences there is a widely shared shared tendency to say "let's keep analyzing the data until we find something that gives us a p value smaller than or equal to 0.05. Once we have that, we will write an introduction that fits that 'finding,' and we shall not mention that we did 30 different analyses to find this 'significant' finding (which might just be a statistical fluke, but who knew).." There is a reason why most social science research findings simply are not replicable.
Certainly the subject can potentially be researched scientifically, but from that it does not follow that the actual research being done is actually rigorous.

about 3 years ago
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Seigniorage Hack Could Resolve Debt Limit Crisis

boombaard Re:Gone far enough (696 comments)

I suspect you've missed it, but Obama also desires to gut SS/medicare.. This isn't just the republicans being evil; the only reason they rejected his earlier proposal because they want a slightly worse one to be accepted.

more than 3 years ago
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Seigniorage Hack Could Resolve Debt Limit Crisis

boombaard Re:Inflation (696 comments)

Put differently, printing money can lead to inflation if the printed (or whatever) money enters the real economy (or M1, I guess), but so long as it doesn't, it doesn't matter how much money is floating around. (That's why the Fed has given up tracking M3, I guess.)
And that's also why QE1, 2 and 3 didn't impact inflation: the money that was given to the banks was immediately moved to Australia via the carry trade because Oz offers 5.7% interest or so..

more than 3 years ago
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Tens of Thousands Flee From BT and Virgin

boombaard Britain is (going to be) in a pretty bad recession (258 comments)

Britain is (going to be) in a pretty bad recession (soon), which is going to hit the lower/middle classes pretty hard.. That seems to me to be a pretty good (if, of course, always only a partial) explanation for this phenomenon.

more than 3 years ago
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Activists Destroy Scientific GMO Experiment

boombaard Re:Ludites (1229 comments)

Wrong, there is ample evidence that there are adverse effects. But the reason you believe that is because these contraindications get almost no press, either in the MSM or in US-based journals. Never mind that it is nearly impossible to get funding for research for it, thanks largely to the US government actively funding only that research which does not "threaten" the health of large US companies like Monsanto.
See here

The basis of both letters and much of the research is the herbicide glyphosate. First commercialized in 1974, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and has been for some time. Glyphosate has long been considered a relatively benign product, because it was thought to break down quickly in the environment and harm little other than the weeds it was supposed to kill.

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate prevents plants from making a certain enzyme. Without the enzyme, they are unable to make three essential amino acids, and thus, unable to survive. Once applied, glyphosate either binds to soil particles (and is thus immobilized so it can no longer harm plants) or microorganisms break it down into ammonium and carbon dioxide. Very little glyphosate runs off into waterways. For these reasons, glyphosate has been thought of as more or less harmless: you spray the weeds, they die, the glyphosate goes away, and nothing else in the environment is harmed.

But Huber says this is not true. First of all, he points out, evidence began to emerge in the 1980s that "what glyphosate does is, essentially, give a plant AIDS." Just like AIDS, which cripples a human's immune system, glyphosate makes plants unable to mount a defense against pathogens in the soil. Without its defense mechanisms functioning, the plants succumb to pathogens in the soil and die. Furthermore, glyphosate has an impact on microorganisms in the soil, helping some and hurting others. This is potentially problematic for farmers, as the last thing one would want is a buildup of pathogens in the soil where they grow crops.

The fate of glyphosate in the environment is also not as benign as once thought. It's true that glyphosate either binds to soil or is broken down quickly by microbes. Glyphosate binds to any positively charged ion in the soil, with the consequence of making many nutrients (such as iron and manganese) less available to plants. Also, glyphosate stays in the soil bound to particles for a long time and can be released later by normal agricultural practices like phosphorus fertilization. "It's not uncommon to find one to three pounds of glyphosate per acre in agricultural soils in the Midwest," says Huber, noting that this represents one to three times the typical amount of glyphosate applied to a field in a year.

Huber says these facts about glyphosate are very well known scientifically but rarely cited. When asked why, he replied that it would be harder for a company to get glyphosate approved for widespread use if it were known that the product could increase the severity of diseases on normal crop plants as well as the weeds it was intended to kill. Here in the U.S., many academic journals are not even interested in publishing studies that suggest this about glyphosate; a large number of the studies Huber cites were published in the European Journal of Agronomy.

If Huber's claims are true, then it follows that there must be problems with disease in crops where glyphosate is used. Huber's second letter verifies this, saying, "we are experiencing a large number of problems in production agriculture in the U.S. that appear to be intensified and sometimes directly related to genetically engineered (GMO) crops, and/or the products they were engineered to tolerate -- especially those related to glyphosate (the active chemical in Roundup® herbicide and generic versions of this herbicide)."

Now, it may well be that the current experiment had nothing to do with Monsanto, but as we all know, once "GM is safe", it's always "safe". So radical action is not irrational if one wants to prevent the legalization of such crops that at the very least do not undergo rigorous testing by independent agencies. Moreover, I don't see what it is Europe loses by not allowing GMO foods.. We're perfectly capable of growing our own crops here, and from what I remember from other articles, the higher crop yields are mostly a myth.

more than 3 years ago

Submissions

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DoD appeals to Indian Wars case to defend tribunal

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 3 years ago

boombaard (1001577) writes "The DoD has thought of a new defense of the use of military tribunals for trying 'unlawful enemy combatants':

Pentagon prosecutors touched off a protest — and issued an apology this week — for likening the Seminole Indians in Spanish Florida to Al-Qaeda in documents defending Guantanamo's military commissions.
Citing precedents, prosecutors reached back into the Indian Wars in arguments at an appeals panel in Washington D.C. Specifically, they invoked an 1818 military commission convened by Gen. Andrew Jackson after U.S. forces invaded then-Spanish Florida to stop black slaves from fleeing through a porous border — then executed two British men for helping the Seminole Indians.
Navy Capt. Edward S. White also wrote this in a prosecution brief:
"Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaeda, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against U.S. targets itself violate the customs and usages of war."

As the blogger notes: 'And so it is that our government clings desperately to one of the darkest chapters of our history to legitimize its current actions. Rather than reflect on what that means–how damning it is that we can point only to Andrew Jackson’s illegal treatment of Native Americans to justify our current conduct–the government says simply, “a precedent is a precedent!”'"
Link to Original Source

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Pharma-Funded Study Shows that pirated drugs Save

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 4 years ago

boombaard writes "Pharmaceutical Industry Funded Study Shows that Unauthorized Drug Copies Save Tens of Millions
This is the clear implication of a new industry funded study, even if USA Today essentially ran an ad for the pharmaceutical industry by headlining its piece: "growing problem of fake drugs endangers consumers' health." The article highlighted the fact that unauthorized copies of drugs sometimes do not meet the same standards as the official version, but also notes that: "counterfeiters are now able to fake drugs so well that even experts find it hard to distinguish the copies from the real deal." This implies that often the unauthorized versions will be every bit as good as the brand drugs.
According to the article, the study finds that the unauthorized drug market is between $75 billion and $200 billion a year, but adds: "the market is likely much bigger because many cases are hard to detect." If we assume an average prescription price of $2 (many of these drugs are sold in the developing world), then this implies that the unauthorized market involves sales of 37 billion to 100 billion prescriptions year. If 1 in 1000 of these prescriptions save a life (because the patient could not afford the authorized version), then unauthorized drugs save between 37 million and 100 million people a year.
In an act of unbelievable sloppiness this article fails to distinguish between unauthorized copies, where the buyer knows that they are not getting the brand drug and genuine counterfeits, where the buyer is deceived about the drug they are buying.
"

Link to Original Source
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Ban on photographing oil-polluted areas & Wild

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 4 years ago

boombaard writes "The day before yesterday CNN's Anderson Cooper reported that, from now on, there is a new rule in effect to 'protect' reporters from themselves, which de facto bans/bars any photographer from coming within 65 feet of any deployed boom. (Official announcement here) The rule, announced by the US Coast Guard, forbids "photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches. In order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans," while "violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. What's even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet."
A HuffPo blogger adds: "If the Coast Guard has its way, all media, not just independent writers and photographers like myself and Jerry Moran, will be fined $40,000 and receive Class D felony convictions for providing the truth about oiled birds and dolphins, in addition to broken, filthy, unmanned boom material that is trapping oil in the marshlands and estuaries."
Meanwhile, the USCG defends its 'rule' by stating:

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New Orleans has delegated authority to the Coast Guard Incident Commander in Houma to allow access to the safety zones placed around all Deepwater Horizon booming operations in Southeast Louisiana. The Coast Guard Incident Commander will ensure the safety of the members and equipment of the response before access is granted. The safety zone has been put in place to prevent vandalism to boom and to protect the members and equipment of the response effort by limiting access to, and through, deployed protective boom.

First amendment trampling, anyone?"

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Why the boom laid by BP is a useless PR stunt

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 4 years ago

boombaard writes "Remember seeing all those nice pictures of coastline "protected" by boom laid by BP? Started wondering why it seems to have so little effect yet? Sadly, the reason is that the boom, as it is being laid out by BP, is being laid out in a way that makes the entire effort pointless. As this booming expert describes it in the video (skip ahead to 1:48 if you want the content), BP has been willfully negligent in preparing for this type of disaster, by not having enough boom ready for any type of accident, and, more importantly, because its own drilling — as opposed to production — employees aren't forced to attend booming school, which they think is for pussies, is allowing all the boom to be laid in ways that are known to be useless by everyone who knows how to properly lay booms. As she describes it, boom laid in single, straight lines, without catch basins anywhere, is little more than a PR trick meant to make the media and congresscritters believe that they are doing "their jobs".
Quoting her (I've removed some of the flourishes): "Boom is not meant to contain oil; boom is meant to divert oil. Boom must always be at an angle to the prevailing wind, wave action, or surface current. Boom, at this angle, must always be layered, in an overlapped sort of way, with another string of boom. Boom must always divert oil to a catch basin or another kind of container from where it can be removed from the fucking area. Looks kinda involved, doesn't it? But if done properly, you can prevent most to almost all of the oil from ever touching the shoreline, and you can do it day after day, week after week, month after month. A week after it stops coming, nobody will be able to tell that there ever was an oil spill."

That is, without catch basins, booms provide a 3-minute respite before all the oil flows either under or over the boom, at which point all the hard work laying it was for nothing. But nobody has, apparently, picked up on this yet, and nowhere along the entire coastline are we seeing footage of oil properly being contained. Yet while the coast guard knows this, all you hear from Thad Allen is that 'BP is doing the best it can'. How can this be?"
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"2012" a Miscalculation; actual calendar ends 2220

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 5 years ago

boombaard writes "News is spreading quickly here that scientists writing in a (Dutch) popular science periodical (google translation linked) have debunked the 2012 date featuring so prominently in doomsday predictions/speculation across the web. On 2012-12-21, the sun will appear where you would normally be able to see the 'galactic equator' of the Milky Way; an occurrence deemed special because it happens 'only' once every 25.800 years, on the winter solstice. However, even if you ignore the fact that there is no actual galactic equator, just an observed one, and that the visual effect is pretty much the same for an entire decade surrounding that date, there are major problems with the way the Maya Calendar is being read by doomsday prophets.

Because written records were almost all destroyed by 16th-century Spaniards, quite a lot of guesswork surrounds the translation of their calendar to ours, and it appears something went very wrong with the calculations. The Mayas used 4 different calendars, all of different lengths, with the longest of which counting out ages of roughly 5200 years. Figuring out how these relate to 'our' calendars is a big problem, which scientists had thought they had figured out about a century ago. (That's where the 2012 date, which now turns out to be almost 2 centuries out of date, comes from.) However, A German geologist showed in 2005 (in his dissertation) that the proposed correlation to GMT didn't fit with a lot of Mayan-observed events that we know about, and calculated that a roughly 208 year correction was needed, meaning the soonest the Mayan Calendar can end is in 2220.

The final blow was arguably the thesis that nature scientist Andreas Fuls three years ago doctorate at the Technical University Berlin. Fuls pointed out that the GMT-correlation not consistent with a preserved Mayan table on which the positions of Venus are listed. And so there is more, such as inscriptions and objects in time of Goodman, Martinez and Thompson were not detected or outdated. By adding to it all, comes from a very different Fuls dating: one that 208 years has shifted. The end of the long count by the correlation is only about two centuries, at 21, 22 or December 23, 2220. "It is the only option," says Fuls if you ask him about it. (Google translation)

Until then, it would appear we are quite safe, except from Hollywood."
Link to Original Source

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Enormous Profits for companies who harrass pirates

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 5 years ago

boombaard writes "Torrentfreak just ran an article about how copyright "enforcers" track people who download/offer content, try to find out their addresses, and then send them "settlement" letters, with almost 25% of the addressees "settling" without question.

The German-based anti-piracy outfit DigiRights Solutions (DRS) recently published an interesting PowerPoint presentation (in German) which shows how copyright holders can make millions from pirates. After finding out the addresses of alleged file-sharers they send out requests for damages directly, usually in the range of a few hundred dollars (or in the UK, around £600) per infringement. DRS says it generally sends out emails to alleged file-sharers requesting them to pay €450 (650$) per offense. According to the company they get to keep 80% of the money, leaving 20% for the copyright holders. (DRS says that an impressive 25% of all recipients do without asking questions.) A legal online purchase of a song brings about €0.60 into the pockets of the copyright holders compared to the €90 per alleged file-sharer that pays up. So, the copyright holders get 150 times more from pursuing filesharers than from selling actual music, the company claims. DRS and partners are by no means interested in protecting the rights of artists or how to deter people from sharing copyrighted work, it’s a solid cash machine. Undoubtedly it also raises questions whether these extortion practices should be allowed, or whether local governments should intervene.

"
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"Americans spend it all on gadgets" myth debunked

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 5 years ago

boombaard writes "How is it that American families have become such terrible spendthrifts in the past 30 years? I find I keep running into this "fact", and really nobody even bothers to think about it anymore before answering: they're buying too many designer clothes, enormous 3 bedroom houses, and they eat out every other day. Yet why did they decide to become like that? This is the question Elizabeth Warren (Harvard Law) set out to answer, and in this lecture (she starts talking 5mins in) [as well as in her 2003 book The Two-income trap] she reports her findings. She makes a strong case for the argument that, unlike folk wisdom tells us, Americans are not spending it all on new gadgets, but they've all been hit by the effects of an enormous bidding war for housing in "good" school districts, and they're willing to spend up to 50% of their new combined incomes on the mortgage in order to try to get their their kids "ahead". This is an enormous hidden education-related expense, and nobody seems to be acknowledging it, or even realize it. (And please click the link before commenting, just this once.)"
Link to Original Source
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The Two-Income Trap

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 5 years ago

boombaard writes "A few days ago, I encountered this lecture (the lecture itself starts about 8mins in), the contents of which quickly grabbed my attention. In it, Elizabeth Warren attacked a number of very common myths and misconceptions about the modern economy, most notably the notion that two-income families are more financially secure than one-income families were 30 years ago. While this would seem to be the rather obvious obvious consequence of both partners working, the somewhat counterintuitive fact of the matter is that far more families are going bankrupt now than when mom was still expected to stay at home. Even though today's families have two incomes, they have less money left over for discretionary spending than comparable one-income families did 30 years ago. Or, in slightly charged statistical jargon: "Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

In 1999, bankruptcy filings by single women were up 662% from 1981 (to 500.000/y), with the number married women filing (alongside their husbands, obviously) also in the hundreds of thousands per year. As Warren says near the end of the lecture, there are [now] more children being confronted with their parent(s) going bankrupt, than there are children being confronted with their parents opting for a divorce. And yet, almost nobody seems to acknowledge this pervasive problem, even though everybody and their dead grandparents worry about the horrible negative impact divorces have on children. Am I to conclude that it is better to be destitute than to have to go through a divorce, or is something else the issue here?
In the lecture Warren mentioned a book which she had written some years previously, in 2003, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are going broke, which she co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren, and it is this book I wish to bring to your attention.

The book was written in the wake of their 2001 Consumer Bankruptcy Project study (for which they interviewed 2000 people) on the prevalence and causes of personal bankrupty filings in the US, and is meant to create awareness among politicians and the public alike of the counterintuitive consequences of both parents working. However, given the political climate in 2003, and the message contained in the book, it would seem that the book was released at a rather inopportune moment, as it mostly seems to have been ignored so far.
The first claim the Warrens pretty much demolish in their book is the popular myth that People Bring It Upon Themselves, and do so by buying stuff they don't need. One of the most interesting conclusions that can be drawn from the CBP is that, in 90% of cases, the reason people are filing for bankruptcy cannot be traced back to frivolous spending (which, so the argument goes, would mean it's their own fault), but rather to one of three reasons: Job loss, Medical bills and family break-up, often with one of those reasons causing another. As they put it:

They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home.(p.6)

While this may in a way seem logical (i.e., people, especially single mothers, who have more financial obligations are at more risk), the question which immediately comes to mind is: Shouldn't this be impossible specifically in the two-income family? Isn't it exactly to prevent this from happening that they both have jobs?

Consider, however, the following: Way back when women were not expected to work, they would be at home, taking care of the kids, their elderly parents, and the sick. If a child became ill, a grandparent needed more care, or someone had an accident, they would be cared for without the family income taking a hit. And if dad was the one to become ill, mom could choose to enter the workforce – earning less, of course, than dad had been, but generally they would still be able to rake in about 60% of what her husband used to earn (p.59). Nowadays, of course, the normal situation is one where both parents are working, so that, as soon as either worker becomes ill or is laid off, the family income will on average be halved almost immediately. And this is a problem because the average family is spending nearly 50% of their income on the mortgage payments, leaving less money for discretionary spending now – with both parents working – than in the 70s with only one ‘working’ parent, and no backup worker for when something goes wrong.
The question here, of course, is why people are so (I would indeed call it that) foolish as to buy a house which required you to take out a mortgage that basically eats up an entire income. The answer to this question is two-fold, with one half being due to market forces, and the other to legislation.

As most readers will probably know, the US has a school system where you can only get into certain schools if you belong to the zip code area for that school. As such, if you are worried that the school in the area you are living in is bad, you will have to move to another zip code area. And in reality this meant moving out of the inner cities into the suburbs, which were perceived to be safer, as well as offering higher quality education. This, of course, means that housing in those areas will be relatively scarce compared to housing elsewhere, which in turn means higher prices. Now, once people started having a second income, this meant that more could be spent on the mortgage, and, when the lending market was deregulated early in the 1980s, there was no longer an imposed limit of 30% of total income which could be spent on mortgage payments. This meant house prices could rise a lot, with the bidders having to choose between the fear/thought of “not giving your children the chance they deserve” and trying to make ends meet (and all the risks that that entails):

By way of example, consider University City, the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding the University of Pennsylvania. In an effort to improve the area, the university committed funds for a new elementary school. The results? At the time of the announcement, the median home value in the area was less than $60,000. Five years later, "homes within the boundaries go for about $200,000, even if they need to be totally renovated." The neighborhood is otherwise pretty much the same: the same commute to work, the same distance from the freeways, the same old houses. And yet, in five years families are willing to pay more than triple the price for a home, just so they can send their kids to a better public elementary school. (24)

So, we’ve got enormously increased housing costs, a family with two people working who must bring in twice as many paychecks as before to live at the same level of comfort (with a more-than-doubled chance that something will go wrong: "A family today with both husband and wife in the workforce is approximately two and a half times more likely to face a job loss than a single-income family of a generation ago." (82-3)). And then there is the socially pretty much invisible disease of bankruptcy, apparently quickly becoming just as prevalent as divorce (and sometimes accompanying it). The point with bankruptcy, of course, is that people try like the plague to avoid it. Once someone is laid off, most families seem hold out the hope that they will quickly be able to find a new job, and generally use their credit card to make up for the temporary difference in income, figuring they will be able to pay it back when they've got 2 jobs again, rather than deciding their only recourse is to take their child out of the school he/she is in, and move to another district, where housing is cheaper (and schools are potentially worse). This is, of course, statistically quite unrealistic, because even when they are able to find a job in, say, 3 months, they will be unable to save enough money every month to pay back the loan with. And so, after a while, they start incurring quickly-mounting "late fees", enormous interest hikes, and, oddly enough, more offers from credit companies to take out yet more loans, second or third mortgage, and so on, with the end result generally being (de facto) bankruptcy even when people do not file for it. ("In 1981, the median family filing for bankruptcy owed 80 percent of total annual income in credit card and other non-mortgage debts; by 2001, that figure had nearly doubled to 150 percent of annual income." (77)) Consider what they have to contend with:

After he suffered a heart attack, missed several months' work, and fell behind on his mortgage, Jamal Dupree (from chapter 4) got the hard sell from his mortgage lender. When Jamal missed a payment, the mortgage company sent him dozens of personalized letters with a single goal—to persuade him to take out yet another mortgage. "They'd send out a notice, saying 'you need a vacation, take out this thousand dollars and pay it back in ninety days.' If you didn't pay it back in ninety days, they charged you 22 percent interest." When he didn't respond to the mailers, the mortgage company started calling Jamal at home, as often as four times a week. Again, the company wasn't calling to collect the payments he had already missed; it was calling to sign him up for even more debt. Jamal resisted, but his mortgage lender didn't let up. "When I turned them down, they called my wife [at work], trying to get her to talk me into it."(139-40)

The book is filled with stuff like this, all backed up through a very impressive collection of references in the footnotes (the last 40 pages of the book contain the references to other research), and all basically pointing to a single conclusion: in the current unregulated lending market the banks get away with charging whatever they want, and there is really nothing you can do to complain about it. Bankruptcies are becoming a fact of life, but nearly 80% (p.73) of the people who would stand to gain financially from declaring themselves bankrupt don't do so because of the shame they feel over having to do so. And while the borrowers feel guilty over not being able to pay anything back, the banks do whatever they like. I mention this because, ever since 1997, banks had been lobbying to restrict bankruptcy filing, a fact the Warrens mention when they debunk the "fact" that bankruptcy filing rules were being abused by borrowers. Their attempts were blocked at first, but in 2005 consumers lost the fight, even though this book (and the results of study the book is based upon which showed the exact opposite was true) had already been published years earlier.
Other tidbits they mention is that college-educated single women are 60% more likely to go bankrupt than their less educated 'sisters' (106), and that affluent African Americans were more likely to be talked into a subprime mortgage (because of the recommendations/insistence/redlining of the mortgage seller, and basically suggesting discrimination is alive and well in that industry) than poor white people (indicating the sheer lack of information consumers have access to, and power the banks wield over them), or the fact that banks would often try to get people to take out second mortgages they didn't need in the hope they would fall behind on payments so that they could repossess the house, etc, a process called "loan-to-own".(136)

Now, I'm aware of the fact that "regulation" is almost as taboo in a some parts of US society as talking about taxpayer-funded access to healthcare, but I would really suggest that everyone reads this book in order to inform themselves of the consequences that belief, specifically when it comes to the banking industry. As the book suggest, they were trying to suck the middle class dry, even before the subprime crisis happened. Data really does matter in this debate, and this book is very honest & clear when it comes to showing what research they're basing their claims upon. (And if you also feel this book made you think, please recommend it to friends yourself. It doesn't seem right that these facts can be ignored in policy debates, either at home or in government.)"

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The Two-Income Trap

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 5 years ago

boombaard writes "A few days ago, I encountered this lecture (the lecture itself starts about 8mins in), the contents of which quickly grabbed my attention. In it, Elizabeth Warren attacked a number of very common myths and misconceptions about the modern economy, most notably the notion that two-income families are more financially secure than one-income families were 30 years ago. While this would seem to be the rather obvious obvious consequence of both partners working, the somewhat counterintuitive fact of the matter is that far more families are going bankrupt now than when mom was still expected to stay at home. Even though today's families have two incomes, they have less money left over for discretionary spending than comparable one-income families did 30 years ago. Or, in slightly charged statistical jargon: "Having a child is now the best single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

In 1999, bankruptcy filings by single women were up 662% from 1981 (to 500.000/y), with the number married women filing (alongside their husbands, obviously) also in the hundreds of thousands per year. As Warren says near the end of the lecture, there are [now] more children being confronted with their parent(s) going bankrupt, than there are children being confronted with their parents opting for a divorce. And yet, almost nobody seems to acknowledge this pervasive problem, even though everybody and their dead grandparents worry about the horrible negative impact divorces have on children. Am I to conclude that it is better to be destitute than to have to go through a divorce, or is something else the issue here?
In the lecture Warren mentioned a book which she had written some years previously, in 2003, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are going broke, which she co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren, and it is this book I wish to bring to your attention.

The book was written in the wake of their 2001 Consumer Bankruptcy Project study (for which they interviewed 2000 people) on the prevalence and causes of personal bankrupty filings in the US, and is meant to create awareness among politicians and the public alike of the counterintuitive consequences of both parents working. However, given the political climate in 2003, and the message contained in the book, it would seem that the book was released at a rather inopportune moment, as it mostly seems to have been ignored so far.
The first claim the Warrens pretty much demolish in their book is the popular myth that People Bring It Upon Themselves, and do so by buying stuff they don't need. One of the most interesting conclusions that can be drawn from the CBP is that, in 90% of cases, the reason people are filing for bankruptcy cannot be traced back to frivolous spending (which, so the argument goes, would mean it's their own fault), but rather to one of three reasons: Job loss, Medical bills and family break-up, often with one of those reasons causing another. As they put it:

They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home.(p.6)

While this may in a way seem logical (i.e., people, especially single mothers, who have more financial obligations are at more risk), the question which immediately comes to mind is: Shouldn't this be impossible specifically in the two-income family? Isn't it exactly to prevent this from happening that they both have jobs?

Consider, however, the following: Way back when women were not expected to work, they would be at home, taking care of the kids, their elderly parents, and the sick. If a child became ill, a grandparent needed more care, or someone had an accident, they would be cared for without the family income taking a hit. And if dad was the one to become ill, mom could choose to enter the workforce – earning less, of course, than dad had been, but generally they would still be able to rake in about 60% of what her husband used to earn (p.59). Nowadays, of course, the normal situation is one where both parents are working, so that, as soon as either worker becomes ill or is laid off, the family income will on average be halved almost immediately. And this is a problem because the average family is spending nearly 50% of their income on the mortgage payments, leaving less money for discretionary spending now – with both parents working – than in the 70s with only one ‘working’ parent, and no backup worker for when something goes wrong.
The question here, of course, is why people are so (I would indeed call it that) foolish as to buy a house which required you to take out a mortgage that basically eats up an entire income. The answer to this question is two-fold, with one half being due to market forces, and the other to legislation.

As most readers will probably know, the US has a school system where you can only get into certain schools if you belong to the zip code area for that school. As such, if you are worried that the school in the area you are living in is bad, you will have to move to another zip code area. And in reality this meant moving out of the inner cities into the suburbs, which were perceived to be safer, as well as offering higher quality education. This, of course, means that housing in those areas will be relatively scarce compared to housing elsewhere, which in turn means higher prices. Now, once people started having a second income, this meant that more could be spent on the mortgage, and, when the lending market was deregulated early in the 1980s, there was no longer an imposed limit of 30% of total income which could be spent on mortgage payments. This meant house prices could rise a lot, with the bidders having to choose between the fear/thought of “not giving your children the chance they deserve” and trying to make ends meet (and all the risks that that entails):

By way of example, consider University City, the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding the University of Pennsylvania. In an effort to improve the area, the university committed funds for a new elementary school. The results? At the time of the announcement, the median home value in the area was less than $60,000. Five years later, "homes within the boundaries go for about $200,000, even if they need to be totally renovated." The neighborhood is otherwise pretty much the same: the same commute to work, the same distance from the freeways, the same old houses. And yet, in five years families are willing to pay more than triple the price for a home, just so they can send their kids to a better public elementary school. (24)

So, we’ve got enormously increased housing costs, a family with two people working who must bring in twice as many paychecks as before to live at the same level of comfort (with a more-than-doubled chance that something will go wrong: "A family today with both husband and wife in the workforce is approximately two and a half times more likely to face a job loss than a single-income family of a generation ago." (82-3)). And then there is the socially pretty much invisible disease of bankruptcy, apparently quickly becoming just as prevalent as divorce (and sometimes accompanying it). The point with bankruptcy, of course, is that people try like the plague to avoid it. Once someone is laid off, most families seem hold out the hope that they will quickly be able to find a new job, and generally use their credit card to make up for the temporary difference in income, figuring they will be able to pay it back when they've got 2 jobs again, rather than deciding their only recourse is to take their child out of the school he/she is in, and move to another district, where housing is cheaper (and schools are potentially worse). This is, of course, statistically quite unrealistic, because even when they are able to find a job in, say, 3 months, they will be unable to save enough money every month to pay back the loan with. And so, after a while, they start incurring quickly-mounting "late fees", enormous interest hikes, and, oddly enough, more offers from credit companies to take out yet more loans, second or third mortgage, and so on, with the end result generally being (de facto) bankruptcy even when people do not file for it. ("In 1981, the median family filing for bankruptcy owed 80 percent of total annual income in credit card and other non-mortgage debts; by 2001, that figure had nearly doubled to 150 percent of annual income." (77)) Consider what they have to contend with:

After he suffered a heart attack, missed several months' work, and fell behind on his mortgage, Jamal Dupree (from chapter 4) got the hard sell from his mortgage lender. When Jamal missed a payment, the mortgage company sent him dozens of personalized letters with a single goal—to persuade him to take out yet another mortgage. "They'd send out a notice, saying 'you need a vacation, take out this thousand dollars and pay it back in ninety days.' If you didn't pay it back in ninety days, they charged you 22 percent interest." When he didn't respond to the mailers, the mortgage company started calling Jamal at home, as often as four times a week. Again, the company wasn't calling to collect the payments he had already missed; it was calling to sign him up for even more debt. Jamal resisted, but his mortgage lender didn't let up. "When I turned them down, they called my wife [at work], trying to get her to talk me into it."(139-40)

The book is filled with stuff like this, all backed up through a very impressive collection of references in the footnotes (the last 40 pages of the book contain the references to other research), and all basically pointing to a single conclusion: in the current unregulated lending market the banks get away with charging whatever they want, and there is really nothing you can do to complain about it. Bankruptcies are becoming a fact of life, but nearly 80% (p.73) of the people who would stand to gain financially from declaring themselves bankrupt don't do so because of the shame they feel over having to do so. And while the borrowers feel guilty over not being able to pay anything back, the banks do whatever they like. I mention this because, ever since 1997, banks had been lobbying to restrict bankruptcy filing, a fact the Warrens mention when they debunk the "fact" that bankruptcy filing rules were being abused by borrowers. Their attempts were blocked at first, but in 2005 consumers lost the fight, even though this book (and the results of study the book is based upon which showed the exact opposite was true) had already been published years earlier.
Other tidbits they mention is that college-educated single women are 60% more likely to go bankrupt than their less educated 'sisters' (106), and that affluent African Americans were more likely to be talked into a subprime mortgage (because of the recommendations/insistence/redlining of the mortgage seller, and basically suggesting discrimination is alive and well in that industry) than poor white people (indicating the sheer lack of information consumers have access to, and power the banks wield over them), or the fact that banks would often try to get people to take out second mortgages they didn't need in the hope they would fall behind on payments so that they could repossess the house, etc, a process called "loan-to-own".(136)

Now, I'm aware of the fact that "regulation" is almost as taboo in a some parts of US society as talking about taxpayer-funded access to healthcare, but I would really suggest that everyone reads this book in order to inform themselves of the consequences that belief, specifically when it comes to the banking industry. As the book suggest, they were trying to suck the middle class dry, even before the subprime crisis happened. Data really does matter in this debate, and this book is very honest & clear when it comes to showing what research they're basing their claims upon. (And if you also feel this book made you think, please recommend it to friends yourself. It doesn't seem right that these facts can be ignored in policy debates, either at home or in government.)"

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boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 7 years ago

boombaard (1001577) writes ""Police target dangerous suspects before they can offend"

As far as odd stories about new developments in law enforcement (in the UK) go, this seems to be the strangest by far..

"Details of the database emerged after Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said that Britain had "sleepwalked" into a surveillance society."

The article itself also mentions how this might seem to resemble the movie Minority Report, but doesn't bother to ask anyone from the interviewed department how the development might possibly have a slightly disconcerting feel to it, and if they feel it would be justified if so.

The team is concentrating on reducing the risk of those with a history of domestic violence turning into murderers. About a quarter of murders are related to domestic violence. "There are some pretty dangerous people out there, so you need these risk models to wheedle them out, separate the wheat from the chaff," she said. "If you add up all the information, it tells us which people are risky." Ms Richards said that once an individual had been identified, police would decide whether to make moves towards an arrest, or to alert the relevant social services who could steer those targeted into "management programmes."

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said yesterday: "It is quite right that the police should keep intelligence on suspected criminals, but it is obscene to suggest there should be a 'crime idol' list of those who might commit an offence. The police are systematically moving the boundaries as to where they can exercise their powers. The Minority Report syndrome is pushing the boundary of criminal intervention further into the general community.""

Journals

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Book Review: David Barash & Charles Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (2nd ed.)

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 4 years ago

The book's blurb states the authors "present an unbiased look at issues related to peace and conflict studies to assist readers in forming personal and social opinions 'based on fact'". While I'm quite aware of the fact that blurb writers tend towards hyperbole, the authors certainly seem to care little for, at least, verifiable facts, as the book is entirely devoid of references, apart from those required for strict quotations; I've found less than a dozen mentions of researchers' names, both from their own and other fields (e.g., psychology, sociology) from which research is referenced. That this is even allowed puzzles me to no end; furthermore, there is not even a general bibliography of material used as background for writing this book.
The book is written in a quasi-narrative style, and is, as a consequence, sadly replete with sections that feel highly anecdotal in nature, a feeling hard to erase because the authors refuse to reference the social science research they're apparently trying to include. This, along with their somewhat opinionated writing style, only helps to make me more sceptical of whatever information they're presenting, and convinced me that apparently they don't think (methodical/verifiable) research should play a role in this field.
The authors are a psychologist/psychoanalyst/'philosopher' and an evolutionary biologist, both turned "peace researcher", and sadly, this is rather noticeable in their treatment of most other areas of research, especially when they use 'historical' examples to prove or support a point they're making: events are often presented without describing the relevant context, characterized so generally that there really is no point in referencing it at all, or sometimes just flat-out wrong.

One example of information that falls into this last category is found when they state that "the defeat of the Armada in 1588 marked the end of Spain as a global power." (p.186) The sailing of the "Armada" really constituted only the first attempt to conquer England, so that, while you might call it the "beginning of the end", it certainly didn't result in the instant oblivion of the Spanish empire.
While this could be seen as a minor problem if it was the exception, the issue I have with it is that they refer to research in lots of different areas of study, apparently all relevant to "peace and conflict studies", and yet, they apparently don't care enough to do even the most basic research before writing a book on it. To me, this only suggests that not even they take their own field seriously.
Their use of historical examples is similarly problematic when, in another part of the book, they ask the question whether population increases can be correlated with increased occurrence of wars, at which point they 'cite' as evidence the 100 years war as "a war that went on during the Black Plague". The problem with this, of course, is that the Plague arrived at least a decade after the (first phase of the) 100-years war had broken out. (p. 198) As such, their example is absolutely useless, especially because the 100-years war was a kind of familial feud over succession with enormous pauses, whereas more recent wars have generally been shorter, and more intense, which all seem relevant considerations to me, but apparently not to the authors.
They also more than once reference "popular"/recent events without being very clear about what they're referring to specifically, which to me makes these insertions seem more like glib remarks or insider jokes than serious points they're making, which can rather confusing at times, especially when they extrapolate from anecdotes or single cases to trends. While this may sometimes lead to valid insights, it is not the way to do scientific research. (One example of this is when they allude to the YUKOS/Chodorkovsky affair. I personally don't know if Russia has done things like that before, but the reference seemed rather pointless without further explanation.)
The text also includes a discussion of Freudian/"psychoanalytic" motivation theories, which, in my opinion, should not have been included in a book printed in 2009. It was probably included in part because some researchers still take psychoanalysis seriously, but the biggest problem I have with the section is that they do not really refute this line of argument.

Now, another big issue I have with the book relates to their writing style. In order to demonstrate what I mean by this, consider the following passage:

"The role of individual leaders may well have been unduly glamorized, and decision makers often receive credit - and blame - they do not entirely deserve. Sometimes, leaders represent the culmination of currents within their societies, and they may catalyse other events. Nonetheless, people such as Alexander the Great, Genghis khan, Charlemagne, Joan of arc, Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler, Stalin, de Gaulle, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, and G. W. Bush, have acted as lightning rods for popular discontent, and, often, as precipitators of war. Less often have leaders of this ilk achieved renown as peacemakers." (p.171)

There are multiple number of problems with this passage: First off, what's with the banalities? "they may catalyse other events?" This book says it will explain stuff relevant to understanding why wars and peaces happen. However, you can't really explain anything if you're only thinking in vague generalities like "leaders may or may not play a role, but we're not really sure if too much attention has been paid to their role in the past, so, like... [shit, I've lost my train of thought. Oh, well, let's just start writing the next paragraph:]".
Secondly, what kind of logic/criterion was used to assemble this list? Joan of Arc, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan seem like fairly distinct and different figures, living in different times, leading or living amongst different peoples who experienced different problems. And yet, the authors seem to imply that somehow all of the mentioned "strong leaders" were "lightning rods for [some sort of otherwise unspecified:] popular discontent", and further that leaders of "this ilk" were relatively uninterested in making "peace".
One -- fairly obvious -- reason why none of these people were known as peacemakers was because they didn't insert any peacemakers into this list. Seriously, what connects Genghis Khan to Joan of Arc, De Gaulle and Charlemagne? They're not even all war starters, during the time of Charlemagne there wasn't even an empire yet, and Joan of Arc didn't start the 100years war. So what does it mean to talk about people of "their ilk"?
Thirdly, and more profoundly, as the authors themselves have argued in different sections of this book, peace is not always a rational choice, nor is war necessarily horrendously "bad", let alone "evil". Should Joan of Arc have chosen not to fight, and let France be ruled by England? Should Alexander have stayed home and let the Persians take over Greece some time down the road? I haven't the faintest why the authors think the answer to these questions are obvious, yet they never even bother saying whether this is their own hypothesis, or whether someone else has suggested we view Alexander or Genghis Khan as "lightning rods" for "public discontent", nor do they explain why it is relevant to worry about the "ilk" of the leaders. I have no problem with the suggestion that it is possible for leaders to lead people in a certain direction, but what does all the other stuff have to do with that statement being true or not?
Now, I'm fine with writers using anecdotes, even slightly unfair ones, but presenting tendentious remarks like that as though they're deep insights worth pondering seems trite at best, and not at all appropriate for a putatively academic text. One doesn't read a work like this to be entertained or overawed, one reads this because one expects a rigorous if not exhaustive analysis of the relevant factors at play.
At the bottom of the page we find another, rather odd statement, with which they are apparently trying to tell us something: "many leaders may be moved by the desire to go down in history as peacemakers." (ibid.) Now, one of the key "problems" with "war" is that it sometimes can be advisable, or even required (to ensure your group's survival) to go to war. War is not necessarily evil, and, as such, it is only politically 'good' for you to 'go down in history as a peacemaker' when there is popular support for such a move; yet they seem to think it 'obvious' that every population would prefer this. But this explanation is never considered.

Furthermore, their economic commentary is downright ridiculous:

"governments typically obtain military forces by paying for them."
[...:]
"Military spending is perhaps the most inflationary way for a government to spend money. By using up major resources without producing consumable goods, military spending reduces supply while also increasing demand for raw materials, thereby contributing doubly to inflation. Moreover, costs tend to rise yet further when the supply of money and credit increases without corresponding increases in productivity." (p.210)

I have, quite honestly, absolutely no idea what they're trying to tell me here. I included the first line only to show you how lazy their editors were, but if we look at the second line, they seem to be saying something about credit simultaneously in- and decreasing, and that money, while being spent, is not received by anyone. Yet earlier, they told the readers about how Haliburton made a killing providing services to the government.
I haven't a clue how I should combine those two facts, and I'm equally unsure what to make of their suggestion that money spent on capital intensive goods causes more inflation than money spent otherwise. Why do these statements not deserve more of an explanation? Or even a reference to an economics textbook in which this basic truth is explained to me, as someone who obviously doesn't have a clue about economics? I am, in any case, at a loss in trying to figure out what they mean. Lastly, where does the stated "increase in the supply of money and credit" come from?

Conclusion:
While the book at first appears to be highly organized, after reading it 1.5 times for a course, I've come to the conclusion that it hasn't done the contents much good, and it seems that not even the authors themselves could keep track of which information presented earlier should also be taken into account later, when they are applying the concepts. Additionally, literally dozens of (sub)sections contain paragraphs that present points that are entirely unrelated to the section heading under which they are presented.
Far too little time was spent weeding out redundant and uninformative passages like the ones cited, and the reader is, throughout the book, confronted with a veritable deluge of weasel words (especially "may be", "may have", "could be", "has possibly", and worst of all "perhaps") employed in order to "make points" without really making them, or at least without having to defend them. ("The Earth's protective ozone layer has been thinning, perhaps dangerously." p.399) And then there is the utter lack of references.
It's not clear to me at all why statements phrased that way should even be allowed to be in academic texts, let alone why they belong there, as they have very little explanatory value, and are often little more than (redundant) restatements of points made earlier, presented in the form of a conclusion.
The book as a whole certainly contains some useful information and insights, but there sadly is faro too much fluff, presented as equally valid, and no way to separate the two without already knowing more than the authors do.
While the scope of the book is certainly broad, it's so woefully lacking in academic rigour that no aspirations of the authors can compensate for it. This might have been excusable if they had been authorities in their field(s), but it is obvious from the book that they cannot distance themselves from the information they're providing, resulting in a horrendously biased treatment. So while I'm sympathetic to the authors' plight, I cannot seriously recommend this book to anyone.

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Book Review: The Two-Income Trap, by Elizabeth and Amelia Warren

boombaard boombaard writes  |  more than 5 years ago

A few days ago, I encountered this lecture (the lecture itself starts about 6mins in), the contents of which quickly grabbed my attention. In it, Elizabeth Warren attacks a number of very common myths and misconceptions about the modern economy, most notably the notion that today's two-income families are more financially secure than one-income families were 30 years ago. While this would seem to be the rather obvious and logical consequence of both parents working, the somewhat counter-intuitive fact of the matter is that far more families are going bankrupt now than back when mom was still expected to stay at home; and even though today's families earn two incomes in stead of one, they have less money left over for discretionary spending (disposable income) than comparable one-income families did 30 years ago. Or, to put it in slightly charged statistical jargon: "Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse."

In 1999, bankruptcy filings by single women were up 662% from 1981 (to 500.000/y), with the number married women filing (alongside their husbands, obviously) also in the hundreds of thousands per year. As Warren says near the end of the lecture, there are [now] more children being confronted with their parent(s) going bankrupt, than there are children being confronted with parents filing for divorce. And yet, almost nobody seems to acknowledge this pervasive problem, even though everybody and their dead grandparents worry about the horrible negative impact divorces have on children. I was forced to wonder: was I supposed to conclude that it is better to be destitute than to have to go through a divorce, or is something else the issue here? Why isn't anyone looking at the "causes for bankruptcy", like they are looking at "reasons for divorce"? The question seems an interesting one to me, so could it be because people are afraid of the answer? (Or is it really just because it is assumed that bankruptcies are always effects of 'personal choices'?)
In the lecture, Warren mentioned a book which she had written some years previously, in 2003, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are going broke , which she co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren, and it is this book I wish to bring to your attention.

The book was written in the wake of their 2001 Consumer Bankruptcy Project study (for which they interviewed 2000 people) on the prevalence and causes of personal bankrupty filings in the US, and is meant to create awareness among politicians and the public alike of the counterintuitive consequences of both parents working. However, given the political climate in 2003, and the message contained in the book, it would seem that the book was released at a rather inopportune moment, as it mostly seems to have been ignored so far.
The first claim the Warrens pretty much demolish in their book is the popular myth that People Bring It Upon Themselves, and do so by buying stuff they don't need. One of the most interesting conclusions that can be drawn from the CBP is that, in 90% of cases, the reason people are filing for bankruptcy cannot be traced back to frivolous spending (which, so the argument goes, would mean it's their own fault), but rather to one of three reasons: Job loss, Medical bills and family break-up, often with one of those reasons causing another. As they put it:

They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home.(p.6)

While this may in a way seem logical (i.e., people, especially single mothers, who have more financial obligations are at more risk), the question which immediately comes to mind is: Shouldn't this be impossible specifically in the two-income family? Isn't it exactly to prevent this from happening that they both have jobs?

Consider, however, the following: Way back when women were not expected to work, they would be at home, taking care of the kids, their elderly parents, and the sick. If a child became ill, a grandparent needed more care, or someone had an accident, they would be cared for without the family income taking a hit. And if dad was the one to become ill, mom could choose to enter the workforce â" earning less, of course, than dad had been, but generally they would still be able to rake in about 60% of what her husband used to earn (p.59). Nowadays, of course, the normal situation is one where both parents are working, so that, as soon as either worker becomes ill or is laid off, the family income will on average be halved almost immediately. And this is a problem because the average family is spending nearly 50% of their income on the mortgage payments, leaving less money for discretionary spending now â" with both parents working â" than in the 70s with only one âworking' parent, and no backup worker for when something goes wrong.
The question here, of course, is why people are so (I would indeed call it that) foolish as to buy a house which required you to take out a mortgage that basically eats up an entire income. The answer to this question is two-fold, with one half being due to market forces, and the other to legislation.

As most readers will probably know, the US has a school system where you can only get into certain schools if you belong to the zip code area for that school. As such, if you are worried that the school in the area you are living in is bad, you will have to move to another zip code area. And in reality this meant moving out of the inner cities into the suburbs, which were perceived to be safer, as well as offering higher quality education. This, of course, means that housing in those areas will be relatively scarce compared to housing elsewhere, which in turn means higher prices. Now, once people started having a second income, this meant that more could be spent on the mortgage, and, when the lending market was deregulated early in the 1980s, there was no longer an imposed limit of 30% of total income which could be spent on mortgage payments. This meant house prices could rise a lot, with the bidders having to choose between the fear/thought of âoenot giving your children the chance they deserveâ and trying to make ends meet (and all the risks that that entails):

By way of example, consider University City, the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding the University of Pennsylvania. In an effort to improve the area, the university committed funds for a new elementary school. The results? At the time of the announcement, the median home value in the area was less than $60,000. Five years later, "homes within the boundaries go for about $200,000, even if they need to be totally renovated." The neighborhood is otherwise pretty much the same: the same commute to work, the same distance from the freeways, the same old houses. And yet, in five years families are willing to pay more than triple the price for a home, just so they can send their kids to a better public elementary school. (24)

So, we now have enormously increased housing costs for exactly the same houses as before, families with two people working who must bring in twice the paychecks as before to live at the same level of comfort (with a more-than-doubled chance that something will go wrong: "A family today with both husband and wife in the workforce is approximately two and a half times more likely to face a job loss than a single-income family of a generation ago." (82-3)). And then there is the socially pretty much invisible disease of bankruptcy, apparently quickly becoming just as prevalent as divorce (and sometimes accompanying it). The point with bankruptcy, of course, is that people try like the plague to avoid it. Once someone is laid off, most families seem to hold out the hope that they will quickly be able to find a new job, and use their credit card to make up for the temporary difference in income, figuring they will be able to pay it back when they've got 2 jobs again, rather than quickly deciding their only recourse is to take their child out of the school he/she is in, and move to another district, where housing is cheaper (and schools are potentially worse). This is, of course, statistically quite unrealistic, because even when they are able to find a job in, say, 3 months, they will be unable to save enough money every month to pay back the loan with. And so, after a while, they start incurring quickly-mounting "late fees", enormous interest hikes, and, oddly enough, more offers from credit companies to take out yet more loans, second or third mortgage, and so on, with the end result generally being (de facto) bankruptcy even when people do not file for it. ("In 1981, the median family filing for bankruptcy owed 80 percent of total annual income in credit card and other non-mortgage debts; by 2001, that figure had nearly doubled to 150 percent of annual income." (77)) Consider what they have to contend with:

After he suffered a heart attack, missed several months' work, and fell behind on his mortgage, Jamal Dupree (from chapter 4) got the hard sell from his mortgage lender. When Jamal missed a payment, the mortgage company sent him dozens of personalized letters with a single goalâ"to persuade him to take out yet another mortgage. "They'd send out a notice, saying 'you need a vacation, take out this thousand dollars and pay it back in ninety days.' If you didn't pay it back in ninety days, they charged you 22 percent interest." When he didn't respond to the mailers, the mortgage company started calling Jamal at home, as often as four times a week. Again, the company wasn't calling to collect the payments he had already missed; it was calling to sign him up for even more debt. Jamal resisted, but his mortgage lender didn't let up. "When I turned them down, they called my wife [at work], trying to get her to talk me into it." (139-40)

The book is filled with stuff like this, all backed up through an impressive collection of references (contained in the last 40 pages of the book), and all basically pointing to a single conclusion: in the current unregulated lending market the banks get away with charging whatever they want, and there is really nothing you can do to complain about it. Bankruptcies are becoming a fact of life, but over 80% (p.73) of the people who would stand to gain financially from declaring themselves bankrupt don't do so because of the shame they feel over having to do so. And while the debtors feel guilty over not being able to pay anything back, the banks do whatever they like. I mention this because, ever since 1997, banks had been lobbying to restrict bankruptcy filings, a fact the Warrens mention when they debunk the "fact" that bankruptcy filing rules were being abused by borrowers. Their attempts were blocked at first, but in 2005 consumers lost the fight, even though this book (and the results of study the book is based upon which showed the exact opposite was true) had already been published years earlier.
Other tidbits they mention/show: that college-educated single women are 60% more likely to go bankrupt than less educated women (106), or how institutionalized discrimination is basically alive and well in the banking industry,

The evidence is strong that the lending playing field is anything but level. After all, if the market were working properly, how could Citibank sell 40 percent of its high-priced subprime mortgages to families with good credit who would have qualified for low-cost mortgages? How could the company's loan officers get away with charging extra fees to anyone who "appeared uneducated"? And why would low-income whites get better terms on their mortgages than high-income African Americans?

or how banks try to get people to take out second mortgages they didn't need in the hope they would fall behind on payments so that they could repossess the house, etc, a process referred to in the industry as "loan-to-own".:

In many cases, these lenders don't just want families' money; they also want to take people's homes. Banks have been caught deliberately issuing mortgages to families that could not afford them, with the ultimate aim of foreclosing on these homes. This practice is so common it has its own name in the industry: "Loan to Own." These lenders have found that foreclosing can be more profitable than just simply collecting a mortgage payment every month, because the property can then be resold for more than the outstanding loan amount. (136)

One can certainly take issue with some things in this book, and the most important questions I would like to see answered are probably these:

  1. Why are American parents so afraid of their public school system? Is it even possible the quality really deteriorated that much?
  2. Why didn't families worry more about not being able to save anything? Sure, non-education/pension-related saving is not exactly encouraged by the current tax code, but is that really the whole reason? I know that people become a bit unreasonable/desperate in the face of the thought they will short-change their children, (yet another form of "think of the children", perhaps?) but isn't it a bit simplistic to suggest that this fear is the whole explanation? Yes, after a while those increased housing prices will become the new reality, and one that will be hard to combat especially when nobody notices how they arose (which people didn't), but still...

In all, however, I strongly recommend everyone, and especially Americans, read(s) this book. I'm well aware of the fact that "regulation" is almost as taboo in a some parts of US society as talking about taxpayer-funded access to healthcare, but I really think you should read this before making up your mind about whether or not the author might have a point, as this is one of the most comprehensive reviews of the empirically measurable results of holding those beliefs out there. Because I don't really care about what anyone's political affiliation is (Although I do think the polarization that comes from living in a two-party system doesn't help), but it bothers me that this is all ignored as a side-effect, "unintended consequence", or "acceptable casualties" of the (belief in) "free market". (Sure: you can choose to accept it, but that hardly makes it unavoidable. There were strong usury laws on the books until 1980 or so, when they became de facto unenforcable.) If anywhere you need regulation, it's where two unequal parties meet, and individual consumers are about as helpless vis-a-vis the loanshark/banking industry as it gets. Why else would they be able to force people into taking out second mortgages they don't need, subprime mortgages when they can get prime rate mortgages, etc? The banking industry doesn't deserve the right to fuck over everyone who is dumb (or forced, or desperate) enough to come to them for a (temporary) loan. And this was all before the subprime crisis (which they made possible by fighting for deregulation in the first place) happened. (Lastly, if you also feel this book made you think, please recommend it to friends yourself. It doesn't seem right that these facts can be ignored in policy debates, either at home or in government, because Lord knows congressmen and senators can get away with shouting just about anything in the media without it coming back to haunt them.)

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